Tracking Louisiana´s Legal Heritage:
 Celebrating 200 Years of the Federal Courts in Louisiana
 
 

Notable Cases

United States v. Workman, 28 F. Cas. 771 (D. Orleans Terr. 1807) – trial of Judge James Workman and Colonel Lewis Kerr on charges of violating an Act of Congress that prohibited the planning and setting on foot, within the United States, a military expedition against the territory or domains of any foreign prince or state with whom the United States was at peace. Related to the infamous conspiracy of former Vice President Aaron Burr, the defendants were charged specifically with planning a military expedition for the conquest and emancipation of Mexico, a colony then in possession of Spain. The jury returned a verdict of not guilty.

United States v. Laverty, 3 Mart. (o.s.) 733, 26 F. Cas. 875 (D. La. 1812) – weighing whether Louisiana residents of the territory of Orleans became citizens of Louisiana and of the United States by admission of Louisiana into the Union, the court concluded that by the several acts of Congress, and the admission of the State of Louisiana into the Union, all the bona fide inhabitants became citizens of the State. The effect of the decision was that all prisoners arrested for being aliens were released.   Learn more about the Louisiana Purchase.   Learn more about Louisiana Statehood.

United States v. Major General Andrew Jackson, March 24, 1815, recounted in 46 A.B.A.J. 966 (1960) – contempt and fine case against General Jackson for arresting federal Judge Dominick Hall during controversy over martial law imposed on city to respond to the British attack. "The only question," Hall said, "was whether the Law should bend to the General or the General to the Law."   See some of the original documents.   Lean more about the Battle of New Orleans.

New Orleans v. Winter, 14 U.S. (1 Wheat.) 91 (1816) – holding that residence in a territory of the United States, as distinguished from residence in a state different from that of the opposing party, did not give the right of suing in a federal court by virtue of diversity of citizenship.

The Francis & Eliza, 7 Mart.(o.s.) 713, 108 F. 541 (D. La. 1820) – this case addressed the issue of a ship forfeiture arising out of newly enacted trade laws designed to break Great Britain's monopoly of trade over the United States, by inducing Great Britain to allow the United States to trade with Great Britain's colonies. The court held that the vessel seized, her tackle, furniture, etc., was to be forfeited to the United States.

Parsons v. Bedford, Breedlove & Robeson, 28 U.S. (3 Pet.) 433 (1830) – construing a congressional statute passed in 1824, providing that "the mode of proceeding in civil cases in the courts of the United States that now or hereafter may be established in the state of Louisiana" should be "conformable to the laws directing the mode of practice in the ... courts of said states, provided that the [federal judges] may make by rule such other provisions as may be necessary to adapt the laws of procedure to the organization of [the federal courts]," Justice Story held that the statute did not compel the federal courts "to give an absolute and imperative force to the modes of proceedings in civil cases in Louisiana" in the federal courts, but such courts could adopt rules "superseding the practice" of Louisiana; until they did, however, they were "bound ... to pursue the state practice."

Gaines Cases: Gaines v. Chew, 43 U.S. (2 How.) 619 (1844); Patterson v. Gaines,47 U.S. (6 How.) 550 (1848); Gaines v. Relf, 53 U.S. (12 How.) 472 (1852); Gaines v. Hennan, 65 U.S. (24 How.) 553 (1861); Gaines v. New Orleans, 73 U.S. (6 Wall.) 642 (1868); Gaines v. De La Croix, 73 U.S. (6 Wall.) 719 (1868); Gaines v. Lizardi, 9 F. Cas. 1042 (E.D. La 1877); New Orleans v. Gaines, 82 U.S. (15 Wall.) 624 (1873); Gaines v. Fuentes, 92 U.S. (2 Otto.) 10 (1873); Smith v. Gaines, 93 U.S. (3 Otto.) 341 (1876); Davis v. Gaines, 104 U.S. (14 Otto.) 386 (1881); New Orleans v. Christmas, 131 U.S. 191 (1889); New Orleans v. Whitney, 138 U.S. 595 (1891) – a half-century long legal struggle over the legitimacy and inheritance of Ms. Gaines. This is litigation that rivals Charles Dickens' fictional account of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce in his novel Bleak House.   See some of the original documents.

