Justia Mississippi Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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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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Eugene Bullen was convicted of driving under the influence (DUI), second offense. He appealed to the County Court of Madison County. Following a bench trial, the trial judge found Bullen guilty and sentenced him to thirty days of imprisonment, a two year’s driver’s license suspension, an alcohol and drug assessment, six months supervised probation, eighteen months unsupervised probation, and eighty hours of community service within six months. Aggrieved by that decision, Bullen appealed to the Madison County Circuit Court. The circuit court held that the decision of the county court was supported by substantial evidence and was not manifestly wrong. Bullen then appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court, arguing the trial court erred by not granting his motion to dismiss for insufficiency of the evidence. Bullen argued the State did not meet its burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was intoxicated. After review, the Supreme Court held the trial judge was presented with sufficient evidence to find Bullen guilty of violating Mississippi Code Section 63-11-30(1)(a), and accordingly, affirmed. View "Bullen v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Jelani Miles was convicted of shooting into a vehicle, aggravated assault, and second-degree murder. A circuit court sentenced Miles to five years for shooting into a vehicle, twenty years with five years suspended for aggravated assault, and life for second-degree murder, with all sentences to run consecutively. Miles appealed, and the Mississippi Supreme Court deflected his appeal to the Court of Appeals, which affirmed. The Supreme Court granted Miles’s petition for a writ of certiorari to review the remedy ordered by the Court of Appeals for the trial court’s imprecise and incomplete analysis under Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986). The Supreme Court found the Court of Appeals applied the appropriate remedy by remanding for the trial court to conduct a hearing to complete the second and third steps of the Batson analysis for three challenged venirepersons. Therefore, the judgment of the circuit court's judgment was affirmed in part, and the case was remanded. View "Miles v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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In 2017, Shakeara Harris filed domestic violence charges against Joseph Eubanks. Eubanks was indicted for aggravated domestic violence in June 2017. He was later convicted of simple assault domestic violence in January 2020. Eubanks was sentenced to six months in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections, with six months suspended and 364 days of unsupervised probation. He appealed, raising seven contentions as grounds for appeal. Finding no reversible error however, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed Eubanks' conviction. View "Eubanks v. Mississippi" 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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While driving a forklift at work, Lori Chandler was hit by another forklift and injured. She retained Turner & Associates to file a workers’ compensation claim. But Turner & Associates failed to file her claim within the statute of limitations. Adding to that, the firm’s case manager engaged in a year-and-a-half-long cover-up, which included false assurances of settlement negotiations, fake settlement offers, and a forged settlement letter purporting to be from Chandler’s former employer. Because of this professional negligence, Chandler filed a legal malpractice action. The only issue at trial was damages. The trial judge, sitting as fact-finder, concluded that Chandler had suffered a compensable work-related injury—an injury that caused her to lose her job and left her unemployed for nearly two years. Based on her hourly wage, the trial judge determined, had Turner & Associates timely filed Chandler’s workers’ compensation claim, Chandler could have reasonably recovered $50,000 in disability benefits. So the trial judge awarded her $50,000 in compensatory damages. The trial judge also awarded Chandler $100,000 in punitive damages against the case manager due to her egregious conduct. The Court of Appeals affirmed the punitive-damages award. But the court reversed and remanded the compensatory-damages award. Essentially, the Court of Appeals held that Chandler had failed to present sufficient medical evidence to support a $50,000 workers’ compensation claim. The Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the appellate court: "Were this a workers’ compensation case, we might agree with the Court of Appeals. But this is a legal malpractice case. And part of what Chandler lost, due to attorney negligence, was her ability to prove her work-related injury led to her temporary total disability. ... the Court of Appeals erred by applying exacting statutory requirements for a workers’ compensation claim to Chandler’s common-law legal malpractice claim." The Court reversed on the issue of compensatory damages and reinstated the trial judge’s $50,000 compensatory-damages award. Because this was the only issue for which Chandler sought certiorari review, it affirmed the remainder of the Court of Appeals’ decision, which affirmed the punitive-damages award but reversed and remanded the grant of partial summary judgment against attorney Angela Lairy in her individual capacity. View "Turner & Associates, PLLC, et al. v. Chandler" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Mississippi Supreme Court's review centered on whether Allen Russell’s life sentence without the possibility of parole for possession of marijuana, as an habitual offender under Mississippi Code Section 99-19-83 (Rev. 2020), violates his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. The Court of Appeals stalemated five to five, resulting in an affirmance of the trial court's judgment. The Supreme Court affirmed: "Based on both this Court’s precedent and the rulings of the United States Supreme Court in Rummel, 445 U.S. 263, Harmelin, 501 U.S. 263, Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, and Ewing, 538 U.S. 11, Russell’s sentence as an habitual offender was not grossly disproportionate. His sentence meets the prescribed statutory punishment. There is no legal basis to vacate Russell’s sentence. It is neither cruel nor unusual. As Russell has failed to prove that the threshold requirement of gross disproportionality was offered and met, because his sentence fell within the statutory requirement, and because his sentence is a constitutionally permissible sentence, we should affirm Russell’s conviction and sentence." View "Allen v. Mississippi" 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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Kendall Magee pled guilty to second-degree murder and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. For his conviction of second-degree murder, Magee was sentenced to thirty-five years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC), with ten years suspended and five years’ post-release supervision. For his conviction of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, Magee was sentenced to ten years in the custody of the MDOC, with ten years suspended and five years’ post-release supervision. The sentences were ordered to run consecutively. In his motion for post-conviction relief, Magee claimed his guilty plea was involuntary because: (1) his attorney was ineffective and misrepresented the consequences of the plea and sentence; (2) his attorney was ineffective and failed to properly investigate his case; and (3) the circuit judge coerced him into pleading guilty. Regarding his misrepresentation claim, Magee asserted his trial counsel “advised [him] to take the plea because he would only serve six to seven years in prison.” According to Magee, after he entered his guilty plea, he learned that he was not eligible for early release and “that his actual time to serve in prison would be 25 years.” The Mississippi Supreme Court concluded Magee was entitled to a second evidentiary hearing about “whether Magee was misinformed as to the consequences of his pleas of guilty and whether those pleas were given in reliance on the alleged misinformation.” The circuit court's judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Magee v. Mississippi" on Justia Law