On Prematurity and a Plaintiff’s Case for Damages

According to the Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure, a defendant can file an “exception of prematurity” to challenge whether the plaintiff’s cause of action has “matured to
the point where it is ripe for judicial determination.” A classic (mis)application of the exception is found in the 1999 case, Steed v. St. Paul’s United Methodist Church. In that case, the church’s choir director sued the minister for sexual harassment. The minister filed a counter-claim for defamation, arguing that the choir director’s false allegations damaged his reputation in the Monroe community. Before the appellate court, the choir director asserted that the minister’s defamation claim was premature because the trial court had not yet entered a judgment declaring that her harassment allegations were false (truth being an absolute defense to defamation). However, because the choir director never filed an exception of prematurity in the trial court, she could not raise the issue on appeal. This is because, as a “dilatory” exception, it is waived if not specifically pled and a court cannot “supply an exception of prematurity on its own motion.”

A similar failure to plead the exception plagued the plaintiff in the more recent case of Moreno v. Entergy Corp.. Daniel Moreno was badly shocked while working around overhead power lines in Jefferson Parish. Moreno sued Entergy Corporation, the owner of the power lines. Entergy filed a cross-claim against Moreno’s employer, Stewart Interior Contractors, LLC. Entergy argued that, if it were found liable for Moreno’s injuries, the Act would create a right of indemnity against Stewart because the contractor violated the Overhead Power Line Safety Act (the “Act”) by working near the power lines without first contacting the owner of the lines (Entergy) and making the necessary safety arrangements. The trial court ruled against Entergy, finding that the Act “does not create an independent right of indemnity for damages incurred as a result of injuries suffered by third parties.” When Entergy appealed this judgment, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed on the grounds of prematurity, though the exception had not been raised by any party. The Fifth Circuit declared that because no fault had yet been allocated to any party, no cause of action for indemnity had been created. The court entered an “exception of no cause of action on the basis of prematurity,” a judgment which had not been seen previously in Louisiana jurisprudence. Upon review, the Louisiana Supreme Court found that the Fifth Circuit erred as a matter of law in supplying the exception to prematurity on its own motion. “Although the court of appeal claimed it was entering an exception of no cause of action, the judgment was not truly based on the legal insufficiency of the allegations [for which it was permitted to raise an exception on its own accord]. It is clear that the court based its ruling solely on the theory that Entergy’s indemnity claim was not ripe for adjudication, which is properly raised only via dilatory exception.” Accordingly, the court reversed the Fifth Circuit and remanded the case.

The complexity of dilatory exceptions like prematurity reinforces the importance of retaining a competent attorney in any legal action.

If you have been injured due to someone’s negligence, call the Berniard Law Firm at 1-866-574-8005 to speak with an attorney who understands the myriad of procedural strategies that opposing counsel might attempt to employ, and who can help you obtain the recovery you deserve.