Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Mississippi

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The Court of Appeals reversed and rendered a final judgment entered by the Harrison County Chancery Court, in which the chancery court held that: (1) Gulf Publishing’s (GP) records request under the Mississippi Public Records Act (MPRA) was not subject to any exemptions contained in the act; (2) the Department of Marine Research (DMR) acted in bad faith by asserting defenses for the purpose of delay in violation of the Mississippi Litigation Accountability Act (MLAA); (3) DMR willfully and wrongfully denied GP’s records requests; (4) the State Auditor acted in bad faith and willfully and wrongfully denied GP’s requests; (5) the State Auditor was in civil contempt from November 4, 2013, until it purged itself on December 5, 2013, when it filed a motion with the federal district court, seeking permission to release the records requested by GP, which were then in the custody of a federal grand jury; therefore, the State Auditor was liable for attorney’s fees and expenses resulting from the contempt; (6) GP was entitled to attorney’s fees under the MPRA, the MLAA, and relevant caselaw for contempt and monetary sanctions for bad faith; (7) DMR and the State Auditor were jointly and severally liable for attorney’s fees and other expenses; and (8) certain individuals were fined $100 each pursuant to the MPRA, for their participation in the willful and wrongful denial of GP’s public-records request. After granting GP's request for certiorari review, the Mississippi Supreme Court found the Court of Appeals should not have reached the question of whether the investigative-report exemption under the MPRA applied in this instance: that claim was waived. Therefore, that portion of the Court of Appeals’ judgment holding that the public records sought by GP were exempt under the MPRA’s investigative-report exemption was overruled. The Court found the Department of Audit, as a public body defined by Mississippi Code Section 25-61-3(a), was liable to GP for the civil penalty prescribed Mississippi Code Section 25-61-15, along with reasonable expenses and attorney’s fees as found by the chancery court, for denying GP access to public records not exempt from the provisions of the MPRA. View "Mississippi Department of Audit v. Gulf Publishing Company, Inc." on Justia Law

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Teresa Hamlet filed a motion for an extension of time to serve process, prior to the expiration of the 120-day deadline provided by Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 4(h). The trial judge granted the motion and signed an order, but the order was not filed with the circuit clerk until the day before the granted extension expired, well after the expiration of the original, 120-day deadline. Hamlet served process on three defendants during the extension. On the same day the order was filed, Hamlet filed a second motion for time, which the trial court also granted. While Hamlet served process on the remaining defendants within the second extension period, the order granting the second extension was not filed with the clerk until three months after it was signed by the judge. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss Hamlet’s complaint, arguing that the statute of limitations had run before the court’s order granting additional time to serve process had been entered by the clerk of court. The defendants further argued that Hamlet’s suit could not be revived by the untimely filed order. The trial court denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss. Because Hamlet was the only party to the action, the Mississippi Supreme Court found the trial judge’s order granting her motion for extension of time to serve process became effective once the order had been signed and had left the trial judge’s control. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court. In cases where more than one party is involved, notice becomes essential. In cases involving multiple parties, the Court adopted the holding of the majority of states that require the entry of an interlocutory order before it becomes effective. View "Graceland Care Center of New Albany, LLC v. Hamlet" on Justia Law

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Richard Howarth, Jr. died in an airplane crash in 2012. Howarth was piloting the plane, which was the property of M&H Ventures, LLC. Howarth was also the sole member of the M&H. In 2013, Howarth’s widow, Cyndy, as executrix of Howarth’s estate, wrongful death beneficiary of Howarth, and next friend of minor daughter Cynthia Howarth, along with adult daughter Juliet Howarth McDonald (the wrongful death beneficiaries), filed suit against the LLC, alleging that Howarth’s death had been caused by the negligence, gross negligence, and recklessness of M&H Ventures and others. M&H Ventures filed a motion to dismiss, and, subsequently, a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the wrongful death beneficiaries could not recover because the success of their claims depended on proving that Howarth’s own negligence had caused his death. In response, the wrongful death beneficiaries argued that, because M&H Ventures, as an LLC, owned the aircraft and all of Howarth’s negligent actions had been performed as a member of this LLC, they could recover from M&H Ventures for Howarth’s negligence. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of M&H Ventures. Because the comparative negligence statute prevented a plaintiff from recovering for negligence attributable to the injured person, and Howarth’s wrongful death beneficiaries were seeking recovery for Howarth’s own negligence, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed. View "Howarth v. M & H Ventures, LLC" on Justia Law

