Justia Mississippi Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Business Law
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The case involves Katherine Cassell (Kathy) and William Cassell (Bill), who were married in 1991 and separated in 2021. Prior to their marriage, Bill and his siblings inherited land in Mississippi from their mother and formed Waterloo Farms, Inc. (Waterloo), which held title to the inherited land. Waterloo also owned two tracts of land in Claiborne County. During their marriage, Bill began farming as Valley of the Moon Farms, LLC (VOM), which was owned 50% by Bill and 50% by Moon Planting Company, Inc. (MPC). MPC was formed by Bill’s father, who transferred 99% of MPC’s ownership to Kathy and 1% to Bill. Kathy and Bill maintained two bank accounts—one personal joint account and one account for VOM. Revenue from VOM was deposited into the VOM account and from there, money would be transferred into Kathy and Bill’s joint personal account for monthly expenses.The couple separated in 2021, and Kathy filed for divorce on the grounds of uncondoned adultery and, alternatively, habitual cruel and inhuman treatment and irreconcilable differences. Kathy sought an equitable division of the marital estate, permanent periodic alimony, lump sum alimony and for Bill to maintain her medical and dental insurance and his own life insurance for which she was the sole beneficiary. Kathy also requested reasonable attorneys’ fees. The chancery court entered a final judgment of divorce and his findings of fact and conclusions of law. The chancellor granted the divorce on the ground of uncondoned adultery. Among other assets, the chancellor classified Tract Two and the Turley Property as Bill’s separate property, and classified the Thompson Property and the VOM account as marital property. In total, Bill’s separate property was valued at $5,341,640.14. After classifying and equitably dividing the various marital assets applying the Ferguson factors, the chancellor considered Kathy’s alimony request weighing the Armstrong factors and awarded her permanent periodic alimony in the amount of $7,500 per month. In total, Kathy was awarded permanent periodic alimony and 40 percent of the marital estate, and the court ordered Bill to maintain life insurance for which Kathy was the sole beneficiary in the amount of $500,000 and to maintain Kathy’s health insurance until she turned sixty-five or was able to obtain Medicare. Kathy’s portion of the marital estate amounted to a lump sum payment of $667,557, whereas Bill’s portion of the marital estate was valued by the chancellor at $1,861,629.53. From this final judgment and findings of fact and conclusions of law, Kathy appeals.The Supreme Court of Mississippi affirmed the chancery court's decision. The court held that the burden of proof to rebut the presumption of marital property is by a preponderance of the evidence. Furthermore, the party claiming property excluded from marital property has been commingled and transformed into marital property bears the burden of proof, likewise by a preponderance of the evidence. Finally, the court overruled Cheatham insofar as it has any bearing on a chancellor’s decision to award alimony and reaffirmed the factors enumerated in Ferguson—awarding alimony during the division of the estate—and Armstrong—awarding alimony subsequent to the division of the estate—as the appropriate factors to be considered. View "Cassell v. Cassell" on Justia Law

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In this case heard by the Supreme Court of Mississippi, the plaintiff, Samuel Lasseter, sustained injuries when he tripped and fell at the Jackson Hilton Hotel. He claimed that a dangerous defect in the flooring caused his fall. The hotel moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. Lasseter then filed a motion to amend the order granting summary judgment, which the trial court denied. Lasseter appealed these decisions.In this case, the court found Lasseter to be an invitee, someone who enters the premises at the invitation of the owner for mutual benefit. Business owners owe a duty to invitees to keep their premises in a reasonably safe condition and to warn of dangerous conditions not readily apparent to the invitee. However, the court noted that undamaged common architectural conditions such as thresholds are not considered dangerous conditions.To prevail, Lasseter needed to show that either a negligent act of the defendant caused his injury, that the defendant had actual knowledge of a dangerous condition and failed to warn him, or that the dangerous condition existed for a sufficient amount of time to impute constructive knowledge to the defendant. Lasseter failed to provide sufficient evidence for any of these elements. His claim that the strip was buckled before his fall was unsupported by admissible evidence, and he was unable to show that the hotel had actual or constructive knowledge of a dangerous condition.Therefore, the Supreme Court of Mississippi affirmed the trial court's decisions, both granting the hotel's motion for summary judgment and denying Lasseter's motion to alter or amend the order granting summary judgment. View "Lasseter v. AWH-BP Jackson Hotel, LLC" on Justia Law

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In the case before the Supreme Court of Mississippi, Vince Hardaway brought an action against his employer, Howard Industries, Inc., claiming bad faith denial of his workers’ compensation benefits for temporary partial disability due to carpal tunnel syndrome. Howard Industries had contracted CorVel Enterprise, a third-party claims administrator, to manage workers’ compensation claims. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Howard Industries, finding that the company's conduct did not constitute gross negligence or an independent tort.On appeal, the Supreme Court of Mississippi affirmed the trial court's decision. The court found that under Mississippi Code Section 71-3-125(1), Howard Industries was permitted to delegate its duty to administer employee workers’ compensation claims to CorVel. The Court also determined that Hardaway failed to provide sufficient evidence that Howard Industries acted with actual malice or gross negligence in denying his benefits. Therefore, his claims did not survive summary judgment. The court held that any failure to pay benefits by Howard Industries under these circumstances did not amount to gross negligence. View "Hardaway v. Howard Industries, Inc." on Justia Law

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K&C Logistics, LLC, brought suit in Madison County, Mississippi Circuit Court against Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc., and Daniel Cooper as the result of a vehicle accident that occurred in Nogales, Arizona. The trial court determined that it did not have personal jurisdiction over Old Dominion. K&C Logistics appealed, asking the Mississippi Supreme Court to find that courts in Mississippi had jurisdiction over Old Dominion. The Court was further requested to interpret the Mississippi Business Corporation Act to hold that Old Dominion, a foreign corporation registered to do business in Mississippi, consented to general personal jurisdiction when it registered to do business in the state. Finding no reversible error in the circuit court order, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "K&C Logistics, LLC v. Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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"This case hinges on whether Online Travel Companies (OTCs) are encompassed by the definition of hotels found in Mississippi Code Section 41-49-3 (Rev. 2023) and are therefore subject to the tax levied against hotels in Mississippi Code Section 27-65-23 (Rev. 2017)." The chancery court found that the tax was a broad transaction tax that encompassed the OTCs. The chancery court granted partial summary judgment in favor of the State on the issue of liability, rendering the OTCs liable for more than $10 million in past due taxes. The trial court further found that the OTCs had acted willfully and knowingly and in intentional disregard and assessed penalties and interest for a total judgment of more than $50 million. The Mississippi Supreme Court found that the OTCs were not hotels as contemplated by Section 41-49-3. Therefore, the Court reversed the trial court’s grant of partial summary judgment in favor of the State on the issue of liability and renders judgment in favor of the OTCs. View "Priceline.com Incorporated n/k/a Booking Holdings, Inc., et al. v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Penn-Star Insurance Company (Penn-Star) appealed a trial court’s denial of its motion for summary judgment. The Mississippi Supreme Court found after review of the trial court record that because the commercial general liability policy at issue did not cover the sustained losses, the trial court’s order was reversed, judgment was rendered in favor of Penn-Star, and this case was remanded to the trial court for consideration of the remaining issues. View "Penn-Star Insurance Company v. Thompson, et al." on Justia Law

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Through an Asset Purchase Agreement, seller Huntcole, LLC (Huntcole), transferred to buyer 4-Way Electric Services, LLC (4-Way), all property necessary to conduct the refurbishment business. The Asset Purchase Agreement did not include the building where the refurbishment business was located. Instead, Huntcole leased that building to 4-Way through a separate Lease. Three years after buying the business, 4-Way announced it was moving to a new building in a different city. It began removing large pieces of commercial equipment it believed it had purchased from Huntcole to conduct the refurbishment business. Huntcole protested and argued that because the equipment was affixed to the building, it was not transferred to 4-Way through the Asset Purchase Agreement. The trial court ruled in favor of Huntcole, finding the affixed equipment had been excluded from the Asset Purchase Agreement. After its review, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the trial court's judgment. The Supreme Court found that based on the plain language of the Asset Purchase Agreement, 4-Way, by purchasing all assets necessary to conduct the refurbishment business, did in fact purchase the very equipment needed to conduct the business. The Asset Purchase Agreement also clearly designated the equipment as personal property and not as building improvements or fixtures. The Supreme Court concurred with the trial court that 4-Way did not have the right to cause damage to the building in a way that breached the Lease. The case was remanded to the trial court to determine the appropriate amount of damages to repair the building in accordance with the Lease, and to recalculate Huntcole's attorney fees' awards. View "4-Way Electric Services, LLC v. Huntcole, LLC, et al." on Justia Law

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George Healy IV (George) and George V. Healy IV & Associates, PLLC ("Healy PLLC") sued AT&T Services, Inc. for breach of contract due to AT&T’s reassignment of a 1-800 telephone number. In 2016, Healy PLLC switched its phone services to AT&T. Healy PLLC transferred the firm’s telephone numbers and existing 1-800 number to AT&T. In December 2017, AT&T contacted Healy PLLC to discuss the upgrade of its services. After the upgrade, AT&T would cause Healy PLLC’s telephone lines, including the 1-800 number, to ring through to Healy PLLC’s main line. In 2019, Healy learned that the recent upgrade did not properly incorporate the 1-800 number. George called the 1-800 the number and learned that it had been reassigned to a medical provider. Healy PLLC’s 1-800 number had been cancelled in July 2018 without notice. The chancellor ruled that AT&T had breached the contract with Healy PLLC but only awarded nominal damages. Also, the chancellor awarded Healy PLLC sanctions in the form of attorneys’ fees and expenses for a discovery violation under Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 37(c). Healy PLLC appealed the award of damages and sanctions. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the chancellor's decision with respect to nominal damages the Healy PLLC, but reversed the trial court’s decision to exclude George’s fee and remanded this matter to the chancellor for the chancellor to examine the appropriate amount of hours, work performed, and additional fees due to Healy PLLC based on George’s time records. View "George W. Healy, IV & Assoc., PLLC, et al. v. AT&T Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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The taxpayer, Saltwater Sportsman Outfitters, LLC (SSO), was a one-man operation that sold clothing online and at trade shows, conventions, and other events. SSO kept few records of what it had sold or where, though its sole member testified that most of its sales occurred out of state. After an audit, the Mississippi Department of Revenue (MDOR) assessed additional sales tax liability, ultimately settling on about $80,000 based on the disparity between SSO’s wholesale purchases and the sales taxes it had paid in Mississippi and other states. MDOR’s assessment was appealed to the circuit court, which granted summary judgment in favor of MDOR. SSO appealed. The Mississippi Supreme Court concluded that SSO’s failure to keep adequate records rendered MDOR’s assessment presumptively correct. The Court found no merit to SSO’s various arguments on appeal, including that the promoters of the events at which SSO sold were the true parties liable for the taxable sales. The Court therefore affirmed the circuit court’s grant of summary judgment. View "Saltwater Sportsman Outfitters, LLC v. Mississippi Dept. of Revenue" on Justia Law

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The junior creditor, WBL SPO, LLC (WBL), claimed it was entitled to sue the foreclosing creditor, West Town Bank & Trust (West Town), for not bidding a high enough price for an encumbered property. In 2015, West Town loaned $4.4 million to DIA Lodging and DJ Lodging (collectively, DJ Lodging). The loan was secured not only by the Biloxi hotel but also by another hotel in Forrest City, Arkansas. At the time of the loan, the preloan appraisal valued the Biloxi hotel at $5.45 million. WBL had the second mortgage on the Biloxi hotel; both loans were secured by the Biloxi and Arkansas hotels. DJ Lodging quickly fell behind on its weekly payments to WBL. It also defaulted on its payments to West Town. Based on the default, West Town informed WBL of its intention to commence a nonjudicial foreclosure. West Town had obtained an appraisal of the hotel in January 2020 that indicated the fair market value of the property was $2.75 million. The year before, in February 2019, West Town had obtained an appraisal from a different firm valuing the property at just $1.7 million. West Town decided to split the difference between the two appraisals and make a $2.195 credit bid at the foreclosure sale. West Town averred that, at the time of foreclosure, DJ Lodging still owed $4.5 million. WBL was owed half a million dollars. The foreclosure sale proceeded in March 2020, and West Town’s $2.195 million credit bid was the only bid. West Town transferred its interest in the hotel to Patriarch, LLC, a single-purpose entity established to hold properties West Town acquired in foreclosure. Patriarch then sold the property to a third party for $1.9 million. WBL claimed it was entitled to an “equitable credit” in the form of money damages for the difference between the amount West Town purchased the hotel at the foreclosure sale and the allegedly higher commercially reasonable value of the property. The trial court rejected WBL’s equitable-credit claim. Because WBL’s claims against West Town were based on an asserted legal right that did not exist, the Mississippi Supreme Court concurred West Town was entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. View "WBL SPO I, LLC v. West Town Bank & Trust" on Justia Law