Defendant Asserting Comparative Fault May Appeal a Summary Judgment Dismissing a Co-Defendant

In Amedee v. Aimbridge Hosp. LLC, 2021-01906 (La. 10/21/22), the Louisiana Supreme Court resolves a circuit split and holds a defendant pleading comparative fault may appeal a summary judgment dismissing a co-defendant even if the plaintiff does not.

Amedee v. Aimbridge Hosp. LLC – Background

Plaintiff brought suit for personal injuries he sustained at the entrance of the Embassy Suites Hotel in New Orleans. Plaintiff named as defendants: Premium Parking, the City of New Orleans, and three other parties.

After conducting discovery, several defendants filed motions for summary judgment, one of which was granted, dismissing plaintiff’s claims against the City of New Orleans. Premium Parking was the only party to oppose the City’s summary judgment and was the only party to appeal the judgment.

On appeal, the Louisiana Fourth Circuit raised the issue whether Premium Parking had the right to appeal a trial court’s judgment dismissing a co-defendant. After briefing, the Fourth Circuit noted a split among the circuits, and relying on La. C.C.P. art. 966(G) and Nunez v. Commercial Union Ins. Co., 00-3062, p. 1 (La. 02/16/01), 780 So. 2d 348, 349, held a defendant had no right to appeal a dismissal of a co-defendant when the plaintiff had not appealed.

Premium Parking subsequently timely filed a writ application to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

Louisiana Supreme Court analysis

The Louisiana Supreme Court, citing Emmons v. Agric. Ins. Co., 245 LA. 411, 158 So. 2d 594, 597 (1963), Nunez v. Com. Union Ins. Co., 2000-3062 (La. 2/16/01), 780 So. 2d 348, and Grimes v. Louisiana Med. Mut. Ins. Co., 2010-0039 (La. 5/28/10), 36 So. 3d 215, noted Louisiana jurisprudence had long implicitly recognized a defendant’s right to appeal the dismissal of a co-defendant, even when the plaintiff had not appealed. The Court disagreed with the Fourth Circuit’s interpretation of Nunez, and noted that Nunez was concerned with the consequences of a plaintiff’s failure to appeal a judgment and not whether a defendant had the right to appeal a judgment against a co-defendant.

The Court further cited: State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. McCabe, 2014-501 (La. App. 3 Cir. 11/5/14), 150 So. 3d 595, 597, Stafford v. Exxon Mobile Corp., 2016-1067, (La. App. 1 Cir. 2/17/17), 212 So. 3d 1257, Cotton v. Kennedy, 2015-1392, (La. App. 1 Cir. 9/19/16), 2016 La. App. Unpub. LEXIS 343, 2016 WL 5061113, noting these cases also implicitly found a defendant’s right to appeal the dismissal of a co-defendant. The Court then cited: Dixon v. Gray Ins. Co., 2017-29 (La. App. 5 Cir. 6/15/17), 223 So. 3d 658, noting this case found a defendant did not have a right to appeal the dismissal of a co-defendant when the plaintiff had not appealed. The Court further noted the Third Circuit had rendered conflicting decisions on whether defendant had a right to appeal the dismissal of a co-defendant when the plaintiff had not appealed.

The Court began its analysis by stating an appeal is the “exercise of the right of a party to have a judgment of a trial court revised, modified, set aside, or reversed by an appellate court.” La. C.C.P. art. 2082. Article 2082 does not contain any restrictions regarding which “party” may appeal the final judgment, and even non-parties have the right to appeal. La. C.C.P. art. 2086. A motion for summary judgment dismissing a party is an appealable judgment. La. C.C.P. art. 1915(A)(3).

Louisiana law requires a defendant assert any affirmative defenses, including its affirmative defense of the fault of others, in its answer. La. C.C.P. art. 1005. Defendants also bear the burden of proving their affirmative defenses. The Court stated as obvious a defendant who pleads an affirmative defense must be given the opportunity to prove it. If the affirmative defense is comparative fault, La. C.C. art. 2323, requires the trier of fact to make a determination of fault as to all persons, whether the person is a party to the lawsuit or not. This is in contrast to La. C.C.P. art. 966(G) which prohibits the trier of fact from considering the fault of any parties dismissed on summary judgment.

The Court stated that La. C.C. art. 2323 and La. C.C.P. art. 966(G) do not conflict. The trier of fact can quantify the fault of all persons under La. C.C. art. 2323, while also being prohibited from determining the fault of any party dismissed under La. C.C.P. art. 966. The Court stated that it is important, however, that any decision on a motion for summary judgment dismissing a party be correct. The only way to ensure a judgment is correct is to make those decisions subject to review. The Court stated it would be “patently unjust” to bar a defendant from appealing a trial court’s summary judgment dismissing a co-defendant when the defendant has pled comparative fault. Amedee p. 30.

The Court further stated:

It is illogical that a defendant participating in opposing a summary judgment would not be allowed to appeal an adverse result, particularly given that La. C.C.P. art. 2086 allows a non-party to do so. That a non-party would have greater rights than a party to a lawsuit is nonsensical. Id.

The Decree

The Court ultimately held “a defendant who pleads the affirmative defense of comparative fault may appeal a summary judgment dismissing a co-defendant, even absent an appeal by a plaintiff.” Id. at 31.

The Court reversed and remanded the case back to the court of appeal for consideration of the merits of Premium Parking’s appeal.