Toomer v. Breaux, No. 674

CourtLouisiana Court of Appeal
Writing for the CourtTATE
PartiesJohn Sheldon TOOMER, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Alphonse L. BREAUX, Defendant-Appellant.
Decision Date05 November 1962
Docket NumberNo. 674

Page 723

146 So.2d 723
John Sheldon TOOMER, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Alphonse L. BREAUX, Defendant-Appellant.
No. 674.
Court of Appeal of Louisiana, Third Circuit.
Nov. 5, 1962.
Rehearing Denied Nov. 28, 1962.
Certiorari Denied Jan. 14, 1963.

Page 724

Charles Jaubert, Lake Charles, for defendant-appellant.

John Sheldon Toomer, Lake Charles, for plaintiff-appellee.

Before TATE, FRUGE and CULPEPPER, JJ.

TATE, Judge.

This is a suit by an attorney against his former client to recover a legal fee owed for certain services and also for damages. The defendant client denies liability and reconvenes for certain damages.

The defendant client appeals from judgment awarding a legal fee to the plaintiff attorney. The latter answers the appeal, praying that the award be increased.

This dispute arises from the plaintiff's representation of the defendant and others in a suit to recover for the death of certain cattle allegedly poisoned by a drilling compound used in the drilling of an oil well. Recovery was denied by the trial court; the judgment of dismissal was affirmed

Page 725

by this appellate court; and the Supreme Court denied writs of certiorari and review. See Breaux v. Magnolia Petroleum Company, La.App. 3 Cir., 131 So.2d 615, certiorari denied.

After this appellate court rendered adverse judgment, the client Breaux made a written complaint to the local bar association, which complaint was referred to that organization's grievance committee. In this letter Breaux stated that the case had been lost because of the failure of the present plaintiff attorney to introduce into evidence certain laboratory reports, although requested to do so by Breaux.

Shortly thereafter, the plaintiff attorney filed the present suit, to recover his legal fee of $300 due for representing Breaux in the Magnolia case, above-cited, and further praying for twenty-five thousand dollars damages allegedly caused by the libelous statements contained in Breaux's letter of complaint to the local bar association. Breaux answered the suit, defending on the ground that the statements in the letter were privileged, but also reconvening on the ground that he was entitled to damages because the suit of Breaux v. Magnolia, above-cited, was lost through the negligent failure of the plaintiff, despite repeated requests to do so, to present certain laboratory reports in evidence.

All issues presented by these original pleadings and decided by the trial court are brought before us through the defendant's appeal and the plaintiff's answer to the appeal. We think that the trial court correctly decided these issues, for the most part, for the following reasons:

1. Privileged nature of the communication to the bar association.

Accepting for purposes of this discussion the plaintiff's contention that defamatory and untrue remarks concerning him were contained in the letter of complaint to the bar association, we agree with the trial court that the defendant made them without malice and that the defendant is not liable in damages for any defamatory remarks contained in the letter of complaint to the bar association, since such remarks were privileged.

On the grounds of public policy, in order to encourage the free communication of views in certain instances, the law recognizes certain communications as privileged and, as such, not within the rules imposing liability for defamation.

In some limited instances, such as in legislative debates, the privilege may be absolute and thus applicable even if the defamatory statement is maliciously made.

In other more numerous instances, a publication enjoys a 'qualified' or conditional privilege, applicable if the communication is made (a) in good faith, (b) on any subject matter in which the person communicating has an interest or in reference to which he has a duty, (c) to a person having a corresponding interest or duty. This privilege arises from the social necessity of permitting full and unrestricted communication concerning a matter in which the parties have an interest or duty, without inhibiting free communication in such instances by the fear that the communicating party will be held liable in damages if the good faith communication later turns out to be inaccurate.

See: 33 Am.Jur. 'Libel and Slander', Sections 124, 125, and 126.

Thus, for example, defamatory statements made by a witness to an investigating committee of a trade organization, if relevant and if made in good faith and without malice, enjoy a qualified privilege, even though the statements turn out to the untrue. Walsh v. Bertel, 187 La. 877, 175 So. 605. 'Information given in good faith, in the performance of a legal, moral or social duty, on a subject in which the party giving the information has an interest, if given to party having a corresponding duty or interest, is qualifiedly privileged.' 175 So. 609.

