‘Highly Unusual’ Rehearing of Louisiana Case Raises Judicial Independence Concerns

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Louisiana Supreme Court Waffles Under Political Pressure, ATRA Brief Urges Court to Stand Strong

The American Tort Reform Association filed an amicus brief this week urging the Louisiana Supreme Court to uphold a March ruling on retroactivity of statutes of limitations after the court’s rare announcement that it would rehear the case.

The Louisiana Supreme Court granted the rehearing on May 10, mere months after its initial ruling that a state law retroactively extending the statute of limitations in certain cases is unconstitutional.

“It is highly unusual for a court to rehear a case just a few months after deciding it,” Tiger Joyce, ATRA president said. “Particularly when one considers that there have been no changes in the underlying facts or composition of the court. This extraordinary step, made under apparent pressure from the legislature and attorney general, raises concerns about the court’s independence and respect for precedent.”

In its original 4-3 decision, the court rightly joined courts in other states such as Colorado, Utah and Maryland in finding that reviving time-barred claims violates defendants’ due process rights. Rehearings typically are reserved to correct factual errors — even in the most horrific cases as was the case in this matter — not to re-argue legal reasoning in the face of political criticism.

“Louisiana’s reputation as a ‘Judicial Hellhole®’ is due in no small part to a lack of transparency and predictability in its civil courts,” Joyce said. “Rehearing properly decided cases based on outside influences rather than changes in law or facts will only further erode confidence in Louisiana’s judicial system.”

ATRA’s amicus brief calls on the court to resist political criticism and reaffirm its March ruling, which properly upheld the constitutional rights of defendants against retroactive changes to longstanding statute of limitations laws. The full amicus brief is available at ATRA.org.

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