Improper Designation of Final Judgment in St. Tammany Parish Leads to Dismissal for Lack of Appellate Jurisdiction

erasure-1237046-1024x768Courts are not perfect, and sometimes they do not always render the correct decision. When a court makes an error in their judgment it can be very frustrating for all of the parties involved. Error can be very costly especially when a major issue, like finding coverage for a victim of an automobile accident under an umbrella insurance policy, needs to be determined. Both the plaintiff and defendant wants the court to look in their favor, but it is also the responsibility of the court to make an error free and accurate decision that is fair and just to both sides.

One such case where the trial court made an error in rendering a final judgment comes from St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana. On May 26, 2010, Gary Michael Brown (“Mr. Brown”) was driving a truck that was owned by his employer J&J Diving Corporation. While driving, Mr. Brown got into an accident with St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Deputy, Scott Jarred (“Mr. Jarred”). Mr. Jarred filed a lawsuit against Mr. Brown, J&J Diving Corporation, and Progressive Insurance Company. On May 22, 2012, Mr. Jarred amended his original complaint and added two more defendants. These defendants were XL Specialty Insurance Company and Valiant Insurance Company, and they provided a Marine Excess Liability Policy, or Bumbershoot policy, for J&J Diving Corporation. Two days later, Mr. Jarred entered into a Gasquet release. A Gasquet release is where the plaintiff settles all claims with the primary insurance provider for a smaller amount than policy limits, but does not settle with the umbrella policy insurer. Gasquet v. Commercial Union Ins. Co., 391 So.2d 466 (La. Ct. App. 4th Cir. 1980), writ denied, 396 So.2d 921 (La. 1981). Mr. Jarred settled all of the claims against J&J Diving Corporation, Mr. Brown, and Progressive; but he reserved his claims against both XL Specialty Insurance and Valiant Insurance.

XL Specialty Insurance and Valiant Insurance filed a motion for summary judgment on December 5, 2013. Their main argument surrounding the motion, was that the Bumbershoot policy only provided coverage to J&J Diving Corporation for their commercial diving contractor operations. The accident between Mr. Jarred and Mr. Brown was not related to those commercial diving contractor operations. Because there was no relation, the Bumbershoot policy should not provide any coverage for Mr. Jarred’s accident. Mr. Jarred filed a cross-motion for summary judgment on February 14, 2014 and requested that the trial court should find coverage for him under the Bumbershoot policy provided by XL Specialty Insurance and Valiant Insurance. Mr. Jarred’s main argument was that because the policy contained the word “contractor,” the Bumbershoot policy therefore expanded the coverage and should be provided to him. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Mr. Jarred on June 5, 2014 and certified that their decision was a final judgment because there was no just reason for delay.

On appeal the court immediately found an error by the trial court, because the trial court failed to provide reasons for designating the judgment as final per La. Code Civ. P. art. 1915(B). Because the matter was only a partial summary judgment the appeals court needed to determine if the final judgment was proper. The court could not do anything regarding the merits of the appeal until they determined that the final judgment issued by the trial court was valid. La. Code Civ. P. art. 2083. Looking at a variety of different factors, the appeals court found that there was no compelling reason to designate the partial summary judgment as final. A valid final judgment must dispose the claim to which the judgment is entered, and in this case the judgment on appeal did not dispose Mr. Jarred’s claim against XL Specialty Insurance and Valiant Insurance. Instead, the judgment only decided the issue surrounding whether the Bumbershoot policy could be used to provide coverage for Mr. Jarred. Had the trial court been more specific and provided more binding language the appeals court could have proceeded and made a decision on the merits of the case itself. The appeals court held that the trial court improperly designated the summary judgment as a final judgment, and dismissed the case for lack of appellate jurisdiction.

Additional Sources: SCOTT JARRED VERSUS GARY MICHAEL BROWN, J & J DIVING CORPORATION AND PROGRESSIVE INSURANCE COMPANY

Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer: Justin Wickersham

Additional Berniard Law Firm Articles on Final Judgments: Exploring the “Law of the Case” Doctrine in Vernon Parish Car Accident Litigation