Mississippi Litigation Review & Commentary

Mississippi Litigation Review & Commentary

Comments on the Latest Developments in Mississippi Civil Litigation

For Mississippi native son and attorney Philip Thomas, blogging about law, politics and topical issues in the state extends a conversation he’s been... More

$2.5 Million Verdict in Asbestos Drilling Mud Case, But only 10% Fault to Defendant

Posted in Verdicts in Mississippi

It’s pretty borderline whether I have enough information to post about this verdict, but what the heck.

There was an asbestos drilling mud trial over the last couple of weeks before Circuit Judge Lamar Pickard in Jefferson County. The trial resulted in a $2.5 million verdict, but only 10% of the fault was apportioned to the Defendant Union Carbide. This will presumably lead to a judgment of $250,000.

It’s also my understanding that Judge Pickard denied Plaintiff’s request for a punitive instruction.

Patrick Malouf, Alan Hossley and Dennis Sweet represented the Plaintiff. Forman Perry (not sure who), Robert Johnson and another unknown out-of-state lawyer represented Union Carbide.

My Take:

Hard to tell who won that one. Sounds kind of like a tie.

The Plaintiff might not be excited about a $250,000 verdict in a case with high expenses due to expert witnesses. But it beats a complete loss.

For the Defendant, its $250,000 plus defense costs, which are typically large for that kind of case.

It would be interesting to know if there were any pre-trial settlement negotiations and how the verdict compares to settlement ranges.

October Miss. Jury Verdict Reporter Preview

Posted in Verdicts in Mississippi

Here is a preview of the verdicts detailed in the September issue of the Mississippi Jury Verdict Reporter:

  • $500,000 verdict- Hinds County slip-and-fall case discussed here (9/10/14);
  • $200,000 verdict (but plaintiff 50% fault)- Tunica County pedestrian-vehicle accident outside casino;
  • $150,000 verdict- Jackson federal court employment due process case (8/20/14);
  • $30,000 verdict- Harrison County uninsured motorist car wreck case (9/12/14);
  • defense verdict- Lafayette County medical malpractice case alleging OB-gyn negligence (8/6/14);
  • defense verdict- Madison County alienation of affection case (9/4/14); and
  • defense verdict- Jackson County insurance agent negligence case (3/21/14).

My Take:

A defense verdict in an alienation of affection trial? I didn’t know that was possible.

Shannon Ragland’s description of the case is worth the yearly subscription for the MJVR. One excerpt: “he suggested that his relationship with Denise was not a hot and ongoing affair, but instead just an occasional fling and not Denise’s only one at that.”

Congratulations on your big win! By the way, you’re fired.

Posted in General

The ABA Journal headline told the story:

Litigation success brings layoffs for 17 attorneys at law firm representing Halliburton

Yep. One of the sad facts of Defense law: you can work yourself out of a job. 

From the article about Godwin Lewis’ layoff of 23 firm employees:

When you are handling major litigation, as we typically do at Godwin Lewis, someday that litigation is going to be over and adjustments will be made,” said Donald Godwin, who serves as chairman and CEO. “We kept people here as long as we could … but as those needs subsided, we needed to make adjustments.” 

He said the firm had opted to hire the litigation team rather than bring in contract workers so those hired could receive full benefits. Although Godwin Lewis, which has 45 lawyers in three Texas offices, is still representing Halliburton, the firm simply didn’t need as many attorneys after the Deepwater Horizon litigation slowed down. 

It had to let some lawyers go even though they were “A-team quality,” Godwin told the legal publication, adding: “It was a tough day for all of those people involved. It was a tough day for all of us.

My Take:

I tip my hat to Mr. Godwin for speaking the truth. That’s just the way it works.

If you’re working on just one case and that case ends, you might be out of a job. At a minimum, the revenue stream from that case is over. That’s probably not good news for the firm’s bottom line.

Settling a huge case can be scary for a defense lawyer. Even if it was a great result, the reward is less work and revenue.

On the plaintiff/ contingency-fee side, there are also mixed emotions. But they are different: relief that the case is over, but often doubt about whether the best outcome was obtained.

$600,000 Verdict Against City of Jackson in Retaliation Case

Posted in U.S. District Courts in Mississippi, Verdicts in Mississippi

A federal court jury in Jackson rendered a $600,000 verdict on October 2, 2014 in Hewitt v. City of Jackson. Here is the Clarion-Ledger article on the verdict. Here is the verdict form.

