In Luv n’ care, Ltd. v. Jackel International Ltd., No. 2019-C-00749, the Louisiana Supreme Court granted writs to address the res nova issue of whether the “punishment for contempt of court” statute, La. R.S. 13:4611, authorizes the imposition of attorney fees against a party not adjudged guilty of contempt. In the district court, Plaintiff, Luv n’ care, Ltd. (“LNC”), brought a contempt proceeding against defendants, Jackel International Ltd., et al. (“Jackel”), for allegedly violating a permanent injunction previously entered in LNC’s favor. While LNC was unsuccessful on its motion for contempt, the district court not only denied the motion, but also awarded a substantial attorney fee award to Jackel as the “prevailing party in a contempt proceeding” based on the recently amended language of La. R.S. 13:4611(1)(g). The Second Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed the district court’s ruling on the application of attorney fees under La. R.S. 13:4611, but reduced the amount of fees and costs awarded.
After granting LNC’s writ application, the Louisiana Supreme Court requested full briefing and oral argument. In its January 29, 2020 opinion, the Court overturned the lower court rulings, holding that La. R.S. 13:4611(1)(g) only permits an award of attorney fees in favor of a party who successfully prosecutes a contempt proceeding. La. R.S. 13:4611(1)(g) states in pertinent part:
Except as otherwise provided for by law:
(g) The court may award attorney fees to the prevailing party in a contempt of court proceeding provided for in this Section.
Applying fundamental rules of statutory construction, the Court concluded that the attorney fee provision of Subparagraph (1)(g) is necessarily one of the punishments referenced in Paragraph (1), which can only be imposed on “a person adjudged guilty of contempt of court.” When properly read in the context of the entire statute, the Court held that the reference to the “prevailing party” “means a party who succeeds in establishing that contempt of court has occurred.” The Court found the statute’s language clear and unambiguous and thus no further interpretation was necessary. It then reasoned that even if it were to find ambiguity, the legislative history undoubtedly reflects a legislative intent to authorize an attorney fee award in a contempt proceeding only as an additional punishment against a person adjudged guilty of contempt.
A copy of the decision can be found here: https://www.lasc.org/opinions/2020/19-0749.C.OPN.pdf. Shannon Holtzman and Kathryn Gonski represented LNC in the appellate court and before the Louisiana Supreme Court.