Justia Mississippi Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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A Mississippi trial court denied Watercolor Salon LLC’s motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction filed against Watercolor’s former employee Nealie Hixon. The motion was based on an employment, confidentiality, and noncompetition agreement. Because Nealie was twenty years old and thus legally a minor when she entered the agreement, the trial court held the agreement was unenforceable. On appeal, Watercolor argues its employment agreement meets the statutory exception that permits minors eighteen years or older to enter into enforceable contracts “affecting personal property.” The Mississippi Supreme Court found Watercolor's logic was flawed and stretched the statutory minor disability exception too far. "Just because an employment contract restricts an employee from taking intellectual property or covers what happens upon breach or termination does not completely change the fundamental nature of the contract. And here the fundamental nature of the contract was a noncompetition agreement that Nealie would give up her ability to work in a certain geographical area for a fixed time in exchange for continued employment at a higher hourly wage. So this employment contract was simply a contract affecting Nealie’s right to work, not her personal property. Thus, the statutory exception does not apply. And because Nealie disaffirmed the contract, it is unenforceable against her." The Court affirmed the denial of Watercolor's motion for injunctive relief, which was based solely on the unenforceable agreement. Whether Watercolor had any remaining claims against Nealie that were not based on the contract, such as the taking of trade secrets, remained to be determined on remand. View "Watercolor Salon, LLC v. Hixon" on Justia Law

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In 2017, Jeremy Thornhill said that he had injured his back while working. He sought workers’ compensation benefits from his employer, Walker-Hill and its insurance carrier, Zurich American Insurance Company of Illinois, but the Employer/Carrier denied that Thornhill had sustained a compensable injury. Ultimately, the parties agreed to compromise and settled pursuant to Mississippi Code Section 71-3-29 (Rev. 2021). Thornhill submitted the settlement to the Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Commission for approval. After examining the application, the Commission approved the settlement and dismissed Thornhill’s case with prejudice. Pursuant to the settlement, Thornhill signed a general release, which reserved his right to pursue a bad faith claim. Believing he had exhausted his administrative remedies, Thornhill filed a bad faith suit against the Employer/Carrier; the Employer/Carrier moved to dismiss the case, arguing the circuit court lacked jurisdiction because the Commission never made a factual finding that he was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. The trial court concurred it lacked jurisdiction and dismissed the case. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, finding that Thornhill had exhausted his administrative remedies and that the circuit court had jurisdiction to hear his bad faith claim. The appeals court determined that “Thornhill exhausted his administrative remedies because he fully and finally settled his workers’ compensation claim against the Employer/Carrier, the Commission approved the settlement, and there is nothing left pending before the Commission.” To this, the Mississippi Supreme Court agreed. The circuit court judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Thornhill v. Walker-Hill Environmental, et al." on Justia Law

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In July 2017, Jeremy Thornhill said that he had injured his back while working. He sought workers’ compensation benefits from his employer, Walker-Hill and its insurance carrier, Zurich American Insurance Company of Illinois (collectively, Employer/Carrier), but the Employer/Carrier denied that Thornhill had sustained a compensable injury. Ultimately, the parties agreed to compromise and settled pursuant to Mississippi Code Section 71-3-29 (Rev. 2021). Thornhill submitted the settlement to the Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Commission for approval. After examining the application, the Commission approved the settlement and dismissed Thornhill’s case with prejudice. Pursuant to the settlement, Thornhill signed a general release,” which reserved his right to pursue a bad faith claim. Believing he had exhausted his administrative remedies, Thornhill filed a bad faith suit against the Employer/Carrier. The Employer/Carrier moved to dismiss, arguing that Thornhill had not exhausted administrative remedies—and that the circuit court lacked jurisdiction—because the Commission never made a factual finding that he was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. The trial court granted the motion on that basis. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, finding that Thornhill indeed exhausted his administrative remedies and that the circuit court had jurisdiction to hear his bad faith claim. Finding no reversible error in the appellate court’s decision, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed. View "Thornhill v. Walker-Hill Environmental, et al." on Justia Law

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The Catholic Diocese of Jackson, Mississippi filed an interlocutory appeal of its motion to dismiss claims stemming from its termination of Arie Mattheus de Lange. The Diocese argued that, pursuant to the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine found in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, Lange's employment action be dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The circuit court disagreed and determined that “the resolution of these claims will not require immersion into the faith, discipline and doctrine of the Catholic Church or the Code of Canon Law.” After careful review, the Mississippi Supreme Court concluded the circuit court erred and that the First Amendment demanded dismissal. View "Catholic Diocese of Jackson, Mississippi v. De Lange" on Justia Law

