Articles Posted in Civil Procedure

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SW 98/99, LLC (“SW”), appealed a Pike County Chancery Court order dismissing its complaint with prejudice under Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b). SW filed objections to the tax assessments for the years 2005 and 2006 for several low-income housing properties, but those objections were denied. SW then filed a complaint at Chancery Court alleging that Pike County, the Pike County Board of Supervisors, and the Pike County Tax Assessor (collectively “the defendants”) had wrongfully and excessively assessed taxes on SW’s properties using an appraisal method not authorized by Section 27-35-50(4)(d). Along with SW’s chancery-court lawsuit, SW also appealed the property-tax assessments to the Pike County Circuit Court. This case and SW’s tax appeals proceeded separately along their own paths until March 2011, when the chancellor entered an order granting the defendants’ motion to stay the proceedings in this case pending final resolution of SW’s circuit-court tax appeals. By 2015, the Pike County Circuit Court granted summary judgment to SW on each of its tax appeals, ordering the defendants to refund SW’s overpayments for the years 2005 through 2012. The defendants moved for reconsideration. While this matter was still pending, SW’s attorney was concurrently involved in an unrelated case in federal district court. The district court contacted SW’s attorney to inquire as to his availability for a trial beginning September 14, 2015, one day before the trial setting in this tax assessment case. Because the circuit court had not yet ruled on the defendants’ motion for reconsideration in SW’s tax appeals, SW’s attorney believed that the chancellor’s stay of proceedings in this case remained in effect, as the circuit-court proceedings were not “finally resolved.” Because of this, SW’s attorney contacted the chancery court to request that the trial date be continued and removed from the trial docket. Although later disputed by the court administrator, SW’s attorney believed at this time that the case had been continued and that the trial setting had been removed from the docket. SW’s attorney then informed counsel for the defendants of the continuance. The defendants did not object to the continuance. The chancellor entered a show-cause order noting that SW had not appeared at its scheduled motions hearing and that neither of the parties had appeared on the scheduled trial date. The order acknowledged that “some telephonic communication was made by a staff member of Counsel to the Court Administrator regarding the prior Order staying this litigation.” The chancellor’s show-cause order concluded that SW’s lawsuit was “stale and in a posture to be dismissed for lack of prosecution inasmuch as Counsel set aside two full trial days on a heavily congested trial docket and failed to appear for trial.” Finding that the chancery court abused its discretion in ruling that SW had failed to prosecute its complaint, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the chancery court’s judgment and remanded this case to the chancery court for further proceedings. View "SW 98/99, LLC v. Pike County, Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Mississippi Sand Solutions, LLC (“MSS”) appealed a Chancery Court decree that MSS did not have an easement of any type across property owned by a group of heirs, the “Fisher Property.” MSS’s predecessors used the alleged easement across the Fisher Property to access another parcel of land from which they mined gravel and sand throughout the years. The Fisher heirs, who owned the Fisher Property, claimed that this access was by permission, evidenced by lease agreements with MSS’s predecessors. As a result, the Fisher heirs filed a declaratory action against MSS, seeking to have the alleged easement declared invalid. After a trial, the chancellor ruled that MSS did not have an easement across the Fisher Property. Given the standard of review and the sufficient evidence in the record, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the chancellor’s judgment. View "Mississippi Sand Solutions, LLC v. Otis" on Justia Law

