Justia Mississippi Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Construction Law
Springer v. Ausbern Construction Co., Inc.
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
H.A.S. Electrical Contractors, Inc. v. Hemphill Construction Company, Inc.
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
Builders & Contractors Association of Mississippi, v. Laser Line Construction Company, LLC
Laser Line Construction Company, LLC,(“Laser Line”) purchased statutory workers’ compensation insurance coverage from the Builders and Contractors Association of Mississippi (“BCAM”) Self Insurers’ Fund. Because Laser Line was a general contractor, BCAM sought premium payments for all employees of Laser Line’s subcontractors who did not independently secure workers’ compensation coverage. Laser Line refused to pay premiums for employees of subcontractors who had fewer than five employees and claimed they were thus exempt from the coverage requirement. BCAM canceled Laser Line’s coverage for nonpayment. Laser Line filed suit for damages and a declaratory judgment. The defendants answered, and BCAM separately filed a counterclaim. The parties filed competing summary judgment motions. The trial court granted Laser Line a partial summary judgment on the statutory interpretation issue. BCAM sought and was granted permission to file an interlocutory appeal. Mississippi Code Section 71-3-7 required general contractors secure workers’ compensation coverage for the employees of its uninsured subcontractors; the Mississippi Supreme Court found consistent with the unambiguous language of the statute and its own prior opinions, the number of employees of the subcontractor was not a factor in determining general-contractor liability under the Act. Thus, the trial judge’s contrary ruling was in error. View "Builders & Contractors Association of Mississippi, v. Laser Line Construction Company, LLC" on Justia Law
Ground Control, LLC v. Capsco Industries, Inc.
When this case came before the Mississippi Supreme Court on interlocutory appeal, the Court reversed in part. Because it was undisputed that neither sub-subcontractor Ground Control, LLC nor subcontractor Capsco Industries, Inc. (both Alabama companies) had a statutorily required certificate of responsibility to work in Mississippi, the Court agreed that the subcontract was void. But the Court found, despite the void contract, "Ground Control should not be precluded from having the opportunity to proceed in court under a claim for the value of what it expended in labor and supplies on the project." The case was remanded to the trial court so Ground Control could pursue the nonbarred "claims of unjust enrichment and quantum meruit." Despite this holding, Ground Control argued in this appeal that the trial court erred by limiting its claims on remand to unjust enrichment and quantum meruit. The Supreme Court found no error in the trial court so limiting Ground Control's claims. The Supreme Court did, however, find W.G. Yates and Sons Construction Company (Yates) and Capsco raised reversible errors in their cross-appeals. Based on the evidence presented at trial, the Supreme Court found Yates was entitled to a directed verdict because Ground Control failed to prove Yates’s liability for quantum meruit damages. The Court also found the quantum meruit damages award against Capsco was against the overwhelming weight of the evidence. Consequently, Capsco was entitled to a remittitur. The Court affirmed on Ground Control’s and Ground Control owner Frank Beaton’s direct appeals. On cross-appeal, the Court reversed a $36,644.69 judgment against Yates and rendered a judgment in Yates’s favor. The Court also reversed a $825,583.31 judgment against Capsco. The quantum meruit claim against Capsco was remanded, instructing the trial court to conduct a new trial on damages alone, unless a remittitur of $626,407.31, making the damage award $199,096, was accepted by Ground Control and Capsco. View "Ground Control, LLC v. Capsco Industries, Inc." on Justia Law
H.A.S. Electrical Contractors, Inc. v. Hemphill Construction Company, Inc.
During jury selection, plaintiff H.A.S. Electrical Contractors (HAS) challenged defendant Hemphill Construction Company’s use of two peremptory strikes. HAS argued Hemphill’s strikes were racially discriminatory. The Supreme Court found that the trial court failed to follow the "Batson" criterial when it analyzed the challenged strike of one juror. The Supreme Court remanded this case back to the trial court for a limited "Batson" hearing for Juror 7. View "H.A.S. Electrical Contractors, Inc. v. Hemphill Construction Company, Inc." on Justia Law
City of Tupelo v. McMillin
In 2006, Dr. Terry McMillin and his wife Leslie purchased a new home in Tupelo. Unhappy with contractor Jamie Ewing’s failure to respond to their repair requests, plus their discovery of a document (a blue card, noting a failed home inspection) listing the name of a different contractor as the contractor responsible for their home’s construction, the McMillins began the process of unraveling just who was responsible for building their new home. Ultimately, this case stemmed from an error by the City of Tupelo’s Permit Manager Marilyn Vail in handling the withdrawal of one licensed contractor and mistakenly substituting the name of another licensed contractor, when in actuality, a licensed contractor was not working on the home. The circuit court held a bench trial and awarded $9,319.23 in damages to repair the home and $105,894.39 in legal fees related to another case involving the construction but denied the McMillins’ request for attorneys’ fees in this case. The City appealed, and the McMillins cross-appealed. After review, the Supreme Court concluded that the circuit court erred in finding that the City was not immune from liability. The Court therefore reversed the circuit court’s judgment and render judgment in favor of the City. View "City of Tupelo v. McMillin" on Justia Law
Stribling Investments, LLC v. Mike Rozier Construction Company, Inc.
