State Supreme Court refuses to hear appeal of Katrina flooding verdict _lowres

Advocate file photo by Paul Rutherford. Photo shot on 9-5-05. 15045 met entrance PR Jesse Pulley walks through water down San Carlos Ave. after retrieving what he could from his home in Jefferson Parish on Monday afternoon. Jefferson Parish residents were allowed to go back to their homes for the first time since Hurricane Katrina.

The Louisiana Supreme Court will not review a lower court’s decision rejecting a class-action lawsuit that blamed Jefferson Parish and former Parish President Aaron Broussard for damage stemming from the parish’s decision to evacuate pump station operators during Hurricane Katrina.

The high court said Monday it has denied the plaintiffs’ writ application, with only one jurist, Chief Justice Bernette Johnson, indicating she would have heard the appeal.

The decision likely closes the book on the 10-year legal battle over whether the parish’s decision to send 200 critical parish employees more than 100 miles away during Katrina made it liable for the flooding damage suffered by tens of thousands of property owners.

In October 2005, a class of Jefferson Parish property owners and Chicago Property Interests LLC sued Broussard, the parish, Consolidated Drainage District No. 2 and their insurer over the decision to evacuate the employees. The suit also alleged that the parish’s so-called Doomsday Plan — a two-page appendix to its emergency-response plan that changed the evacuation point for pump station operators from nearby Louis Armstrong International Airport to Mount Hermon in Washington Parish — was not legal.

Broussard contended he didn’t order the evacuation and didn’t draft or order the implementation of the Doomsday Plan, and he and the parish said that under state law they were immune from a suit for damages because it was an emergency situation.

The case went to trial in January 2014 in Gretna, with a retired judge from Lutcher presiding after all of the 24th Judicial District Court’s judges recused themselves. The case hinged largely on whether the decision to evacuate amounted to willful misconduct.

After two weeks of testimony and arguments, a jury delivered a 9-3 verdict that even though the parish was negligent in its emergency response planning, that negligence wasn’t the cause of the flood damage.

The state Supreme Court wasn’t required to hear the appeal on its merits. That right was satisfied last year when the state 5th Circuit Court of Appeal took up the matter and found all six of the plaintiffs’ points of contention to be without merit.

The three-judge panel ruled in October that on three matters involving jury instructions, Judge John Peytavin was within his discretion in what he told the jury, as he was when he denied a request to poll the jury on all 10 questions that made up the verdict and when he limited witness testimony to exclude federal laws and regulations.

On the key issue of how “willful misconduct” was defined for the jury, the 5th Circuit panel denied the plaintiffs’ claim that the definition was inconsistent with state law and leaned too heavily on the notion of intent to cause harm.

The defense team of lawyers referred calls about the Supreme Court’s decision to the parish, which did not return a call for comment. Plaintiffs’ attorneys could not be reached.

Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.