Parfait v. Transocean Offshore, Inc., 2007-C-1915.

Citation980 So.2d 634
Decision Date14 March 2008
Docket NumberNo. 2007-C-1915.,No. 2007-C-1998.,2007-C-1915.,2007-C-1998.
PartiesTerrell PARFAIT v. TRANSOCEAN OFFSHORE, INC., and Shell Oil Products Co.
CourtSupreme Court of Louisiana

PER CURIAM.*

After entertaining oral argument on whether to grant writs on the limited issue of the effect and propriety of the court of appeal's decree, we grant writs in part to resolve a difficult and novel issue of Louisiana law. Namely, we now determine the effect of an en banc judgment rendered by a court of appeal that has been unable to issue a majority decree regarding damages. For the following reasons, we now hold that, in such a situation, an en banc judgment that fails to reverse or modify a trial court's damages award has the effect of affirming the trial court award.1

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Following a January 20, 2004 trial in this personal injury case, a jury found, inter alia, that pursuant to 46 U.S.C.App. § 688 ("Jones Act"), Transocean Offshore, Inc. ("Transocean") was 75% negligent for injuries Plaintiff suffered while working as a floor hand aboard one of Transocean's drilling rigs.2 In accord with the jury's verdict, Plaintiff was awarded damages totaling $1,701,029.11.3 After Defendants appealed, a five judge panel of the Court of Appeal, Fourth Circuit could not reach a majority judgment on all of the issues presented. Parfait v. Transocean Offshore, Inc., 04-1271, 05-0174 (La.App. 4 Cir. 1/05/07); 950 So.2d 8. This Court then remanded the matter for en banc consideration. Parfait v. Transocean Offshore, Inc., 07-0220, 07-0225 (La.4/05/07); 953 So.2d 57, 58. This en banc panel was also unable to render a decree reflecting a majority judgment on each issue presented in this case. Parfait v. Transocean, Inc., 04-1271 (La.App. 4 Cir. 8/10/07); ___ So.2d. ___, 2007 WL 2473252. Particularly, while several issues were decided unanimously and nine of twelve judges found no manifest error in the jury's finding that Transocean was negligent, there was no majority decree as to the damages amount Plaintiff was to receive:

As to the damages, six judges of the court (Chief Judge Armstrong and Judges Jones, Murray, Bagneris, Lombard and Belsome) would affirm the jury award of $1,701,029.11;

Two judges (Judges McKay and Love) would reduce the jury award to $1,312,979.11.

One judge (Judge Cannizzaro) would reduce the jury award to $712,029.11.

...

Three judges of the court (Judges Kirby, Tobias and Gorbaty) find the jury was clearly wrong in finding Transocean negligent and would reverse the judgment against it[.]

Id., pp. 2-3, Id., pp. ___-___.

On September 19, 2007, this Court once again remanded the matter and ordered the court of appeal to render a decree reflecting a majority vote on each of the issues presented, as required by La Const. Art. V, § 8(B). Parfait v. Transocean Offshore, Inc., 07-1816 (La.9/19/07); 964 So.2d 928. In its own Order, dated September 27, 2007, the court of appeal misconstrued our action as ordering its judges to change their opinions for the sake of a majority vote. Order No. 2004-CA-1271. Again failing to render a majority decree, the court of appeal left its August 10, 2007 opinion as originally written.

On November 1, 2007, because of the unique position in which the litigants in this matter have been placed, this Court ordered briefing and oral argument on the limited procedural issue of the effect and propriety of the August 10, 2007 opinion of the court of appeal en banc. The litigants subsequently argued before this Court on November 27, 2007.

DISCUSSION

La. Const. Art. V, § 8(B) provides that a "majority of the judges sitting in a case must concur to render judgment." Rather than reflecting an en banc majority decision for the instant matter, the court of appeal's August 10, 2007 decree reflects the view of only one judge (the opinion's author) that Plaintiff's damages award of $1,701,029.11 should be reduced to $712,029. See Parfait, 04-1271, p. 3, p. ___. Indeed, writing separately in numerous concurrences and dissents, six of the eleven other judges on the panel would affirm Plaintiff's damages award at $1,701,029.11, two would reduce the award to $1,312,979.11, and three would reverse the award in its entirety. Id., pp. 2-3, Id., pp. ___-___. This is simply not an executable majority judgment.

Responding to our remand, the court of appeal's Order has left its original opinion as written after misconstruing our action as an Order that each of its judges "chang[e] his or her opinion simply for the sake of reaching a majority vote on each issue[, thus] abdicating his or her constitutional responsibility as an elected member of the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal." Order No. 2004-CA-1271, at 1. This Court did not, however, order that the judges of the Fourth Circuit change their opinions in this case, nor did we order them to abdicate their constitutional responsibilities. On the contrary, we ordered the court of appeal to satisfy those responsibilities and exercise its adjudicative function to issue a decree that, in accordance with its constitutional authority to review cases, actually provides an executable majority judgment on each issue presented.4 See La. Const. Art. V, § 8(B). The court of appeal's inability to provide such a judgment has left this Court to review a decision in which a majority of the sitting judges (nine of twelve) believe that Transocean should pay Plaintiff damages but no majority has been able to point to how much that award should be. Again, six of twelve judges would affirm Plaintiff's damages award of $1,701,029.11, two would reduce the award to $1,312,979.11, one would reduce the award to $712,029.11, and three would reverse the award in its entirety.5 Thus, we are presented with a decision of the court of appeal that remains evenly split on the issue of whether to disturb the quantum of a jury's damages award: six of the twelve judges would uphold the jury's award in its entirety while the other six would reduce or reverse the award.

