Justia Mississippi Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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The Mississippi Supreme Court granted Omar Humphrey’s petition for certiorari review of a Court of Appeals decision that dismissed his case. Humphrey’s complaint alleged that neither Steve Holts, police chief of Senatobia, nor John Champion, district attorney for the Seventeenth Circuit Court District, had responded to his letters requesting evidence and documents that related to his conviction made pursuant to the Public Records Act. Humphrey’s complaint alleged the same basis for his claims against both Holts and Champion and made very little, if any, distinction between the two other than referencing the individual letters sent to each defendant. The Court of Appeals dismissed the case for want of an appealable judgment. The Mississippi Supreme Court concluded the was, in fact, a final, appealable judgment and that the Court of Appeals should have decided Humphrey’s case on the merits. View "Humphrey v. Holts, et al." on Justia Law

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Two Mississippi school districts disputed whether the disbursement of past revenues generated from sixteenth section land located in townships shared by the two school districts and received by one, should have been shared by the other. The Mississippi Supreme Court found that the applicable governing statutes placed the burden on the noncustodial school district to provide student lists to the custodial school district, and made it unlawful for the custodial school district to pay over “until the lists . . . have been made.” Because the one-year period delineated in Section 29-3-119(4) did not place a time limit on litigation but rather a time limit on when a noncustodial district could make a claim with a custodial district, it was not a statute of limitations. Commensurate with its duty to presume the validity of legislative enactments, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the trial court and render judgment in favor of the custodial district, Wayne County School District, because Quitman School District’s claims were outside the prescribed time limit in the statute. View "Wayne County School District v. Quitman School District" on Justia Law

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Soon after the Mississippi Supreme Court appointed counsel to represent death-row inmate Alberto Garcia in post-conviction proceedings before it challenging his death sentence, the Attorney General preemptively filed in the trial court a “Motion for Notice of and an Opportunity to Be Heard on Requests for Litigation Expenses.” Relying on Mississippi Rule of Appellate Procedure 22(c)(3), the Attorney General asserted her office was entitled to notice and an opportunity to be heard on Garcia’s requests for litigation expenses. Even though Garcia’s counsel had made no such request, the trial court granted the motion. The Supreme Court vacated this ruling: "Under Rule 22(c)(3), the Attorney General is not entitled to notice and an opportunity to be heard on a request for litigation expenses that was never made—and will never be made—because Garcia’s appointed attorneys are not compensated and reimbursed through court-approved expenses but rather through their state employer. ... So the Attorney General’s request was not only premature; it was inapplicable. Thus, the trial court lacked authority to grant the Attorney General’s motion." View "Garcia v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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The Municipal Election Commission of the town of Goodman, Mississippi (the Commissioners), rejected David Simmons’s Candidate Petition for the Municipal Office of Mayor of Goodman, Mississippi. After conducting an investigation into Simmons’s residency and voting history, the Commissioners rejected his petition due to his not having satisfied the residency requirement prior to the election date. Simmons appealed a circuit court's decision upholding the Commissioners’ decision to reject his petition, arguing the trial court’s decision was manifestly against the weight of the evidence because he had provided evidence of his physical presence in Goodman and of his intention to reside there permanently. Simmons also asserted he had provided evidence that rebutted the homestead exemption presumption. The Mississippi Supreme Court found the trial court did not commit manifest error by determining that Simmons had not proved that he had been domiciled in Goodman for the time prescribed by Mississippi Code Section 23-15-300(1), which was “two (2) years immediately preceding the day of election.” Miss. Code Ann. § 23-15-300(1) (Supp. 2021). View "Simmons v. Town of Goodman" on Justia Law

