The Complexities of the Involuntary Dismissal of a Claim

A lawsuit can be resolved in many ways. Prior to formal court proceedings, the suit may be dropped voluntarily for one reason or another, or the parties might come to an agreement in mediation. If the case goes to trial, it may be resolved with the judge or jury entering a verdict after a full trial. It may also be resolved before the close of proceedings by way of dismissal. If a case is dismissed it can have serious repercussions for a suit, and often destroys the likelihood of recovery if a dismissal is entered against a plaintiff. There are many types of possible dismissals that can end a proceeding including the involuntary dismissal of a claim.

Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure Article 1627 governs involuntary dismissal. The plaintiff presents their case first, and upon the completion of the presentation of the plaintiff’s case, the defendant may make a motion for involuntary dismissal. The judge then reviews the evidence presented. If he finds the plaintiff has shown no right to relief, he may grant the motion for involuntary dismissal. On a motion for involuntary dismissal, the plaintiff’s testimony should generally be accepted as true. So long as the plaintiff has presented enough evidence to establish his argument by a preponderance of the evidence, a fairly low burden of proof, the case should be allowed to proceed and the motion denied. If the motion is granted, the plaintiff can appeal the decision. A decision granting involuntary dismissal is difficult to overcome on appeal but it is not impossible. The 2011 case of Settle v. Paul illustrates what can happen where a plaintiff successfully appeals an involuntary dismissal.
In 2009, James Settle sued Brenda Michelle Paul, his ex-girlfriend, in a dispute over the existence of a partnership agreement between the parties. Mr. Settle and Ms. Paul formed a construction company and took on several small projects in the company’s infancy. In 2003, Ms. Paul filed the necessary paperwork to have the company incorporated in Louisiana, forming the limited liability corporation Landmark Construction Company of Coushatta (Landmark). She was listed as the sole member of Landmark. Mr. Settle agreed that the parties decided Ms. Paul would be the sole member of the corporation because they wanted the company protected from seizure against Mr. Settle’s child support obligations. The company was profitable throughout the duration of its operation.

Mr. Settle and Ms. Paul’s personal relationship deteriorated, and they separated in 2008. Mr. Settle left the company, and Landmark ceased all operations. Ms. Paul refused to give Mr. Settle access to Landmark records or funds and took the position that she was the owner of the company and that Mr. Settle was merely an employee. Mr. Settle filed his suit seeking recognition as a co-owner of Landmark and a partition of the company’s assets. He argued that, as business partners, he and Ms. Paul each owned one-half of the company. The case proceeded to trial where Judge Peyton Cunningham of the Judicial District Court of Red River Parish granted Ms. Paul’s motion for involuntary dismissal of the case. The court held that Ms. Paul was the sole owner of Landmark based on documentation presented to the court.
Mr. Settle appealed the decision arguing that the court erred in granting the motion, because he had presented enough evidence to establish that a partnership had existed between himself and the defendant. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals of Louisiana agreed. It reversed the dismissal citing evidence presented by the plaintiff that Ms. Paul was listed as the sole owner of the company only to protect it against Mr. Settle’s child support obligations and that there was evidence of intent that the company be owned equally between the parties. The matter was sent back to the trial court for a completion of the trial on the merits. In other words, Mr. Settle was awarded a chance to have the case fully heard in court.

To ensure you receive a full and fair trial based on the merits of your case you need representation with knowledge of the possible outcomes of litigation. If you have a claim for personal injury or an insurance dispute, you need the services of an effective legal team to help you with your case.

Contact the Berniard Law Firm toll-free at 1-866-574-8005 or on the web at laclaim.com and an expert attorney will be able to assist you.