Defendant, Global Pipelines Plus, Inc. (Global), appeals from a judgment which finds La.C.C.P. art. 1732(6) constitutional. We affirm.
Plaintiff, Patrick Palmer, filed suit on November 23, 1993 for personal injuries which he received while employed as a galleyhand aboard the lay barge Cherokee. He sued his employer, Blue Water Catering, Inc. (Blue Water) and the shipowner, Global, under the Jones Act and general maritime law pursuant to La.C.C.P. art. 1732(6). By so doing, he waived his right under the Jones Act to a jury trial.
Global, joined by Blue Water, filed an answer which included a request for a jury trial and declaratory judgment on the constitutionality of C.C.P. art. 1732(6). Palmer then filed a motion to strike the jury request.
On appeal, Global argues that the trial judge erred in finding that the statute is constitutional and by holding that the statute does not violate the due process or equal protection clauses. It argues that the trial judge erred in finding that the right to a civil jury trial is not a fundamental right which would require strict scrutiny of the statute. Instead, the trial judge tested the constitutionality of the article by examining whether a legitimate state interest exists to deny a jury trial to Global and Blue Water, if Palmer elects to file suit under the general maritime law. Global contends that, under the jurisprudence, the right to a jury trial is a fundamental right and thus, the legislative enactment is subject to strict scrutiny. It argues that because the right is fundamental, the burden of proving a "compelling state interest" shifts to Palmer and the Attorney General. Global asserts that neither Palmer nor the state produced any evidence of compelling state interest. In addition, Global contends that the trial judge erred in finding that it did not cite any authority for the principle that the right to a jury trial is a fundamental right requiring strict scrutiny under the Louisiana Constitution.
In response, Palmer argues that the trial judge did not err because the right to a civil jury trial is fundamental only when the legislature has not passed legislation denying the right. In this case, there is specific legislation denying the right to a civil jury trial. Furthermore, Palmer asserts that the article has been found to be constitutional under both the United States and the Louisiana Constitutions.
The constitutionality of a statute is a question of law. State v. Caldwell, 616 So.2d 713, 721 (La.App. 3 Cir.1993). Unlike questions of fact, questions of law are not reviewed under the manifest error standard. Instead, questions of law are resolved by determining whether the trial judge was legally correct or legally incorrect. See: Evangeline Parish School Bd. v. Energy Contracting Services, Inc., 617 So.2d 1259, 1265 (La.App. 3 Cir.1993); Babcock & Wilcox Co. v. Babcock Mexico, 597 So.2d 110, 112 (La.App. 4 Cir.1992).
Louisiana jurisprudence holds that a jury trial is a basic and fundamental right that should be protected, in the absence of specific authority for its denial. Champagne v. American Southern Insurance Co., 295 So.2d 437, 439-440 (La.1974); Block v. Fitts, 259 La. 555, 250 So.2d 738, 739 (1971); Rico v. Vangundy, 461 So.2d 458, 462 (La.App. 5 Cir.1984); Duplantis v. U.S. Fidelity & Guar. Ins. Corp., 342 So.2d 1142, 1143 (La. App. 1 Cir.1977); Cambridge Corner Corp. v. Menard, 525 So.2d 527, 530 (La.1988). The key phrase is the "absence of specific authority for its denial". In this case, we have a statute which specifically denies the defendant a jury trial, if the plaintiff designates his action as a general maritime action. Thus, contrary to defendant's argument, the "fundamental right to a jury" is not protected and the courts are not required to apply the strict scrutiny test, when the legislature has declared that there is no right to a jury in particular circumstances. This denial of a jury trial does not offend either the United States or Louisiana Constitutions.
As noted by Global, the issue of the constitutionality of C.C.P. art. 1732(6) under the United States Constitution was settled in Parker v. Rowan Companies, Inc., 599 So.2d 296, 301 (La.1992) (on rehearing). There, the Louisiana Supreme Court stated that the legislature intended to achieve, for the plaintiff seaman in state court, the same exclusive choice of bench or jury trial in Jones Act cases, which prevails in federal court. Parker v. Rowan Companies, Inc. at 301. The Parker court determined that the statute at issue does not violate the supremacy
In Sons v. Inland Marine Service, Inc., 577 So.2d 225, 229-230 (La.App. 1 Cir.1991), the First Circuit addressed the same issue that is before this court, that is, whether the article violates the Louisiana Constitution. They concluded that the article does not violate the Louisiana Constitution. The court stated:
The court in Sons applied the "appropriate state interest" test and found that the state has a legitimate interest in treating maritime defendants differently from other classes of defendants in regard to jury trials. Quoting Heinhuis v. Venture Associates, Inc. of Louisiana, 558 So.2d 1244 (La.App. 1st Cir.1990), writs denied, 559 So.2d 1369, 1385 (La.1990), it referred to the legislative discussion on implementation of the article and stated that the purpose of the enactment of article 1732(6) was to make the procedure in state admiralty cases consistent with the procedure in federal admiralty cases. Sons v. Inland Marine Service, Inc. at 230. In addition, the Sons court noted that the state also has a legitimate interest in minimizing the delays and greater court costs which generally attend jury trials. Id. It concluded that defendant failed its burden of proving that the law does not further a legitimate state interest and found that the article does not deny them equal protection of the law under the Louisiana Constitution. Id. at 230.
The court in Sons also addressed Article I, section 22 of the Louisiana Constitution of 1974, the "access to the courts" provision, which states:
As noted by that court, there is no analogous provision in the United States Constitution. However, the court held that this provision "does not prohibit legislative restriction of legal remedies". Id. Rather, it "operates only to ensure that the courts will be open to provide remedies which are fashioned by the legislature". Id. at 230, citing Williams v. Kushner, 524 So.2d 191, 196 (La.App. 4th Cir.1988), amended and affirmed, 549 So.2d 294 (La.1989). In the case of a maritime defendant, the "access to the courts" clause does not apply, since the defendant has access to the court and to the judge, an impartial trier of fact.
Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court is hereby affirmed and costs of appeal are assessed against Global.