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In September 2016, Christopher Strickland, Jr., a sophomore at Northwest Rankin High School, was at Choctaw Trails in Clinton, Mississippi, preparing to run a cross- country meet. Before the race, a wasp stung Christopher on the top of his head. According to Christopher, a lump began to form and his head felt tight, like it was swelling. Christopher told one of his coaches. According to affidavits submitted by the Rankin County School District (RCSD), two coaches and a registered nurse, who was there to watch her son race, examined Christopher’s head and found no evidence of a sting or adverse reaction. And Christopher assured them he was fine and wanted to run the race. But Christopher recalled only one coach examining him. And this coach told him to “man up” and run the race. Christopher ran the race. According to one of his coaches, she checked in on him at the mile marker. He responded that he was “okay, just hot.” According to Christopher, after the mile marker he began to feel dizzy. Then he fell, hitting his head. The same nurse attended to him. So did her husband, who was a neurologist. Christopher appeared to recover and rejoined his team after the race. But he later went to a doctor, who discovered injuries to his brain and spine. In January 2017, Christopher’s father, Christopher Strickland, Sr. (Strickland), sued RCSD on Christopher’s behalf. He alleged various breaches of duties in how RCSD employees acted both (1) after the wasp sting but before the race and (2) after Christopher’s fall. Specifically, Strickland alleged that, after the fall, RCSD employees failed to follow the district’s concussion protocol. The Mississippi Supreme Court surmised "much legal analysis has been aimed at whether the actions of two cross-country coaches were discretionary policy decisions entitled to immunity from suit under Mississippi Code Section 11-46-9(1)(d) (Rev. 2019)." But on certiorari review, the Court found this question to be moot: the alleged actions of the coaches do not establish any triable claim for negligence. For that reason, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to the Rankin County School District. View "Strickland v. Rankin County School District" on Justia Law

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After Wilkinson County Senior Care changed ownership, it received the maximum per diem rate from the Mississippi Division of Medicaid (DOM) for a period of twenty months. The DOM notified Wilkinson County Senior Care multiple times that the maximum per diem rate it received during this time period was subject to adjustment based on its initial cost report. The DOM did not seek recoupment of the overpayment based on the adjustment until 2011. Wilkinson County Senior Care argued that this delay foreclosed the DOM from recouping the overpayment it received. The DOM and the chancery court both affirmed that the recoupment was allowable. Because no legal or equitable principles provide that the delay in this case forecloses recoupment, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the decisions of the chancery court and the DOM. View "Wilkinson County Senior Care, LLC v. Mississippi Division of Medicaid" on Justia Law