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The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of George McKee and Brownsville Station, LLC, dismissing Monty Brown’s claims against them. Brown and McKee were former business partners. At one time they each owned a fifty percent interest in Brownsville Station, which owned and operated an apartment complex in Starkville, Mississippi. But beginning in 2003, Brown began selling his interest to McKee. From July 2003 to January 2006, through a series of four agreements, Brown transferred all his interest units to McKee in exchange for money and title to the company tractor. As part of the final agreement, both parties agreed to a full and final release of any and all claims against each other. For six years, Brown had no dealings with McKee or Brownsville Station. Then, in September 2012, Brown received notice from the Secretary of State that McKee had filed articles of reinstatement for Brownsville Station and its subsidiary, BrownE, LLC. According to Brown, the September 2012 notice prompted him to tell his boss about his former business relationship with McKee. And his boss, who was also an attorney, suggested McKee had engaged in wrongdoing. Almost ten years after the first transfer and seven years after the final transfer, Brown sued McKee and Brownsville Station, alleging McKee formed the new LLC “solely to provide a vehicle to take secret or uniformed [sic] advantage of [Brown] by enabling [McKee], among other things, to change provisions of Brownsville LLC’s Operating Agreement without [Brown’s] informed consent.” Brown further alleged that, during the 2003-2006 transactions, McKee hid important financial information and documentation about Brownsville Station and its true value, violating the fiduciary duties McKee owed as both Brown’s attorney and fellow LLC member. Brown appealed, arguing the judge wrongly granted summary judgment without first allowing discovery. The Mississippi Supreme Court disagreed, finding that had summary judgment been granted based on the clear running of the statute of limitations. “And, as the trial judge rightly found, none of Brown’s discovery requests were aimed at establishing his claims were timely. Instead, they were zeroed in on proving his untimely claims.” Therefore, the trial judge did not abuse his discretion by denying Brown’s Rule 56(f) motion for a continuance. View "Brown v. McKee" on Justia Law

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Yates Construction, LLC, and D.W. Caldwell, Inc., entered into a construction subcontract for the roof installation on a residential dormitory at Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama. When Caldwell completed both the repairs and the roof installation, it had yet to receive total payment for the structural repairs. The companies disputed the scope and expense of these repairs and quickly negotiated to an impasse. Thereafter, Caldwell filed a claim against Yates for causing delay and increased costs by failing to pay for work performed, which was in breach of the agreements between the parties. The parties proceeded to arbitration. Although the arbitration record was neither recorded nor transcribed, the parties conceded that the arbitrator considered arguments, reviewed evidence, and heard witness testimony over the course of three days. He then reopened the proceedings for additional documentation, before issuing his thirteen-page award. Within two weeks of the arbitrator’s decision to deny Yates’s motion for reconsideration, Caldwell requested that the circuit court confirm the award under Mississippi Code Section 11-15-125. Yates moved the trial court to alter, amend, or vacate the award under Mississippi Code Section 11-15-25. With the understanding that Yates would provide oral argument on its motion at the award confirmation hearing, Caldwell filed a request to limit the presentation of proof before the circuit court. Ultimately, the trial court reviewed fourteen exhibits and the testimony of one witness in making its decision. Based on this evidence, the court issued its order modifying the arbitrator’s award. Finding that the arbitrator had duplicated the labor costs for shingle installation in its award–once under the original subcontract and once under the oral agreement to repair the structural damage (referred to as the Repair Agreement)–it amended the award, reducing the total by $104,507. After its review, the Mississippi Supreme Court determined: (1) the miscalculations alleged in this matter were not evident from the award itself, nor were they apparent from the agreed-upon record; and (2) the judge erred when he allowed the parties to present witness testimony regarding the extent of any alleged miscalculations, rather than relying on the award and the arbitration record as the relevant law suggested. Finding error, the Court therefore reversed the circuit court’s decision and remanded this case to the circuit court with directions to confirm the arbitration award. Furthermore, because the subcontract between the parties provided that each contractor would be responsible for his own fees and costs, the Court declined to assess costs to one party over the other, and instead, enforced their bargained-for agreement. View "D. W. Caldwell, Inc. v. W.G. Yates & Sons Construction Company" on Justia Law

