What a difference a day makes
On December 13, 2016, Jesse Stevenson and Logan Stevenson were passengers in a vehicle driven by Jacob Stevenson when it was involved in an accident with a vehicle driven by Anthony J. Leblanc Jr. On December 14, 2017, the Stevensons filed suit against Leblanc and his insurer, Progressive Security Insurance Company. Leblanc and Progressive answered the petition and filed an exception raising the objection of prescription (statute of limitations). The Stevensons opposed the exception, citing a series of unfortunate events as the cause of their inability to file the petition on the final day of the prescriptive period. Their counsel was unable to fax their filing on December 13, 2017, because owing to a power failure in her office she was unable to do so until after 4:30 p.m., the time at which the office of the parish court’s clerk closed and its fax machine was turned off.
The Stevensons further argued that the exception should be denied because Progressive interrupted prescription by acknowledging its obligation; and because Progressive and Leblanc were solidary obligors, Progressive’s acknowledgment also interrupted prescription against Leblanc. To support this argument, the Stevensons relied on letters sent by Progressive to their previous counsel on April 4, 2017, and June 20, 2017. In its April 2017 letters, Progressive acknowledged the letter of representation received on behalf of each of the Stevensons and stated: “In order to properly evaluate your client’s claim, please forward to us copies of supporting documentation as you receive it.” Similarly, in June 2017, Progressive requested documentation to complete its investigation of the Stevensons’ claims for medical and economic damages. At that time Progressive also advised the Stevensons of Leblanc’s policy limits.
According to the Stevensons, this communication, coupled with Progressive’s failure to expressly deny liability, amounted to an acknowledgment of the Stevensons’ rights against Leblanc and Progressive that served to interrupt prescription.
Leblanc and Progressive disputed this contention, arguing that Progressive’s effort to obtain information and potentially negotiate a settlement was not an acknowledgment of any alleged obligation owed to the Stevensons.
On March 19, 2018, the court rejected the Stevensons’ arguments, particularly finding that Progressive did not acknowledge an obligation allegedly owed to the Stevensons, and granted Leblanc and Progressive’s exception, dismissing the Stevensons’ suit. The Stevensons appealed.
On appeal, the Stevensons asserted that the trial court erred in granting the exception of prescription because: (1) the Stevensons attempted to timely file the petition before the accrual of prescription, (2) Leblanc and Progressive interrupted prescription by acknowledging their obligation to the Stevensons, and (3) the rules of procedure were not “intended to be an end in themselves” and maintaining the action would result in no injustice against Leblanc and Progressive.
The court stated that no Louisiana law requires clerks of court to accept electronic filings after the close of business. The deputy clerk for the Terrebonne Parish Clerk of Court explained in an affidavit that the fax machines might be left on or an employee might remain after the close of business if an attorney advised the clerk’s office that she intended to file a pleading after 4:30 p.m. The Stevensons’ attorney apparently did not call the clerk’s office to convey this message.
The court asserted that the law unambiguously provides that a filing will not be deemed complete until the clerk of the court receives the facsimile transmission. The court stated: “When a law is clear and unambiguous, and its application does not lead to absurd consequences, it shall be applied as written, with no further interpretation made in search of the legal intent.”
The court rejected the Stevensons’ other assignments of error and affirmed the trial court’s judgment that granted the objection of prescription and dismissed the Stevensons’ action against Progressive and Leblanc.
Stevenson v. Progressive Security Insurance Company-Court of Appeal of Louisiana, First Circuit-March 25, 2019-2018 CA 1105.