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In 2008, the City of Gulfport undertook a project to replace the infrastructure associated with its water and sewer systems relating to damage caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The repair project involved federal, state, and local agencies and ultimately cost approximately $85 million to complete. The original design of the Area 3B project, the sewer infrastructure that crossed the Cowan Road property located north of U.S. Highway 90 and east of Highway 605 were to be replaced, and the new infrastructure was to be installed within the City’s existing easements across the properties. The Cowan Road property at issue was located in the Area 3B geographic zone. Robert “Kris” Riemann, P.E., then-director of the City’s department of public works, was notified that John Felsher had inquired about relocating the sewer infrastructure in Area 3B. Based on an agreement with Felsher to relocate the utilities, the City had the Area 3B design drawings redrafted to move the utilities. The City's project manager was notified that the discovery of underground telephone lines and other utilities required that the sewer line being relocated had to cut the northwest corner of the property. Cowan Road filed a complaint in the Chancery Court of Harrison County, Mississippi, advancing a claim for inverse condemnation against the City. The chancery court transferred the case to the Special Court of Eminent Domain in Harrison County. Due to the jurisdictional limits of county court, the case ended up in Harrison County Circuit Court. The circuit court entered an order granting the motion for partial summary judgment filed by the City on the issue of the date of the taking. The parties eventually settled the reverse condemnation claim, and the City agreed to pay $100,000 to Cowan Road & Hwy 90, LLC, for the improper and unlawful taking of its property. The issue before the Mississippi Supreme Court centered on the circuit court's grant of attorneys' fees and expenses: Gulfport argued that Cowan Road should not have been allowed to recover attorneys’ fees under Section 43-37-9. Finding that the statute applied and fees were appropriate, the Supreme Court affirmed. However, the Court found the trial judge abused his discretion by disallowing requests for postjudgment interest. View "City of Gulfport v. Cowan Road & Hwy 90, LLC, et al." on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Mississippi Supreme Court's review involved the award of a construction contract by the Mississippi State Port Authority at Gulfport (the MSPA) to the low-bidder, W.C. Fore Trucking, Inc. (Fore). Eutaw Construction Company, Inc. (Eutaw), another bidder, challenged that award, and the Circuit Court of the First Judicial District of Hinds County reversed the MSPA’s decision to award the contract to Fore. The MSPA appealed. The Supreme Court found after review that Fore's errors involved instances in which the error was minor, and the intended correct bid was evident on the face of the bid. Also, Fore’s corrected bid was a decrease in price. For these reasons, the MSPA properly followed Rule 3.106.12.4 in allowing Fore to correct its bid. Its decision was not arbitrary and capricious. The record reflected that the MSPA clearly articulated Fore’s errors, the rules that allowed for the correction of those errors, and the MSPA’s reasons for allowing the corrections. Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed the circuit court’s decision and rendered judgment in favor of the MSPA. View "Mississippi State Port Authority at Gulfport v. Eutaw Construction Company, Inc." on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from damages that Pine Belt Oil Co. (Pine Belt) incurred for the remediation of a September 2008 gasoline leak that originated on property Walter and Tammy Cooley (the Cooleys) had sold to Pine Belt four months prior to discovery of the leak. In 2009, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) issued an administrative order demanding that Pine Belt, the owners of Pine Belt, Robert and Melissa Morgan, and the Cooleys pay remediation costs, including future costs, for the properties afflicted by the gasoline leak. Since October 2008, Pine Belt maintained that the Cooleys were responsible for the gasoline leak, not Pine Belt. After initially refusing to pay the remediation costs, Pine Belt did begin paying them in July 2009. In April 2016, six years and nine months after its first remediation payment, Pine Belt filed a complaint seeking indemnification from the Cooleys for Pine Belt’s past and future expenses incurred due to its remediation damage caused by the gasoline leak. The Cooleys moved for summary judgment, arguing that the claim was barred by the statute of limitations. The trial judge denied the summary judgment motion. The Cooleys then filed a petition for interlocutory appeal, arguing that the statute of limitations barred Pine Belt’s implied indemnity claim. The Cooleys argued alternatively that Pine Belt could not prove that it did not actively participate in the underlying wrong, i.e., the gasoline leak. The Mississippi Supreme Court held that the applicable three-year statute of limitations ran on Pine Belt’s claim on March 5, 2012. Pine Belt’s claim was thus time barred, and all other arguments were moot. View "Cooley v. Pine Belt Oil Co., Inc." on Justia Law

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The Workers’ Compensation Commission and an Administrative Judge (AJ) had ordered Gamma Healthcare and Employers Insurance Company of Wausau (Employer/Carrier) to replace Sharon Grantham’s septic and HVAC systems and to pay for insurance on a handicapped-accessible van. The Commission, sua sponte, issued a separate order sanctioning the Employer/Carrier for causing an unnecessary delay by appealing the AJ’s order to the full Commission without reasonable grounds. The Employer/Carrier appealed. While this case was pending before the Court of Appeals, Sharon Grantham died. Thereafter, the Court of Appeals dismissed the case as moot. The Court of Appeals applied the general rule followed by federal courts by vacating the outstanding Commission and AJ orders. The appeals court reversed and rendered the Commission’s sanctions order against the Employer/Carrier, determining that the Commission had abused its discretion by its imposition of the sanction, reasoning that the Employer/Carrier had a reasonable legal argument for its appeal. Grantham’s estate filed a petition for a writ of certiorari, which the Mississippi Supreme Court granted. The Supreme Court concluded that in light of Grantham’s untimely death and the concession by her estate, it agreed with the Court of Appeals that this case was moot. "However, the main issue is not whether the case is moot. Rather it is whether the Court of Appeals erred by vacating the Commission’s and the AJ’s valid orders to replace the septic and HVAC systems in a case that became moot on appeal due to circumstances beyond the control of the parties. Additionally, did the court err by following federal vacatur law instead of existing Mississippi law?" These were issues of first impression. the Supreme Court found that the Court of Appeals did not err and that the federal vacatur rule was appropriate. The Commission’s orders were vacated properly. Furthermore, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals’ reversing and rendering of the Commission’s sanctions award. View "Gamma Healthcare Inc., et al. v. Estate of Sharon Burrell Grantham" on Justia Law