From the Clarion-Ledger article:

Don Hewitt, whose Advanced Technology Building Solutions group was looking to take on the two projects, this week was awarded $600,000 by a jury that found city officials serving under former mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. violated Hewitt’s free-speech rights by blocking his effort to convert the bank building into a development featuring a 120-room hotel, 33 apartments and 32,000 square feet of retail space. Those plans later were changed by Hewitt to place greater emphasis on multifamily housing. 

As those plans were taking shape in 2011, ATBS also partnered with a Texas company that year to bid on building the convention center hotel. That bid and a second one each were rejected, and the hotel has yet to be built. The lawsuit contended Johnson abruptly withdrew his conceptual support of the Deposit Guaranty redevelopment shortly after the hotel project bid.

Nick Norris and Louis Watson, Jr. of Jackson represented the plaintiff. Claire Barker and Gail Lowery represented the City.

District Judge Louis Guirola presided in the case.

$65,000 Verdict in Aberdeen Federal Court Retaliation, A.D.A. Trial

Posted in U.S. District Courts in Mississippi, Verdicts in Mississippi

On September 20, 2014 a federal court jury in Aberdeen rendered a $65,000 plaintiff’s verdict in Mitchell v. City of Tupelo. Here is the Verdict Form.

Here is WTVA’s article on the verdict. From the article:

A former bailiff [Latisha Mitchell] with the Tupelo Municipal Court has won a legal ruling against the city in U. S. District Court. 

A federal jury awarded Latisha Mitchell $65,000 after finding the city retaliated against her for filing a discrimination charge against the city after she was injured on the job. 

Mitchell received $35,000 in lost wages and $30,000 for anxiety in the jury verdict following a trial last week. 

The jury rejected a claim of disability discrimination….

She contends the city should have done more to change her duties after she [injured her back and neck while saving a 250-pound prisoner who was hanging himself]. 

The verdict allows Mitchell to file a motion for front pay and attorney’s fees.

Jim Waide and Rachel Pierce Waide of Waide & Associates in Tupelo represented the plaintiff. John Hill and Stephen Spencer with Mitchell McNutt & Sams in Tupelo represented the city.

Judge Sharion Aycock presided in  the case.

My Take:

The North Mississippi defense bar is in big trouble if Jim Waide ever decides to retire.

Miss. Supreme Court Reinstates $1.1 Million Jury Verdict

Posted in Mississippi Supreme Court

Last week in a 5-3 split, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed a trial court JNOV and reinstated a jury verdict of $1,161,000 in Cheeks v. Autozone, Inc. Here is the Court’s opinion.

Here is my 2012 post on the verdict. The original verdict was for $2,580,000 with 55% fault apportioned to the plaintiff.

From my 2012 post:

The plaintiff was hit by a car while walking on a sidewalk in front of an AutoZone store. Plaintiff sued the driver and AutoZone, which argued that it could not be held liable. Here is the trial court’s order denying AutoZone’s motion to dismiss.

It’s my understanding that the plaintiff had $300,000 in medical bills.

The plaintiff settled with the driver before trial.

Justice Randolph wrote the majority opinion joined by Justices Lamar, Kitchens, Chandler and King. The majority reasoned that the verdict was proper because the jury found that AutoZone created an unsafe condition that proximately caused or contributed to plaintiff’s injury.

Chief Justice Waller wrote a dissent joined by Justices Dickinson and Pierce. Justice Coleman did not participate. The dissent believed that the JNOV was proper because the injury was not foreseeable to AutoZone as a matter of law.

My Take:

This decision will get a lot of water cooler talk by Mississippi lawyers who pay attention. The decision is a major blow to defense lawyers and their clients who go to mediation and proclaim that the Mississippi Supreme Court is one-sided and a place where plaintiff verdicts go to die.

However, it’s not all good news for the plaintiffs. Some would argue that the dissent exhibits a willingness by the Court to substitute its opinion for that of the jury on a fact question (foreseeability, in this case).

Decisions like this create uncertainty for litigants. Uncertainty is good because it promotes settlements.

It’s my opinion that civil defendants who think they are guaranteed to win on appeal are extremely foolish. There are no guarantees in litigation. You can always lose.

An opinion like this is a wake-up call for people who don’t share my opinion.

$10.5 Million Jury Verdict in Retrial of Products Liability Case

Posted in Verdicts in Mississippi

I’m hearing reports of a $10.5 million jury verdict in Coahoma County on Friday in Applewhite v. Hyundai Motor America. The case was originally tried in 2008 with a $4.5 million plaintiff verdict.

