Palowsky ex rel. Alt. Envtl. Solutions, Inc. v. Campbell

Decision Date30 March 2022
Docket Number21-CA-358
Citation337 So.3d 567
Parties Stanley R. PALOWSKY, III, Individually and on Behalf of Alternative Environmental Solutions, Inc. v. Allyson CAMPBELL
CourtCourt of Appeal of Louisiana — District of US

COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT, STANLEY R. PALOWSKY, III, Joseph R. Ward, Jr., Covington, Sedric E. Banks, Monroe

COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE, JUDGE H. STEPHEN WINTERS, JUDGE CARL V. SHARP, JUDGE BENJAMIN JONES, JUDGE J. WILSON RAMBO, AND JUDGE FREDERIC C. AMMAN, Jon K. Guice, Monroe, Justin N. Myers, Shreveport

Panel composed of Judges Jude G. Gravois, Robert A. Chaisson, and Stephen J. Windhorst

CHAISSON, J.

Stanley R. Palowsky, III, individually and on behalf of Alternative Environmental Solutions, Inc. (AESI), appeals a March 15, 2021 judgment of the trial court sustaining an exception of no cause of action filed by Judge Benjamin Jones and dismissing with prejudice claims and allegations made in paragraph 78 of his Second Supplemental and Amended Petition for Damages. For the following reasons, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Mr. Palowsky filed an original Petition for Damages on July 22, 2015, in the 4th Judicial District Court, Parish of Ouachita, wherein he named as defendant Allyson Campbell, an employee of the 4th JDC ("the Campbell case"). In his petition, he alleged that Ms. Campbell, acting under color of law but outside the course and scope of her employment duties as a law clerk for the court, "... spoliated, concealed, removed, destroyed, shredded, withheld, and/or improperly ‘handled’ court documents such as memoranda of law, orders, pleadings, sealed court documents, and chamber copies of pleadings filed with the clerk and hand-delivered to the judge's office" relating to another case in which Mr. Palowsky was a party, Palowsky v. Cork, et al. , No. 13-2059, 4th JDC ("the Cork case"). Mr. Palowsky further alleged that Ms. Campbell acted willfully and maliciously to cause him injury and loss as well as obtain an unjust advantage for his opponent.

Before Mr. Palowsky filed his original petition in the Campbell case, the judge assigned to handle the Cork case recused himself. The Cork case was then reassigned to Judge Carl V. Sharp. Thereafter, on June 12, 2015, Mr. Palowsky filed a motion in the Cork case to recuse the 4th JDC judges en banc on the basis that Ms. Campbell and the judges of the 4th JDC had become inextricably intertwined in litigation when Chief Judge H. Stephen Winters, on behalf of the judges, filed suit against The Ouachita Citizen newspaper to protect the privacy rights of court employees.

On July 31, 2015, Mr. Palowsky filed in the Campbell case a First Supplemental, Amended, and Restated Petition for Damages wherein he added as defendants five 4th JDC judges: Chief Judge H. Stephen Winters, Judge Carl V. Sharp, Judge Benjamin Jones, Judge J. Wilson Rambo, and Judge Frederic C. Amman. In the amended petition, Mr. Palowsky alleged that the judges, acting in their administrative, rather than their judicial capacity, conspired and schemed with Ms. Campbell to cover up the mishandling and destruction of court documents.

In response to the amended petition, defendants filed motions to strike several of the paragraphs of the petition and peremptory exceptions of no cause of action based on judicial immunity. The trial judge, sitting ad hoc , ordered several of the paragraphs from the original petition stricken and sustained exceptions of no cause of action for all defendants. Mr. Palowsky then appealed that judgment.

On appeal, a five-judge panel of the First Circuit Court of Appeal opined that some, but not all, of the paragraphs from the petition were incorrectly stricken, that Campbell was not entitled to judicial immunity for alleged actions in destroying or concealing court documents because that was not part of the judicial process, and that the judges were entitled to judicial immunity because, under the allegations, they were not acting in the clear absence of jurisdiction, their actions were done in their judicial capacity, and there were no allegations of participation by the judges in the destruction of documents.1 Palowsky v. Campbell , 16-1221 (La. App. 1 Cir. 4/11/18), 249 So.3d 945.

