On June 11, 2021, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards signed into law Act 176 making substantial changes to Louisiana's procedural rules governing answers and the taking of default judgments, which take effect on January 1, 2022. This article will highlight some of the most significant changes.
Louisiana has provided additional time for defendants to file answers. Instead of the previous 15 day period to file an answer, Defendants now have 21 days to file an answer after service of citation is made. La. C.C.P. art. 1001. If a plaintiff files and serves a discovery request with the petition, the defendant shall have 30 days to file an answer. Id. When an exception is filed prior to an answer and is overruled or referred to the merits, an answer shall be filed within 15 days after such overruling or referral. Id. Previously an answer was required within 10 days.
The default judgment procedure has also been significantly overhauled. The term Preliminary Default has been eliminated from the law. The new procedure provides that if a defendant fails to answer within the time prescribed by law, the plaintiff must establish a prima facie case by competent and admissible evidence and prove proper service on the defendant. La. C.C.P. art. 1702. If such a showing is made a default judgment may be rendered, provided that notice that the plaintiff intends to obtain a default judgment is sent if required. Id.
If a party who fails to answer has made an appearance of record in the case or has contacted the plaintiff in writing after filing, notice of the intention to obtain a default judgment must be sent by certified mail to counsel for record of the party (or to the party if there is no counsel) at least seven days before a default judgment may be rendered. Id. Where neither of these situations apply, the plaintiff must send notice of the intention to obtain a default judgment by regular mail to the party who fails to answer at the address where service was obtained at least 7 days before a default judgment may be rendered.
As to default judgments for divorce actions under Louisiana Civil Code Article 103(1), if the defendant, by sworn affidavit, acknowledges receipt of a certified copy of the petition and waives formal citation, service of process, all legal delays, notice of trial, and appearance at trial, a default judgment of divorce may be entered against the defendant two days after the filing of such affidavit, exclusive of legal holidays. Id.
These changes will change litigation practice in Louisiana in 2022. There are other changes to procedure by Act 176 that are not highlighted in this article. Businesses and their attorneys should be aware of these new litigation procedures.