In 2011 the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the trial court and remanded the case for a new trial. Here is the Court’s unanimous opinion. The basis for the reversal was plaintiff’s failure to timely supplement expert opinions.

The retrial was last week, with a $10.5 million plaintiff verdict. I do not have the breakdown of damages or know if they will be impacted by the caps. I’ve received little information on the verdict thus far.

Plaintiffs’ counsel included Dennis Sweet, Terris Harris, Ralph Chapman and Dan Czmanske.

My Take:

That’s a thing about appealing plaintiff verdicts. There is no guarantee of a better result on retrial.

Parties Settle in Caps Challenge Case

Posted in Mississippi Supreme Court, Tort Reform

Those legal nerds observers looking forward to the big oral argument Wednesday in the case where the trial judge ruled that Mississippi’s damages caps are unconstitutional will be disappointed with this: the Court cancelled oral arguments. Here is the updated docket calendar. It states that the Court cancelled oral argument on September 16.

On September 17 the parties filed a joint motion to stay the appeal. The motion states that the parties settled.

Here is my 2012 post about Judge Charles Webster’s ruling that the caps are unconstitutional.

My Take:

The caps live to live or die another day. I don’t know when the Mississippi Supreme Court will ever have to weigh in on the caps. But whoever took the ‘over’ won.

The Court heard oral argument on  the issue in 2011 in the Sears v. Learmonth case. Here is my report from that oral argument, which you can probably still watch online. It was not a particularly hot bench for that argument.

A boring oral argument is, well, pretty boring. I had already pegged this oral argument likely to fall in that category and wasn’t even planning to watch it.

And since the caps issue somehow manages to never be decided by the Court, this is unsurprising.

The practical effect is that Mississippi still has caps. Just like it has for the last 10 years for personal injury and 12 years for medical malpractice.

Wow!!! Have we really had caps for half my career?

It was so much funner in the pre-cap days. I’m not far from frequenting watering holes so I can espouse on how things were so much better back in the day.

The Truth Hurts

Posted in Mississippi Court of Appeals

On September 16, 2014 the Mississippi Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the Neilson v. Dawson defamation case. Here is the Court’s opinion. Here is a 2011 post on the case.

The case originated from the book Kings of Tort. The book details the investigation of the 2009 judicial bribery scandal. The Northern District U.S. attorney’s office did not trust the local FBI agent (Neilson) and felt it necessary to conduct the investigation without Neilson knowing about it. Feeling defamed, Neilson sued. 

The Defendants moved for summary judgment. Defendants supported their motion with affidavits from Dawson, the former U.S. Attorney and the former Chief of the Criminal Division for the Northern District explaining why they believed that Neilson was not trustworthy.

In response to the motion for summary judgment, Neilson produced no evidence in support of his claim.

A unanimous Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal because Neilson failed to meet his burden of showing a genuine issue of fact.

Chief Judge Lee wrote the Court’s opinion.

My Take:

I guess this shows that the truth does hurt.

More From the Lawyers Shouldn’t File Stuff Like this Chronicles

Posted in Gulf Oil Spill Litigation

As if getting crushed in the BP Oil Spill litigation wasn’t enough, District Judge Carl Barbier is calling out BP’s lawyers for cheating by sneakily exceeding the Court’s 35-page brief limit. My favorite article on the ruling is from the Christian Science Monitor. From the article:

The BP legal team had tried to reduce the line spacing in a brief to sneak six extra pages in without exceeding the page limit. US District Court Judge Carl Barbier (a double-spacing purist? a stickler for formatting?) was unimpressed.

“Counsel’s tactic would not be appropriate for a college term paper,” Judge Barbier wrote in a ruling Monday. “It certainly is not appropriate here.”

****

“BP’s counsel filed a brief that, at first blush, appeared just within the 35-page limit. A closer study reveals that BP’s counsel abused the page limit by reducing the line spacing to slightly less than double-spaced,” Judge Barbier wrote. “As a result, BP exceeded the (already enlarged) page limit by roughly six pages.”

My Take:

I’d love to have a video of the BP lawyers high-fiving when they came up with the crafty ploy to sneak in a few extra pages.

“Hey S. Steven the 3rd, look at this, reducing the spacing to 1.75 gets us an extra six pages.” “Wow, that’s awesome R. Biff! Judge Barbier is sure to buy our aurguments when we overwhelm him with six extra pages of brilliant legal writing.”

“Yea, we’re awesome. That’s why we make the big bucks and work on the 53rd floor of a big city office building. Let’s go tell the other forty-six lawyers in the firm billing on the case how smart we are.”