What do the movie, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” and final judgments have in common? Both require a “golden ticket” to succeed in the next phase. In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, each contestant must have a golden ticket to gain access to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. In trial-level court cases, judgments must include clear, specific language that makes them valid and disputable. Although the chances of Charlie discovering one of the five golden tickets were rare, the chances of an appeal being heard are less likely without a valid, disputable judgment.
What language is required to make a judgment valid and disputable? How does a court correct a judgment that does not include clear and specific language? A recent case out of Lafayette addressed these questions and offered preventative measures to avoid future occurrences of the same dilemma.
Curley Mouton lost his life in an automobile accident on April 24, 2014, after a tire on a tractor-trailer failed and burst, causing debris to fly into the roadway. Mouton’s surviving spouse and oldest son filed lawsuits against the truck driver, Arthur Huguley, Huguley’s employer, AAA Cooper Transportation, Inc. (ACT), and the insurance company, Ace American Insurance Company (ACE). After a jury trial, a decision favoring Mouton’s spouse and son was made. The jury found Huguley and ACT responsible for the accident, with 10% of the responsibility allocated to Huguley and the remaining 90% allocated to ACT. The jury awarded the Mouton family damages for the survival action and wrongful death damages.
After the Mouton family filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV), a motion requesting the court to ignore the jury’s decision, the trial court increased the amount of damages in the survival action and entered a judgment on February 8, 2017. The defendants filed a motion for suspensive appeal, requesting the court to suspend the judgment until the appellate court can review the judgment on March 1, 2017. The appellate court ordered the Defendants to show cause or identify reasons why the appeal should not be dismissed or suspended until an amended judgment, including the proper decretal language, could be entered.
A judgment must include proper decretal language to be valid and disputable. Proper decretal language includes: (1) the name of the party or parties in whose favor the decision is ordered, (2) the name of the party or parties against whom the decision is ordered, and (3) outlines the type of relief that is granted or denied to the party or parties. See Abshire v. Town of Gueydan, 208 So. 3d 405 (La. Ct. App. 2016). It is also essential that a judgment be accurate, obvious, and specific. See Johnson v. Mount Pilgrim, 934 So. 2d 66 (La. Ct. App. 2006). For a judgment to be considered valid and disputable, the relief that is granted or denied to the party or parties must be evident from the judgment without mentioning any outside source. See Bd. of Supervisors of La. State Univ. v. Mid City Holdings, L.L.C., 151 So. 3d 908 (La. Ct. App. 2014).
For example, a judgment that fails to name the party or parties against whom the judgment is ordered is likely insufficient because it needs to be more obvious regarding which party or parties the judgment may be enforced. See Input/Output, Inc. v. Wilson Greatbatch, Inc., 977 So. 2d 109 (La. Ct. App. 2008).
Louisiana’s Third Circuit Court of Appeals found the appeal should be suspended rather than dismissed until the trial court executed a judgment including proper decretal language. In particular, the Third Circuit Court of Appeal discovered the original judgment entered by the trial court failed to identify the names of the parties against whom the judgment was ordered and the percentages of fault allocated by the jury. The original judgment also failed to stipulate the increase in the award of damages in the survival action and individual wrongful death damage amounts awarded to Mouton’s wife and son. Following the entry of an amended judgment with proper decretal language, the Third Court of Appeals advised it would supplement the appellate record and proceed accordingly.
This case demonstrates the importance of understanding applicable law, staying current with relevant case law, and advocating for transparent judgments. Traditionally, if a judgment is regarded invalid and undisputable by an appellate court, the appeal will be dismissed. However, because the appeal was filed timely in the instant case and a satisfactory remedy existed, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals declined to dismiss the case. A competent attorney can advocate for transparent judgments at the trial level to minimize the probability of case dismissal at the appellate level.
Additional Source: MOUTON v. AAA COOPER TRANSP.
Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer: Ashley Werdann
Additional Berniard Law Firm Article on Proper Decretal Language in Judgments: What Happens When Your Judgement Lacks The Magic Words