Caddo, LA- Second Circuit Reverses Trial Courts Application of the Doctrine of Res Judicata In Lawsuit Against School Board

school-1231939-1024x691Litigating an issue once is a difficult and time consuming process in itself, and having to do so twice would be an unbearable and unfair burden which is the reason for the existence of the doctrine of res judicata. It serves the courts purposes of fairness and efficiency by preventing the relitigation of matters previously litigated and decided on as well as those that should have been raised and litigated in a previous lawsuit. The application of this doctrine is a complicated and lengthy one but the Second Circuit when reviewing a trial courts application of the doctrine in a lawsuit involving teacher Kamithia D. Penton as plaintiff and the Caddo Parish School Board (CPSB) as defendant (with others) was able to do so whilst also addressing a few of the doctrines exceptions.

The lawsuit itself arises out of an injury suffered by Ms. Penton when escorting a bipolar, disruptive and violent student to the school’s office. The injury took place after Ms. Penton had already urged principal Pamela Bloomer to remove the child from the school due to the danger he posed to the staff and other students. Ms. Penton, on October 12, 2011 filed a lawsuit against the child’s divorced parents; Ms. Bloomer and; the CPSB in its capacity as Ms. Bloomer’s employer seeking damages for her personal injuries. State Farm was later added as as a defendant, as the insurer of each parent. In response to the lawsuit CPSB and Ms. Bloomer filed a motion for summary judgment asserting Ms. Penton could not establish an intentional tort and that all of her recovery was in workers compensation and that she had in fact already made the workers compensation claim and received full benefits.

The motion was granted as to all parties except the father and his insurer, who asserted the affirmative defense of the payment of workers compensation benefits. CPSB then sought intervention to recover the sums already paid and any future sums they may have to pay on Ms. Penton’s behalf. In response Ms. Penton filed the exception of Res Judicata as set forth in La. R.S. 13:4231 stating that the intervention sought to present a claim which CPSB was obligated to bring prior to the dismissal as a compulsory pleading. Before the exception was heard in court on June 16, 2014, a settlement was reached regarding the liability of the father and his insurer for Ms. Penton’s injuries. The claims were dismissed “with prejudice, reserving any and all rights” as they relate to claims by Ms. Penton between her and the CPSB.

The trial court granted the exception of res judicata and reversed the motion granting CPSB’s intervention. The trial court’s reasoning was that CPSB failed to file a demand or claim for reimbursement of medical expenses as required by La. C.C.P. art. 1061(B). However on appellate review of the records it was found that CPSB did in fact assert its entitlement to reimbursement in its February 2012 pleading, which was not attached to the exception as an exhibit. La. C.C.P. art. 1061 (B) applies only to a defendant bringing a claim against a plaintiff and CPSB was not bringing a claim against Ms. Penton (plaintiff) it was instead seeking to intervene based off of its mutual interests with Ms. Penton against the tortfeasor. The court also reviewed Louisiana jurisprudence and further determined that  LA. C.C.P art. 1061 (B) did not apply because an employer who pays benefits to an injured employee becomes a “co-owner of a property right consisting of a right to recover damages from the third person.” Therefore making them co-parties rather than adverse ones.

The appellate court further held that Ms. Penton failed to carry her burden of proving the essential elements for the exception of res judicata. The essential elements being that the: 1) judgment in the first law suit is valid 2) and final 3) the same parties are involved 4) the cause(s) of action in the second lawsuit existed at the same time as the final judgment of the first litigation and 5) the cause(s) of action in the second suit arose out of the same transaction or occurrence as the first lawsuit. In Louisiana a final valid judgement is conclusive between the same parties pursuant to La. R.S. 13:4231, and La. R.S. 12:4232 states that a judgment does not bar another action by the plaintiff when the judgment reserved the right of the plaintiff to bring another action. The doctrine of res judicata also does not bar a subsequent claim when the same parties are involved and a party appears in a different capacity in the second suit.

The appellate court also took note of the dismissal of claims against the child’s father and insurer specifically reserved any and all rights concerning the intervention and rights concerning the claims between Ms. Penton and the CPSB. Therefore CPSB’s right to litigate for reimbursement was preserved and not waived by the settlement, and res judicata does not bar the CPSBs claims as an intervenor. Furthermore CPSB appeared in two different capacities, in the first lawsuit CPSB appeared as a defendant who was allegedly vicariously liable for Ms. Bloomers actions as her employer and in the second lawsuit CPSB appeared as an intervenor seeking reimbursement for workers compensation that had already been paid. Therefore the essential element that the parties be the same is not satisfied pursuant to the exception to the application of res judicata as stated above regarding the same parties appearing in different capacities.

This case demonstrates the complicated and important role that the doctrine of res judicata has in the fairness and efficiency of the judicial system, and how its application effectively decides what claims can be brought when multiple claims involving the same parties are present.

Additional Sources: Kamithia D. Penton v. Michael A. Castellano et. al

Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer: Ashley Jones 

Additional Berniard Law Firm Articles on Res Judicata: Houma Boat Swell Accident Victim Convinces Court of Appeals to Bypass Res Judicata