Ex parte The City Bank of New Orleans, 44 U.S. (3 How.) 292 (1845) – on a challenge by a bank to the federal court's exercise of jurisdiction to determine the validity of a bankrupt debtor's mortgage held by a bank under state law, the federal circuit court held that the federal district court had jurisdiction, and the Supreme Court held that it had no revising power (that is, statutorily-conveyed jurisdiction) over a district court sitting in bankruptcy.

Waring v. Clarke, 46 U.S. (5 How.) 441 (1847) – holding that federal admiralty jurisdiction might be concurrent with that of common law courts and was not restricted to admiralty jurisdiction in England when the United States Constitution was adopted.

The Ohio, 27 F. Cas. 218 (E.D. La. 1849) – addressing whether the language of a statute enacted in March 1818 prohibited slave trade where persons of color, who had been domiciled in the United States, left and were later brought back to the United States after a temporary absence. The court held that the statute could not be properly applied to persons of color who are domiciled in the United States, and who were brought to the United States to their place of residence after a temporary absence; as a result, the court ordered the release of the seized vessel.   Learn more about the slave trade in New Orleans.

Executors of McDonogh v. Murdoch, 56 U.S. (15 How.) 367 (1854) – adjudicating the contest over the will of JohnMcDonogh who left the bulk of his fortune to the cities of New Orleans and Baltimore for the purpose of building public schools for poor children. McDonogh's statue sits in Lafayette Square, across the street from the Eastern District courthouse.

Lafayette's Heirs v. Kenton, 59 U.S. (18 How.) 197 (1855) – adjudicating entitlement of General Lafayette's heirs to certain lands in the New Orleans area granted to the General by Acts of Congress passed in 1803 and 1805, in the face of a land patent for such vacant lands issued to another.

United States v. Reiter, 27 F. Cas 768 (Prov. La. 1865) – addressing its own authority as a provisional court established by the President's wartime executive order in 1862, the court held that, from its foundation, the court had rightfully exercised its functions in territory in which the Government of the United States has been by force of its arms sovereign, and the court will rightfully continue to exercise its functions in such territory so long as its commission was unrevoked and the power of the United States shall continue to support the court in the exercise of such functions.

Live-Stock Dealers' & Butchers' Ass'n v. Crescent City Live-Stock Landing & Slaughter-House Co., 1 Woods 21, 15 F. Cas. 649 (C.C.D. La. 1870) (on motion for injunction); Butchers' Ass'n v. Slaughter-House Co., 1 Woods 50, 4 F. Cas. 891 (C.C.D. La. 1870) (on motion for writ of supersedeas); Live-Stock Dealers' & Butchers' Ass'n v. Crescent City Live-Stock Landing & Slaughter-House Co., 1 Woods 21, 15 F. Cas. 649 (C.C.D. La. 1870); Crescent City Live-Stock Landing & Slaughter-House Co. v. Butchers' Union Slaughter-House & Live-Stock Landing Co., 120 U.S. 141 (1887); Butchers' Union Slaughter-House & Live-Stock Landing Co. v. Crescent City Live-Stock Landing & Slaughter-House Co., 111 U.S. 746 (1884), rev'g 4 Woods 96, 9 F. 743 (C.C.E.D. La. 1881) – federal lawsuits constituting a part of what became the decision in the Slaughterhouse Cases, 83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 36 (1873), which held that the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects only uniquely federal rights, thereby limiting the use of the clause as an effective tool in protecting civil rights.   See some of the original documents.

The Confiscation Cases, 87 U.S. (20 Wall.) 92 (1873), rev'g 1 Woods 221, 6 F. Cas. 270 (C.C.D. La. 1872) – upholding as constitutional the Confiscation Act of 1862, which permitted the seizure of rebel property.

