Mississippi Litigation Review & Commentary

Mississippi Litigation Review & Commentary

Comments on the Latest Developments in Mississippi Civil Litigation

Philip is a trial attorney based in Jackson, Mississippi with a diverse civil litigation practice.

Special Education Law Conference & CLE is July 16

Posted in General

The Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities presents its 5th annual Special Education Law Conference and CLE on July 16, 2019 at the Mississippi College School of Law.

Families of Mississippi’s children who need special education services are sometimes forced to fight for appropriate services.  The Coalition’s CLE is part of the organization’s effort to expand legal services throughout Mississippi so families won’t have to fight alone.

The cost of the program is $175 for attorneys, $150 for non-attorneys and $75 for students.

Here is the conference flyer and registration form.

Here is the conference Agenda.

The program offers 6.5 hours of CLE credit.

You can register here.

June 2019 Miss. Jury Verdict Reporter Preview

Posted in Verdicts in Mississippi

Here is a preview of the June 2019 issue of the Miss. Jury Verdict Reporter:

  • $3,391,500 verdict- Jackson federal court racial discrimination case covered here (5/14/19);
  • $1,468,000 verdict- Harrison County premises liability case (5/24/19);
  • $1 million verdict- Hinds County civil rights case reported here; (5/21/19);
  • $339,104 verdict- Washington County car wreck case covered here (5/16/19);
  • defense verdict- Clay County negligent security case (5/2/19);
  • defense verdict- Lamar County medical malpractice case (5/21/19); and
  • defense verdict- Warren County premises liability case (5/24/19).

My Take:

Wow on the Harrison County premises verdict. It included $1 million in punitive damages against JC Penny. I hadn’t heard about it. That’s impressive. Congratulations to Plaintiff’s attorney Mariano Barvie and his firm.

It’s about that time of the year for me. The mountains are calling, my daughter has to get to and from camp and my wife is gearing up for the crucial 6-minute walk test at Mayo.

I expect this to be my last post until sometime in August.

I Called It: Judge Sul Ozerden Nominated to 5th Circuit Court of Appeals

Posted in 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, National Politics, Politics in Mississippi

For readers who don’t know me, that post title….it’s called sarcasm. I posted many times that Mississippi lost this seat.

I was wrong that Mississippi would lose the seat. But I was not making up what I posted.  I heard more specific information I didn’t post that backed it up. I believe Texans were after the seat and sponsored unfair attacks on Mississippi candidates, including, but not limited to, Judge Ozerden.

I’m proud of Senators Wicker and Hyde-Smith for getting this nomination approved by the President. I’m sure it involved a lot of behind the scenes politicking.

A nomination is not a confirmation, so I’m not going to count it as one. The Senators now have to secure the confirmation.

But the prospects of a 5th Circuit Judge from Gulfport is a big deal for my hometown–a much bigger deal than people not in the legal profession probably realize.

Best I can tell, Judge Ozerden would be the first 5th Circuit Judge from the Coast. That’s a big deal for a region of the state that often feels looked down upon by folks north of, what? Hattiesburg?

It’s a fitting reward for someone with the education and credentials that Mississippi usually loses in ‘brain drain.’

$1.5 Million Verdict in Lamar County Business Dispute Trial

Posted in Verdicts in Mississippi

On Wednesday a Lamar County jury returned a $1.5 million verdict in Hinton v. Rolison. The case involved a partnership in a car dealership.

Here is the Complaint.

Here is the Verdict.

Lici Beveridge’s article in the Hattiesburg American reported on the verdict here. From the article:

Hinton claimed in his lawsuit that he was an equal partner in the business, having purchased, financed and sold cars on behalf of the business. 

Rolison denied the partnership ever existed and claimed Hinton did nothing for the business, attorney Clark Hicks said in an email. Hicks and Lane Dossett of Hicks’ law firm represented Hinton at trial.

Rolison instead argued that Hinton was only a car wholesaler from whom he purchased cars. 

Hinton filed a lawsuit against Rolison in 2013, saying Rolison refused to give him his share of the profits and would not give him access to business records.

The partnership was based on a handshake agreement, Hicks said, with no contract in writing. However, the men had a lease agreement that stated the men were equal partners.

Rolison argued the lease agreement was a forgery.

The parties have a long and storied litigation history.  In 2012, Hinton discovered that Rolison had drafted and recorded a deed transferring the car lot out of Hinton’s children’s names to Rolison.  A lawsuit was filed in the Lamar County Chancery Court to set aside the deed, which resulted in a settlement.  However, Hinton remained obligated on the mortgage, which he could not refinance because title was not in his name.  The property proceeded to a foreclosure sale.  Hinton and Rolison’s attorneys both appeared at the foreclosure sale.  The courthouse auction resulted in a large surplus, with Rolison’s attorneys ultimately winning the bid.