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The question presented for the Mississippi Supreme Court in this case “boils down to one of statutory interpretation:” whether plaintiff Crystal Bufkin was “legally entitled to recover” damages from her employer under the uninsured motorist statute, Mississippi Code Section 83-11-101(1) (Supp. 2021). The Supreme Court previously held that employees are not legally entitled to recover from their employers and thus could not make a claim under uninsured motorist coverages. Bufkin acknowledged that precedent precluded her claim, but she argued Medders v. U.S. Fid. & Guar. Co., 623 So. 2d 979 (Miss. 1993 )and its progeny were wrongly decided because the uninsured motorist law should be liberally construed in her favor. The Supreme Court concluded it already rejected the arguments Bufkin presented here, and declined to overrule Medders. View "Bufkin v. Geico Insurance Agency, 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

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The Mississippi Department of Employment Security (MDES) appeals from the circuit court’s order reversing the MDES Board of Review’s determination that Danny Leeton was an employee of Dover Trucking, LLC (Dover). Because the agency’s decision was supported by substantial evidence and was not arbitrary or capricious, the Mississippi Supreme Court concluded the circuit judge erred by reversing it. Accordingly, judgment was reversed and MDES' decision was reinstated. View "Mississippi Department of Employment Security v. Dover Trucking, LLC" on Justia Law

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A circuit court denied Brittany Spiers leave to amend her complaint, and granted a motion to dismiss brought by Oak Grove Credit, LLC (OGC), and other companies, including, Columbia Credit, LLC, Pine Belt Credit, LLC, and “John Does Business 1-5” (collectively, “the Creditor Companies”). Spiers worked for OGC, a creditor business located just outside Hattiesburg, Mississippi, until February 2019. At that time, OGC terminated Spiers for reasons Spiers alleged were discriminatory. According to Spiers, OGC terminated her because of her gender and her pregnancy. Specifically, Spiers alleged that her supervisor raised concerns about her pregnancy in regards to work and childcare and even called her pregnancy a “disease.” Spiers also alleged that her supervisor declined to hire another person because that person was pregnant. In February 2020, Spiers filed her complaint primarily alleging pregnancy and sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Even though Spiers only worked for OGC, she brought her lawsuit collectively against OGC and the Creditor Companies because she alleged that these companies “constitute an integrated enterprise/joint employer in relation to Spiers as employees from each location are fluid and work for and between the sister companies.” Alternatively, Spiers alleged that “the Defendant’s actions constitute the torts of negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, intentional infliction of emotional distress, termination in violation of public policy, gross negligence, and negligent supervision.” OGC and the Creditor Companies removed the case to federal district court, which issued an order as to Spiers’s Title VII claim, finding that Spiers “did not plead sufficient facts for the Court to infer that Defendants meet Title VII’s definition of an employer.” The district court “dismiss[ed] Plaintiff’s Title VII claims without prejudice.” The district court, however, “declin[ed] to exercise pendent jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s remaining state-law claims and remand[ed] the case [back] to the Circuit Court of Lamar County, Mississippi.” Upon remand to the circuit court, Spiers filed a motion for leave to amend her complaint. The Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the state circuit court's order dismissing the state-law claims, but reversed to the extent that the order denied Spiers leave to amend her complaint. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Spiers v. Oak Grove Credit, LLC, et al." on Justia Law

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In an interlocutory appeal, Schaffner Manufacturing Company, Inc., argued that the circuit court erred by denying a portion of its motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Schaffner contended Darius Powell’s claims of negligence, negligent hiring, retention, and supervision all fell within the ambit of the Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Act. Powell alleged that on December 11, 2017, Rederick Kelly and O’Derrick Clark severely injured him while in the course and scope of their employment. The trial court ruled that the claims of assault, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress against Kelly and Clark were barred by the statute of limitations. However, the trial court found that Powell’s claims of “Negligence, Negligent Hiring, Retention, and Supervision, and Vicarious Liability” against Schaffner did not fall within the scope of the Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Act and denied the joint motion to dismiss those claims. The Mississippi Supreme Court agreed with Schaffner that Powell’s claims of negligent hiring, retention, supervision, and general negligence for failing to provide a safe work environment were all claims of direct negligence against Schaffner. "These claims properly fall within the scope of the Act. Therefore, the Act is Powell’s exclusive remedy for those claims, and those claims should have been dismissed." View "Schaffner Manufacturing Company, Inc. v. Powell" on Justia Law

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At issue before the Mississippi Supreme Court in this case was whether the Civil Service Commission for the City of Jackson (Commission) sufficiently and clearly certified its findings when it affirmed the Jackson Police Department’s termination of Officer Justin Roberts. The Supreme Court found that because the Commission failed to set forth with sufficient clarity and specificity its reasons for affirming Roberts’s termination, the decisions of the Court of Appeals and the Circuit Court were reversed, and the matter remanded to the Commission to comply with the Supreme Court's directive to certify in writing and to set forth with sufficient clarity and specificity its factual findings. View "Roberts v. City of Jackson" on Justia Law