The Center for Civil Law Studies of the LSU Paul M. Hebert Law Center presents the 21st John H. Tucker, jr. Lecture in Civil Law
Justice James L. Dennis
(Associate Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court)
Interpretation and Application of the Civil Code and the Evaluation of Judicial Precedent
(54 La. L. Rev. 1)
The 21st Tucker lecturer is well known to every Louisiana attorney, either by repute or, to those who have had occasion to appear before the highest court of this state, by direct-and sometimes humbling- personal experience. He has been an Associate Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court since 1975, and in that time, he authored many of the Court’s most far reaching decisions-decisions that have significantly reshaped some of the most important areas of Louisiana law.
Justice Dennis has demonstrated great ability as a legal scholar continuously from the very beginning of his legal career. Born in 1936, he graduated from LSU Law School in 1962 as Managing Editor of the Louisiana Law Review and a member of The Order of the Coif. He practiced law in Monroe from 1962-1972, and was a member of the Louisiana House of Representatives for the last four of those years.
He has sat on the bench for the last twenty-one years, first as judge of a Louisiana district court (1972-1974), then as a judge of the Louisiana Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (1974-1975), and finally, as an associate justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court (1975-present). During this long judicial career, and especially during his 18-year tenure on the supreme court of this state, Justice Dennis has rendered and authored many groundbreaking decisions.
Perhaps our speaker’s most thorough area of effectiveness has been the law of personal injury. Beginning in 1981 with Bazley v. Tortorich, 397 So.2d 475, defining A”intent” in the context of intentional torts, he has authored a number of supreme court opinions that together have served greatly to change and develop the law in that field. In doing so, he carefully applied the methodology and sources of the civil law, while at the same time making good use of such common law concepts that the duty/risk analysis of fault and the causation of injury. This kind of thorough comparative analysis and application of both civil law and common law concepts may be seen to advantage in Justice Dennis’ recent decide in Pitre v. Opelousas General Hospital, 530 So. 2d 1151 (La 1988), regarding a “wrongful life” claim. His earlier decision in Halphen v. Johns- Manville Sales, Inc., 484 So.2d 110 (La (1986), displayed similar virtues, and in the process became a mini-primer on products liability law that received national attention.
Justice Dennis significantly affected many other areas of Louisiana law as well, including environmental law, as in Save Ourselves v. Louisiana Environmental Control Commission, 452 So. 2d 1152 (La. 1984); the law of obligations, as in J. Weingarten, Inc. v. Northgate Mall, Inc., 404 So. 2d 896 (La. 1981); Louisiana constitutional law, as in Sibley v. Board of Supervisors of Louisiana State University, 477 So.2d 1094 (La. 1985); and, in re JMP, 528 So. 2d 1002 (1988), even the procedural law of adoptions. Throughout all of Justice Dennis’ many decisions in these and other areas, two fundamental judicial attitudes have been apparent-a deep respect for civil law sources and methodology, and an abiding recognition that the social welfare of the community often demands a flexible interpretation of basic civil code principles.