FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
This litigation arose from a Petition for Damages/Slip and Fall filed by Plaintiff, Edward Perkins. In the petition, Plaintiff alleged on March 21, 2012, he suffered a serious injury while participating in a work release program at the MARTCO plywood facility in Chopin, Louisiana. On that date, he was an inmate in the custody of the Louisiana Department of Corrections housed at the Rapides Parish Work Release Center.
According to Plaintiff, upon arriving at the MARTCO facility on the date in question, he was told by his supervisor to clean debris around the drop chute. To do so, Plaintiff had to drop to his knees to clean underneath. While getting back on his feet, he alleged he slipped on the wet floor and attempted to keep himself upright by grabbing a nearby cage. When he grabbed it, the cage was pulled down on top of Plaintiff and his head was trapped under the lift.
Named as defendants in the suit were the State of Louisiana, through the Department of Public Safety and Corrections (hereafter DOC), Sheriff William Earl Hilton, as the administrator of the Rapides Parish Work Release Center, and MARTCO, the work release employer. It was alleged by Plaintiff that either or both the Sheriff and/or the DOC breached a duty to provide Plaintiff with a safe workplace. At the same time suit was filed, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Proceed in Forma Pauperis, seeking pauper status to avoid having to pay the cost of court associated with the suit. The pauper motion is found in the record joined with an "order" and date stamped on March 8, 2013 by the Rapides Parish Clerk of Court. Although Plaintiff was out of prison at the time his suit was filed, he was at some point re-incarcerated and then released on September 23, 2014. The record does not show any action taken by the trial court on the pending March 2013 pauper motion. However, counsel for Plaintiff received and paid court costs subsequent to the filing of the pauper motion when requested by the clerk's office.
Although Plaintiff was a DOC inmate assigned to the Rapides Parish Work Release Center and allegedly injured while working in that capacity, the district court in Rapides Parish found the injury did not arise out of a "condition of confinement" and transferred the case to Natchitoches Parish, the parish where the MARTCO plywood facility was located. No party objected.
On June 10, 2013, the Sheriff answered the petition, filing a general denial. The DOC also answered, asserting it had no authority over the Rapides Parish Work Release program. On April 27, 2014, the Sheriff filed a motion for summary judgment and for sanctions against Plaintiff. The Sheriff maintained Plaintiff's exclusive remedy was in workers' compensation. The Sheriff also argued he had no duty as a matter of law to provide a safe workplace while Plaintiff was working for a work release employer. A similar motion seeking summary judgment on behalf of DOC was filed on May 9, 2014.
After a hearing on the motions for summary judgment and motion for sanctions,
Plaintiff filed a Motion and Notice of Appeal on August 4, 2014, which was granted on August 7, 2014. The Natchitoches Parish Clerk of Court sent Plaintiff the estimated costs for the record pursuant to La.Code Civ.P. art. 2126, but those costs were not paid. Following Plaintiff's release from prison on September 23, 2014, Plaintiff's counsel filed a second application for pauper status on October 8, 2014, which was denied by the trial court due to a lack of information in the application. This second pauper motion was in response to a revised estimate of costs mailed to Plaintiff's counsel by the Natchitoches Parish Clerk of Court on October 1, 2014. The Sheriff filed a Motion to Dismiss Appeal on November 3, 2014, alleging Plaintiff failed to pay the required estimated costs. On December 1, 2014 (before the ruling on that motion), Plaintiff filed a motion to continue the Motion to Dismiss Appeal and a motion for an extension to pay appeal costs and/or to perfect pauper status. He also filed a third application for pauper status, contending he was not required to pay the costs of appeal set by the clerk of court because he was in fact a pauper. At the hearing, it was noted Plaintiff had filed a pending motion for pauper status in March of 2013 in Rapides Parish, prior to the transfer to Natchitoches Parish, which was not acted upon by any trial judge. A hearing on December 15, 2014 was held on the Motion to Dismiss Appeal, at which time the trial court granted the motion, finding the costs had not been paid. The trial court believed Plaintiff's prior pending pauper application in Rapides Parish had no effect on Plaintiff's pauper status in Natchitoches Parish, and concluded Plaintiff had never been adjudicated a pauper. A judgment reflecting that ruling was signed on December 18, 2014.
Plaintiff's pending December 1, 2014 pauper motion, filed before the dismissal of his appeal on December 18, 2014, and argued at the December 15, 2014 hearing, was granted by a different trial judge on January 20, 2015.
On appeal, the Sheriff and DOC both filed Motions to Dismiss the Appeal from the December 18, 2014 judgment, alleging Plaintiff abandoned the second appeal by failing to brief any errors in the December 18, 2014 judgment. They assert Plaintiff "has only briefed the merits of the June 27, 2014 and July 24, 2014 judgments, [and] ignor[ed] the December 18, 2014 dismissal of his first appeal of those judgments."