New Orleans v. The Steamship Co., 87 U.S. (20 Wall.) 387 (1874) – sustaining a lease of New Orleans water front property for ten years, which lease was made by municipal officers appointed under a military government.

United States v. Cruikshank, 1 Woods 308, 25 F. Cas. 707 (C.C.D. La. 1874), aff'd, 92 U.S. (2 Otto.) 542 (1875) – arising out of the Grant Parish (or Colfax) Massacre, the Supreme Court reversed the convictions of members of a white gang for preventing African-Americans from enjoying their right to peaceful assembly and to vote in state elections, holding that these were not rights of national citizenship and thus defendants were not guilty of offenses against the laws of the United States.

Bertonneaux v. Board of Directors of City Schools, 3 Woods 177, 3 F. Cas. 294 (C.C.D. La. 1878) – holding that racially separate but substantially equal schools in the city of New Orleans did not violate equal protection. This was a forebear of the Supreme Court's infamous "separate but equal" decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896).

Muntz v. A Raft of Timber, 15 F. 555 (C.C.E.D. La. 1883) – holding that the issue of vessel salvage constituted an important subject of admiralty jurisdiction, and that if two competing salvage companies performed salvage duties, the first is entitled to be paid pro tanto for the services it actually rendered.

The Lord Derby, 4 Woods 265, 17 F. 265 (C.C.E.D. La. 1883) – a suit for damages to a maritime pilot bitten by a dog onboard ship was properly brought against the vessel in rem.

New Orleans v. Houston, 119 U.S. 265 (1886) – upholding as protected by the Contract Clause a tax exemption applied to the annual stipend paid to the State by the Louisiana State Lottery Company.

Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1 (1890), aff'g 24 F. 55 (C.C.E.D. La. 1885) – holding that the Eleventh Amendment conferred sovereign immunity on the states, and thus protected a state from a suit by its own citizens.

United States v. Sandrey, 48 F. 550 (C.C.E.D. La. 1891) – addressing an 1891 amendment to the immigration law, the court held that the amended law prevented the importation of aliens under contract or agreement to perform labor, as well as the immigration of aliens in certain specifically-enumerated undesirable classes, the definitions of which are quite colorful.

Flower v. United States, 116 F. 241 (5th Cir. 1902) – holding that a conviction could not be based on the extrajudicial confession of a defendant without corroboration.

Quinette v. Bisso, 136 F. 825 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 199 U.S. 606 (1905) – holding that an action for wrongful death in territorial waters is properly brought under state's wrongful death statute.

Adler v. United States, 182 F. 464 (5th Cir. 1910) – reversing an embezzlement conviction on grounds of a trial judge's vigorous and extensive questioning that could have affected the jury's assessment of guilt; a leading case on the scope of questioning by a trial judge.

Jure v. United Fruit Co., 6 F.2d 6 (5th Cir. 1925) – holding that a master of a vessel has a duty to act when the pilot's conduct causes a dangerous situation.

Dampskibsselskabet Atlanta A/S v. United States, 31 F.2d 961 (5th Cir. 1929) – holding that a river pilots' association could not be held vicariously liable for the negligence of the pilot as the association exercised no control after the pilot took the helm.

Hayford v. Doussony, 42 F.2d 439 (5th Cir. 1930), aff'g 32 F.2d 605 (5th Cir. 1929), rev'g sub nom. The Pirate Ship, 21 F.2d 231 (E.D. La. 1927) – holding that an old ship remodeled to serve as a dance pavilion and secured, as permanently as possible, at the foot of Canal Street in New Orleans was not subject to admiralty jurisdiction.

A. Russo Co. v. United States, 40 F.2d 39 (5th Cir. 1930) – holding that a railroad transporting tomatoes from New Orleans to Chicago was subject to maritime jurisdiction because the tomatoes were damaged during the voyage from Italy to New Orleans, and the railroad made itself a party to that transportation.

