Not just any court can hear any case. Depending on certain factors, your local court may not be the right choice to bring your matter. A New Orleans attorney found this out the hard way in a recently decided case.
The matter arises out of a situation where the court affirmed a workers’ compensation judge’s ruling granting Mr. Feingerts’ attorneys $10,000 upon Mr. Feingerts’ $50,000 settlement. Mr. Bruce Feingerts was at one time represented by James Babst for the case that resulted in a settlement. After two requests for payment from Mr. Feingerts’ attorneys who actually settled his case, Mr. Babst petitioned for concursus regarding the the disputes and submitted the settlement funds to the concursus proceedings in the Orleans Parish Civil Court. However, this was not the court in which the case was currently being litigated. At the time Babst filed the concursus the case was still pending with the Office of Workers’ Compensation Administration.
The Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure defines a concursus as a proceeding where multiple parties having competing or conflicting claims to money can combine their cases and present their claim against the other claiming parties (La. C.C.P. art. 4651). Not being happy with having to litigate a separate case in a new court, Mr. Feingerts lawyers sought to implement the judgment and sought a penalty against Mr. Babst for their time and effort with the Office of Workers’ Compensation Administration (“OWCA”) stating that they were the only court that should hear the concursus proceedings. The OWCA agreed and heard the case.
After taking up the motion, the OWCA decided that Mr. Babst had misemployed the courts, by filing the concursus case in Orleans Parish Civil Court. The OWCA further stated Babst had clearly tried to undermine the power and authority of the courts, and the Workers’ Compensation Court is the correct forum for filings with the OWCA. The Judgment by the OWCA also ordered that the settlement funds be transferred to the OWCA, and further assessed Mr. Babst with a payment of $5,000 plus costs in the original judgment as a result of Mr. Feingerts having to file motions to the concursus in the Orleans Parish Court. The Orleans Parish Court also granted the exception for improper venue meaning they could not hear the case and dismissed Mr. Babst’s petition. The Orleans Parish Court also transferred the settlement funds to the OWCA so they could be distributed according to the judgment. Mr. Babst appealed in both the Orleans Parish Court and the OWCA.
The main argument Mr. Babst had on both appeals is that the Orleans Parish Court had Subject Matter Jurisdiction over the matter, not the OWCA. Subject Matter Jurisdiction is what allows courts to hear certain cases based on a few factors. (La. C.C.P. art. 2). If the court does not have subject matter jurisdiction any judgment from that case is void (La. C.C.P. art. 3). All courts have a duty to examine whether they have subject matter jurisdiction even if the parties do not bring it up. In this case, the OWCA was actually given exclusive jurisdiction by the Louisiana state law to hear the concursus proceeding (La. R.S. 23:1310.3(F)). Because the OWCA had exclusive subject matter jurisdiction, the judgment by the Orleans Parish Court was void making the judgment from the OWCA enforceable.
Mr. Babst also argued that the penalty from the OWCA judgment was unfair. Mr. Feingert’s attorneys argued Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure Article 2004 gave the lower court the authority to sanction Mr. Babst with the attorney’s fees and cost associated with this and their previous cases. This statute discusses the situation in which an award of attorneys fees can occur. The court decided that in light of Mr. Babst’s bad actions in the previous case and the judgment by OWCA regarding his abuses of the judicial system, the lower court was correct to assign the additional fees and costs of the continued dispute to be paid by Mr. Babst.
The Court of Appeals decided that the OWCA was well within its authority and jurisdiction to hear the case, make a judgment, and assign sanctions to Mr. Babst. Because the case relied on a workers’ compensation issue, Louisiana state law gave the exclusive jurisdiction to the OWCA and the Orleans Parish Civil Court did not have the authority to get involved in the dispute.
Additional Sources: WEGMANN & BABST, LLC, AND JAMES A. BABST VERSUS BRUCE L. FEINGERTS, ROBERT L. MANARD, PLC; ROBERT L. MANARD, III; PAUL E. MAYEAUX; DWIGHT W. NORTON; AND FAVRET, DEMAREST, RUSSO & LUTKEWITTE APLC
Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer: Emily Temple
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