A second lawsuit was filed between Hinton and Rolison over ownership of the surplus.  Hinton claimed ownership as the obligated party under the deed of trust and note and Rolison claimed ownership as the title owner of the property.  This case was appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court and decided as an issue of first impression in Hinton v. Rolison, 175 So.3d 1281 (Miss. 2015).  Rolison prevailed and took the surplus.

Before the settlement of the land dispute, Hinton filed a third lawsuit against Rolison in the Lamar County Circuit Court over the partnership dispute.  Hinton claimed Rolison squeezed him out of the Lincoln Road Autoplex business, in which he was an equal partner.  Rolison filed a 12(b)(6) motion seeking to dismiss the Circuit Court partnership dispute claiming that the settlement of the land dispute also settled the business dispute. The Court agreed and dismissed the case.  But the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed in Hinton v. Rolison, 175 So.3d 1252 (Miss. 2015), finding that the settlement agreement expressly excluded the business dispute.

Before the trial the Plaintiff made a $750,000 settlement offer, but the Defendant did not respond.

Lane Dossett with Hicks Law Firm, PLLC tried the case for the Plaintiff. Jennifer Johnson and Carroll Ingram of the Ingram Law Firm in Hattiesburg and John Corlew of Corlew, Mumford and Smith tried the case for the Defendant.

Circuit Judge Claiborne “Buddy” McDonald presided.

My Take:

Based on the reporting, the case boiled down to a swearing match. Sounds like the Plaintiff correctly valued a swearing match for settlement purposes and the Defendant wanted to gamble.

Defense Verdict in Benton County Funeral Procession Case

Posted in Verdicts in Mississippi

On May 31 a Benton County jury rendered a defense verdict in Key v. H.C. Jett – H.C. Ford & Sons Funeral Home.

The case involved a car wreck on Highway 72. It’s a four-lane, divided highway.  The plaintiff was stopped in the highway with other vehicles waiting for a funeral procession to pass.  He was rear-ended by an approaching vehicle and suffered catastrophic injuries, including an undisputed traumatic brain injury.  The parties agreed on the nature and extent of the injuries and stipulated to over $14,000,000.00 in economic damages.

Liability was disputed.  Plaintiff claimed the funeral procession’s hearse driver caused the accident by leading the funeral procession into the highway, which blocked traffic. Plaintiff also argued the funeral procession was improperly escorted by a private escort service, instead of law enforcement with insufficient notice of the funeral procession to approaching traffic.  The funeral home and its owners were the only defendants at the time of trial.

After a four-day trial, the jury returned defense verdict. Here is the Verdict Form.

Charlie Merkel and Charles Merkel with Merkel and Cocke in Clarksdale and Rebecca Blair with the Blair Law Firm in Nashville represented the plaintiff.

Trey Byars and Mitchell Driskell with Daniel, Coker, Horton and Bell in Oxford and Randy Fishman with Ballin, Ballin and Fishman in Memphis represented the funeral home defendants.

Circuit Judge Kelly Luther presided.

My Take:

I bet that trial was a slug-fest. All star lawyers on both sides and astronomical damages.

Those kind of trials are a lot of fun….when you win.

Miss. Supreme Court: You Better Not Fail the Bar Exam More Than Twice

Posted in Law School, Mississippi Supreme Court

Last week the Mississippi Supreme Court amended the Rules Governing Admission to the Mississippi Bar. Here is the Order.

Effective immediately, everyone who was admitted to practice without having to take the bar exam must pass the exam to continue practicing.

Just kidding old fellas.

Here is the new rule:

Section 8. Re-examination in Excess of Three.

An applicant who has unsuccessfully taken the Mississippi Bar Exam three (3) times shall not be eligible for re-examination until he or she has successfully completed at least twelve (12) additional semester hours of law school courses at an ABA accredited law school relevant to subjects covered by or skills necessary to the passage of the Mississippi Bar Examination. A certificate must be issued to the Board of Bar Admissions by the law school stating that the applicant has successfully completed these classes. Satisfaction of the requirement shall permit the applicant to retake the Mississippi Bar Examination on one (1) additional occasion. To be eligible for further re-examination, the applicant must comply with the requirements set forth above between each unsuccessful examination attempt.

The rule was not without disagreement. Justices Coleman and Chamberlin (in part) would not allow candidates who fail three times to retake the exam. Ever.

Justice Griffis advocates a maximum number of attempts of five and disagrees with law school serving as the only option for further education before another exam.

My Take:

I don’t have strong feelings on this issue.

Back when I knew people taking the bar exam, people generally failed because of poor time management studying, they were too nervous, or things really went bad on a subject or two. I don’t know what it’s like now.

My questions are: (1) how many people are there who fail the bar exam more than three times? and (2) do any of them ever pass.

If so, I wonder how many of them end up practicing law and saying: “I took the bar exam ___ times for this?”

I know a lot of people who passed the exam the first try who would say that.

