Articles Posted in Civil Procedure

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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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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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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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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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Shelia Regan filed her first medical-malpractice claim against South Central Regional Medical Center in 2005. Three lawsuits, two appeals, and more than ten years later, there was no trial. Her present lawsuit was reinstated in 2010. But since then, it languished for more than five years. During this time, Regan took only one deposition. Based on her inactivity, the trial judge granted South Central’s motion to dismiss her case without prejudice for failure to prosecute, finding lesser sanctions insufficient. Finding no error, this Court affirms the trial court’s dismissal without prejudice. Regan appealed, arguing: (1) the trial court failed to consider her lawyer’s communications with defense counsel; (2) the trial judge did not consider lesser sanctions; and (3) dismissal without prejudice here is tantamount to a dismissal with prejudice. Finding no reversible error, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed. View "Regan v. South Central Regional Medical Center" on Justia Law

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This civil action arose out of the alleged mishandling of the Conservatorship of Victoria Newsome. Victoria Newsome’s mother and conservator, Marilyn Newsome, filed suit against former chancellor Joe Dale Walker, Chancellor David Shoemake, and other parties. Victoria’s severely infirm condition was the result of medical malpractice. A trust was established out of the proceeds from settlement of the malpractice case. Newsome raised numerous claims seeking redress, and a full accounting of the conservatorship, when the two chancellors were sanctioned by the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance. The Mississippi Supreme Court determined the doctrine of judicial immunity applied to bar Newsome’s claims, made on behalf of the Victoria Newsome Conservatorship, against former chancellor Joe Dale Walker and Chancellor David Shoemake. The Court therefore affirmed the judgment of the Chancery Court of Simpson County granting a Rule 54(b) dismissal. In addition, the Court granted Keely McNulty’s Motion to Strike Allegation and others involved in the administration of the conservatorship. View "Newsome v. Shoemake" on Justia Law

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Amanda Copeland appealed the termination of Gary Copeland’s child-support obligation to his two minor children. After their divorce, Gary and Amanda were awarded joint legal custody of their minor children, with physical custody awarded to Amanda and visitation awarded to Gary. Gary subsequently filed a Petition for Citation of Contempt and For Modification and a Motion for Temporary Relief. During the trial on Gary’s petition and motion, his seventeen-year-old daughter and thirteen-year-old son testified. The chancellor found they no longer loved their father and they wished to terminate any relationship with him. Each child acknowledged sending hateful emails and texts, which included expressed desires either to kill their father or see him dead. The numerous text messages and emails admitted into evidence were filled with vitriolic invectives, expressing deep-seated anger, resentment, and ill-will not only toward their father, but also toward his parents and sister. The court determined that the conduct of the children was so egregious that was appropriate to terminate the support obligation. The issues presented for the Mississippi Supreme Court’s review were: (1) whether the chancellor manifestly wrong in granting relief that was not requested; (2) did the children’s animosity toward their father exist at the time of the divorce; and (3) was the chancellor’s decision supported by the evidence. The Supreme Court found the chancellor did not abuse his discretion, was not manifestly wrong or clearly erroneous, and did not apply an erroneous legal standard. The chancellor’s findings of fact were supported by substantial and credible evidence. View "Copeland v. Copeland" on Justia Law

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The Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Group Self-Insurer Guaranty Association (“Guaranty Association”) was ordered by the Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Commission (“Commission”) to assess former members of the Mississippi Comp Choice Workers’ Compensation Self-Insurers Fund (“Comp Choice”). In 2010, the Commission found that “a careful evaluation of the remaining assets and outstanding claims unfortunately shows an insufficient amount of Comp Choice assets to cover the projected claim payout.” The Commission ordered an assessment of the former members of Comp Choice for the last four years showing losses. The former members did not pay their assessments, and the Guaranty Association sued. The former members of Comp Choice filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the Guaranty Association ignored their right of appeal and that the action was not ripe for consideration, was improper, and/or was premature and should be dismissed. The Circuit Court denied Comp Choice’s motion to dismiss, and ultimately ruled against the former members. Finding no reversible error in the judgment, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed. View "Scott Penn, Inc. v. Mississippi Workers' Compensation Group Self-Insurer Guaranty Association" on Justia Law

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As Greg Peters and Mike Williams were attempting to position Peters’ fishing boat on its trailer, the winch handle recoiled, struck, and seriously injured Williams. Peters, who owned the truck, the trailer, and the boat, had two liability insurance policies covering bodily injury: his truck and trailer were insured by Allstate Property and Casualty Insurance Company (Allstate) and his boat was insured by Continental Casualty Company (Continental). Ultimately, the insurers settled with Williams for $460,000, each paying $230,000 toward the total settlement. Prior to settlement, however, the insurers had not agreed on apportionment. Continental sought a declaratory judgment that it was indemnified by Allstate based on its apportionment theory and also reimbursement for the defense costs it had incurred investigating the claim. Allstate moved to dismiss, seeking indemnity from Allstate based on its own apportionment theory and also sanctions against Continental for having made its defense costs and expenses claim. The circuit court treated the motion to dismiss as a motion for partial summary judgment and granted summary judgment in Allstate’s favor, but declined to award sanctions. Allstate then moved for summary judgment on Continental’s remaining indemnity claim, which the circuit court granted. Continental appealed the grant of summary judgment on its indemnity claim. Allstate cross-appealed the denial of sanctions. As to Continental’s indemnity claim, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed summary judgment to Allstate and rendered judgment in favor of Continental. As to Continental’s claim of entitlement to defense costs, the Court affirmed summary judgment for Allstate. The Court affirmed the denial of sanctions. View "Continental Casualty Co. v. Allstate Property & Casualty Ins. Co." on Justia Law