A good lawyer must be on top of his or her case. Not only must a lawyer know the facts of the case and the applicable law, but the lawyer must also meet certain deadlines and procedure requirements by the court. While little activity on a case might mean it has gone stale, no activity at all can mean abandonment, which is exactly what happened to one plaintiff in Jefferson Parish.
George Segerstrom brought a personal injury claim against police officer Desmond Julian and the City of New Orleans. Mr. Segerstrom alleged that Officer Julian crashed into him with a police car. Three years after Mr. Segerstrom’s filing of the case, the City of New Orleans filed a motion asking the trial court to consider the case abandoned and dismiss the action. The trial court agreed with the City of New Orleans, finding the case abandoned and dismissing it.
Abandonment occurs when there is inactivity in a case for three or more years. La. C.C.P. art. 561. If a lawsuit is considered by abandoned, then the trial court must dismiss the case. Abandonment is automatic and a side cannot “breathe new life into the [case]” once the case is abandoned. Clark v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 785 So.2d 779, 784, 789 (La. 2001). Acceptable ways to ensure that a case stays active is by filing motions, going through discovery (the information gathering part of a trial), and other formal trial procedures.
Mr. Segerstrom appealed the trial court’s ruling. He contested the abandonment, arguing that a phone call made to opposing counsel was a Rule 10.1 conference, and thus not abandonment. Rule 10.1 requires both sides to confer (a process where both attorneys meet and discuss an issue before bringing the issue to the court’s attention) when faced with a discovery dispute. Mr. Segerstrom claimed that his phone call was a conferral under Rule 10.1 and thus a step in the case, prohibiting abandonment.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Louisiana disagreed. It looked at the record of documents filed with the trial court and noted that after the preliminary filings, nothing further appeared on the record. The Fifth Circuit emphasized that while Mr. Segerstrom contacted counsel pursuant to Rule 10.1, he never mailed a Rule 10.1 conference request letter. The Fifth Circuit reasoned that the phone call, without the mailing of the conference request, was not formal action. Without formal action, the Fifth Circuit held, the case had not moved forward and was therefore abandoned.
Lawsuits take time. In that time, the appropriate steps need to be taken to ensure that a case is on track. Mr. Segerstrom’s case is proof that if the proper procedures are not followed, it may mean the end of the case before it even gets to trial.
Additional Sources: GEORGE SEGERSTROM v. DESMOND M. JULIAN, SR. AND THE CITY OF NEW ORLEANS
Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer: Declan Chandler McGinty
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