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Carla and William “Duff” Darnell were married in November 2004; had a child, C.D., in 2006; and separated in September 2010. Carla filed for divorce, and after a three-day trial, the chancellor awarded physical custody to Duff. Carla appealed, and the Mississippi Supreme Court remanded to the chancellor, instructing him to conduct a new Albright analysis. On remand, the chancellor reconsidered two witness statements, made new findings of fact and conclusions of law, conducted a complete Albright analysis, and specifically addressed why he disagreed with the guardian ad litem’s (GAL’s) recommendations. The chancellor determined that: it would be in the best interest of the minor child that the parents share joint legal custody of the child, with the child to be in the physical custody of Duff Darnell from the time that school starts in August of 2012, until the school year ends in May or June of 2013, and for each school year thereafter until further order ofthe Court. The mother shall have standard non-custodial parent visitation, every other weekend. Carla appealed again. Finding that the chancellor was not manifestly wrong or clearly erroneous in granting physical custody to Duff Darnell, the Supreme Court affirmed the chancellor’s amended judgment. View "Darnell v. Darnell" on Justia Law

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Dale Miller and Jessica Smith agreed to an irreconcilable-differences divorce, leaving for the Chancery Court to decide custody, care, and visitation of their two children, Smitty and Morgan. As to Smitty, the chancellor terminated Miller’s parental rights because Miller was not the biological father of Smitty nor did he stand in loco parentis to Smitty. As to Morgan, the biological child of Miller and Smith, the chancellor awarded custody to Smith. The Court of Appeals affirmed the chancellor’s judgments. On petition for certiorari to this Court, Miller argued: (1) the trial court erred in terminating his parental rights to Smitty; and (2) his right to confrontation under the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and his right to be present under Article 3, Section 25 of the Mississippi Constitution were violated when the chancellor removed Miller from the courtroom during the testimony of Smith’s oldest daughter of a previous relationship. The Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed, yet with respect to the second issue, the court found removing Miller from the courtroom as a harmless error. View "Miller v. Smith" on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from Brian Pedigo’s suit against Rent-A-Center, Inc., for actual and punitive damages, alleging claims of malicious prosecution, false imprisonment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Pedigo visited Rent-A-Center, Inc.’s (RAC) Booneville location, and decided to make the rental-purchase of a back-lit, LED television. He entered a Rental Purchase Agreement (RPA) for the lease. Under the RPA, Pedigo agreed to make specified payments over the course of twenty-three months, in an effort to own the television after all payments were remitted. Incorporated within the RPA was RAC’s standard Consumer Arbitration Agreement (CAA), which outlined those claims covered and those not covered in a dispute between the parties, and the process the parties would engage in should a dispute arise. Pedigo initialed and signed both documents, agreeing to the terms within. By February 2013, Pedigo had failed to fulfill his payment obligations under the RPA and was more than twenty days past-due under the agreement. Finding the contract had been breached, RAC manager Kristopher Robinson sought to recover the television from Pedigo. Through his attempts at recovery, Robinson discovered that the television was pawned shortly after it was leased. After discovering Pedigo had pawned the television, Robinson filed a complaint with the Booneville police in April 2013. Based on this information, an arrest warrant for the theft of rental property was issued for Pedigo on May 1, 2013. He was indicted on October 22, 2013, for defrauding RAC, and was arrested and incarcerated on December 11, 2013. On June 9, 2014, the State retired the October 2013 felony charge, ending the prosecution of the criminal matter. Following his release, Pedigo filed this civil action claiming that RAC filed a false report with the police which resulted in his incarceration–an act that he claims amounted to malicious prosecution. After a preliminary review of the matter, the Circuit Court found in favor of Rent-A-Center, ruling that the parties entered a valid and enforceable arbitration agreement which covered Pedigo’s claims. The Mississippi Supreme Court found, however, such ruling was made in error: though broad, the arbitration agreement did not contemplate Pedigo having to arbitrate his claim that Rent-A-Center maliciously swore out a criminal affidavit, causing his wrongful incarceration. Accordingly, the Court reversed the previous ruling and remanded the case to the circuit court for further proceedings. View "Pedigo v. Rent-A-Center, Inc." on Justia Law

