In order to prevail in a lawsuit, the plaintiff must have a “cause of action,” which is a theory of law supported by facts that the court can recognize as a path to providing the plaintiff a remedy. At trial, a defendant may raise a peremptory exception — essentially an argument that the court cannot help the plaintiff with his or her problem — if the plaintiff’s petition does not allege facts that support the cause of action.
In March of 2005, John Rombach resigned from his position in Baton Rouge as fiscal officer for the State of Louisiana. Rombach’s job was to analyze the financial effects of proposed legislation on the government, including tax revenue. He claimed that he was so good at his work that he made enemies of some of the officials whose legislation he recommended be rejected due to their high cost. He further claimed that these opponents attempted to have him removed from office on the basis of supposed inappropriate payments he made to himself.
Rombach found himself before the Louisiana Board of Ethics in 2010. After the Board of Ethics ultimately dismissed all complaints against Rombach, he filed a lawsuit for defamation, malicious prosecution, and abuse of process against the “opponent” state officials who he believed filed the ethics complaints that led to the Board’s investigation. The defendants filed peremptory exceptions, claiming that the facts alleged by Rombach did not support a theory of law that would permit the court to award Rombach damages. Though the trial court denied these peremptory objections, it nevertheless dismissed the case. Rombach appealed to Louisiana’s First Circuit Court of Appeal.
In reviewing the trial record, the Court found no evidence to support any of Romach’s claims against the defendants. His defamation claim failed because none of the defendants was connected with the newspaper article that reported on the Board of Ethics’s investigation; the source of the article’s information was the Board itself, not the defendants. Similarly, Rombach’s claim of malicious prosecution and abuse of process could not stand because he failed to prove that any of the defendants actually filed complaints with the Board. Rather, the evidence suggested the Board undertook the investigation on its own.
Interestingly, the Court chose to act on its own power to raise a peremptory exception of no cause of action. La. C.C.P. art. 927(B). Louisiana law requires that if such an exception is raised, the plaintiff must be given the chance to amend his petition. However, the Court reasoned that Rombach had already been given two opportunities to do so by the trial court. Declining to allow Rombach to “speculate on unwarranted facts” for the third time, the Court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the lawsuit.
This case demonstrates that a plaintiff’s theory of recovery must be based on facts that relate directly to the cause of action. Even if the facts are disputed by the parties, the plaintiff’s cause of action must be supported by the facts as the plaintiff alleges them. In Rombach’s case, he was unable to point to any fact that reinforced the elements of his causes of action.
Additional Sources: ROMBACH v. LOUISIANA
Additional Berniard Law Firm Blog Article on Peremptory Exceptions: Louisiana Court Does Not Hold Insurer Responsible for Negligence of an Uncovered Driver
Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer: Ashley Weaver