As stated above, the Louisiana Constitution dictates that "[a] majority of the judges sitting in a case must concur to render a judgment." La. Const. art. V, § 8B. Further, the Constitution provides that, "in civil matters only, when a judgment of a district court is to be modified or reversed and one judge dissents, the case shall be reargued before a panel of at least five judges prior to rendition of judgment, and a majority must concur to render judgment." This provision suggests that a majority of an appellate court must concur before a trial court judgment can be modified or reversed.

Persuasive is La. Civ.Code art. 2324.1 (stating that "[i]n the assessment of damages in cases of offenses, quasi offenses, and quasi contracts, much discretion must be left to the judge or jury"), and Louisiana jurisprudence, which has consistently held that much discretion is left to a judge or jury to assess damage awards, and has allowed such awards to be disturbed only when there has been a clear abuse of that discretion. Coco v. Winston Indus., Inc., 341 So.2d 332 (La.1977).6 Given the great respect afforded to a jury's damages award, it would defy logic to allow that award to be modified or reversed by anything less than a majority of an appellate court.7 As we are now presented with an evenly split twelve judge en banc panel, no majority has concurred to modify the damages award and, thus, we hold that the award must stand as rendered in the trial court's judgment.

At oral argument, Transocean asserted that our previous decision in Butler v. Zapata Haynie Corp. provides guidance for how this Court should address the en banc split in the instant matter. 94-1171 (La.7/5/94); 639 So.2d 1186 (per curiam). Butler involved a different procedural posture than that presented here, however. In Butler, the plaintiff had alleged injury while working aboard the defendant's vessel. See Butler v. Zapata Haynie Corp., 92-71, p. 1 (La.App. 3 Cir.1994); 633 So.2d 1274, 1276. The trial court had entered judgment for the defendant, finding that no accident had occurred. Id. Thus, the trial court had awarded the plaintiff no damages whatsoever. On appeal, three of five of the court of appeal judges found that the evidence established that an accident had occurred and that the plaintiff was entitled to special damages. Id., at passim. However, these three judges could not agree on the amount of damages due. Id. Upon review, in a per curiam opinion, this Court held:

In the decree by the court of appeal, two judges would have fixed damages for the loss of earning capacity at $294,670, one judge would have fixed this item at $150,000, and the two remaining judges would not have awarded any damages. Accordingly, there were not three votes for the $294,670 award by the "majority" opinion. The highest award for loss of earning capacity upon which a majority of three judges concurred was $150,000[fn] and that must be the amount of the award in the judgment.

The judgment of the court of appeal is therefore amended to reduce the award for loss of earning capacity to $150,000.

[fn]: The votes by two judges for $294,670 included a vote for $150,000, although those two judges would have awarded more than the majority consensus figure of $150,000."

Id., p. 1; at 1186.

We need not presently address the propriety of this "vote-for-the-greater-includes-a-vote-for-the-lesser" approach,8 as Butler did not involve a damage award that had been set by a trial court. Additionally and most significantly, a majority of the judges concurred that the plaintiff was entitled to an award of...

To continue reading

Request your trial
20 cases
  • Rodriguez v. State
    • United States
    • Georgia Supreme Court
    • June 30, 2014
    ...among the six dissenting judges about what ought to happen next in the trial court dispositive. See Parfait v. Transocean Offshore, Inc., 980 So.2d 634, 635–637 (La.2008) (12–member court of appeals was equally divided where six judges would affirm award of damages, two would reduce the awa......
  • Abs Servs., Inc. v. James Constr. Grp.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Louisiana — District of US
    • December 21, 2018
    ...judgment. Accordingly, except as set forth below, the remainder of the trial court's judgment stands. Parfait v. Transocean Offshore, Inc., 2007-1915 (La. 3/14/08), 980 So.2d 634, 639.FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORYAt the outset, we deem it worth noting that although this court is unable to ag......
  • S.J. v. Lafayette Parish School Bd.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Louisiana — District of US
    • July 29, 2009
    ...issues" in the case. Defendant now directs the five panel members to the Supreme Court's decisions in Parfait v. Transocean Offshore, Inc., 2007-1915/2007-1998 (La.3/14/08), 980 So.2d 634 and Rainey v. Entergy Gulf States, Inc., 2008-2233 (La.12/12/08), 996 So.2d 1058. I have reviewed these......
  • Radcliffe 10, L.L.C. v. Burger
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Louisiana — District of US
    • March 28, 2016
    ...there is no executable majority judgment, and the effect is that the decision of the trial court stands. Parfait v. Transocean Offshore, Inc., 2007–1915 (La.3/14/08), 980 So.2d 634, 639.CONCLUSIONFor the above and foregoing reasons, the trial court judgment of October 30, 2013 stands and ap......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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