LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Judge Wilford Carter granted a motion for partial summary judgment on Wednesday to the Lake Charles Stevedores in the amount of $5.56 million in their case against the Port of Lake Charles.
Attorneys for the LC Stevedores, Somer Brown and Tom Filo, filed the partial summary judgment motion in the 14th Judicial District Court in early October, claiming the Port of Lake Charles didn't pay their client the $5.56 million liquidated damages as agreed upon in the contract between the Lake Charles Stevedores and the Port of Lake Charles. The motion was one of a three part lawsuit filed against the port in March.
Filo and Brown claim instead of paying those liquidated damages to the Lake Charles Stevedores, the port paid a lesser amount -$1.3 million - to Cooper/T.Smith and Cavalair, a former owner of the Lake Charles Stevedores.
They also claim that the cancellation of the Stevedores' contract was "without cause" which would entitle their clients to liquidated damages, as outlined in the aforementioned contract.
In a four-hour hearing on Wednesday, attorneys for the port made their case that the cancellation of the Stevedores' contract was made with cause, waiving their obligation to pay any damages.
Judge Carter ruled that any cause for cancellation of the Stevedores' contract was not made known by the port at the time of termination, as it had been done in the past.
Carter denied the defense's motions and cross-motions.
Louis Colletta Jr., Assistant General Counsel for the Port, and Ben Slater, Outside Counsel, say they plan to appeal the judgment, saying it's not final and no clock on payment has been set. They maintain Cooper/T. Smith and Cavalair had rights to the LC Stevedores and the $1.3 million paid to them was because they were the owners of those rights.
The summary judgment is only applied to the breach of contract claim in the lawsuit. There are still pending claims of racketeering and unfair trade practices.
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The following is a news release on the ruling from the Port of Lake Charles:
"We are very disappointed that such an important and complex case was put on a fast-track that dampens the great news that Southwest Louisiana is the leading growth area of the state," says Louis Colletta, a lawyer for the Lake Charles Harbor & Terminal District, in response to a ruling by District Court Judge Wilford Carter in a suit hastily brought by the Lake Charles Stevedores against the Port.
"Judge Carter has already announced he's retiring at the end of the month. So the vast majority of facts will be decided by another judge long after he's retired. This is a complicated case addressing multiple contracts over a 50-year period. Not only do we believe this decision was made hastily and erroneously, but it will send a chilling message to anyone planning investment in conjunction with our Port and in South Louisiana," he adds.
Colletta cites figures from a recent statewide economic development report from Dr. Loren Scott and Dr. Jim Richardson that boasted of Southwest Louisiana's economic expansion. The report indicated that the Lake Charles MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area) is "about to enter the finest growth period in its history." The report projects 7,800 new jobs over 2014-15 (+8.1%) but added that number could grow substantially. Colletta says frivolous law suits like the one from the Stevedore group will most certainly send a bad message to anyone hoping to bring or grow a business in Calcasieu Parish.
"The group filing this suit isn't even from Louisiana. The owner of Lake Charles Stevedores lives in Beaumont, Texas and his companies have a long and disturbing history of filing lawsuits in virtually every market where they've worked—most of which they've been fired from. They don't care that their reckless actions and lawsuits send anti-business messages throughout our communities in Southwest Louisiana. They simply want a quick settlement and will move on to their next location," Colletta says. "However, the Port will defend its decision to terminate its contract for cause with Lake Charles Stevedores and will not settle."
Again referring to the Scott study, Colletta says "the Lake Area Industrial Alliance projects construction labor demand to jump from about 6,000 now to 14,000 in 2016. This number is so daunting that Greenfield Logistical Solutions is building a $70 million employee village at the Port's Industrial Park East to house 4,000 of the workers."