United States ex rel. Cheramie v. Dutton, 74 F.2d 740 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 295 U.S. 733 (1935) – on habeas corpus petition, holding that if a conviction for the violation of prohibition laws became final before the 1933 ratification of the Twenty-First Amendment to the Constitution, which repealed the Eighteenth Amendment and prohibition, the defendant must serve his sentence.

Schwegmann Bros. v. Calvert Distillers Corp., 341 U.S. 384 (1951), rev'g 184 F.2d 11 (5th Cir. 1950) (reversing the district court's injunction) – holding that the Miller-Tydings Act's amendment of the Sherman Act provided that a contract's prescribing minimum prices for resale of specified commodities (here, gin and whiskey) constituted lawful price-fixing if such would be allowed under local state law, as was the case for Louisiana's fair trade law, but the Miller-Tydings immunity did not extend to non-signers of the contract. Said the Court: "That is not price fixing by contract or agreement; that is price fixing by compulsion."   Learn more about John Schwegmann.

Maryland Casualty Co. v. Cushing, 347 U.S. 409 (1954), vacating 198 F.2d 536 (5th Cir. 1952), rev'g 99 F. Supp. 681 (E.D. La. 1951) – path-breaking limitation-of-liability case delimiting right to pursue direct action under Louisiana law.

Bush v. Orleans Parish School Board, 138 F. Supp. 336 (E.D. La. 1956); 138 F. Supp. 337 (E.D. La.), mandamus denied, 351 U.S. 948 (1956); 163 F. Supp. 701 (E.D. La. 1958); 187 F. Supp. 42 (E.D. La. 1960), aff'd, 365 U.S. 569 (1961); 188 F. Supp. 916 (E.D. La.), aff'd, 364 U.S. 500 (1960); 190 F. Supp. 861 (E.D. La. 1960), aff'd,366 U.S. 212 (1961); 191 F. Supp. 871 (E.D. La.), aff'd,367 U.S. 908 (1961); 204 F. Supp. 568 (E.D. La. 1962); 205 F. Supp. 893 (E.D. La. 1962), aff'd in part, rev'd in part, 308 F.2d 491 (5th Cir. 1962); 230 F. Supp. 509 (E.D. La. 1963) – the series of lawsuits responsible for the integration of public schools in New Orleans.   Also see FJC article about this case.   Learn more about Civil Rights.   Learn more about desegregation.

Morrison v. Davis, 252 F.2d 102 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 356 U.S. 968 (1958) – striking down segregation in public transportation in New Orleans.

New Orleans City Park Improvement Ass'n v. Detiege, 252 F.2d 122 (5th Cir.), aff'd, 358 U.S. 54 (1958) – striking down segregation in certain parks and recreational facilities in New Orleans.

Offshore Co. v. Robison, 266 F.2d 769 (5th Cir. 1959) – holding that a worker on an offshore oil rig was a seaman within the meaning of the Jones Act, permitting recovery under the Act for negligence in addition to recovery under the general maritime law; the case developed a two-part test for determining "seaman" status. As Judge John Minor Wisdom famously observed: "This case propounds a riddle: when is a roughneck a seaman?"

Louisiana Power & Light Co. v. City of Thibodaux, 360 U.S. 25 (1959), rev'g255 F.2d 774 (5th Cir. 1958), rev'g 153 F. Supp. 515 (E.D. La. 1957) – holding that, where applicable state statutes had never been interpreted by state courts, it was a proper exercise of a federal district court's discretion to stay proceedings pending decision by the state's highest court.

United States v. Peter, 178 F. Supp. 854 (E.D. La. 1959), aff'd, 283 F.2d 696 (5th Cir. 1960) – holding that, where a recluse died at the age of 82, and her mattress was sold for $2.50, and the buyers sent the mattress to a mattress works for renovation, and an air blast at the mattress works blew $22,200 in gold certificates from the mattress, the gold certificates could be rightfully claimed by the legal heirs of the deceased recluse under either the article of the Louisiana Civil Code dealing with treasure or the article dealing with lost property, and the buyers of the mattress had no right to the gold certificates.