Page 726

In every jurisdiction in which the question has arisen, it has been held that either an absolute or (at least) a qualified privilege attaches to a former client's complaint to a bar association grievance committee of his lawyer's alleged negligence in the performance of the legal work retained to do. Ramstead v. Morgan, 219 Or. 383, 347 P.2d 594, 77 A.L.R.2d 481 (1959); Annotation, 'Libel and slander: privilege in connection with proceedings to disbar or discipline attorney,' 77 A.L.R.2d 493. This is based upon the social interest of the public, the courts, and the bar itself in affording the fullest possible investigation by those lawfully entitled to do so, of grievances alleged against the conduct of attorneys, in order either to correct abuses...

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80 practice notes
  • Trahan v. Superior Oil Co., No. 81-3081
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • March 21, 1983
    ...... [malpractice] suit does not constitute a prohibited collateral attack upon the judgment" in the damage suit. See Toomer v. Breaux, 146 So.2d 723, 727 (La.App. 3d Cir.1962), (however, proof there held too speculative). However, there are, of course, a number of significant differences be......
  • Smith v. Our Lady of the Lake Hosp., Inc.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Louisiana
    • July 5, 1994
    ...in damages if the good faith communication later turns out to be inaccurate.' " Carter, 316 So.2d at 522 (quoting Toomer v. Breaux, 146 So.2d 723 (La.App. 3d Cir.1962)). Medical peer review committee actions, in general, implicate identical policy concerns. As one court explained, "[i]f a c......
  • 29,134 La.App. 2 Cir. 4/4/97, Gulf States Land and Development, Inc. v. Ouachita Nat. Bank in Monroe
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Louisiana (US)
    • April 4, 1997
    ...(La.1986). Publication means the communication of non-privileged defamatory words to even one person. Martin, supra; Toomer v. Breaux, 146 So.2d 723 (La.App. 3d Cir.1962), writ denied. A defendant who utters a defamatory. statement is responsible for all republication that is the natural an......
  • Hoffman v. Bailey, CIVIL ACTION CASE NO. 13-5153.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Louisiana)
    • June 20, 2017
    ...So.2d 983 (La. App. 1 Cir. 1978) ).348 Harrison v. Uniroyal, Inc., 366 So.2d 983, 985–86 (La. Ct. App. 1978) (citing Toomer v. Breaux, 146 So.2d 723, 725 (La. App. 3rd Cir. 1962) ).349 Kennedy, 935 So.2d at 682.350 Id.351 Id. (citations omitted).352 Rec. Doc. 139–2 at 19.353 Kelly, 745 So.2......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
80 cases
  • Trahan v. Superior Oil Co., No. 81-3081
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • March 21, 1983
    ...... [malpractice] suit does not constitute a prohibited collateral attack upon the judgment" in the damage suit. See Toomer v. Breaux, 146 So.2d 723, 727 (La.App. 3d Cir.1962), (however, proof there held too speculative). However, there are, of course, a number of significant differences be......
  • Smith v. Our Lady of the Lake Hosp., Inc.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Louisiana
    • July 5, 1994
    ...in damages if the good faith communication later turns out to be inaccurate.' " Carter, 316 So.2d at 522 (quoting Toomer v. Breaux, 146 So.2d 723 (La.App. 3d Cir.1962)). Medical peer review committee actions, in general, implicate identical policy concerns. As one court explained, "[i]f a c......
  • 29,134 La.App. 2 Cir. 4/4/97, Gulf States Land and Development, Inc. v. Ouachita Nat. Bank in Monroe
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Louisiana (US)
    • April 4, 1997
    ...(La.1986). Publication means the communication of non-privileged defamatory words to even one person. Martin, supra; Toomer v. Breaux, 146 So.2d 723 (La.App. 3d Cir.1962), writ denied. A defendant who utters a defamatory. statement is responsible for all republication that is the natural an......
  • Hoffman v. Bailey, CIVIL ACTION CASE NO. 13-5153.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Louisiana)
    • June 20, 2017
    ...So.2d 983 (La. App. 1 Cir. 1978) ).348 Harrison v. Uniroyal, Inc., 366 So.2d 983, 985–86 (La. Ct. App. 1978) (citing Toomer v. Breaux, 146 So.2d 723, 725 (La. App. 3rd Cir. 1962) ).349 Kennedy, 935 So.2d at 682.350 Id.351 Id. (citations omitted).352 Rec. Doc. 139–2 at 19.353 Kelly, 745 So.2......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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