Thereafter, the Louisiana Supreme Court, in a per curiam decision, reversed that portion of the First Circuit's opinion that held the judges were entitled to judicial immunity for their actions. Palowsky v. Campbell , 18-1105 (La. 6/26/19), 285 So.3d 466. The Supreme Court stated:

...[W]e find plaintiff's allegations regarding the judges’ supervision and investigation of the law clerk's activities arise in the context of the judges’ administrative functions, rather than in the course of their judicial or adjudicative capacities. In Forrester v. White , 484 U.S. 219, 229, 108 S.Ct. 538, 98 L.Ed.2d 555 (1988), the United States Supreme Court held that a judge's exercise of administrative functions, such as "supervising court employees and overseeing the efficient operation of a court—may have been quite important in providing the necessary conditions of a sound adjudicative system," but such administrative decisions "were not themselves judicial or adjudicative." Therefore, accepting on [sic] the well-pleaded allegations of plaintiff's petition, absolute judicial immunity would not apply, and plaintiff is able to state a cause of action against the judges.
Id . at 467-68.

In reaching this conclusion, the Court emphasized that the opinion should not be read as undermining or eroding the strong principles of absolute judicial immunity, but rather that "under the narrow and specific parameters of plaintiff's petition, plaintiff has alleged sufficient facts to state a cause of action against the judges." Id . The Court then decreed that the exceptions of no cause of action by the judges be denied, but otherwise affirmed the judgment of the First Circuit.

Following this decision by the Supreme Court, on October 15, 2020, Mr. Palowsky filed a Second Supplemental and Amended Petition for Damages in which he re-alleged all of the allegations stated in the First Supplemental, Amended, and Restated Petition for Damages, other than those articles stricken by the First Circuit Court of Appeal and affirmed by the Louisiana Supreme Court, and additionally amended and supplemented paragraph 78 to state additional facts and assert an additional cause of action against Judge Benjamin Jones. In particular, Mr. Palowsky alleged the following: in 2015, while the motion to recuse the entire 4th JDC en banc was pending in the Cork case before Judge Sharp, and sometime following an August 20, 2015 hearing on the motion, Judge Sharp prepared a draft ruling on the motion which he forwarded to Judge Jones for review. Judge Jones then returned this draft with corrective edits and a handwritten note suggesting that Judge Sharp deny the motion to recuse. On August 25, 2015, Judge Sharp denied the motion to recuse en banc and issued a stay of all discovery. Thereafter, Mr. Palowsky filed a writ application for review of these rulings, and on October 22, 2015, the Second Circuit Court of Appeal granted his writ application, declared the actions taken by the trial court, including the order staying the proceedings, an absolute nullity, and remanded the matter to the trial court for resolution of the motion to recuse en banc and the appointment of an ad hoc judge. On October 28, 2015, the 4th JDC judges jointly signed an order of recusal for the Cork case.

In light of these facts, Mr. Palowsky alleged that Judge Jones "engaged in actions intended to directly affect the outcome of the Cork case to the advantage of the defendants in this matter and to the disadvantage of Palowsky. Such acts constitute illegal case fixing through unethical ex parte communications directly with Judge Sharp which successfully changed a substantive ruling in a case in which both judges had a financial interest." Mr. Palowsky further alleged that Judge Jones’ intent was to cause additional damages to Mr. Palowsky and AESI in the Cork case and in the Campbell matter, and that the acts of Judge Jones constitute fraud and abuse of process which have caused additional damages to them. Finally, he stated that he does not seek additional damages against Judge Sharp for these alleged acts because Judge Sharp has judicial immunity from civil damages for his participation in the alleged acts, but that Judge Jones has no such immunity.

In response to this petition, the judges filed an Answer and Exception to Original, First and Second Supplemental, Amended and Restated Petitions for Damages. In their exception of no cause of action, they argue that the actions taken by Judge Jones as set forth in paragraph 78 of the Second Amended Petition are entitled to the protections of absolute judicial immunity. Subsequent to a hearing, the trial court rendered judgment, with written reasons, on March 14, 2021, sustaining the exception of no cause of action and dismissing with prejudice all of the allegations set forth against Judge Jones in paragraph 78 of the Second Amended Petition. This judgment was declared final after a determination that there was no just reason for delay, as required by La. C.C.P. art. 1915. Mr. Palowsky's timely appeal followed.2

On appeal, Mr. Palowsky assigns as error: (1) the trial court's finding that he did not state a cause of action against Judge Jones and thereby sustaining the exception of no cause of action; and (2) the trial court's failure to give him the opportunity under La. C.C.P. art. 934 to amend his petition to state a cause of action.

DISCUSSION

The function of the peremptory exception of no cause of action is to test the legal sufficiency of the petition, which is done by determining whether the law affords a remedy on the facts alleged in the pleading. State, Div. of Admin., Office of Facility Planning & Control v. Infinity Sur. Agency, L.L.C. , 10-2264 (La. 5/10/11), 63 So.3d 940, 945...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT