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Legal nightmare ends for local businesswoman

19th March 2018   ·   0 Comments

By Fritz Esker
Contributing Writer

Local African-American businesswoman Addie Mills is hopeful that a years-long legal ordeal is over after the U.S. District Court Eastern District Louisiana dismissed a lawsuit against her company, J&A Construction Management.

In 2010, J&A Construction Manage-ment contracted with the Chicago-based construction firm F.H. Paschen to build two schools in the New Orleans area, Mildred Osborne Elementary School and South Plaquemines High School in Port Sulphur. J&A hired the Pennsylvania-based 84 Lumber to provide materials for the two federally funded school projects.

The project went downhill quickly. Mills grew frustrated when 84 Lumber used what she said were inexperienced staffers. In a 2013 interview with The Louisiana Weekly, she said this behavior included sending salespeople to manage projects and sending a roofing contractor to help with laying the foundation. She also felt that she was the victim of both gender and racial bias.

Mills claimed that 84 Lumber failed to secure adequate bond coverage for the construction projects, leaving her company bankrupt when F.H. Paschen cut funding over delays. She was forced to lay off more than a dozen employees when she closed her firm.

The disputes between the three companies resulted in lawsuits. Mills’ J&A Construction sued 84 Lumber. J&A’s suit was dismissed with prejudice because of failure to arbitrate. As a result, future claims by Mills against 84 Lumber would be futile.

When 84 Lumber sued F.H. Paschen for not compensating 84 Lumber for its work, Paschen then added J&A Construction as a third party defendant, asserting breach of contract. J&A answered with a counter-claim that was dismissed by the court. The case was scheduled to go to trial on January 29 of this year, but on January 19, F.H. Paschen moved for voluntary dismissal without prejudice of its claim and Judge Sarah Vance of the U.S. District Court Eastern District Louisiana granted the motion, which can be viewed online at the Government Publishing Office ( If a case is dismissed without prejudice, it does mean that the plaintiff can bring the case back to court if it so chooses.

The legal wrangling had gone on for so long that Mills’ attorney, Charles Ayles of Baton Rouge, remembered hearing about the case when he was still in law school at Southern University of Baton Rouge. When he was hired by Mills, who he met through a mutual friend, Ayles was only two months removed from passing the bar. Despite his inexperience, he would be facing more experienced lawyers representing a large company. But Ayles was inspired by Mills’ passion for defending her name and her company.

“It was a classic David vs. Goliath case,” Ayles said. “I really had to learn on the fly.”

But Mills’ desire to have her voice heard in court was undiminished. When Paschen offered to settle with her out of court, she declined. Even though going to trial meant she could lose and be forced to pay money she didn’t have, Mills told the judge she wanted her voice to be heard.

“I wanted to tell my story,” Mills said. “This is not about the money. This is about my name and my company’s name.”

Ayles said Mills’ words to the judge were moving to witness.

“If I was the crying type, I would have been in tears,” Ayles said. “To see how she defended something greater than the dollar value of her company was eye-opening.”

While Ayles does not know the exact reason why Paschen decided to dismiss the suit (a request for comment from FH Paschen was not returned as of press time), he said the decision to dismiss was one day after Mills spoke of her desire to tell her story even if it might cost her everything.

“It was a great result when everything seemed stacked against her,” Ayles said.

A representative from 84 Lumber declined to comment for this story, stating that they do not discuss legal matters.

This article originally published in the March 19, 2018 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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