Where It’s At (With Apologies to Our English Teachers)

One recent decision, Ryan Gootee General Contractors, L.L.C. v. Plaquemines Parish School Board, 2015-0678 (La. App. 4 Cir. 11/18/15), 2015 WL 7356420, is a good reminder that where you file suit can just as easily doom your case as bad facts. In Gootee, the Plaquemines Parish School Board (“School Board”) issued an advertisement for bids for construction of a new field house at one of its high schools. At bid opening, One Construction, L.L.C. (“One Construction”) was deemed the low bidder; Ryan Gootee Construction Contractors, L.L.C. (“Gootee”) was the second lowest.

Gootee discovered One Construction’s bid may not have included a certified copy of the corporate resolution authorizing execution of the project’s contract, a violation of La. R.S. 38:2212(B)(5) of the Louisiana Public Bid Law. Gootee notified the School Board’s architect about the alleged deficiency. Nevertheless, the School Board sent notice of an upcoming meeting where it intended to award the project, and at that meeting the project was awarded to One Construction.

As a result, Gootee filed a petition for temporary restraining order, preliminary and permanent injunction, declaratory judgment, and mandamus against the School Board and One Construction in Jefferson – – not Plaquemines – – Parish. The petition maintained venue was proper in Jefferson Parish under La. R.S. 38:2181(A), which allows a suit to annul a public contract on the grounds of illegality to be filed in the parish or the domicile of the contractor.

The School Board filed a litany of exceptions, including a declinatory exception of improper venue, contending that as a political subdivision, the mandatory venue requirements of La. R.S. 13:5104(B) dictated that venue for a suit against the School Board was only proper in Plaquemines Parish. The trial court granted the School Board’s venue exception, and Gootee’s claims against the School Board were transferred to the 25th Judicial District Court in Plaquemines Parish. Despite the transfer of the claims against the School Board, those against One Construction remained in Jefferson Parish. Importantly, One Construction consented to a permanent injunction in favor of Gootee after the transfer of the claims against the School Board but before those transferred claims resumed activity. One Construction consented to expedite the appeal in the remaining case between it and Gootee.

Once Gootee’s claims against the School Board were comfortably in Plaquemines Parish, Gootee filed a motion for writ of mandamus. Specifically, Gootee argued that because the low bidder had been permanently enjoined from working on the project, Gootee should be awarded the project’s contract. The School Board opposed Gootee’s motion, contending that the permanent injunction Gootee obtained had no legal effect upon the School Board because the School Board was not a party to the Jefferson Parish proceedings once the claims against it were transferred. The trial court nevertheless granted Gootee’s exceptions, and the School Board appealed that ruling, and others.

On appeal, the School Board highlighted that Gootee elected not to make the School Board a part to the injunction or any of the relief sought in Jefferson Parish. Instead, Gootee proceeded only against One Construction in Jefferson Parish rather than have all of the issues against both parties litigated in Plaquemines Parish. Based on La. R.S. 13:4231, the School Board argued it was not bound by the permanent injunction.

The Louisiana Fourth Circuit found that the trial court erred in granting Gootee’s mandamus. First, it recognized that the permanent injunction was only against One Construction. However, the court also acknowledged that while this prevented One Construction’s performance, there was no specific judgment – – against the School Board or otherwise – – invalidating the contract for the project. Second, the Fourth Circuit recognized that the grant of the permanent injunction to which One Construction consented was for appeal purposes. Because the judgment was not executory, its effects were suspended. Third, the Louisiana Fourth Circuit noted that Gootee had not been named the lowest responsible bidder. As a result, the Louisiana Fourth Circuit found that the School Board retained the discretion – – the linchpin question for mandamus – – to award the project’s contract, and the trial court’s grant of Gootee’s writ of mandamus was improper.

It is worth noting that this issue represented only a portion of those that the Louisiana Fourth Circuit addressed. Nevertheless, the interesting part is that it was Gootee’s decision to drive two separate lawsuits in two venues that led to the writ of mandamus being overturned. The takeaway is to file suit against everyone in the jurisdiction where the public entity is located.