Plaintiff, Leonard Bracken, filed a lawsuit arising out of his 1996 exposure to mustard gas at a Georgia Gulf Corporation facility. Bracken’s counsel entered into a global settlement on his behalf that included any workers’ compensation claims he may have. A workers’ compensation judge approved that settlement in 1999. In February 2015, Bracken filed a petition in the 19th Judicial District Court in East Baton Rouge Parish seeking to nullify the workers’ compensation order. He named several defendants, including his former employer and the workers’ compensation court that approved the settlement. Bracken alleged that his counsel “materially hid” facts and “materially misled” him about his entitlement to benefits. The named defendants responded to the petition, asserting a variety of exceptions, including res judicata, lack of jurisdiction and prescription, and sought sanctions and attorney’s fees. The district court sustained all of the exceptions and dismissed the petition.
On appeal, the First Circuit determined that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the petition for nullity as nullity actions must be filed in the court that rendered the judgment. Further, workers’ compensation judges have original, exclusive jurisdiction over disputes arising under Louisiana workers’ compensation law. Accordingly, the district court should not have granted any other exceptions beyond lack of jurisdiction.
The First Circuit, on its own motion, ultimately determined that the action was preempted. The grounds for nullity in this case were a vice of substance, which has a one-year preemptive period. Based on the facts presented, the First Circuit found that Bracken had knowledge of the grounds for his nullity in 2005 when he challenged the settlement in a disputed claim for compensation. Bracken did not file a nullity action until 2011 in the 18th Judicial District Court. At that time, approximately six years had passed and his claim was preempted. The First Circuit denied the defendants claims for sanctions and attorney’s fees as there was merit to Bracken’s appeal of the district court’s order sustaining the exceptions of res judicata and prescription when it lacked the jurisdiction to do so.
Bracken v. Payne & Keller Co., Inc.