Justia Mississippi Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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A fire broke out at Victor Young's property in Yazoo City, Mississippi, and spread to Kenneth Hampton's property. The Yazoo City Fire Department struggled to extinguish the fire due to a lack of tank water and difficulty connecting to a nearby fire hydrant. As a result, Young's property was completely destroyed, and Hampton's property was significantly damaged. Hampton, who was not physically injured during the fire, suffered a cardiac event and subsequent stroke three days later. Hampton and Young sued Yazoo City, alleging negligence and reckless disregard in failing to provide the necessary knowledge and equipment to fight fires, failing to properly train and supervise its firefighters, and failing to adequately maintain its fire hydrant system.The Yazoo County Circuit Court denied Yazoo City's motion for summary judgment, ruling that the questions of the city's immunity under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act (MTCA) for property damage and personal injury liability could not be answered without additional discovery. The city appealed this decision, arguing that it was immune from both property damage and personal injury liability under the MTCA.The Supreme Court of Mississippi reversed the lower court's decision. The court found that Yazoo City was immune from property damage liability because the plaintiffs did not allege that the city acted with reckless disregard for the safety and well-being of any person, as required by the MTCA. The court also found that the city was immune from personal injury liability because Hampton's claim linked the property damage to his personal injury, but did not argue that the fire department acted in reckless disregard of his safety and well-being. The court concluded that Yazoo City was immune from both property damage and personal injury liability under the MTCA, and therefore, the lower court improperly denied the city's motion for summary judgment. View "Yazoo City v. Hampton" on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute between two parties over the right to quiet enjoyment of property versus the right to hunt and harvest wildlife. The Dickersons, who own approximately 220 acres in Booneville, Mississippi, filed a complaint against the Allens and Cain, members of the Sand Hill Hunting Club. The Dickersons alleged that the Allens' and Cain's hunting dogs trespassed on their property, interfered with their preferred method of still hunting, and disturbed the quiet and peaceful enjoyment of their land. They sought injunctions to prevent the Allens' dogs from entering their property and to stop the Allens from parking or walking on any road right-of-way adjoining their land.The Prentiss County Chancery Court found that the repeated intrusion of deer hunting dogs onto the Dickersons' property constituted a private nuisance. The court granted permanent injunctions disallowing the hunting dogs from going onto the property. The court also ruled that if any of the Allens were found to be parked on the public road or public road right-of-way within sight of the Dickersons' property when deer dogs were found to be running on the Dickersons' property, it would be prima facie proof that the Allens violated the court’s injunctions. The court denied the Dickersons' request for monetary damages due to lack of sufficient evidence.The Allens appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of Mississippi. They raised several issues, including whether the trial court committed reversible error by failing to specify its path to finding private nuisance, whether deer hunting with dogs can be considered a private nuisance when done within the parameters of the law and in an area long known for dog hunting, and whether the trial court’s injunction adequately addresses the nuisance. The Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's decision, finding that the trial court's finding of private nuisance was supported by the evidence and that its issuance of a permanent injunction was within its judicial authority and adequately addressed the nuisance. View "Allen v. Dickerson" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around the suicide of Donnie Clay while he was detained in the Tunica County Jail. Barbara Clay, Donnie's wife, and Whitney Jackson, Donnie's girlfriend, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Sheriff K.C. Hamp and Tunica County. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants violated Donnie's Fourteenth Amendment rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by failing to prevent his suicide. The plaintiffs claimed that the defendants were aware or should have been aware of Donnie's vulnerability to suicide due to his history of multiple suicide attempts while detained in the jail, and that they failed to take action to prevent this risk.The defendants filed a combined motion for summary judgment, arguing that Sheriff Hamp was entitled to qualified immunity and that the County could not be held liable under § 1983 as the plaintiffs failed to establish that a policy or custom of the jail was the direct cause of Donnie's suicide. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, finding that Sheriff Hamp was entitled to qualified immunity and that the plaintiffs failed to identify a single policy or custom of the County that directly caused Donnie's suicide. The plaintiffs appealed the trial court's decision to grant summary judgment in favor of the County.The Supreme Court of Mississippi affirmed the trial court's decision. The court found that the plaintiffs failed to present evidence to establish that the training provided to the jail employees demonstrated deliberate indifference by the County to the potential for constitutional injuries. The court also found that a single episode of an employee's failure to follow jail policy does not establish a pattern of constitutional violations amounting to the policy of the County. Therefore, the court concluded that the trial judge did not err by granting the County's motion for summary judgment. View "Clay v. Tunica County, Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Jerry Pittman and Brianna Pierce were indicted for burglary of a dwelling after they broke into a trailer owned by David Parker and stole several items. Pierce took a plea deal and testified against Pittman, who was subsequently convicted. Pittman appealed his conviction, arguing that his trial was constitutionally infirm because evidence of a prior bad act, specifically the theft of power tools in a separate incident, was improperly admitted.Prior to Pittman's trial, the Neshoba County Circuit Court heard a proffer from the State arguing that the evidence of the separate theft was admissible to show absence of mistake under Mississippi Rule of Evidence 404(b). The trial court agreed, noting that it could also show intent to steal, and decided to admit the evidence with a limiting jury instruction.In the Supreme Court of Mississippi, Pittman argued that the admission of evidence of the prior bad act was error and made his trial constitutionally unfair. The court, however, determined that even if the admission of the evidence was an error, it would be harmless. The court noted that the evidence against Pittman was overwhelming, including his own admission of breaking into the trailer and taking items, Pierce's testimony, his written confession, and the stolen items being located in his vehicle. The court concluded that any alleged error did not contribute to the verdict and affirmed Pittman's conviction. View "Pittman v. State of Mississippi" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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John Garon Saxton was convicted of aggravated assault for hitting his father-in-law, Toby Melton, in the head with a metal bat. The incident occurred after an altercation between Saxton and his mother-in-law, Vickie Melton, over Saxton disciplining his son. Saxton claimed he slapped Vickie after she pushed him near his injured shoulder, which Vickie denied. Vickie called Toby, but did not tell him about the slap. Saxton testified that he heard Vickie tell Toby about the slap over the phone. When Toby arrived, Saxton told him about the slap, and Toby reacted by pushing Saxton away. Saxton then retrieved a gun from his car, but did not point it at Toby. Saxton claimed that Toby then approached him again, prompting him to grab a bat and hit Toby.The trial court granted two jury instructions submitted by the State and denied a jury instruction submitted by the defense. Saxton appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in its decisions regarding the jury instructions.The Supreme Court of Mississippi affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found no reversible error with the trial court’s rulings on the jury instructions. The court held that while one of the State's instructions was an incomplete statement of Mississippi law, it did not result in a manifest miscarriage of justice, particularly given that Saxton was granted a self-defense instruction. The court also found no merit in Saxton's claim that the trial court erred by denying his proposed instruction, as the content of that instruction was covered elsewhere in the instructions. View "Saxton v. State" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Heather Walters, a Direct Support Professional at Brandi’s Hope Community Services, a long-term care facility for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, noticed that a resident had been physically abused. She attempted to report the incident to her supervisors but received no response. Walters then took a photograph of the resident's injuries and shared it with a former coworker. After an internal investigation, Walters was fired for violating company policy and HIPAA regulations by taking and sharing the photograph. Walters filed a lawsuit against Brandi’s Hope and its CEO, Danny Cowart, for retaliatory discharge and malicious interference with employment.The County Court of Lee County found in favor of Walters, awarding her $100,000 in damages. The defendants appealed to the Lee County Circuit Court, which affirmed the lower court's decision. The defendants then appealed to the Court of Appeals, which reversed the lower courts' decisions, finding that the Mississippi Vulnerable Persons Act and the public policy exception established in McArn v. Allied Bruce-Terminix Co., Inc. were in conflict.The Supreme Court of Mississippi reversed the Court of Appeals' decision, finding no conflict between the Mississippi Vulnerable Persons Act and the public policy exception established in McArn. The court held that Walters was eligible to claim wrongful termination under McArn, as she was fired for reporting illegal activity. The court affirmed the jury's verdict that Brandi’s Hope terminated Walters because she reported the abuse. The case was remanded to the County Court of Lee County for further proceedings. The Court of Appeals' decision to render judgment in favor of Cowart on the malicious-interference-with-employment claim was not reviewed and thus stands. View "Brandi's Hope Community Services, LLC v. Walters" on Justia Law

