Justia Mississippi Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

by
This case arose from Hurricane Katrina insurance litigation. After the hurricane had destroyed many homes, policyholders and insurance companies began litigating whether the hurricane losses were caused by flood damage or wind damage. The distinction determined whether the insurance companies would pay claims on those polices that did not cover flood damage. This case is before the Court on interlocutory appeal. Safeco Insurance Company (Safeco) and Liberty Mutual Insurance Company individually challenged the circuit court’s reassignment of their respective cases and the appointment of a special master. The Mississippi Supreme Court found no abuse of discretion in reassigning judges, but vacated the order appointing the special master, finding an abuse of the trial court’s discretion. “The order itself acknowledged a blind-billing provision was “unusual.” But the Supreme Court found it was more than that: requiring both parties, one of which is the State of Mississippi, to pay an attorney in Louisiana to act as a judge, allowing either side to meet with him ex parte, and not requiring this special master to mention these meetings or even justify or detail his bill far exceeded the discretionary authority to appoint special masters.” View "Safeco Insurance Company of America v. Mississippi, ex rel. Hood" on Justia Law

by
D.C., a minor foster child, alleged that Jason Case, his foster parent, sexually abused him. The Mississippi Department of Human Services ("DHS") removed D.C. from Case’s home and a subsequent investigation substantiated the alleged abuse. DHS did not contest that Case abused D.C. In his complaint, D.C. alleged negligence and gross negligence on behalf of DHS and the Department's executive director, Richard Berry, in the licensing of the foster home and the lack of care and treatment to D.C., both during his placement and after DHS removed D.C. from the foster home. After a period of discovery, DHS filed a motion for summary judgment. It maintained that it was entitled to immunity under Mississippi Code Section 43-15-125 (Rev. 2015) and Mississippi Code Section 11-46-9(1)(d) (Rev. 2012). Without any noted reference to Section 43-15-125, the circuit court denied DHS’s motion for summary judgement. DHS filed a petition for interlocutory appeal, which a panel of the Mississippi Supreme Court granted. After review of the record, the Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the circuit court’s denial of summary judgment: the circuit court erred in denying DHS summary judgment for D.C.’s claims that stemmed from DHS’s licensing of the foster home, given the immunity DHS and its officers have under Section 43- 15-125. The circuit court, though, did not err in denying DHS summary judgment under Section 11-46-9(d)(1) of the Mississippi Tort Claims Act, because DHS did not meet its burden to show that no genuine issue as to any material fact existed. View "Mississippi Department of Human Services v. D.C." on Justia Law

by
The Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance (the “Commission”) recommended that the Mississippi Supreme Court publicly reprimand and assess a $500 fine against Judge Frank Sutton, a justice court judge for Post Three in Hinds County, Mississippi. Based on complaints against Judge Sutton, the Commission initiated an inquiry into his role in two matters. This investigation led to the Commission’s filing a formal complaint. Judge Sutton did not file an answer to the complaint; instead, he and the Commission stipulated to agreed facts. The Commission then unanimously adopted those facts in its findings of fact and recommendation. The Commission made this recommendation after finding by clear and convincing evidence that Judge Sutton’s conduct constituted misconduct in violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct as well as Section 177A of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890. The Supreme Court agreed with the Commission that Judge Sutton’s conduct constituted misconduct. The Court disagreed, however, with the Commission’s imposition of sanctions. Instead, the Supreme Court ordered a public reprimand, fined Judge Sutton $500 and suspended Judge Sutton for thirty days without pay. View "Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance v. Sutton" on Justia Law