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The Board of Supervisors of Rankin County appealed a circuit court decision granting Lakeland Income Properties’ summary judgment motion and holding that Lakeland Income Properties was properly before the circuit court and was entitled to an ad valorem tax exemption under Mississippi Code Section 61-3-21 for land rented from the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority. The circuit court also granted a refund of the 2015 ad valorem taxes. Lakeland Income Properties filed a cross-appeal, arguing it was entitled to an ad valorem tax refund under Mississippi Code Section 27-73-7 for the 2015 ad valorem taxes and for the prior three years. Under a de novo standard of review, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the trial court in holding that the ad valorem tax exemption sought by Lakeland Income Properties was automatic and self-operating under Mississippi Code Section 61-3-21, and thereby, properly before the circuit court under Mississippi Code Section 11-51-77. Further, the Court affirmed the trial court’s holding that Lakeland Income Properties was entitled to a refund of the 2015 taxes. The Court reversed, however, the trial court’s holding that Lakeland Income Properties was not entitled to a refund for the 2012, 2013 and 2014 tax years, holding that Lakeland Income Properties was entitled to the refund under Mississippi Code Section 27-73-7. View "Rankin County Board of Supervisors v. Lakeland Income Properties, LLC" on Justia Law

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Doretha Thompson appealed a judgment entered in favor of defendants, Baptist Memorial Hospital DeSoto, Inc. (BMH-D), and James Fortune, M.D., in a medical malpractice case. A surgical sponge inadvertently was left inside Thompson’s abdomen during an operation performed by Dr. Fortune to remove Thompson’s gallbladder in 2004. The sponge was not discovered until 2011, when Thompson presented to the emergency room in complaining of stomach pains. Dr. Fortune admitted at trial that the sponge inadvertently had been left in Thompson’s abdomen during the 2004 operation. And he admitted the sponge was the cause of Thompson’s 2011 injury and complications. But Dr. Fortune claimed he did not deviate from the applicable standard of care, which he contended did not require him to count or keep track of the number of surgical sponges used in the operation, but which allowed him to rely on an accurate sponge count conducted by a nurse and scrub technician assisting in the 2004 procedure, both of whom were employed by BMH-D. All parties provided expert testimony in support of their respective cases. The only issue the Mississippi Supreme Court found having merit was Thompson’s claim the jury was not properly instructed on the law in this case. That instructional error constituted reversible error, and Thompson was entitled to a new trial against both defendants. View "Thompson v. Baptist Memorial Hospital-DeSoto, Inc." on Justia Law

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Doretha Thompson appealed a judgment entered in favor of defendants, Baptist Memorial Hospital DeSoto, Inc. (BMH-D), and James Fortune, M.D., in a medical malpractice case. A surgical sponge inadvertently was left inside Thompson’s abdomen during an operation performed by Dr. Fortune to remove Thompson’s gallbladder in 2004. The sponge was not discovered until 2011, when Thompson presented to the emergency room in complaining of stomach pains. Dr. Fortune admitted at trial that the sponge inadvertently had been left in Thompson’s abdomen during the 2004 operation. And he admitted the sponge was the cause of Thompson’s 2011 injury and complications. But Dr. Fortune claimed he did not deviate from the applicable standard of care, which he contended did not require him to count or keep track of the number of surgical sponges used in the operation, but which allowed him to rely on an accurate sponge count conducted by a nurse and scrub technician assisting in the 2004 procedure, both of whom were employed by BMH-D. All parties provided expert testimony in support of their respective cases. The only issue the Mississippi Supreme Court found having merit was Thompson’s claim the jury was not properly instructed on the law in this case. That instructional error constituted reversible error, and Thompson was entitled to a new trial against both defendants. View "Thompson v. Baptist Memorial Hospital-DeSoto, Inc." on Justia Law

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This interlocutory appeal arose from a circuit court’s denial of a motion to transfer venue. Under Mississippi law, venue is determined at the time the lawsuit originally is filed. The resolution of this appeal hinged on the application of this principle to an issue of first impression for the Mississippi Supreme Court: does an amended complaint, which names a new party to the suit, relate back to the time of filing of the original complaint for the purposes of determining venue? The Court found it did not. The suit here was filed in Hinds County, naming only Forrest County defendants, and the amended complaint did not relate back to the time of filing for the purposes of determining venue. The circuit court abused its discretion in denying the motion to transfer venue. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court and remanded the case to be transferred to the Circuit Court Forrest County. View "Forrest General Hospital v. Upton" on Justia Law

