NEW ORLEANS — A federal judge overseeing a complaint filed over a soured deal to build two schools in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has issued another order, this time denying a motion for attorney's fees and to amend or alter the final judgment in the case.
U.S. District Judge Sarah S. Vance handed down the decision on March 27 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
Vance denied motions filed by defendant F.H. Paschen, third-party plaintiff S.N. Nielsen & Associates and plaintiff 84 Lumber. F.H. Paschen and S.N. Nielsen & Associates filed the motion for attorney's fees, and 84 Lumber filed the motion to alter or amend.
F.H. Paschen, a Chicago-based construction company, claimed to be entitled attorney's fees based on a May 2012 agreement, according to Vance's order.
"Specifically, Paschen argues that 84 Lumber agreed to pay attorney's fees expended in defense of any claims that arise from or in connection with 84 Lumber’s work on the projects—including 84 Lumber's own claims in this," Vance said in the order. "Litigants are liable for their own attorney’s fees, absent a statute or contract providing otherwise."
Meanwhile, 84 Lumber asked Vance to amend or alter the final judgment after F.H. Paschen admitted in its motion for attorney's fees "that there was a direct contractual relationship between the two parties."
"According to 84 Lumber, the existence of a direct contractual relationship between the parties undermines the court's order granting summary judgment against 84 Lumber on its payment bond claims," Vance wrote in the order. "In that order, the court dismissed 84 Lumber's [Louisiana Public Works Act (LPWA)] claims because 84 Lumber's June 2012 statements of claim lacked proper notice."
Vance said F.H. Paschen had not made a case that it was entitled to attorney's fees and didn't ask for them the correct way.
"Paschen has not pointed to any extrinsic evidence suggesting that the parties intended for 84 Lumber's indemnity obligation to operate as a release of 84 Lumber's direct claims against Paschen," Vance said in the order. "Thus, Paschen has not shown that it is entitled attorney’s fees under the May 2012 agreements. Even if Paschen were entitled attorney's fees, however, a Rule 54(d) motion is not the proper vehicle to seek such fees. Under Louisiana law, a claim for indemnification is its own cause of action."
As for 84 Lumber's motion, Vance said that she denied it, in part, because the company "fail[ed] to establish a sufficient ground to alter or amend the final judgment.
"Although 84 Lumber portrays the existence of a direct contractual relationship between the parties as new evidence, there is nothing new about the May 2012 agreements," Vance said in the order. "These agreements were in the summary judgment record, and the court explicitly discussed them in its summary judgment order."
The case stems from an attempt in 2000 by F.H. Paschen and J&A Construction Management to build South Plaquemines High School in Port Sulphur and Mildred Osborne Elementary School in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Pennsylvania-based 84 Lumber, a subcontractor in the project, was sued for the failure of the projects.
Vance's order was the latest in a string of orders she has issued in the case.