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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

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Marvin Carver was the passenger in a vehicle not owned by him in which marijuana was found in the rear of the trunk. Although Nicholas Ingram, Carver’s half-brother who had been driving the vehicle, took full ownership of the contraband, Carver was convicted of possession of marijuana. Because the State presented insufficient evidence to support Carver’s conviction, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed and rendered judgment. View "Carver v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Sitting as “thirteenth juror,” the Court of Appeals reversed Marlon Little’s convictions and remanded for a new trial, finding the weight of the evidence preponderated heavily against the verdict. Despite its prior language suggesting otherwise, neither the Mississippi Supreme Court nor the Court of Appeals assumes the role of juror on appeal. Nurse practitioner David Ellis was attacked from behind and robbed while leaving his medical clinic. Ellis reacted by swinging his computer bag at the assailant’s head. During the struggle, Ellis fell down, and his attacker also stumbled. Ellis was on the ground when his attacker stuck a gun in Ellis’s face. Ellis saw the man “square in the face” from about three feet away. The man demanded Ellis’s wallet. Ellis complied. And the man fled. When Ellis took the stand, he stated clearly and unequivocally that Little was man who robbed him. The jury found him guilty of armed robbery and possession of a weapon by a convicted felon. He was sentenced to thirty years’ imprisonment for armed robbery and ten years’ for felon-in-possession, with his sentences to run concurrently. After his post-trial motions for judgment not withstanding the verdict and for a new trial were denied, he timely appealed. The appellate court majority found Ellis’s initial identification conflicted with Little’s “actual physical attributes, including age and build.” And because Ellis’s identification of Little as the robber was the only substantive evidence against Little, the majority found a new trial was warranted. The Supreme Court took an opportunity to clarify that neither it nor the Court of Appeals ever acted as “juror” on direct appeal. “We sit as an appellate court, and as such are ill equipped to find facts. [E]ven if we wanted to be fact finders, our capacity for such is limited in that we have only a cold, printed record to review.” The Court found no reason to disturb Little’s guilty verdict. Therefore, the Curt reversed the Court of Appeals and reinstated and affirmed the judgment of the trial court. View "Little v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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In 2015, William Wells shot and killed Kendrick Brown on the steps of the Madison County Mississippi Courthouse. He was convicted by jury of first-degree murder. On appeal, Wells argued: (1) the trial court violated his due process rights when its in limine orders denied him a fair opportunity to defend himself against the State's accusations; (2) the trial court deprived him a fundamental right to assert his theory of self-defense; (3) the trial court erroneously defined "self-defense,"; (4) the trial court erred in barring Wells' theory of the case as to manslaughter; and (5) the trial court erred in granting the State's motions in limine. Finding no reversible error, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed Wells' conviction. View "Wells v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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A property owner defaulted on his obligations, and the construction lender foreclosed the property at issue in this appeal. The general contractor had a materialman’s lien on the property. At the foreclosure sale, the purchase price for the property was significantly lower than the total amounts owed. The sole issue before the chancery court was which lien had priority – that of the construction lender, or that of the contractor. The chancery court found that the contractor’s lien had priority. Because the chancery court did not abuse its discretion in arriving at that conclusion, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed. View "Whitney Bank v. Triangle Construction Company, Inc." on Justia Law

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An interlocutory appeal arose from a 2010 civil suit filed by Carol Clement against Russell Puckett. After Puckett’s death in 2014, Clement substituted the Estate of Russell Puckett (the “Estate”) as the defendant in the suit and served the Estate. The Estate moved to dismiss the suit due to failure to timely serve process under Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 4(h). The Estate argued that the statute of limitations had expired before Clement perfected service. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss. The Estate appealed, arguing the trial court erred in denying the motion to dismiss because: (1) Clement failed to show good cause for failing to serve Puckett within the statute of limitations; and (2) it did not waive its statute-of-limitations defense. Clement argued the trial court properly denied the motion to dismiss since she demonstrated good cause and the Estate waived its defense of the statute of limitations. Assuming all of Clement’s extensions of time were proper and tolled the statute of limitations, the Mississippi Supreme Court concluded she still failed to perfect service before the expiration of the statute of limitations, and her suit was thus barred. The statute of limitations began running in this case on September 11, 2009. On June 11, 2010, Clement filed the complaint and tolled the statutes with ninety-three days remaining. The statute began running again in the interim periods between the third and fourth extensions of time and the fourth and fifth extensions of time. After the fifth extension expired on February 28, 2012, the statute of limitations resumed running and expired on March 16, 2012. Clement did not serve process on Puckett or the Estate until August 25, 2014. Therefore, Clement’s suit was barred by the statute of limitations, and the trial court erred in denying the Estate’s motion to dismiss. View "Estate of Russell Puckett v. Clement" on Justia Law

