BATON ROUGE – A bill that would repeal a Louisiana law prohibiting jury trials in lawsuits filed against a political subdivision was passed today by the state's Senate and is now in the House.
SB 154, sponsored by Sen. Dan Claitor (R - District 16), passed the Senate by a 35-0 vote. The vote followed a motion to reconsider, which was tabled.
"It is on its way to the House where the speaker will refer it to a committee," Claitor said in an email to the Louisiana Record. "If and when the committee reports back to the House, the House will vote."
The bill was received into the House shortly after the Senate vote, where it was read by title and now lies over under the rules.
Louisiana's present statute, § 13:5105, last revised in 2011, prohibits trial by jury or even costs in a case filed against a political subdivision. "Except upon a demand for jury trial timely filed in accordance with law by the state or a state agency or the plaintiff in a lawsuit against the state or state agency, no suit against the state or a state agency shall be tried by jury," the statute says in part.
The question about whether a plaintiff suing a political subdivision in Louisiana has the right to demand trial by jury is not a new one in Louisiana. The Louisiana Supreme Court has previously ruled that actions against a political subdivision in the state and/or an employee of that political subdivision should be tried by a judge alone and not before a jury. In Powell v. Regional Transit Authority, decided in June of 1997, the high court cited 1988 amendments to the statute prohibiting trial by jury in these cases.
Whether a jury trial is prohibited in such cases is especially crucial in inverse condemnation claims, in which the 1974 Louisiana Constitution provides for full and a jury trial. However, the state's Code of Civil Procedure, specifically CCP 1732, proscribes jury trial in all cases where it is specifically denied by law.
Louisiana is unique in its political subdivisions, which are defined in the state constitution under Article VI, Section 44P, as "a parish, municipality, and any other unit of local government, including a school board and a special district, authorized by law to perform governmental functions." Louisiana is the only state in the U.S. with political subdivisions called parishes, which in other states are roughly equivalent to counties. The largest parish by population in the state is East Baton Rouge Parish, which is specifically mentioned in SB 154.
Supporters of SB 154 include the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.
This bill enjoyed a brief stay and fairly swift passage in the Senate. On March 3, it was pre-filed and, under the rules, provisionally referred to the committee on Judiciary A. Claitor is chair of Judiciary C, as well as a member of Health & Welfare.
Less than two weeks later, on March 14, the bill was introduced into the Senate, read by title and the rules were suspended. It then was read a second time and referred back to Judiciary A. On Tuesday, there was a favorable report about the bill before it was read by title Wednesday, ordered engrossed and passed to third reading and then passed the senate Thursday.