At oral argument, counsel for Plaintiff acknowledged no assignment of error was being asserted against DOC; and, thus, no appeal was being pursued against DOC. In accordance with that admission, DOC filed a Motion to Dismiss, which this court hereby grants, dismissing Plaintiff's appeal
I. Sheriff's Motion to Dismiss Appeal.
The Sheriff also filed a Motion and Order to Dismiss Appeal with this court, asserting Plaintiff has only appealed the judgment rendered on December 18, 2014. That judgment granted the Sheriff's November 3, 2014 motion to dismiss the appeal from the prior judgments as abandoned for failure to pay fees for the preparation of the record pursuant to La. Code Civ.P. art. 2126.
The Sheriff argues:
Plaintiff has opposed the Sheriff's Motion to Dismiss, arguing in brief as follows:
In support of this argument, Plaintiff cites Reed v. Columbia/HCA Info. Serv., Inc., 99-1315 (La.App. 5 Cir. 4/25/00), 761 So.2d 625, noting the appellate court there found where the appeal costs have been posted prior to the hearing on the motion to dismiss, the later payment satisfied the intent and purposes of La.Code Civ.P. art. 2126 and dismissal of the appeal for failure to timely pay the costs within twenty days was improper.
Of particular relevance, this court in Lousiana Bd. Of Massage Therapy v. Fontenot, 04-1525 (La.App. 3 Cir. 5/4/05), 901 So.2d 1232, discussed the purpose behind dismissing appeals for failure to pay costs as required by La.Code Civ.P. art. 2126:
In Louisiana Bd. Of Massage Therapy, 901 So.2d at 1235, we recognized the necessity
In the present case, there was confusion over the granting of pauper status to Plaintiff. In fact, the record shows the first pauper status request was filed in March of 2013 when suit was initially filed. Although Plaintiff's counsel maintains she thought the pauper application had been granted, a review of the record shows nothing to indicate the pauper application was ever acted upon by any trial court.
Considering the confusion resulting from the Rapides Parish court's failure to act on the first pauper motion and the Natchitoches Parish clerk's failure to submit the pending pauper motion to the Natchitoches Parish judge for disposition without the filing of a new pauper motion and affidavit, combined with the overriding principal that maintaining appeals is strongly favored, we decline to grant the Sheriff's motion to dismiss this appeal.
II. Grant of Summary Judgment.
Plaintiff misstates the burden placed on the Sheriff at the hearing on the motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff contended the burden was on the Sheriff to prove he is entitled to statutory immunity from suit under the Louisiana Workers' Compensation Act. However, because the Sheriff would not bear the burden of proof at trial, in a summary judgment proceeding he only had to show that no material fact existed as to at least one essential element of the non-movant's (Plaintiff's) claim. La.Code Civ.P. art. 966. The trial court found the Sheriff did so by establishing it had no duty to Perkins to keep him safe at his employment with MARTCO. Specifically, the Sheriff argued it only owed the general duty to protect a prisoner in its custody from harm. In support of this argument, the Sheriff cited this court's opinion in Lee v. State, ex rel. Department of Public Safety & Corrections, 10-1013 (La.App. 3 Cir. 3/30/11), 60 So.3d 106, writ not considered, 11-914 (La. 6/17/11), 63 So.3d 1030. The trial court found Lee controlled in this case, and based its judgment granting summary judgment and awarding sanctions on Lee.
In Lee, a DOC inmate was injured while working at Lumber Investors, Inc., as a
The court in Lee noted, while the State has a general duty to provide for inmate safety, it owes no duty to ensure that a private employer provides work release inmates with a reasonably safe workplace. The Lee court distinguished cases where the inmate had been injured "while working on the property of the penal institution where they were incarcerated rather than being injured while participating in a work release program." Lee, 60 So.3d at 109.
Similarly, this court in Madison v. State of Louisiana, Department of Public Safety & Corrections, et al., 14-1067 (La.App. 3 Cir. 5/6/15), 164 So.3d 381, writ denied, held the state had not duty to ensure the safety of its inmates while they are performing work release at another facility. In Madison the inmate therein was injured while working for the Louisiana Military Department on its National Guard base, which was located on the same piece of property as the State prison where the inmate was incarcerated. Interestingly, two dissenting judges discussed whether the close proximity between the prison and the National Guard base created a factual issue as to whether a duty was owed by the State. Such a question is not present here, as Plaintiff was housed at the Sheriff's jail and employed by a private factory miles from the jail.
Plaintiff argues he was never an employee of MARTCO in the legal sense. This court in Harrington v. Hebert, 00-1548 (La.App. 3 Cir. 5/23/01), 789 So.2d 649, discussed the criteria for determining the existence of an employment relationship:
Plaintiff argues in brief "MARTCO did not pick out or select [Plaintiff] to be its employee, nor did [Plaintiff] select or voluntarily agree to work for MARTCO." This statement is not supported by the record. Similar to the plaintiffs in Lee and Madison, the Plaintiff voluntarily applied to the Work Release Program. He stated in his deposition he desired to be in the program to "pick up some [job] skills" and to better his "opportunity to have a job when [he] got out." Plaintiff underwent an interview process with MARTCO before his employment began, clearly evidencing MARTCO's authority to choose whether to select Plaintiff for employment. Plaintiff also acknowledged in his deposition that his interview was not guaranteed to lead to employment with MARTCO.