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First Presbyterian Church PCUSA of Starkville, Mississippi, (“FPC”) sought declaratory relief, a temporary restraining order, and injunctive relief against the Presbytery of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church U.S.A., Inc. (“Presbytery”), after the Presbytery claimed FPC’s property was held in trust for the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (“PCUSA”). FPC has transitioned into and out of multiple Presbyterian denominations, including the Old School Presbyterian Church; the Presbyterian Church, Confederate States of America; and the Presbyterian Church in the United States (“PCUS”). In 1983, the PCUS merged with another Presbyterian denomination to create the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (“PCUSA”). FPC has been affiliated with the PCUSA since its inception. FPC claimed that, although it was affiliated with several different Presbyterian denominations, it existed as an “independent, unincorporated religious association from its founding until 2003.” Following its incorporation, FPC conveyed to the corporation its main property and facility in Starkville. The titleholder of record was then identified as FPC’s corporate entity. Any property duly transferred to the corporation remains held by and titled in the name of First Presbyterian Church, Starkville, Mississippi. Prior to 1982, no official documents of the PCUS included trust language. After the PCUSA was formed, the Book of Order contained a trust clause, and local churches then were required to “obtain permission before selling, mortgaging, or otherwise encumbering the property of that particular church.” Because this new trust clause was a departure from prior practice, the PCUSA’s constitution allowed for a “property exception.” Due to increasing disagreement with the PCUSA, FPC voted to cease monetary contributions to the Presbytery and look at the possibility of joining another Presbyterian denomination. In response to schism in the membership of FPC, the Presbytery notified FPC that it had appointed a Presbytery committee, called an Administrative Commission, to “inquire into and settle difficulties” at FPC. FPC’s session passed a resolution authorizing the filing of a legal action to determine the property rights of FPC, the Presbytery, and the PCUSA. FPC sought a declaratory judgment recognizing FPC’s exclusive ownership of all property held by it or in its name, free of any trust claimed by the PCUSA. FPC also requested a temporary restraining order prohibiting the Presbytery from taking control or possession of FPC’s property or from interfering with FPC’s property ownership. The chancery court granted summary judgment in favor of FPC, finding no evidence of any trust, express or implied. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court agreed and affirmed the finding of the chancery court. View "Presbytery of St. Andrew, Presbyterian Church U.S.A., Inc. v. First Presbyterian Church PCUSA of Starkville" on Justia Law

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Twelve Medicaid-participating hospitals (“Hospitals”) challenged the Department of Medicaid’s (“DOM’s”) recalculation of their Medicaid outpatient rates for fiscal year 2001. The chancery court affirmed the opinion of the DOM, finding that “DOM interpreted its own regulation – the State Plan, which is its contract with the federal government and which it is required to follow to receive federal funds to require Medicaid to calculate the cost to charge ratio by using Medicare Methodology, which at that time was using a blended rate.” The Mississippi Supreme Court found the plain language of Attachment 4.19-B of the State Plan provided a cost-to-charge-ratio formula for calculating outpatient rates. Laboratory and radiology charges were to be excluded from this formula, because they were reimbursed on a fee-for-service basis. DOM’s inclusion of radiology and laboratory services in the charges and substitution of costs with Medicare blended payment amounts was a clear violation of the State Plan. Therefore, the Court reversed the judgments of DOM and the chancery court. Consistent with its opinion, the Court remanded and ordered the Executive Director of DOM to recalculate the Hospitals’ cost-to-charge ratio using the Hospital’s submitted costs in their cost reports, excluding laboratory and radiology services, and reimbursing the Hospitals the appropriate amounts determined by using the State Plan. View "Crossgates River Oaks Hospital v. Mississippi Division of Medicaid" on Justia Law