No Act of God Necessary: Expanding Beyond Louisiana's Force Majeure Doctrine to Imprévision

Author:Christopher R. Handy
Position:J.D./D.C.L., 2019. Paul M. Hebert Law Center, Louisiana State University
Pages:241-280
 
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No Act of God Necessary: Expanding Beyond
Louisiana’s Force Majeure Doctrine to Imprévision
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction .................................................................................. 242!
I. Louisiana’s Strict Application of Force Majeure and
the Harsh Consequences ............................................................... 245!
A. Force Majeure as a Louisiana Civil Law Doctrine ............... 245!
B. Louisiana’s Force Majeure Doctrine:
A Tale of Inflexibility ............................................................ 247!
II. Failed Attempts to Revise Force Majeure ................................... 251!
A. An Expansion Through Cause ............................................... 252!
B. Using Good Faith to Adopt Imprévision ................................ 253!
C. Revising the Civil Code ......................................................... 255!
III. Plausible Solutions in Related Jurisdictions ................................. 256!
A. The Common Law and Uniform
Commercial Code .................................................................. 257!
1. Frustration ....................................................................... 257!
2. American Commercial Impracticability .......................... 259!
3. U.C.C. § 2-615 ................................................................ 261!
B. CISG and Unidroit ................................................................. 265!
C. French Revision of 2016 ........................................................ 269!
1. Imprévision: From Isolated Doctrine
to Code Article ................................................................ 269!
2. A Law Both Suppletive and Mandatory .......................... 270!
3. The Spirit and Effect of Article 1195 .............................. 271!
IV. Louisiana’s Solution Should Follow the French
Revision ........................................................................................ 274!
A. Reasons to Expand the Law to Imprévision ........................... 276!
B. Placement in the Louisiana Civil Code .................................. 278!
Conclusion .................................................................................... 279
242 LOUISIANA LAW REVIEW [Vol. 79
INTRODUCTION
In 1965, the Schencks saved enough money to construct an addition
to their home in St. Bernard Parish.1 For a price of $2,260, the Schencks
were set to expand their vision of the American Dream.2 That dream,
however, would never be realized. One month after signing the contract,
nearly six feet of water poured into the home.3 Construction had barely
begun on the addition, but no one could have foreseen the wrath of
Hurricane Betsy.4 The Schencks lost most of their belongings and needed
to renovate their home.5 Consequently, the family could no longer afford
the addition as contemplated in the contract and refused both to pay and to
allow future work on the home.6 The construction company sued the
Schencks for payment for work done along with liquidated damages.7
Although the Louisiana court expressed sympathy for the family, it held
that Louisiana’s force majeure doctrine was too strict to provide any relief
to the Schencks.8
Like the Schencks, Louisiana families and businesses continue to
experience unprecedented disasters.9 The August 2016 floods and Hurricane
Katrina in 2005 wreaked havoc on Louisiana.10 In 2017, Louisiana narrowly
missed massive destruction from Hurricane Harvey amidst rebuilding from
the devastating 2016 floods.11 If th e Schencks or oth er familie s recoveri ng
Copyright 2018, by CHRISTOPHER R. HANDY.
1. See Schenck v. Capri Constr. Co., 194 So. 2d 378 (La. Ct. App. 1967).
2. See id.
3. Id. at 379.
4. Id.
5. Id.
6. Id.
7. Id.
8. Id. at 37980.
9. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina resulted in one of the worst natural disasters
in U.S. history when it made landfall near New Orleans, and, in 2016, Baton
Rouge experienced a “1000-year” flood that destroyed many homes a nd
businesses. See generally Amy Wold , NOAA: Climate change played significant
role in Louisiana’s torrential August rainfall, ADVOCATE (Sept. 7, 2016),
https://www.theadvocate .com/baton_rouge/news/environment/article_dc458f5e-
750b-11e6-a0dd-93b70f9bfa04.html [https://perma.cc/4YXL-ANF8] .
10. Campbell Robertson & Alan Blind er, After Baton Rouge Flooding, Learning
Lessons fro m New Orleans, N.Y. TIMES (Aug. 22, 2016), https://www.nytimes
.com/2016/08/23/us/baton-rouge-flooding-lessons-katrina.html?_r=0 [https://perma
.cc/WE7D-TMMP].
11. See Mark Schleifstein, Louisiana Flood of 2016 resulted from ‘1,000-year’
rain i n 2 d ays, TIMES PICAYU NE (Aug. 17, 2016), https://www.nola.com/weather
2018] COMMENT 243
from destruction lived in FranceLouisiana’s original source for its
contract lawthe law would have required that the parties, with the court’s
help, find a way to adjust the contract so that no party was ruined
financially.12 If the Schencks or similarly situated families lived elsewhere
in the United States, the law would have provided for a more equitable
result than enforcing the contract against a family on the verge of financial
ruin.13
Although much of the world allows for contractual flexibility when
unexpected circumstances arise, Louisiana has stubbornly resisted
changes such as impracticability or hardship, ignoring national and
international trends and continuing to apply its strict force majeure
doctrine.14 Presently, Louisiana requires performance to be physically
impossible for a party to obtain relief when disaster strikes.15 In contrast,
France recently added a new civil code article to increase flexibility
beyond traditional force majeure after over 200 years of mirroring
Louisiana.16 Although lawmakers have attempted to relax Louisiana’s law
of impossibility, these attempts have had little to no impact.17 Louisiana
law continues to serve as an inequitable roadblock to people the state’s
frequent natural disasters affect.
The most realistic solution to Louisiana’s inflexible approach to force
majeure is a legislative revision of the Louisiana Civil Code because the
leading solutionrequiring an extensive interpretation of the Civil
Codefailed.18 A revision to the Code should take into account the realities
of Louisiana’s mixed j urisdictional status.19 A survey of three general
approaches other jurisdictions use to move beyond outright impossibility
illuminates potential solutions for Louisiana to expand its law beyond the
force majeure doctrine into cases of impracticability, imprévision, and
hardship: (1) the Uniform Commercial Code (“U.C.C.”) and American
/index.ssf/2016/08/louisiana_flood_of_2016_result.html [https://perma.cc/6Q5J-Y
X5J].
12. See CODE CIV IL [C. CIV.] [CIVIL CODE] art. 1195 (Fr.).
13. See, e.g., U.C.C. § 2-615(a) (AM. LAW. INST. & UNIF. LAW COMMN 1977).
14. See generally Charles Tabor, Comment, Dusting Off the Code: Using
History to Find Equity in Louisiana Contract Law, 68 LA. L. REV. 549, 560 (2008).
15. See gen erally Saul Litvinoff, Force Majeure, Failure of Cause and
Theorie de l’Imprévision: Louisiana Law and Beyond, 46 LA. L. REV. 1 (1985).
16. CODE CIVI L [C. CIV.] [CIVIL CODE] art. 1195 (Fr.).
17. See Litvinoff, sup ra note 15; see also Tabor, supra note 14.
18. Tabor, supra note 14, at 565; see also Litvinoff, supra note 15.
19. See generally Vernon V. Palmer, The Many Guises of Equity in a Mixed
Jurisdiction: A Functional View of Equity in Louisiana, 69 TUL. L. REV. 7, 89
(1994) (explaining generally how Louisiana is a mixed jurisdiction).

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