United States v. Louisiana, 225 F. Supp. 353 (E.D. La. 1963), aff'd, 380 U.S. 145 (1965) – a three-judge district court adopted the so-called "freezing" principle in voting cases, by which any rigid test for voter registration was suspended unless the state would cause the re-registration of all voters in the affected parish.

United States v. Original Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, 250 F. Supp. 330 (E.D. La. 1965) – a three-judge panel enjoined the KKK's economic coercion, intimidation and physical violence against African-Americans seeking to asset their civil rights.

Labat v. Bennett, 365 F.2d 698 (5th Cir. 1966), cert. denied, 386 U.S. 991 (1967) – reversing rape convictions of African-American defendants due to the unconstitutional exclusion of African-Americans from the petit jury, even absent statistical evidence of systematic exclusion.

Glona v. American Guarantee & Liability Insurance Co., 391 U.S. 73 (1968), rev'g 379 F.2d 545 (5th Cir. 1967) – holding that, where a claimant was the mother of a child killed in an automobile accident, it would be a denial of equal protection to withhold relief to the mother merely because the child was born to her out of wedlock.

Gaudet v. Sea-Land Services, Inc., 463 F.2d 1331 (5th Cir. 1972), aff'd, 414 U.S. 573 (1974) – holding that the widow of a longshoreman who was seriously injured while working on a vessel within Louisiana territorial waters, and who ultimately died from his injuries, was not barred by her husband's prior recovery for personal injuries from pursuing her own wrongful death action under the Supreme Court's ruling in Moragne v. State Marine Lines, Inc.

Law v. Sea Drilling Corp., 510 F.2d 242 (5th Cir. 1975) – applying the wrongful death holding of Moragne not only to navigable waters of the states, but also to the high seas, which holding was overruled by the Supreme Court in Mobil Oil Corp. v. Higginbotham, 436 U.S. 618 (1978).

Shaw v. Garrison, 391 F. Supp. 1353 (E.D. La. 1975), aff'd, 545 F.2d 980 (5th Cir. 1977), rev'd, 436 U.S. 584 (1978), on remand, 591 F.2d 1208 (5th Cir. 1979) – civil rights action brought by Clay Shaw against former Orleans Parish District Attorney, Jim Garrison, arising out of the latter's notorious investigation into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. See also328 F. Supp. 390 (E.D. La. 1971), aff'd, 467 F.2d 113 (5th Cir. 1972) (Garrison permanently enjoined from further prosecuting Shaw in state criminal action for perjury); 293 F. Supp. 937 (E.D. La.), aff'd, 393 U.S. 220 (1968) (denying injunction of state court prosecution).   Learn more about Lee Harvey Oswald.

Broussard v. Perez, 416 F. Supp. 584 (E.D. La. 1976), aff'd, 572 F.2d 1113 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 439 U.S. 1002 (1978) – upholding Voting Rights Act reapportionment challenge to Plaquemines Parish's legislative efforts, led be parish boss and segregationist Leander Perez, to reconstitute districts for the parish school board and the parish council.

Weber v. Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical Corp., 415 F. Supp. 761 (E.D. La. 1976), aff'd, 563 F.2d 216 (5th Cir. 1977), rev'd, 443 U.S. 193 (1979) – in a so-called "reverse discrimination" case, a collectively-bargained affirmative action plan reserving 50% of plant openings for black workers was held not to violate Title VII's prohibition against racial discrimination.

Graci v United States, 301 F. Supp. 947 (E.D. La. 1969), aff'd, 456 F.2d 20 (5th Cir. 1971) – adjudicating legal liability of United States government for damages from flooding occasioned by a hurricane, where basis for liability was the government's negligence in the design, construction or functioning of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet. See also 435 F. Supp. 189 (E.D. La. 1977).

