Acadiana Business

Haik won't dismiss Lyons v. Knight; invites appeal

by Walter Pierce

A federal judge has upheld his earlier ruling in a lawsuit brought against a powerful Lafayette oil family by their former interior decorator.

[Editor's Note: This story has been modified to reflect that the defendants had not filed an appeal in the case, only a reconsideration of an earlier ruling, and that there are two suits pending in the case.]

A federal judge has upheld his earlier ruling in a lawsuit brought against a powerful Lafayette oil family by their former interior decorator, yet, according to a source familiar with such federal cases, he took the rare step of urging the defendants to appeal to the Fifth Circuit. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Haik this week ruled against members of the Knight family, who challenged Haik's ruling last May that let the lawsuit brought against them by Judy Lyons stand.

Lyons originally filed the suit against the Knights and their company in state district court in Lafayette in early 2011. Judge Marilyn Castle sided with the Knights and dismissed the suit, but the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal reversed Castle's ruling. While Lyons' suit was pending before the 3rd Circuit the Knights filed suit against Lyons seeking to recover monetary damages they claimed they suffered. But the Knights didn't pursue the civil claim against Lyons and the suit expired. Knight counter-sued.

In October of last year, the Knights successfully petitioned the state court to transfer the second suit to federal court because Lyons' suit brought a RICO claim against the family. Named for the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a law enacted in 1970 to help the federal government better prosecute organized crime, a RICO claim can be brought against individuals or corporations that work with law enforcement to bring, as Lyons' alleges and her criminal acquittal supports, false charges against an individual.

In effect Lyons' has two civil lawsuits against the Knights - one in state court and the other in federal court.

In his ruling this week, Haik invited the Knight family to take their appeal to a higher authority:

Given this is an issue which involves a controlling question of law as to which there is substantial ground for a difference of opinion and that a ruling as to whether a claim under the RICO Act exists in this matter would materially advance the ultimate determination of this litigation, the Court hereby certifies this issue for appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, should the parties wish to take such action.

Lyons' attorney declined comment on this week's ruling.

For the background on this sordid story, click here.