NEW ORLEANS — The Louisiana Supreme Court recently reversed and affirmed parts of an appeals court ruling in favor of Gerald Castille, a bus driver, in his suit against the St. Martin Parish School Board.
In a per curiam order issued March 15, the high court found that the Third Circuit Court of Appeals erred in awarding $75,000 in bad faith damages to Castille.
Castille had worked for the St. Martin Parish School Board since 1977. In his early years at the school board, he drove routes considered to be "undesirable" as they "required the assigned bus driver to travel very long distances while trying to maintain a safe and orderly bus populated with children from families that were known to have little or no respect for the bus operators," according to the order.
In 1980, he was assigned to a less-populated route that over time became more desirable, and he drove it for nearly 30 years.
The "[p]laintiff claimed to have developed relationships with the students and their parents, noting that the route gave him 'a sense of purpose and dignity.'"
In 2008, the school board's transportation committee met to consider changing routes to lower fuel costs. As a result of route changes, Castille was re-assigned to a route that was similar to the one he had during his early years with no changes in salary or benefits.
The "[p]laintiff objected to this new route but claims the bus manager told him to try the route for a few weeks and come back if he was still unhappy because the routes were not set in stone and adjustments could be made," the order said. "After two weeks, plaintiff requested to be returned to the Highway 31 route, but was told to deal with the current situation."
He sued the school board claiming, among other things, that the school board's actions were done in bad faith and constituted breaches of the school's implied duty to perform its contractual obligations in good faith.
He also sought non-pecuniary damages and claimed detrimental reliance based on alleged assurances by his supervisors that the route would be changed if he did not like it.
At a bench trial, a judge found that the school board violated state statute in reassigning Castille's route in 2008. The judge, however, dismissed Castille's contract, detrimental reliance and non-pecuniary damage claims, ruling that they were matters of workers' compensation.
The trial court also awarded Castille full pay for loss of salary and other reimbursements.
Castille appealed to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed in part and reversed in part.
The Louisiana Supreme Court ultimately ruled that although it found "the school board did not breach its contract with plaintiff in bad faith, there is no basis for court of appeal's award of contractual damages of $75,000 to plaintiff for the acceleration of his episodes of anxiety and depression. Accordingly, this portion of the court of appeals judgment must be reversed."
Chief Justice Bernette Johnson and justices Jefferson Hughes and James Genovese dissented.