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In 2014, Douglas Michael Long Jr. filed suit against Pennsylvania resident David Vitkauskas for alienation of affections. Vitkauskas entered a special appearance and then filed a motion to dismiss for, inter alia, insufficient service of process under Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 4(c)(5). The trial court granted Vitkauskas’s motion to dismiss on the ground of insufficient service of process, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Mississippi Supreme Court reversed, finding the trial court and Court of Appeals erred in ruling that Long’s service of process on Vitkauskas was insufficient. Under Rule 4(c)(5), a rebuttable presumption arises that a signed return receipt is valid when delivery is restricted. The presumption can be rebutted, but only if the defendant objects thereto and submits an offer of proof to the contrary. Vitkauskas never argued that “Mary” (the name provided on the return receipt) was not his authorized agent, nor did he state that he failed to receive process. Additionally, the record contained no offer of proof by Vitkauskas to contest either point. Had he done so, the burden then would have shifted to Long to prove “Mary” was an authorized agent of Vitkauskas. However, without an appropriate objection and offer of proof, Vitkauskas’s “due-process argument [was] without substantive merit.” View "Long v. Vitkauskas" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure

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Paula Hathorn appealed a circuit court judgment granting summary judgment in favor of the Louisville Utilities Commission (Commission). Hathorn sued the Commission along with the City of Louisville and the O’Reilly Auto Parts store for injuries she claimed resulted from a fall that occurred after she stepped into a sunken utility box set into a sidewalk in front of O’Reilly’s Auto Parts. Hathorn dismissed O’Reilly Auto Parts and the City from the suit after entering into a settlement agreement with each separately. The Commission thereafter moved for summary judgment, which was granted based on the court’s findings that: (1) the Commission was a subsidiary of the City, and according to the settlement agreement, Hathorn had released all claims against the City and its subsidiaries; (2) the Commission was immune from liability in this instance under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act (MTCA) because it did not have a ministerial duty to maintain the water meter at a level even with the ground; and (3) Hathorn could not maintain a premises liability claim against the Commission because the City owned the Commission’s assets including its water meter boxes. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that Hathorn released her claim against the Commission when she entered into a settlement agreement with the City. Therefore, the Court affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the Commission. This issue being dispositive, the Court limited its decision in this case to that assignment of error. View "Hathorn v. Louisville Utilities Commission" on Justia Law

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The City of Meridian filed a petition for forfeiture against Maria Catalan after police found $104,690 in her truck during a traffic stop. Catalan filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure, which the county court granted. The Circuit Court affirmed. The City appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the circuit court. Having granted certiorari, the Mississippi Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals’ dissent that the City’s forfeiture petition satisfied the notice pleading requirements of Rule 8 of the Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure. The Supreme Court also agreed with the Court of Appeals’ dissent that in deciding the Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the county court considered matters outside the City’s petition: the court also considered matters outside the pleadings for purposes of Rule 12(c), which allowed for a judgment on the pleadings. In doing so, the county court in effect converted the Rule 12(b)(6) and/or 12(c) motion into a motion for summary judgment, as provided in Rule 56 of the Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 56(c) of the Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure requires at least ten days’ notice to both parties that the court is converting the motion, which did not occur in this instance. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals as well as the county court’s order, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "City of Meridian v. $104,960.00 U.S. Currency et al." on Justia Law

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After probation was revoked and he was sentenced to serve the full five years of his suspended sentence, Demario Walker filed a motion for post-conviction relief (PCR). The circuit court dismissed Walker’s petition, and Walker appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part the judgment of the circuit court. The Mississippi Supreme Court granted certiorari review and held that the Court of Appeals did not err in finding: (1) the circuit court had jurisdiction and authority to revoke Walker’s probation; (2) Walker was afforded due process at his revocation hearing; and (3) revocation of Walker’s probation was proper. However, the Court of Appeals did err in finding that the circuit court’s sentencing Walker to serve the full, five-year term of his suspended sentence was improper. Therefore, in affirming in part and reversing in part, the Supreme Court reinstated and affirmed the circuit court’s judgment. View "Walker v. Mississippi" on Justia Law