by
Green Hills Development Company, LLC, forfeited property to the State for failure to pay taxes. Five years later, the State sold the property, following the statutory procedure under which the Secretary of State accepts written applications to purchase and, if an application is approved, issues a land patent. After learning of the sale, Green Hills sued the Secretary of State and the purchasers to have the land patents set aside. Green Hills argued it had been entitled to notice of the purchasers’ pending applications. Had it been properly notified, Green Hills claimed it would have filed its own application. And its application would have received priority based on Green Hills’ status as former owner. Green Hills also sued one of the purchasers for interfering with its rights as developer to enforce protective covenants and maintain common areas within the development. The Defendants successfully moved for summary judgment on Green Hills’ notice-based claims. The trial court ruled that the notice provision on which Green Hills relied was no longer in effect when the purchasers submitted their applications. And under the then-current administrative rules, Green Hills undisputedly received all required notice. The court further ruled the priority status for former owners’ applications was contingent on Green Hills’ filing an application, which Green Hills never did. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed this part of the trial court’s judgment: the record confirmed the material facts were not in dispute, and Green Hills received all required notice, and never filed an application to purchase, despite multiple opportunities. So the Defendants were entitled to a judgment as a matter of law on Green Hills’ notice-based claims. However, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s ruling that Green Hills lacked standing to challenge the validity of the land patents issued. Because Green Hills’ claims based on the development’s protective covenants and common areas were still pending, Green Hills had a colorable interest in whether the purchasers held valid land patents. Green Hills also suffered an adverse effect from the purchasers’ countersuit to declare the protective covenants unenforceable and to divest Green Hills of its interest in the common areas. Thus, Green Hills had standing to challenge the land patents’ validity. View "Green Hills Development Company, LLC v. Mississippi Secretary of State" on Justia Law

by
Following a disciplinary proceeding, Meloney Harbour’s minor son, T.D.H., was suspended from school and placed in an alternative school. The chancery court initially reversed and rendered the decision of the Tupelo Public School District Board of Trustees after finding that the deprivation of an attorney at the initial disciplinary hearing, as well as the failure to state the applicable standard of proof, violated T.D.H.’s due process rights. After a Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a) motion, the chancery court amended its judgment to remand the case instead of rendering it. Harbour then filed a Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) motion and, for the first time, challenged the constitutionality of Mississippi Code Section 37-9-71. Harbour contended the statute contained an unconstitutional standard of proof: substantial evidence rather than clear and convincing evidence. Harbour did not notice the attorney general of the constitutional challenge to the statute. Finding that Harbour failed to meet her burden under Rule 60(b), the chancery court denied the motion. Harbour then appealed that ruling. Finding no reversible error, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the chancery court’s denial of the Rule 60(b) motion. View "Harbour v. Tupelo Public School District" on Justia Law

by
Hinds County, Mississippi appealed an administrative order signed by two Hinds County Court judges that appointed and set the salaries of the county court administrator and the deputy county court administrator. The county judges sought to set the salaries of their administrators at an amount greater than the budgeted amount set by the Hinds County Board of Supervisors. In this direct appeal, Hinds County asked the Mississippi Supreme Court that the order be vacated. The Supreme Court found this appeal was not properly before it Court. Therefore, the appeal was dismissed, and the matter remanded to the Circuit Court of the First Judicial District of Hinds County for consideration. View "In Re: In the Matter of the Appointment and Setting Salary for County Court Administrator and Deputy Court Administrator: Hinds County, Mississippi v. Skinner" on Justia Law

by
Sonya Chaffee, on behalf of her minor child, Fredrick Latham, Jr., sued the Jackson Public School District; Lonnie J. Edwards, the School District superintendent in his official capacity; and Jackson Public Schools Board of Trustees (collectively, “the School District”) alleging negligence and res ipsa loquitur. Fredrick was a student in Tracy Scott’s first grade class at Woodville Heights Elementary School. While Scott was standing at the front of the classroom readying the students for lunch, Fredrick and another boy got out of line and ran to the back of the classroom to use the single restroom. Bernice Anderson, Scott’s teaching assistant, was present at her desk in the back of the classroom nearer the restroom. Fredrick was injured when his hand slipped off the door and his finger got caught in the crack of the door as the other boy was closing it. After hearing a student scream that Fredrick had smashed his finger, Scott went to the back of the classroom, wrapped Fredrick’s finger in papers towels, and took him to the principal’s office. Fredrick’s mother was called, and he was taken by ambulance to the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Surgery was performed to reattach Fredrick’s fingertip using a skin graft. The School District defended on sovereign immunity grounds pursuant to the Mississippi Tort Claims Act (“MTCA”). After engaging in discovery, the School District moved for summary judgment which was granted. Aggrieved, Chaffee appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed. View "Chaffee v. Jackson Public School District" on Justia Law