Stribling Investments, LLC, sued Mike Rozier Construction Company, Inc., alleging negligence and negligent construction. The trial court granted Mike Rozier Construction’s Motion for Summary Judgment and dismissed Stribling Investments’ Complaint on the ground that Mike Rozier Construction did not owe a duty to Stribling Investments. Stribling Investments appeals. Holding that the trial court should have considered whether the "builder-vendor" rule applied to Mike Rozier Construction Company, the Supreme Court reversed. View "Stribling Investments, LLC v. Mike Rozier Construction Company, Inc." on Justia Law
Lampkin Construction Co., Inc. v. Sand Specialties & Aggregates, LLC
Sand Specialties & Aggregates, LLC, and Lampkin Construction Company entered into a contract under which Sand Specialties was to sell certain sand mining equipment to Lampkin Construction. The equipment was delivered, but the full contract price was never paid. Sand Specialities filed suit against Lampkin Construction for replevin and damages. After a trial, the judge entered a directed verdict in favor of Sand Specialities as to ownership of the equipment, and the jury awarded Sand Specialities damages. Lampkin Construction appealed, arguing that the trial court misinterpreted the terms of the sales contract, and that the trial court made several prejudicial errors, including allowing the jury to consider evidence of damages for missing equipment. Finding no reversible errors, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment against Lampkin. View "Lampkin Construction Co., Inc. v. Sand Specialties & Aggregates, LLC" on Justia Law
Hanco Corporation v. Goldman
Wayne Kelly was killed while working at a construction site in Hattiesburg. His family sued, among other defendants, Hanco Corporation, Inc., the general contractor for the project on which Wayne Kelly had been working at the time he died, and American Air Specialists of Mississippi, Inc., the subcontractor that had leased the services of Kelly and his coworkers from Landrum Professional Employer Services, Inc. The Kellys and Hanco/American Air moved separately for summary judgment. The circuit court denied summary judgment to Hanco and American Air. Hanco filed a petition for interlocutory appeal and the Kellys filed a cross-petition for interlocutory appeal. The Supreme Court granted interlocutory appeal and consolidated the cases. After review, the Court affirmed the denial of summary judgment because Hanco waived its exclusive-remedy affirmative defense despite section 71-3-6 of the Mississippi Workers' Compensation Act provided an exclusive remedy to claimants for on-the-job injuries. View "Hanco Corporation v. Goldman" on Justia Law
Inn By The Sea Homeowner’s Association, Inc. v. SeaInn, LLC
This action was brought by Inn By the Sea Homeowner’s Association, Inc. (“IBTS”) against various defendants involved in the development, design, and construction of Inn By the Sea Condominiums when the condominiums were rebuilt after being destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Within a year of reconstruction, significant problems with the building began to manifest, problems allegedly related to defects in the design and construction of the property. The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendants after excluding the damages testimony of IBTS’s expert witnesses. IBTS hired Michael Bailey of Kyle Associates, LLC, as its expert structural engineer and Alfred Hayes of Hayes Architect as its expert architect to investigate and identify defects in the design and construction of the property. IBTS timely designated its experts and produced a copy of the witnesses’ reports and cost estimates. In late August 2012, IBTS learned that Michael Bailey had suddenly left his job, moved out town, and could not be located or further made available as an expert on this case. At a subsequent hearing, the trial court orally continued the case without a new trial date in order for IBTS to find a new engineering expert. IBTS hired Ashton Avegno to replace Bailey. Avegno provided his report on November 2, 2012. In addition to largely agreeing with Bailey’s original report, Avegno also expressed concern that the foundation pilings “as designed” were overloaded by as much as “2.82 times its safe capacity and the as built piling would be loaded 2.16 times its capacity.” Avegno was unwilling, however, to provided exact itemized cost estimates for the items of engineering defects he identified. IBTS informed the court that IBTS had been unable to depose any of the defendants’ witnesses, including any of the defendants, and that a new scheduling order should be issued to allow IBTS to conduct depositions and to seasonably supplement its expert reports. The defendants objected to the proposed new scheduling order, arguing that the deadline for expert designations had passed and that Avegno should not be allowed to offer any new opinions, including his opinion that the foundation piles were overloaded. The court granted the motion to exclude Avegno. At some point, Hayes was asked to supplement his report. The defendants moved to strike Hayes’s supplementation and renewed their motion for summary judgment. The court granted the defendants’ motion to exclude Alfred Hayes’s damages testimony as well as the defendant’s motion for summary judgment and final judgment. Inn By the Sea timely appealed. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the plaintiff’s witnesses, and therefore affirmed the grant of summary judgment. View "Inn By The Sea Homeowner's Association, Inc. v. SeaInn, LLC" on Justia Law