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Napoleonic Code and the Louisiana Legal System: An Explainer | Curious Louisiana

There are many things Napoleon Bonaparte was known for – his leadership, his rise and fall, his greatness, his hand in his coat, Josephine. However, in Louisiana he is widely known for establishing the Napoleonic Code, adopted by France, which guides the state’s legal system.

Bonaparte’s influence on the Louisiana civil justice system fascinated Eric Tong of Denham Springs.

“I understand that our legal system is different here in Louisiana because of our French and Spanish colonial histories, but what are some of the key specific differences that set it apart from other states,” Tong said. “How does this affect daily life? , general legal situations, the ease of doing business in Louisiana, and so on?”

Napoleon Bonaparte

Tong is right. Louisiana is the only state using the Napoleonic code. Tong was born in Louisiana in 1985 but has lived much of his life out of state. When he returned to Louisiana in 2017, he began paying attention to the state’s civil justice system and understanding how it differed from other states.

Tong was curious if Louisiana’s unique legal system affected business relationships because, as he explained, “people don’t want to invest in the place if the environment makes it more difficult.”

To answer Tong’s question, a look at history is necessary.

Melissa Lonegrass, law professor at LSU’s Paul M. Hebert Law Center, teaches courses on Louisiana civil rights, including a course called Western Legal Traditions: Louisiana Impact, a first-year course that introduces students to differences and differences Similarities in the legal traditions of common law and civil law.

Lonegrass explained that Louisiana had a European legal system before it was incorporated into the United States. Around the time Louisiana became a state, French laws were codified into a civil code. She said the civil code applies to laws in private areas such as contracts, real estate transactions, wills, property disputes and marriages.

Because Louisiana culture was closely related to continental European culture, Lonegrass said the legal community in Louisiana wanted to maintain a civil-law approach. Essentially, the community put all the legal rules together in one place where the law was accessible to all.

File Photo (October 15, 2017): Several images of Napoleon Bonaparte are featured in this collection of framed pictures on a wall at the Consulate Hotel in Jamestown on the island of St. Helena in the Atlantic Ocean. Napoleon was exiled there in 1815 and died on the island in 1821; The relatively few tourists who make it to remote St. Helena are likely to visit Longwood House, where the deposed French Emperor died following an illness. (AP photo/Christopher Torchia) ORG XMIT: XDF107

Christopher Torchia

“We’re considered a mixed jurisdiction, not a purely civil jurisdiction, because we’ve obviously been influenced by the American common law system,” Lonegrass said. “We may have different approaches to problems than other states, but often we achieve the same results – just by different means.”

A specific difference between civil law and common law is the concept of compulsory inheritance. In other states, when a person dies, they can leave a will passing on their property to anyone – children, a surviving spouse, or a charity. But if that person wants to disinherit their children, he can.

In Louisiana, Lonegrass said, because of our civil law tradition, the state follows compulsory inheritance, which requires a person to leave a specified portion of the property to their children. Before the rules were changed in the 1990s, a person had to leave one-fourth of the estate to children if there was one child and half of the estate if there was more than one child, regardless of the children’s ages.

Lonegrass said the law changed because of Louisiana’s desire to be less different from other states. Today the law requires that a person bequeath the property to their children if the child is under the age of 24 or if the child has a disability that results in the inability to lead an independent life.

When it comes to doing business in Louisiana, Lonegrass said conducting business is no more or less difficult than in any other state. Instead, the intricacies of civil law tend to occupy legal experts rather than corporations or entrepreneurs.

“There are some differences [with civil law], but it doesn’t make Louisiana weird or crazy,” said Lee Ann Lockridge, acting dean and law professor at LSU’s Paul M. Hebert Law Center. “Honestly, Louisiana law makes it a little easier for citizens to understand.”