NewsSt. Martin Parish


LCG suit against St. Martin dismissed

U.S. Western District Courthouse
Posted at 9:08 AM, Jul 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-07 01:45:30-04

The Guillory administration was handed another loss Tuesday when a lawsuit filed by Lafayette City-Parish Government over a spoil banks project in St. Martin Parish was dismissed by a federal judge.

In recent months, LCG has landed in court several times over drainage projects, mostly because of the way property was expropriated for those projects. In one of those cases a court ruled that the property wasn't properly taken and that LCG wasn't even able to justify using it in the first place.

Allegations that the Guillory administration runs roughshod over laws and regulations have also been made in the St. Martin case.

The suit dismissed Tuesday originally was filed in state district court by LCG in an attempt to persuade a judge to rule that the controversial project didn't violate any federal, state or local laws. The suit was filed after St. Martin Parish Government officials decided to take legal action in the case. LCG also sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. That agency has launched an investigation into the project and issued a cease and desist letter to LCG regarding work there. That part of the suit remains active, court records show.

Although this claim was dismissed, the fight isn't over, St. Martin Parish President Chester Cedars said.

"We are not going to be intimidated nor prevented by a bigger neighbor from doing what's necessary to protect our people," Cedars said. "And while I'm pleased with this ruling, it still doesn't solve my problem. That's my main concern and I will keep fighting until I get that remediated."

The ruling, which was handed down Tuesday by U.S. District Judge James D. Cain Jr., dismisses the claims against St. Martin Parish as legally premature.

"....the action is especially premature in light of the minimal hardship to LCG of withholding judicial intervention at this stage," the judge wrote. "Accordingly, the court agrees that the expansive nature of the ruling sought by LCG renders the matter unripe and that the claims against the parish should be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction."

When we asked the Guillory administration for a response, we received this statement:

“The court decided against ruling on the dispute since the St. Martin Parish Government had not suffered any harm to date. This opinion confirms what Lafayette Consolidated Government has said from the beginning, the spoil bank project did not and will not harm St. Martin Parish.”

At issue is a project that LCG already has completed in St. Martin Parish, which removed decades-old levees on property partially owned by LCG. St. Martin Parish officials said that LCG did the project in the dark of night, and without permits from either the parish or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. LCG already had filed for a permit at a different location with the Corps; that permit application was withdrawn after St. Martin told the Corps that no parish permits for it would be granted.

The judge said LCG's attempt to have their project deemed proper is an attempt to avoid liability for any damage caused later by the work - which St. Martin Parish officials believe is going to happen.

"Here LCG has requested a broad, preemptive ruling of no liability. In support of its request it cites only the threat of suit from St. Martin Parish. As basis for this fear of suit, however, LCG cites statements by St. Martin Parish alleging “a clear danger of future flooding in St. Martin Parish as a result of LCG’s spoil bank destruction project” and its belief that a lawsuit of some sort is needed to prevent such damage," the court wrote. "A ruling of no liability on the part of LCG, therefore, depends on an injury that has not yet occurred and whose likelihood (or lack thereof) cannot be sufficiently proven to justify judicial intervention."

LCG's filings in the suit imply that St. Martin Parish, and Cedars in particular, weren't moving fast enough for them. But Cedars, who is an attorney and former prosecutor, said his government will continue its methodical evaluation of this situation. That's necessary for a number of reasons, including the fact that more information continues to come in about what happened, he said.

"We are going to proceed, as we always have, to methodically address the issues associated with this matter, and when we get to the point where the matter has evolved and that it should be addressed, we will adopt the appropriate steps, and take the appropriate action against the appropriate parties for the appropriate remedies," Cedars said. "As I said to the citizens of St. Martin Parish when I first addressed them on it, this will take some time to properly evaluate. There's more information still coming in. This lawsuit was an obstacle thrown in our way to impede our methodical operation but it will not to prevent it. St. Martin Parish will not sit on its rear end and allow this to happen. We have not altered our course in any way, and we will continue to do whatever is necessary to protect our citizens."

The Current has done extensive investigative reporting on the issue. The Current reported that the work cost more than $3.7 million but was paid through an "as-needed," $390,000 contract. Several people interviewed for that story indicated that the payment may have violated the public bid law.

The Current also reported that, when LCG bought their piece of the property in question, the price paid was much higher than the property's worth.

From recordings in the St. Martin Parish courthouse dated March 9, withheld from being filed into the public record an unusually lengthy 16 days after LCG bought the property, a property owner interviewed by The Current learned the other two co-owner groups were each paid $42,000 for their one-third shares. But the land’s total value was set at $42,000, according to a property appraisal The Current obtained through a public records request.

The Current also reported that LCG paid $84,000 for two-thirds interest in land that appears to only be worth a total of $42,000. And once the minority discount is applied, the portion LCG bought is worth $21,000. In short, LCG potentially paid four times the market value for this property.

Lafayette's city council has repeated asked questions about this and several other controversial drainage projects, but so far hasn't received any answers. Most recently, the council chair read a list of detailed questions about the project, but the Guillory administration responded with a letter saying the questions were political and the council should hire an auditor to get their answers. To read about that, click here.