Defendants appeal class-action certification in water lawsuit

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 23, 2001

VIDALIA, La. – Two defendants have appealed class certification of a lawsuit calling for Ferriday water users to be compensated for damages resulting from a 1999 boil water notice.

Stacy Auzenne, an attorney for the Town of Ferriday in the case, said Tuesday that he plans to appeal the July 26 by Seventh Judicial District Court Judge Kathy Johnson &uot;to the fullest extent of the law.&uot;

Both Johnson and Judge Leo Boothe, also of the Seventh Judicial District Court, have since recused themselves from the case. Judge Charles Brackin of Lake Providence has been named as judge for any further local proceedings in the case.

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In documents filed with the Concordia Parish Clerk of Court’s Office, neither Johnson nor Boothe gave a reason for their recusals, and neither judge could be reached for comment Tuesday.

Stephen Wilson, an attorney for Baton Rouge engineering firm Owen & White, would say only that &uot;we appealed because we felt the judge’s decision was in error.&uot;

And in a notice of appeal filed in Seventh Judicial District Court, Wilson noted that &uot;Louisiana courts have repeatedly held that rulings certifying class action may create irreparable harm to defendants, thus justifying appeal.&uot;

The appeal will be heard by the Third District Court of Appeals in Lake Charles.

Ferriday resident and restaurant owner Gloria Martello filed suit Oct. 25, 1999, against Ferriday and Owen and White. U.S. Filter, maker of Ferriday’s water plant, was later added as a defendant. A trial date has not yet been set in the case.

But if and when the court awards damages in the case, thousands of people who used Ferriday water from Aug. 20, 1999 through Dec. 22, 1999 and suffered damages as a result would be entitled to a portion of damages awarded.

That includes people who were residents of Ferriday, operated or worked at businesses in Ferriday, leased property in the town, were students at Ferriday schools or were patients in health care facilities in the town during that time.

According to Johnson’s ruling, the case was eligible to be certified as a class action because, among other things:

— About 4,500 people received Ferriday water at their homes and businesses during the boil water notice — too many claims for the court to handle individually.

— Testimony from water customers showed that they had similar claims in common, that those claims had a common cause, and that those claims are typical of those of other Ferriday water users.

— The class can be objectively defined. In this case, any person who was a resident, business owner or employee, property lessor, student or health care patient in Ferriday during the time of the boil water notice is part of the class.

Johnson also ruled that members of the class be represented by attorney Charles Norris Jr. of Vidalia and attorney Stephen Murray, Linda Harang and Julie Jacobs, all of New Orleans.

A five-day hearing was held starting April 30 in Seventh Judicial District Court to decide whether the lawsuit would be class certified. Attorneys for both sides then filed briefs that Johnson reviewed in making her decision.