Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Mississippi

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This case arose from the tragic 2014 death of nine-year-old Patrauna Hudson, who drowned in flash-flood waters that swept through a drainage ditch that ran alongside her family’s residence. Patrauna’s estate (the “Estate”) filed suit against Yazoo City for wrongful death under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act (MTCA). The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of Yazoo City (the “City”) on all claims filed against it by the Estate, having found Yazoo City immune from liability under both the discretionary-function exception and the open-and-obvious exception contained in Mississippi Code Section 11-46-9. The Estate appealed, maintaining that Yazoo City violated numerous city ordinances, along with certain federal regulations, when the City converted a portion of the drainage ditch downstream from the Hudson residence into a covered tunnel with two side-by-side culverts in 2007. The Estate argued that these laws imposed a ministerial duty upon Yazoo City, and the City breached that duty by failing to comply with all the mandatory requirements prescribed by these laws when the city implemented and carried out the 2007 project. Therefore, the Estate contended, the City was not immune from liability. The Mississippi Supreme Court found the Estate’s claim that Yazoo City is liable for the wrongful death of Patrauna failed as a matter of law for failure to state a cause of action. The Court also found the Estate abandoned its claim for negligently failing to maintain its drainage ditches. The Estate, however, abandoned this claim under the auspices of the test adopted by this Court in However, the Court found “slight evidence,” which if developed further, could create a genuine issue of fact with regard to this claim, and that the Estate should have been given the opportunity to do so. The Supreme Court found the trial court’s ruling as to the open-and-obvious exception provided by Section 11-46-9(1)(v) was premature in this case because factual questions remained. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Hudson v. Yazoo City, Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Phillip Moore, Gloria Moore, and Katelyn Moore sued Olshan Foundation Repair of Jackson, LLC (Olshan), and Wayne Brown. Olshan and Brown sought to compel arbitration pursuant to an arbitration provision within a contract between Phillip Moore and Olshan for the repair of the foundation of the Moores’ home. The circuit court ordered Phillip and Gloria Moore to arbitrate their claims. But because the circuit court declined to order Katelyn Moore to the arbitral forum, Olshan and Brown appealed. Finding that Katelyn Moore was neither a third-party beneficiary to the foundation-repair contract nor was she bound by direct-benefit estoppel, the Mississippi Supreme Court found Katelyn Moore’s claims, including negligence and intentional/negligent infliction of emotional distress, were wholly independent of the terms of the contract to which she was not a party. As such, Olshan was not allowed to enforce an arbitration clause respecting Katelyn Moore’s claims, which were unrelated to the contract. View "Olshan Foundation Repair Company of Jackson, LLC v. Moore" on Justia Law

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Yates Construction, LLC, and D.W. Caldwell, Inc., entered into a construction subcontract for the roof installation on a residential dormitory at Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama. When Caldwell completed both the repairs and the roof installation, it had yet to receive total payment for the structural repairs. The companies disputed the scope and expense of these repairs and quickly negotiated to an impasse. Thereafter, Caldwell filed a claim against Yates for causing delay and increased costs by failing to pay for work performed, which was in breach of the agreements between the parties. The parties proceeded to arbitration. Although the arbitration record was neither recorded nor transcribed, the parties conceded that the arbitrator considered arguments, reviewed evidence, and heard witness testimony over the course of three days. He then reopened the proceedings for additional documentation, before issuing his thirteen-page award. Within two weeks of the arbitrator’s decision to deny Yates’s motion for reconsideration, Caldwell requested that the circuit court confirm the award under Mississippi Code Section 11-15-125. Yates moved the trial court to alter, amend, or vacate the award under Mississippi Code Section 11-15-25. With the understanding that Yates would provide oral argument on its motion at the award confirmation hearing, Caldwell filed a request to limit the presentation of proof before the circuit court. Ultimately, the trial court reviewed fourteen exhibits and the testimony of one witness in making its decision. Based on this evidence, the court issued its order modifying the arbitrator’s award. Finding that the arbitrator had duplicated the labor costs for shingle installation in its award–once under the original subcontract and once under the oral agreement to repair the structural damage (referred to as the Repair Agreement)–it amended the award, reducing the total by $104,507. After its review, the Mississippi Supreme Court determined: (1) the miscalculations alleged in this matter were not evident from the award itself, nor were they apparent from the agreed-upon record; and (2) the judge erred when he allowed the parties to present witness testimony regarding the extent of any alleged miscalculations, rather than relying on the award and the arbitration record as the relevant law suggested. Finding error, the Court therefore reversed the circuit court’s decision and remanded this case to the circuit court with directions to confirm the arbitration award. Furthermore, because the subcontract between the parties provided that each contractor would be responsible for his own fees and costs, the Court declined to assess costs to one party over the other, and instead, enforced their bargained-for agreement. View "D. W. Caldwell, Inc. v. W.G. Yates & Sons Construction Company" on Justia Law

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Thrasher Construction, Inc. (Thrasher) brought a third-party beneficiary action against Bruce Cope, Mary Cope, and Ike Thrash (the Copes and Thrash). Thrasher sought damages for payments owed for waterproofing the Inn by the Sea, a condominium in which the Copes and Thrash had acquired a full ownership interest by agreeing, in part, to pay all outstanding bills for work previously performed on the property. During trial, the county court dismissed the third-party beneficiary claim but allowed Thrasher to proceed on a quantum meruit theory of the case. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Thrasher for $69,290, and the county court entered judgment based on that verdict. The Copes and Thrash appealed the judgment to the Circuit Court, which affirmed the judgment of the county court. The Copes and Thrash then appealed to the Court of Appeals, arguing the facts did not support a recovery on quantum meruit. Thrasher cross-appealed, arguing the trial court erred in dismissing its third-party beneficiary claim. The Court of Appeals held quantum meruit was not the proper method of relief because the action should have proceeded as a third-party beneficiary claim. The Court of Appeals reversed the judgment and remanded for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. The Mississippi Supreme Court agreed the third-party beneficiary action was the appropriate basis for Thrasher’s recovery; however, because the trial court ultimately reached the correct result, no further proceedings were needed in this case. View "Cope v. Thrasher Construction, Inc." on Justia Law

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A jury awarded Ausbern Construction Company, Inc. (Ausbern) a verdict of $182,500 against Chickasaw County Engineer Edward Springer in his individual capacity for tortious interference with a road-construction contract. On appeal, the Mississippi Court of Appeals reversed the monetary judgment and rendered judgment in favor of Springer, holding the element of tortious interference that constitutes malice was not satisfied because Springer’s actions were not without right or justifiable cause. Though the lack of evidence demonstrating malice was dispositive to the decision to reverse and render, a majority of the Court of Appeals alternatively held that Ausbern’s claim against Springer had implicated the Mississippi Tort Claims Act and the trial court had erred by failing to grant Springer’s motion to dismiss due to lack of presuit notice. The Mississippi Supreme Court concluded the record did not support the Court of Appeals’ conclusion that Springer raised the issue of presuit notice in his motion to dismiss. Although Springer raised lack of notice as an affirmative defense in his answer to Ausbern’s first amended complaint, he simply argued that he was entitled to immunity in support of his motion to dismiss. The Court did not disturb the dispositive holding reached by the Court of Appeals resulting in the rendered judgment in favor of Springer; the Supreme Court granted certiorari review to resolve the Court of Appeals’ perceived conflict between Zumwalt v. Jones County Board of Supervisors, 19 So. 3d 672 (Miss. 2009), and Whiting v. University of Southern Mississippi, 62 So. 3d 907 (Miss. 2011). "Whiting" did not overrule, sub silentio, "Zumwalt" as the Court of Appeals presumed in reaching its alternative holding. The Supreme Court overruled Whiting to the extent it held that a claim for tortious interference with a contract was subject to presuit notice requirements of the Tort Claims Act. Ausbern’s claim against Springer in his individual capacity for tortious interference with the contract did not trigger the presuit notice requirements of the Tort Claims Act. View "Springer v. Ausbern Construction Co., Inc." on Justia Law

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After remand, the trial court ruled that H.A.S. Electrical Contractors, Inc. (HAS) failed to meet its burden of proving purposeful discrimination. Hemphill Construction Company was the general contractor on a project in Waveland, Mississippi, to rebuild a state park after Hurricane Katrina. Hemphill entered a subcontract with HAS (one of many entered into between these companies - both before and after the event complained of) to perform the electrical work. According to HAS, Hemphill did not pay HAS all it was owed under the subcontract. HAS sued Hemphill for breach of contract, quantum meruit, and conversion. After a three-day trial, the jury found in favor of Hemphill on both HAS’s claims and Hemphill’s counterclaim. However, the jury declined to award Hemphill monetary damages. The subcontract entitled the “prevailing party” to reasonable attorney’s fees and expenses. HAS filed a motion for new trial or, in the alternative, a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV), arguing the trial court erred: (1) in allowing Hemphill to use two of its peremptory strikes to exclude two African Americans from the jury, arguing neither pretext nor purposeful discrimination; and (2) in not finding the unilateral attorney’s-fees provision of the contract to be unconscionable. The trial court denied HAS’s motion for new trial and alternative motion for JNOV. In its briefs appealing the trial court ruling to the Mississippi Supreme Court, HAS challenged the attorney’s-fees award and argued the trial court mishandled the Batson hearing when HAS challenged Hemphill’s use of peremptory strikes on the African-American jurors. The Supreme Court affirmed, finding HAS failed to prove: (1) purposeful discrimination in the jury selection process; (2) that the trial court’s ruling was clearly erroneous; or (3) that the trial court’s ruling was against the overwhelming weight of the evidence. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the jury’s verdict, the trial court’s denial of HAS’s motion for new trial, and the trial court’s post-judgment award of attorney’s fees to Hemphill. View "H.A.S. Electrical Contractors, Inc. v. Hemphill Construction Company, Inc." on Justia Law