May 2019 Miss. Jury Verdict Reporter Preview

Posted in Verdicts in Mississippi

Here is a preview of the May 2019 issue of the Miss. Jury Verdict Reporter:

  • $174,303 verdict- Hancock County insurance negligence/ failure to pay claim case (4/18/19);
  • $70,000 verdict- Gulfport Federal Court sexual harassment case reported here (5/1/19);
  • $37,000 verdict- Hattiesburg Federal Court uninsured motorist case (5/1/19);
  • $31,250 verdict- Oxford Federal Court civil rights case (5/1/19);
  • $1,700 verdict- Simpson County car wreck case (5/7/19);
  • defense verdict- Hinds County car wreck case (5/7/19);
  • defense verdict- Lauderdale County car wreck case (3/13/19);
  • defense verdict- Jackson County uninsured motorist case (4/3/19); and
  • defense verdict- Jackson Federal Court employment contract case (4/11/19).

My Take:

The math on tried contingency fee cases in Mississippi is bad. The average recovery for these nine cases was $34,917. Five of the 9 were $0, or close to it.

Assuming 40% contingency contracts for tried cases, these 9 cases generated $125,701 in revenue for plaintiffs’ counsel–an average of $13,966 per case. It’s hard to operate a law practice for less than $10,000 per month in overhead. If one attorney devoted a year to 9 similar cases, they would probably now be broke.

On average, the plaintiff lawyers on these cases made no income. That’s a hard way to not make any money.

Maybe the plaintiff will recover attorney fees in the sexual harassment case. But maybe defendants appeal some of the plaintiff verdicts.

There are a lot of lessons to be gleaned from stats like these.

$339,104 Verdict in Washington County Car Wreck Case

Posted in Verdicts in Mississippi

On May 16 a Washington County Circuit Court jury rendered a $339,104 verdict in Patton v. Hilpert.

The case involved a car wreck at the Sonic in Leland, MS. The defendant pulled over on the left side of the Sonic Drive-In exit before attempting to exit the driveway to throw away trash in the garbage can. At the same time, the plaintiff drove her vehicle along the right side of the defendant’s vehicle to make a right turn onto Highway 82. The defendant did not see the plaintiff’s vehicle immediately to his right and turned directly into the plaintiff, causing minor damage to her vehicle.

Liability was disputed despite the defendant admitting that he never saw plaintiff’s vehicle.

Plaintiff suffered a high grade partial tear of her left shoulder which led to three surgeries, six percent impairment rating, $80,871 in medical bills, and $8,233.32 in mileage expense.

The defendant disputed causation based on the minor impact. Plaintiff’s primary treating physician related the tear to the accident.

The jury deliberated for an hour and fifteen minutes before returning its verdict.

Ted Connell and Charlie Merkel with Merkel and Cocke in Clarksdale represented the plaintiff. Brandon Dorsey of Jackson represented the defendant.

Judge Richard Smith presided.

$1 Million Verdict in Hinds County Wrongful Death Case

Posted in Hinds County Circuit Court, Verdicts in Mississippi

Jimmy Gates with the Clarion-Ledger reported on a $1 million verdict in Hinds County on Friday in a case alleging Jackson police mishandled a 911 call:

A Hinds County Circuit Court jury has awarded $1 million to the family of a 67-year-old Jackson woman killed in 2014 after family members and others say Jackson police bungled the woman’s 911 call about a prowler.

“If they would have followed policy and procedures, more likely than not, it would have saved her life,” said attorney Dennis Sweet III, who represented Ruth Helen Harrion’s family members….

The lawsuit said that after Harrion called 911 to report a prowler, the dispatcher failed to keep her on the phone, failed to ask the location of the prowler and whether she could see the prowler. The suit also said officers dispatched to Harrion’s residence failed to make contact with her and failed to search the perimeter of the home prior to leaving the residence.

Alonzo Stewart, 33, is charged with capital murder in Harrion’s death. He confessed to the crime, according to authorities, and told police he was in Harrion’s home when the officers came and left.

Then-Jackson Police Chief Lindsey Horton said in 2014 that JPD mishandled the case. At the time, he told the Clarion Ledger that the two officers failed to thoroughly check the property from which the call had originated….

Dennis Sweet of Jackson represented the plaintiff. Assistant City Attorney Richard Davis represented the City.

Hinds Circuit Judge Adrienne Wooten presided in the case.

$3.3 Million Verdict in Jackson Federal Court Racial Discrimination Case

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

On Tuesday a federal court jury rendered a total verdict of $3.3 million in EEOC v. Danny’s Downtown Cabaret. Here is the Complaint.

The EEOC alleged Danny’s discriminated against five dancers on the basis of race. See the Complaint for details.

The trial began on May 6, 2019 and ended on May 14. The jury rendered a plaintiff verdict for:

  • $1.68 million- compensatory damages;
  • $130,550- back pay; and
  • $1.5 million- punitive damages.

I believe a cap applies to the damages verdict, but I do not know the particulars.

EEOC’s attorneys were Alysia Franklin, Christopher Wooley and Gerald Miller from its Birmingham office.

Danny’s attorney was William Walter of Hattiesburg. Walter was a late entry in the case.

District Judge Henry Wingate presided.