One of My Toughest Cases: Testing New Theories in a Port Dispute

Roy Cheatwood  
Appellate Practice; Bet-the-Company Litigation; Commercial Litigation; Legal; Malpractice Law – Defendants; Litigation – Banking & Finance;
Litigation – Environmental; Professional Malpractice Law – Defendants

After braving mosquito-infested jungles and scorching heat during the Vietnam War, First Lieutenant Roy Cheatwood of the U.S. Army Infantry came home to attend Tulane University School of Law, which would lay the foundation to a lifelong career of litigation.

“I’ve never looked back,” Cheatwood says, referring to his 37 years (so far) in practice.

The driving force behind Cheatwood’s passion for the practice is the opportunity to work with a wide variety of clients and individuals across a spectrum of industries and trying to solve challenging problems. He concentrates his practice in the areas of commercial litigation, including construction; contract; banking; corporate and securities; anti-trust and unfair trade practices; trade secrets; oil and gas; energy and minerals; and legal malpractice.

He received one of his toughest cases at Baker, Donelson, where he’s a managing shareholder of the Louisiana offices, member of the firm’s board of directors and member of the firm’s strategic planning committee. Cheatwood, along with other attorneys from the firm, represented the Port of Lake Charles in a case filed by the West Cameron Port, Harbor and Terminal District.

The case was a hotly contested dispute over the ownership of property committed for the development of a $1 billion private industrial plant located along the Calcasieu River Ship Channel in Southwest Louisiana and maintained by the Port of Lake Charles. The land itself was physically located within the territorial district of the West Cameron Port.

The property and the new plant sat along and were dependent on the Calcasieu River Ship Channel, which was maintained and preserved by the Port of Lake Charles. The Port of Lake Charles sought to amend an existing lease to facilitate the development of the proposed billion-dollar plant in West Cameron along the channel, but the West Cameron Port sued to halt the transaction, maintaining that the Port of Lake Charles didn’t have the right to amend the lease.

“The case presented numerous complex legal theories that had never before been vetted in the courts, all within the context of a larger dispute that had tremendous ramifications for a public entity responsible for maintaining a natural resource with critical economic significance for the region,” Cheatwood says.
The Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal held that the Port of Lake Charles was the legal owner of the property on which the plant was built. It further ruled that the port had the legal authority to amend an existing lease over the land to provide for development of the proposed plant despite the fact that the land was physically located within the territorial district of the West Cameron Port.

On Nov. 19, 2010, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled 6-1 for the denial of a writ application filed by the West Cameron Port seeking review of the Third Circuit’s decision. The court’s refusal to grant writs brought the litigation to a close. The authority of the Port of Lake Charles to operate within West Cameron’s district in order to discharge its responsibility to maintain and preserve the Calcasieu River Ship Channel, and to assure an estimated $65 million in anticipated lease revenues from the new plant development, was validated.  

These days, when Cheatwood has free time, he enjoys duck-hunting and attending sporting events, among other things; but he still has time to remember those who have helped him along in his professional career.

“I have been extremely fortunate to benefit from a number of outstanding mentors throughout my career,” Cheatwood says. “… Every one of whom has had a lasting and tangible impact upon me as a lawyer, a professional and a member of the firms where I have had the privilege to practice.”

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