by
The Adams County, Mississippi Board of Supervisors (Board) designated Mount Airy Plantation Road as a public road, placing it on the official county road register in 2000. John Seyfarth petitioned the Board to abandon the portion of the road that dead ended into his property. He alleged that people were using the road to reach his property and trespass on it. The Board declined to abandon the road, denied Seyfarth’s request for damages, and did not address his requests that the Board take action to abate the nuisances he experienced. Seyfarth appealed to the circuit court, which affirmed the Board’s decisions not to abandon the road and not to award damages. But the circuit court ordered the Board to reasonably abate any nuisances to Seyfarth. Seyfarth appealed the circuit court’s ruling to affirm the Board’s decision not to abandon the road and not to award damages, and the Board cross-appealed the order that it abate any nuisances. Because Seyfarth had no remedy on the record before the Mississippi Supreme Court, it affirmed the circuit court’s judgment affirming the Board’s decisions declining to abandon the road and declining to award damages. But because, on this record, the Board had no legal authority to abate any nuisance in the manners suggested, the Supreme Court reversed and rendered the circuit court’s order mandating that the Board abate any nuisance. View "Seyfarth v. Adams County Board of Supervisors" on Justia Law

by
Genesis Hospice LLC provided outpatient hospice care to Medicaid beneficiaries in the Mississippi Delta. Claims Genesis submitted outside the norm, prompting a Mississippi Division of Medicaid audit. A statistical sample of 75 of the 808 billed claims were reviewed, and of that 75, 68 claims were not substantiated by the patients’ records and thus not eligible for payment. The auditing physicians specifically found that the patient records for the 68 rejected claims lacked sufficient documentation to support the given terminal-illness diagnosis and/or lacked documentation of disease progression. Medicaid’s statistician extrapolated that 68 of 75 unsupported claims represented a total overpayment of $1,941,285 for the 808 claims Genesis billed during the relevant time period. And Medicaid demanded Genesis repay this amount. Medicaid’s decision has been affirmed in an administrative appeal before Medicaid and by the Hinds County Chancery Court, sitting as an appellate court. On further appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court, Genesis essentially argued Medicaid unfairly imposed documentation requirements not found in the federal or state Medicaid regulations. Genesis insisted the only requirement was a physician’s certification that in his or her subjective clinical judgment the patient was terminally ill, which Genesis provided. The Supreme Court found the regulations were clear: a physician’s certification of terminal illness is indeed required, but so is documentation that substantiates the physician’s certification. Because Genesis’ records failed to support 90 percent of its hospice claims, Medicaid had the administrative discretion to demand these unsupported claims be repaid. Therefore, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Genesis Hospice Care, LLC v. Mississippi Division of Medicaid" on Justia Law

by
From November 2004 to January 2011, The Door Shop, Inc., utilized $36,081.86 of electricity from Alcorn County Electric Power Association (ACE). But because of a billing error, it was charged only $10,396.28. Upon discovering the error, ACE sought to recover the $25,658.58 difference via supplemental billing. The Door Shop refused to pay, which prompted ACE to file suit. The Mississippi Supreme Court determined that as a matter of law, the Door Shop had to pay, and affirmed the circuit court's order. View "The Door Shop, Inc. v. Alcorn County Electric Power Association" on Justia Law