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Twenty-one public school districts claimed the Mississippi Legislature’s appropriations for public education during fiscal years 2010-2015 were statutorily inadequate. The districts contended Mississippi Code Section 37-151-6 mandated the Legislature fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP), but the Legislature failed to follow this mandate. They sought judicial enforcement of this statute in Hinds County Chancery Court, requesting more than $235 million in State funds - the difference between what they received and what they claim they should have received had the Legislature fully funded MAEP. The chancellor found the school districts were not entitled to relief because he determined that Section 37-151-6 was not a binding mandate. The chancellor, therefore, ​dismissed the school districts’ claim. Because the Mississippi Supreme Court found that Section 37-151-6 was not mandatory, it affirmed. View "Clarksdale Municipal School District et al. v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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A jury awarded Ausbern Construction Company, Inc. (Ausbern) a verdict of $182,500 against Chickasaw County Engineer Edward Springer in his individual capacity for tortious interference with a road-construction contract. On appeal, the Mississippi Court of Appeals reversed the monetary judgment and rendered judgment in favor of Springer, holding the element of tortious interference that constitutes malice was not satisfied because Springer’s actions were not without right or justifiable cause. Though the lack of evidence demonstrating malice was dispositive to the decision to reverse and render, a majority of the Court of Appeals alternatively held that Ausbern’s claim against Springer had implicated the Mississippi Tort Claims Act and the trial court had erred by failing to grant Springer’s motion to dismiss due to lack of presuit notice. The Mississippi Supreme Court concluded the record did not support the Court of Appeals’ conclusion that Springer raised the issue of presuit notice in his motion to dismiss. Although Springer raised lack of notice as an affirmative defense in his answer to Ausbern’s first amended complaint, he simply argued that he was entitled to immunity in support of his motion to dismiss. The Court did not disturb the dispositive holding reached by the Court of Appeals resulting in the rendered judgment in favor of Springer; the Supreme Court granted certiorari review to resolve the Court of Appeals’ perceived conflict between Zumwalt v. Jones County Board of Supervisors, 19 So. 3d 672 (Miss. 2009), and Whiting v. University of Southern Mississippi, 62 So. 3d 907 (Miss. 2011). "Whiting" did not overrule, sub silentio, "Zumwalt" as the Court of Appeals presumed in reaching its alternative holding. The Supreme Court overruled Whiting to the extent it held that a claim for tortious interference with a contract was subject to presuit notice requirements of the Tort Claims Act. Ausbern’s claim against Springer in his individual capacity for tortious interference with the contract did not trigger the presuit notice requirements of the Tort Claims Act. View "Springer v. Ausbern Construction Co., Inc." on Justia Law

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Sheriel Perkins lost the 2013 Greenwood mayoral race by 206 votes. She filed an election contest against the winner, Mayor Carolyn McAdams. In her complaint, Perkins alleged illegal voting and fraud. But at trial, the only evidence she produced was that fifty-two absentee ballots were wrongly counted and one absentee ballot and nine affidavit ballots were wrongly rejected. Her other claims of illegal voting and fraud had no evidentiary support. Thus, the trial court granted McAdams’s motion for a directed verdict and entered a judgment in McAdams’s favor. Perkins appealed; however, the contested mayoral term ended June 30, 2017. So her appeal was made moot by the time of this opinion. Conceding mootness, Perkins still insisted the Mississippi Supreme Court should consider the merits of her illegal-voting claim under the public-interest exception to the mootness doctrine. The Supreme Court found Perkins presented no evidence that anyone voted illegally in a precinct outside of his or her residence. Rather, according to her own witnesses, it was the election materials - not the voters - that ended up in the wrong precincts. And Mississippi statutory law was clear that misdelivery of election materials would not prevent the holding of an election. "Instead, poll managers should provide a suitable substitute procedure, which is exactly what occurred here." The Court therefore dismissed Perkins' appeal as moot. View "Perkins v. McAdams" on Justia Law

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After remand, the trial court ruled that H.A.S. Electrical Contractors, Inc. (HAS) failed to meet its burden of proving purposeful discrimination. Hemphill Construction Company was the general contractor on a project in Waveland, Mississippi, to rebuild a state park after Hurricane Katrina. Hemphill entered a subcontract with HAS (one of many entered into between these companies - both before and after the event complained of) to perform the electrical work. According to HAS, Hemphill did not pay HAS all it was owed under the subcontract. HAS sued Hemphill for breach of contract, quantum meruit, and conversion. After a three-day trial, the jury found in favor of Hemphill on both HAS’s claims and Hemphill’s counterclaim. However, the jury declined to award Hemphill monetary damages. The subcontract entitled the “prevailing party” to reasonable attorney’s fees and expenses. HAS filed a motion for new trial or, in the alternative, a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV), arguing the trial court erred: (1) in allowing Hemphill to use two of its peremptory strikes to exclude two African Americans from the jury, arguing neither pretext nor purposeful discrimination; and (2) in not finding the unilateral attorney’s-fees provision of the contract to be unconscionable. The trial court denied HAS’s motion for new trial and alternative motion for JNOV. In its briefs appealing the trial court ruling to the Mississippi Supreme Court, HAS challenged the attorney’s-fees award and argued the trial court mishandled the Batson hearing when HAS challenged Hemphill’s use of peremptory strikes on the African-American jurors. The Supreme Court affirmed, finding HAS failed to prove: (1) purposeful discrimination in the jury selection process; (2) that the trial court’s ruling was clearly erroneous; or (3) that the trial court’s ruling was against the overwhelming weight of the evidence. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the jury’s verdict, the trial court’s denial of HAS’s motion for new trial, and the trial court’s post-judgment award of attorney’s fees to Hemphill. View "H.A.S. Electrical Contractors, Inc. v. Hemphill Construction Company, Inc." on Justia Law