Louisiana appellate court unanimously dismisses cross-appeals in legacy case, finding that the trial court improperly designated partial summary judgment rulings as final under Article 1915 of the Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure.
In Spanish Lake Restoration, LLC v. Shell Oil Company, et al., the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal recently dismissed cross-appeals taken in a legacy case. The legacy plaintiff (“Spanish Lake”) and Shell Oil Company (“Shell”) appealed a judgment that granted, in part, and denied, in part, motions for summary judgment filed by Shell. The judgment granted Shell’s motion to dismiss Spanish Lake’s claims against Shell pursuant to the subsequent purchaser doctrine, but reserved to Spanish Lake the right to plead and possibly develop two alternative statutory theories asserted as a basis for relief. The court further denied Shell’s motion to the extent it argued that Spanish Lake’s claims were prescribed. The trial court included in the judgment that “there is no just reason for delay in designating this judgment as a partial final judgment pursuant to 1915(B)(1) of the Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure,” and noted that the parties expressly agreed to this designation.
Spanish Lake appealed the judgment in Shell’s favor dismissing its claims based on the subsequent purchaser doctrine. Shell then cross-appealed the trial court’s reservation to Spanish Lake of a possible right to attempt to articulate or develop claims under statutory theories, as well as the trial court’s prescription ruling. The First Circuit declined to reach the merits of any of these issues, finding instead that it lacked appellate jurisdiction because the appeals were taken from a partial judgment that was improperly designated as final under article 1915(B). The court first explicitly rejected the notion that appellate jurisdiction can be conferred simply by agreement of the parties. Rather, the trial court must conduct its own inquiry as to whether the designation was proper. Since the trial court did not provide any reasons for its designation, the Court of Appeal was required to conduct a de novo review of the final judgment designation. Pursuant to that review, the court held that the designation was improper because: (i) Article 1915 does not allow for denials of motions for summary judgment to be designated as final judgments; and (ii) the factors to be considered in determining whether “there is no reason for just delay” (as set forth in R.J. Messinger, Inc. v. Rosenblum, 2004-1664 (La. 3/2/05), 894 So. 2d 1113) were not met. The court additionally recognized—but declined to exercise—its discretion to convert the appeals to applications for supervisory writs, which would have allowed it to rule on the merits of the issues before it.
The Spanish Lake decision demonstrates that neither the agreement of the parties, nor the trial court’s bare designation of a partial judgment as final is necessarily sufficient to confer appellate jurisdiction over a judgment that is not immediately appealable. Rather, the appellate courts may take a harder look at whether such a designation is truly warranted, with the potential consequence of the appeal being ultimately dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. Indeed, a similar decision was recently rendered by the Louisiana Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal in Bank of New York v. Holden, 15-466 (La. App. 5 Cir. 12/23/15), 182 So. 3d 1206.