United States v. Marcello, 537 F. Supp. 1364 (E.D. La. 1982), aff'd sub nom. United States v. Roemer, 703 F.2d 805 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 935 (1983) – as a result of a long-standing FBI investigation known as Brilab, the criminal trial and convictions of noted mob boss Carlos Marcello and Commissioner of Administration Charles E. Roemer, II for conspiring to bribe public officials for the purpose of obtaining state insurance contracts, thereby defrauding the citizens of Louisiana. See also United States v. Marcello, 1988 WL 15564 (E.D. La. Feb. 19, 1988), rev'd, 876 F.2d 1147 (5th Cir. 1989); United States v. Marcello, 508 F. Supp. 586 (E.D. La. 1981), aff'd, 703 F.2d 805 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 935 (1983).

Connick v. Myers, 461 U.S. 138 (1983), rev'g 654 F.2d 719 (5th Cir. 1981), aff'g 507 F. Supp. 752 (E.D. La. 1981) – holding that the discharge of a former assistant district attorney did not violate the attorney's constitutionally protected right of free speech.

United States v. Edwards (E.D. La. 1985 & 1986) – public corruption, racketeering and conspiracy trial of Governor Edwin Edwards and others ending in mistrial and re-trial ending in acquittal.

Offshore Logistics, Inc. v. Tallentine, 477 U.S. 207 (1986), rev'g 754 F.2d 1274 (5th Cir. 1985) – holding that neither the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act nor the Death On The High Seas Act required or permitted the application of state (Louisiana) law in a wrongful death action, where a helicopter carrying offshore drilling platform workers crashed 30 miles off the Louisiana coast. See also, Tallentire v. Offshore Logistics, Inc., 800 F.2d 1390 (5th Cir. 1986); Taylor v. Air Logistics, Inc., 1988 WL 76258 (E.D. La. 7/13/1988).

Miles v. Apex Marine Corp., 498 U.S. 19 (1990), aff'g 882 F.2d 976 (5th Cir. 1989), rev'g 1987 WL 16822 (E.D. La. Sep. 8, 1987) – holding that there is a general maritime cause of action for the wrongful death of a seaman.

Castano v. American Tobacco Co., 84 F.3d 734 (5th Cir. 1996), rev'g 160 F.R.D. 544 (E.D. La. 1995) – the Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's class certification of what may be the largest class action ever attempted in federal court.

Zadvydas v. Caplinger, 986 F. Supp. 1011 (E.D. La. 1997), rev'd, 185 F.3d 279 (5th Cir. 1999), vacated, 533 U.S. 678 (2001), on remand, 285 F.3d 398 (5th Cir. 2002) – in a "man without a country" case, the district court granted a habeas petition and conditioned release to a "stateless" alien who was being detained indefinitely because INS was unable to find a country who would claim him.

Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, Inc., 523 U.S. 75 (1998), rev'g 83 F.3d 118 (5th Cir. 1996), aff'g 1995 WL 133349 (E.D. La. Mar. 24, 1995) – holding that sex discrimination consisting of same-sex sexual harassment is actionable under Title VII.

Mitchell vs. Helms, 530 U.S. 793 (1999), aff'g in part, rev'g in part 151 F.3d 347 (5th Cir. 1998), rev'g in part, aff'g in part 1997 WL 35283 (E.D. La. Jan. 28, 1997) – holding that a federal law under which the federal government distributes funds to state and local governmental agencies, which in turn lend educational materials and equipment to public and private schools, did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment as applied in Jefferson Parish.

In re Katrina Canal Breaches Consolidated Litigation, 627 F. Supp. 2d 656 (E.D. La. 2009) – denying summary judgment as to Federal Tort Claims Act claims of hurricane flood victims against Army Corps of Engineers in creation and operation of Mississippi River Gulf Outlet project.   Learn more about the Industrial Canal.