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Laser Line Construction Company, LLC,(“Laser Line”) purchased statutory workers’ compensation insurance coverage from the Builders and Contractors Association of Mississippi (“BCAM”) Self Insurers’ Fund. Because Laser Line was a general contractor, BCAM sought premium payments for all employees of Laser Line’s subcontractors who did not independently secure workers’ compensation coverage. Laser Line refused to pay premiums for employees of subcontractors who had fewer than five employees and claimed they were thus exempt from the coverage requirement. BCAM canceled Laser Line’s coverage for nonpayment. Laser Line filed suit for damages and a declaratory judgment. The defendants answered, and BCAM separately filed a counterclaim. The parties filed competing summary judgment motions. The trial court granted Laser Line a partial summary judgment on the statutory interpretation issue. BCAM sought and was granted permission to file an interlocutory appeal. Mississippi Code Section 71-3-7 required general contractors secure workers’ compensation coverage for the employees of its uninsured subcontractors; the Mississippi Supreme Court found consistent with the unambiguous language of the statute and its own prior opinions, the number of employees of the subcontractor was not a factor in determining general-contractor liability under the Act. Thus, the trial judge’s contrary ruling was in error. View "Builders & Contractors Association of Mississippi, v. Laser Line Construction Company, LLC" on Justia Law

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When this case came before the Mississippi Supreme Court on interlocutory appeal, the Court reversed in part. Because it was undisputed that neither sub-subcontractor Ground Control, LLC nor subcontractor Capsco Industries, Inc. (both Alabama companies) had a statutorily required certificate of responsibility to work in Mississippi, the Court agreed that the subcontract was void. But the Court found, despite the void contract, "Ground Control should not be precluded from having the opportunity to proceed in court under a claim for the value of what it expended in labor and supplies on the project." The case was remanded to the trial court so Ground Control could pursue the nonbarred "claims of unjust enrichment and quantum meruit." Despite this holding, Ground Control argued in this appeal that the trial court erred by limiting its claims on remand to unjust enrichment and quantum meruit. The Supreme Court found no error in the trial court so limiting Ground Control's claims. The Supreme Court did, however, find W.G. Yates and Sons Construction Company (Yates) and Capsco raised reversible errors in their cross-appeals. Based on the evidence presented at trial, the Supreme Court found Yates was entitled to a directed verdict because Ground Control failed to prove Yates’s liability for quantum meruit damages. The Court also found the quantum meruit damages award against Capsco was against the overwhelming weight of the evidence. Consequently, Capsco was entitled to a remittitur. The Court affirmed on Ground Control’s and Ground Control owner Frank Beaton’s direct appeals. On cross-appeal, the Court reversed a $36,644.69 judgment against Yates and rendered a judgment in Yates’s favor. The Court also reversed a $825,583.31 judgment against Capsco. The quantum meruit claim against Capsco was remanded, instructing the trial court to conduct a new trial on damages alone, unless a remittitur of $626,407.31, making the damage award $199,096, was accepted by Ground Control and Capsco. View "Ground Control, LLC v. Capsco Industries, Inc." on Justia Law

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During jury selection, plaintiff H.A.S. Electrical Contractors (HAS) challenged defendant Hemphill Construction Company’s use of two peremptory strikes. HAS argued Hemphill’s strikes were racially discriminatory. The Supreme Court found that the trial court failed to follow the "Batson" criterial when it analyzed the challenged strike of one juror. The Supreme Court remanded this case back to the trial court for a limited "Batson" hearing for Juror 7. View "H.A.S. Electrical Contractors, Inc. v. Hemphill Construction Company, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2006, Dr. Terry McMillin and his wife Leslie purchased a new home in Tupelo. Unhappy with contractor Jamie Ewing’s failure to respond to their repair requests, plus their discovery of a document (a blue card, noting a failed home inspection) listing the name of a different contractor as the contractor responsible for their home’s construction, the McMillins began the process of unraveling just who was responsible for building their new home. Ultimately, this case stemmed from an error by the City of Tupelo’s Permit Manager Marilyn Vail in handling the withdrawal of one licensed contractor and mistakenly substituting the name of another licensed contractor, when in actuality, a licensed contractor was not working on the home. The circuit court held a bench trial and awarded $9,319.23 in damages to repair the home and $105,894.39 in legal fees related to another case involving the construction but denied the McMillins’ request for attorneys’ fees in this case. The City appealed, and the McMillins cross-appealed. After review, the Supreme Court concluded that the circuit court erred in finding that the City was not immune from liability. The Court therefore reversed the circuit court’s judgment and render judgment in favor of the City. View "City of Tupelo v. McMillin" on Justia Law