After being involved in a one-car accident in 2008, a Louisiana woman sued East Carroll Parish Police Jury, claiming that a pothole on Perry Road resulted in her accident. She later amended her claim to state that other factors had further contributed to her injury and that the road was defective. In response, the Police Jury filed a motion for summary judgment, and the hearing on the matter was set for August 1, 2011.
Because the hearing date was set for August 1, 2011, this meant, according to Louisiana law, that if the woman wanted to file an opposition to the motion for summary judgment, she had until eight days before the already set hearing date to do so. This deadline for filing the opposition materials was then set as July 24, 2011. However, July 24th came and went, and no opposition materials were filed on the plaintiff’s behalf. On July 29, 2011, three days before the hearing, the plaintiff tried to move the hearing back, claiming that she needed more time for discovery. When the day of the hearing came about, the court pointed out that the plaintiff did not file her motion for continuance until after the eight-days before the hearing deadline.
At the hearing, the court did finally grant the motion for continuance, despite the fact that it was filed late, and the hearing was rescheduled for September 20, 2011. The plaintiff was told that any opposition had to be filed on or before September 6, 2011 (even though this would be more than eight days before the newly scheduled hearing). Basically, the court had offered the plaintiff a 45-day extension of her deadline, from July 24th to September 6th.
Once again the deadline came and went, and no materials were filed by the plaintiff’s counsel. Finally, on September 12, 2011, plaintiff filed an opposition. Although this was eight days before the schedule hearing, it was six days after the deadline set by the court. According to Louisiana law, the defendant then has until four days before the hearing to file any response they may have to the opposing materials filed by the plaintiff. The Police Jury filed their response timely, and with their response they included a motion to strike the documents that the plaintiff filed late.
The main issue in this case is the fact that the plaintiff’s attorney filed the opposition materials late. As a result of the late filing, the trial court ultimately used its discretion to disallow the late-filed opposition materials. While there are some exceptions when these documents can be accepted late, does the trial court have to accept the late-filed opposition materials?
The plaintiff argues that according to the plain language of Louisiana law, the plaintiff has until eight days before the hearing to file its opposition, and that the court erred by trying to require that she submit those materials 14 days before the hearing. Furthermore, she argues that the defendant was not hurt in any way by the late filing and that the court exceeded its authority by granting the defendant’s motion to strike.
However, Louisiana law also says that parties can agree to submit documents earlier than required by the law and that a judge can decide to deviate from the rules as long as it is in the pursuit of justice and that all parties have been given notice. In this case, both of those conditions were met, and the appellate court found that the trial court does not have to accept the late-filed materials. The trial court further found that it was fully within the court’s discretion to not take the late-filed materials into consideration.
This case highlights the importance of understanding state law when it comes to the actual procedural aspects of a case and how important deadlines are when serving a client.
If you have been involved in a personal injury case and want an attorney who will be committed to your case, making sure to file timely, convincing documents on your behalf, call Berniard Law Firm at (504) 527-6225.