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In 2000, Antonio McDowell, a juvenile at the time, was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life without parole. Following a 2012 Supreme Court ruling in Miller v. Alabama, which deemed mandatory life sentences without parole for juvenile defendants unconstitutional, McDowell's sentence was vacated. The trial court then proceeded with a jury trial for sentencing under Mississippi Code Section 99-19-101. The jury, after considering evidence related to the Miller criteria, was unable to agree on a sentence. The trial judge, instead of imposing a sentence of life, sentenced McDowell to life without parole, a decision that was affirmed by the Court of Appeals.The Mississippi Supreme Court, on certiorari review, found that the trial court's decision to proceed with a jury trial for sentencing under Section 99-19-101 made the section applicable to the entirety of the proceedings. This applicability continued when the jury failed to agree on a sentence. Therefore, the trial court erred by conducting the Miller analysis and sentencing McDowell to life without parole. The Supreme Court reversed the judgments of the Court of Appeals and the trial court and remanded the case back to the trial court for proceedings consistent with its opinion. View "McDowell v. State" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around the dispute over whether the main roads within the Deerfield Estates subdivision in Newton County, Mississippi, are private or public. In 2001, the Newton County Board of Supervisors voted to accept the two main roads of the subdivision into the county road system. However, the roads were never added to the official county road registry. In 2020, the subdivision filed a complaint seeking a declaratory judgment that the roads are public and an injunction mandating the county to add them to the registry and perform repairs.The Newton County Chancery Court held that the roads had become public roads via express common law dedication and ordered that the roads be added to the county map and road register. The county appealed this decision, arguing that the subdivision's claims were barred by the doctrine of laches or the general three-year statute of limitations.The Supreme Court of Mississippi affirmed the lower court's decision. It held that the county's 2001 acceptance of the roads was effective and that the roads served public interest or convenience. The court also found that the county's failure to add the roads to the registry and the map in a timely manner did not negate the county's explicit acceptance of the dedication. Furthermore, the court ruled that the county could not invoke the doctrine of laches or the general three-year statute of limitations to bar the subdivision's request for a declaratory judgment that the roads are public roads. View "Newton County, Mississippi v. Deerfield Estates Subdivision Property Owners Association, LLC" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around two Senate Bills—2780 and 3064—passed by the Mississippi Legislature in 2022. Senate Bill 2780 established the Independent Schools Infrastructure Grant Program (ISIGP), which allowed independent schools to apply for reimbursable grants for infrastructure projects funded by the Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Funds under the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Senate Bill 3064 allocated $10 million from the Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund to ISIGP. Parents for Public Schools (PPS), a nonprofit organization advocating for public schools, filed a complaint alleging that ISIGP violated the Mississippi Constitution by appropriating public funds to private schools. PPS sought injunctive and declaratory relief, asserting associational standing on behalf of its members.The Chancery Court of Hinds County found that PPS had established associational standing. It also found that Senate Bills 2780 and 3064 violated the Mississippi Constitution by appropriating public funds to private schools. The court denied a motion to intervene by the Midsouth Association of Independent Schools (MAIS), which sought to challenge the constitutionality of the relevant section of the Mississippi Constitution under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.The Supreme Court of Mississippi, however, found that PPS lacked standing to bring the lawsuit. The court determined that PPS failed to demonstrate an adverse impact different from that of the general public. The court noted that the funds at issue were federal, not state, funds earmarked for specific infrastructure needs, and were not commingled with state funds. The court also found that PPS's challenge to general government spending was too attenuated to bestow standing. As a result, the court vacated the judgment of the Hinds County Chancery Court and rendered judgment dismissing PPS's complaint. View "Midsouth Association of Independent Schools v. Parents for Public Schools" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a custody dispute involving a minor child, J.B., born in March 2021. J.B. was placed in the custody of foster parents, John and Amy Caldwell, by the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services (CPS) in June 2021. In October 2022, J.B.'s maternal great aunt, Wanda Hines, expressed interest in adopting J.B. Subsequently, the foster parents filed a petition for adoption in March 2023. In response, the relatives filed a motion to intervene and dismiss the adoption proceeding. CPS also filed a motion to dismiss, alleging that the foster parents violated their foster contract by pursuing an adoption action. The chancellor granted the relatives' motion to intervene and appointed a guardian ad litem to make a recommendation regarding the child’s best interest.The DeSoto County Chancery Court granted the foster parents durable legal and physical custody of J.B. in a temporary order until the final hearing on the merits of their adoption petition and dismissed CPS without a hearing. The relatives and CPS appealed this decision.The Supreme Court of Mississippi reversed the chancery court's decision, ruling that the chancellor erred by awarding permanent relief without a hearing. The court held that divesting and dismissing CPS from the case is permanent relief, which cannot be done without a hearing, even under the guise of a temporary order. The court also noted that durable legal custody is not an appropriate award after a termination of parental rights. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Hines v. Caldwell" on Justia Law