NEW ORLEANS – Louisiana's Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal recently returned a couples' property trespass lawsuit against a Bellechase property management company and Plaquemines Parish to the 25th Judicial District Court for Plaquemines Parish.
"We find that none of the three judgments that are the subject of plaintiffs' appeal are final and appealable judgments," the apeals court's three-judge panel said in their 11-page ruling issued Dec. 19. “A threshold requirement of an appeal is subject matter jurisdiction."
The appeals court cannot determine the merits of an appeal unless its "jurisdiction is properly invoked by a valid final judgment," the ruling said. "We therefore dismiss the appeal without prejudice and remand for further proceedings."
Appeals court Judge Dale N. Atkins wrote the decision in which Judges Daniel L. Dysart and Tiffany G. Chase concurred.
In their appeal, plaintiffs Patsy and James Hooper sought review of three judgments previously handed down by Plaquemines Parish Judge Kevin D. Conner in their lawsuit against Hero Lands Co. and Plaquemines Parish. The Hoopers claim the company and parish trespassed and asserted a possessory and a boundary action on their property and are seeking injunctive relief.
In March 2016, the appeals court found that the Hoopers had no right of possession over the property named in the dispute and affirmed a district court's judgment that found the couple did not own all of the property, according to the background portion of the appeals court's more recent ruling. At that time, the appeals court also found the district court had properly fixed the boundary between the Hooper's property and that of Hero Lands.
"However, this court remanded the matter to the district court to provide an accurate legal description of the properties following the fixing of the boundaries," the more recent appeals court's ruling said.
The district court appointed a surveyor, and following "a contradictory hearing," Conner, in reference to judgments handed down in November and December 2013, called those actions final and appealable judgments. Both judgments granted partial summary judgments in favor of the original surveyor and the parish on the Hooper's claim for treble damages, judgments that the Hoopers previously challenged on appeal.
In 2015, the appeals court dismissed those two judgments, finding they had not been designated as final for appeal.
In the Hooper's most recently appeal, bringing the total number of judgments to three, the appeals court noted the judgments may not be final and appealable but oral argument and ordered both sides to submit supplemental briefs.
Defense counsel conceded that at least one of the judgments is not appealable but asked the appeals court to hear the appeal anyway, affirm the district court's judgment and amend the judgment to make it compliaint with state law.
The appeals court declined to take up the appeal.
"Given that the instant appeal, as lodged, lacks a valid final judgment, this circuit has routinely ruled that we lack appellate jurisdiction to address the merits of the appeal and must, therefore, dismiss the appeal without prejudice," the appeals court's ruling said.