What are Louisiana Small Claims Cases and Class Action Lawsuits?
Small claims cases are single party suits for resolving civil disputes involving monetary damages in Louisiana. Conversely, a class action is a legal procedure that enables several persons to make the same claims against the same defendant in one suit. Officials of the Louisiana judiciary maintain records of these litigations and make them available to interested persons.
What is a Class Action Lawsuit in Louisiana?
The Louisiana Code of civil procedure defines and sets guidelines for class-action lawsuits in the state. Louisiana regards suits as a class action when different plaintiffs file the same complaint in several Louisiana courts regarding the same transaction or incident that occurred at the same location (CCP. Article 593.1).. A distinguishing feature of class action lawsuits is that, if certified, the suit would encompass the same plaintiffs suing in the same capacities against one or more of the same defendants.
How do I File a Claim in a Louisiana Small Claims Court?
Small claims involve suits for damages or injuries valued at less than $3000. These cases begin in the city court or justice court in the parish where the defendant resides. The intending litigant must visit the court for specific instructions on how to initiate small claims. Generally, he/she will need to:
- File civil forms: The plaintiff must visit the clerk’s office to obtain the packet of forms relevant to the case. These include a claim form, summons, and citation. To complete the claims form, the plaintiff must provide information regarding the defendant and the damages sought.
- Service the papers: After the plaintiff completes the forms and pays the filing fees, the clerk shall prepare a citation and serve the defendant through the Marshalls office. The citation informs the defendant of the claims and directs him/her to respond within ten (10) calendar days. The defendant has three options upon receiving the citation. He/she may send written acknowledgment, request that the court transfers the case to the civil docket, or answer with reconventional demand, i.e., counterclaim.
- Go to mediation: A court-ordered mediation is an alternative means for dispute resolution that allows the parties to settle out of court. If mediation fails, the case proceeds to trial.
- Go to trial: The clerk shall schedule a hearing date for both litigants. The hearing is before a judge who hears the complaints and the arguments of the parties involved. Both parties must present documentary evidence and call witnesses to corroborate claims. According to court rules, the burden of proof rests on the plaintiff. The judge enters a fair judgment based on the production of satisfactory and competent evidence and witness testimony. The option of appeals is available to both sides.
Do I Need a Small Claims Lawyer?
No. Although the hearing follows established court rules, the litigants do not require professional experience to make a case for fair judgment. A small claims lawyer carries out investigations, obtains the necessary information, files the suit, and subpoenas witnesses, and makes arguments in court. However, these responsibilities in small claims cases are simple enough that the law deems any individual who is older than 18 years eligible to file a claim. Furthermore, the procedure and court instructions are simplified and designed to help plaintiffs and defendants get justice. Self-help resources available to pro se litigants upon request, but court staff in Louisiana cannot provide legal advice.
How do Class Action Lawsuits Work in Louisiana?
Generally, the entities and elements of a class action in Louisiana include:
- The representative plaintiff: One or more persons suing on his/her behalf and at the behest of several other persons known as the class. He/she/they take an active role in the litigation.
- The class: These are the other plaintiffs who are party to the case. Class members are usually unidentified as individual parties; the suit merely describes these individuals. These individuals do not take an active role in the case. Nevertheless, the same favorable or adverse outcome binds the class and the presentative plaintiff.
- Common issues: There are several causes, complaints, injury, or alleged wrong. Common issues may also refer to identical questions of law or fact that are universal to the class.
- Lead counsel: The lead counsel is the attorney for the class and is responsible for taking legal actions and negotiating plea deals on the class’s behalf.
The procedure of class action in Louisiana goes viz:
- Preparation and submission of the suit: Here, the plaintiffs with common issue aggregate as a single class and file a case through the representative. The court shall examine the submission for certification as a class action.
- Pretrial settlement: The class (through the representative & lead attorney) and the defense counsel negotiate, prepare, and submit a joint stipulation of settlement.
- Preliminary hearing: Here, the court holds an evidentiary hearing to examine and consider the fairness, reasonableness, and adequacy of the proposed settlement. The court will also determine whether to notify the class members of the settlement.
- Notice of settlement: The court directs the lead counsel and the representative to issue a notice to all class members disclosing the terms of the settlement and the options available to class members. The notice will also contain information regarding the evidentiary hearing.
- Evidentiary hearing: Here, the parties, objectors, and any intervenors present arguments and evidence regarding the fairness, adequacy, and reasonableness of the proposed settlement;
- Final judgment: The court approves or disapproves the proposed settlement.
Meanwhile, class action suits tend to take longer than single party suits, and the cost of litigation varies with the nature of the class action. In many cases, class actions tend to cost less than single party suits. The length of time it takes to process a class action suit depends on several factors, e.g., the time it takes to complete the notice, certification, deposition, and discovery.
Common examples of class action suits in Louisiana involve:
- Consumer protection
- Consumer fraud
- Labor and compensation disputes
- Shareholder actions
Is a Class Action Better Than a Single Party Suit?
Yes. Class action suits save the judiciary time and resources and provide finality to common issues. The action also ensures that the litigants are on an equal legal footing, especially where one party is better-funded or influential. Small diffuse claims typically result in inconsistency and raise questions of the integrity of the legal system.
What Cases are Heard by Small Claims Courts in Louisiana?
Small claims courts in Louisiana do not have jurisdiction over suits against the state, parish agency, or public officials. Civil cases in the family division, libel, and slander are not within the small claims court jurisdiction.
Some of the common small claims cases in Louisiana involve:
- Debt and loan repayment
- Return of down payment
- Breach of contract
- Breach of warranty & defective products
- Unreturned security deposits on apartments
- Undelivered goods
- Insurance claims
- Damage to property
Court records of small claims and class action suits are available to interested persons upon request. To obtain these records, visit the office of the clerk of the city court in person. The requester must provide the necessary information to aid administrative staff in the retrieval of court records. The requester must also cover the cost of searching and copying the records sought.
Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching more straightforward, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:
- The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
- The location or assumed location of the document or person involved
Third-party sites are independent of government sources and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party websites may vary.