Further, the evidence establishes MARTCO paid Plaintiff for his labor. Although Plaintiff attempts to argue "his pay was tendered to work release" and "the Sheriff then apportioned some arbitrary portion of these monies to [Plaintiff]." To the contrary, the payment of wages to Plaintiff was in accordance with the procedure set forth in La.R.S. 15:711(D) and (E). Plaintiff provided labor to MARTCO, and was paid for that labor.
Plaintiff acknowledged in his deposition that MARTCO had the power to discipline or fire him for job misconduct. However, he argues on appeal that "the power of dismissal also carries with it the right to quit or refuse work," and Plaintiff maintains he did not have this right. As the Sheriff notes, there is nothing in the record to substantiate Plaintiff's claims that he could not refuse to work for MARTCO.
Further, Plaintiff's deposition testimony established MARTCO was solely in control of his work while on the premises. He stated the Sheriff's deputies merely drove him to the MARTCO plant and never went inside nor had any involvement with his job duties. Once entering the plant Plaintiff was supervised only by MARTCO employees.
Thus, we find no error on the trial court's part in finding the record established MARTCO, not the Sheriff or DOC, was Plaintiff's employer under the jurisprudential test set forth in Harrington. Arguments to the contrary by Plaintiff are not supported by the record. Plaintiff cites the case of Jones v. Houston Fire & Casualty Ins. Co., 134 So.2d 377 (La.App. 3 Cir.1961) to argue he could not be considered a MARTCO employee. However, this case offers no support for this proposition. Jones did not involve any outside employer, and merely involved whether an inmate performing labor on prison grounds, for the prison, could be considered an employee of the State.
We find no error on the trial court's part in granting the Sheriff's motion for summary judgment, and affirm that ruling.
III. Motion for Sanctions.
Plaintiff next contends the trial court erred in awarding the Sheriff sanctions against Plaintiff's attorney under La. Code Civ.P. art. 863.
While we note a trial court's determination regarding the imposition of sanctions is subject to the manifest error or clearly wrong standard of review, this court in Bentley v. Fanguy, 09-822 (La. App. 3 Cir. 10/6/10), 48 So.3d 381, writ denied, 10-2854 (La.2/25/11), 58 So.3d 457, discussed the "exceptional circumstances" which are required to impose sanctions under Article 863:
Although we find Plaintiff's counsel was somewhat stubborn in pursuing claims against the Sheriff and DOC after her client's deposition was taken, she sincerely believed the merit of her position. This differs from the facts presented in Acosta, where the trial court specifically found the plaintiff's attorney was aware he had no evidence to support the suit he filed. A fact Acosta's attorney acknowledged to the trial court. That is not the situation herein. Plaintiff's attorney zealously advocated the merits of her position on appeal, submitting a lengthy appellate brief and presenting an impassioned oral argument before this court. Though we find her position jurisprudentially unsupportable as a matter of law and jurisprudence, the question regarding the appropriateness of sanctions here does not rest entirely on this finding. Article 863 requires that the attorney or party who signs a pleading make an objectively reasonable inquiry into the facts and law. We believe Plaintiff's counsel, while ultimately incorrect in assessing the merits of her client's case, made such an inquiry and we do not find the record establishes the exceptional circumstances needed for the imposition of sanctions.
Accordingly, we find that the trial court abused its discretion in sanctioning Plaintiff's counsel $10,142.40. Therefore, we reverse that portion of the trial court's judgment.
For the foregoing reasons, the Motion to Dismiss Appeal filed by DOC, and agreed to aby all parties, is granted. The Motion to Dismiss the Appeal filed by the Sheriff is denied. The judgment of the trial court granting summary judgment in favor of the Sheriff is affirmed. The judgment awarding sanctions against Plaintiff's attorney in the amount of $10,142.40 is reversed. Costs of this appeal are assessed equally to the Sheriff and Plaintiff.
AMY, J., concurs in part, dissents in part, and assigns reasons.
AMY, J., concurring in part, dissenting in part.
I agree with the majority in its granting of the motion to dismiss filed by the Department of Public Safety and Corrections.
However, I respectfully dissent from the remainder of the majority review as I would also grant the motion to dismiss filed by the Sheriff of Rapides Parish. Notably, the order of appeal in the present case arises from only the December 18, 2014 judgment of the trial court. That judgment addressed the State's and the Sheriff's motions to dismiss appeal as well as a denial of the plaintiff's motion for extension of time. However, the plaintiff only assigns as error the merits of the summary judgment and the imposition of sanctions, i.e., matters not covered by the scope of the judgment under review, and does not, in fact, address the subject matter of the December 18, 2014 judgment. Accordingly, in my view, the appeal, as taken by the plaintiff, has been abandoned per Uniform Rules — Courts of Appeal, Rule 2-12.4.
For these reasons, I concur in part, and dissent in part.