In a 5–4 decision on Thursday, the Mississippi Supreme Court issued its opinion in Jones v. Fluor, holding that a one-year statute of limitations applies to the claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress. Justice Pierce wrote the Court’s opinion and was joined by Chief Justice Waller and Justices Carlson, Randolph and Chandler.
Here is the Clarion-Ledger article on the case, which got the number of votes wrong (6–3).
The applicable statute is Miss. Code Ann. 15–1–35, which lists a one year deadline for filing actions for “assault and battery, maiming, false imprisonment, malicious arrest, or menace, and all actions for slanderous words concerning the person or title, for failure to employ, and for libels…”
The statute does not say that there is also a one year statute of limitations for actions “like these”, but that is what the court found.
Justice Dickinson dissented and was joined by Justices Lamar, and Kitchens. Justice Kitchens wrote a separate dissent joined by Justice Graves and Justice Dickinson, in part.
Justice Dickinson’s dissent states that intentional infliction of emotional distress “clearly is not subject to the one-year statute of limitations” because the statute “specifically lists the intentional torts to which it applies.” The dissent also observes:
It requires no analysis or particular legal insight to observe that the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress is not included in the language chosen by the Legislature.
Justice Dickinson’s dissent is very persuasive. I’m surprised that his opinion was not for a unanimous court.
My biggest criticism of the majority’s holding is that it makes life difficult for lawyers. If the majority can read words that are not there into this statute, then it can do it in other statutes. It is not fair to lawyers or their clients that they have to figure out what language the Court believes should be in a statute, but isn’t.
I don’t have a problem with there being a one year deadline for intentional infliction of emotional distress actions. Typically, it is just a throw-in claim with the real claim at issue in a case. But if it’s going to be a one year deadline, then the statute should list the claim. It does not and Justice Dickinson is dead on.
Justices Kitchens and Graves opined that the defendant waived the statute of limitations defense.
The Court is slowly developing an irreconcilably inconsistent body of law on the issue of waiver of affirmative defenses. In some cases the court finds a waiver based on the passing of a certain amount of time. In other cases, it finds no waiver for similar or longer amounts of time. Efforts to distinguish the different cases are un-persuasive. It appears that what the Court is really doing is basing its waiver decisions on subjective feelings about who should win the case. I’m not saying that is what the Court is actually doing. But that is how it’s starting to look—and that’s a problem.