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Ex-licensee’s appeal of loss on defamation claim frivolous, making him subject to sanction

A litigious ex-private investigator licensee had no valid legal argument in making an appeal of a case in which he alleged that board members and staff of Louisiana's private investigator board defamed him during an earlier trial on another defamation claim, a state appellate court ruled April 1. Given the deficient argument, board defendants were entitled to sanctions against the investigator, as well as all legal costs related to the appeal.

(Alexander v. Louisiana State Board of Private Investigator Examiners)

The investigator licensee in the case, Dwayne Alexander, was licensed by the board from 1997 to 2006. In 2000, the city of New Orleans hired him to investigate worker’s compensation claims. Then, in 2006, he partnered with a third organization, Cannon Cochrane Management Services, and, despite letting his investigator license lapse in that year, continued his investigative work for the city under contract with that company from 2006 to 2009.

Alexander apparently believed that, under his contract with Cannon Cochrane, he no longer needed to be licensed to investigate claims for the city, although another factor leading to his decision to let his license lapse may have been that, prior to that action, the board had informed Alexander that he was under investigation as the result of two complaints of professional misconduct.

In 2009, another licensee investigator filed a complaint with the board regarding Alexander’s continuing investigative work despite letting his license expire. The complainant, true to his profession, had compiled a binder of background information and evidence regarding Alexander’s practice, and had sent copies of the binder to Cannon Cochrane, law enforcement officials, and a local television station.

Cannon Cochrane terminated Alexander’s contract, and the board issued him a cease-and-desist order for unlicensed practice.

In May 2009, Alexander complained to the board that the cease-and-desist order, as well as its provision of records to the other investigator following a public records request, had been improper and had cost him his job with Cannon Cochrane and the city.

In 2011, Alexander returned to unlicensed private investigating, this time investigating a worker’s compensation claim for a local school board. After receiving a tip about Alexander’s activities, the New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission contacted the school board, prompting the board to ask local law enforcement to investigate Alexander, which in turn led to an arrest warrant for Alexander for unlicensed practice in June of that year. Alexander then turned himself in.

In January of 2013, Alexander filed suit against the investigator board, claiming that it had defamed him by issuing the 2009 cease-and-desist order. A jury found the board liable for defamation and abuse of process and awarded Alexander $300,000 in damages, but an appellate ruling held that his abuse of process and defamation claims based on the cease-and-desist order were time- barred.

Alexander then filed another claim against the board and several board officials, again alleging defamation, but this time his case was based on statements made by the board defendants during the earlier trial. A trial court dismissed the new claims, as well as sanctions motions requested by the board defendants. Both sides appealed, with the board defendants challenging the denial of sanctions and asking for an injunction prohibiting further suits by Alexander and additional sanctions for filing a frivolous appeal.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals of Louisiana for the Fourth Circuit awarded those sanctions. The defendants were entitled to attorney’s fees and costs for the additional expense of the appeal, the court held, and the trial court had made additional errors on other sanctions motions.

The Court of Appeals also agreed with the board defendants that Alexander’s appeal was frivolous. Alexander had filed at least 19 other state suits in the matter, in addition to numerous federal suits, to the point that a federal judge had actually ordered that Alexander not file any further federal cases and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit warned him that further suits would results in “progressively severe sanctions.”

Here, the appeals court held that Alexander raised no substantial legal question in his appeal, making it frivolous; the court issued sanctions and appeals costs for each defendant.