Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of Mississippi
Hardaway v. Howard Industries, Inc.
In the case before the Supreme Court of Mississippi, Vince Hardaway brought an action against his employer, Howard Industries, Inc., claiming bad faith denial of his workers’ compensation benefits for temporary partial disability due to carpal tunnel syndrome. Howard Industries had contracted CorVel Enterprise, a third-party claims administrator, to manage workers’ compensation claims. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Howard Industries, finding that the company's conduct did not constitute gross negligence or an independent tort.On appeal, the Supreme Court of Mississippi affirmed the trial court's decision. The court found that under Mississippi Code Section 71-3-125(1), Howard Industries was permitted to delegate its duty to administer employee workers’ compensation claims to CorVel. The Court also determined that Hardaway failed to provide sufficient evidence that Howard Industries acted with actual malice or gross negligence in denying his benefits. Therefore, his claims did not survive summary judgment. The court held that any failure to pay benefits by Howard Industries under these circumstances did not amount to gross negligence. View "Hardaway v. Howard Industries, Inc." on Justia Law
Jackson Public School District v. Jackson Federation of Teachers, et al.
Jackson Federation of Teachers (JFT) filed a complaint against the Jackson Public School District (JPS), alleging alleged that certain JPS policies violated the free speech rights of its employees. The trial court: (1) denied JPS’s motion to dismiss for lack of standing; (2) denied JPS’s motion to dismiss for mootness; (3) found that JPS’s three policies were in violation of article 3, section 11, and article 3, section 13, of the Mississippi Constitution; and (4) issued a permanent injunction enjoining JPS from enforcing the policies. JPS timely appealed. Because JFT failed to establish standing, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s decision and rendered judgment in favor of JPS. View "Jackson Public School District v. Jackson Federation of Teachers, et al." on Justia Law
Howard Industries, Inc. v. Hayes
The Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Commission imposed a $1,000 sanction against an employer’s attorney for submitting misleading documentation to an Administrative Judge (AJ). The Court of Appeals affirmed the sanction and the Commission’s award of permanent disability benefits to the employee. On certiorari review, the Luisiana Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals that the sanction should have been affirmed. View "Howard Industries, Inc. v. Hayes" on Justia Law
Virden v. Campbell Delong, LLP, et al.
A Mississippi circuit court granted law firm Campbell DeLong, LLP, a declaratory judgment against a former partner of the firm, Britt Virden, who had alleged breach of contract, among other claims. Virden appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. On certiorari review, the Supreme Court found that Virden’s prewithdrawal claims were not precluded by a signed agreement, which only came into operation in the event of death, termination, withdrawal, or retirement of a partner. The Supreme Court therefore reversed the appellate and circuit court judgments and remanded the case for the circuit court to allow Virden an opportunity to maintain an action against his former firm for breach of an implied contract regarding partner compensation. View "Virden v. Campbell Delong, LLP, et al." on Justia Law
Mississippi State Agencies Self-Insured Workers’ Compensation Trust v. Herrgott
Defendant Alex Herrgott, was driving a four-seat Polaris all-terrain vehicle at night down a gravel road when he “overcorrected” trying to avoid a pothole. The ATV overturned, and Joseph MacNabb, a passenger, was severely injured. Since MacNabb was a state employee in the course and scope of his employment, he received workers’ compensation benefits from the Mississippi State Agencies Self-Insured Workers’ Compensation Trust. The Trust later initiated this litigation in an attempt to recover more than $300,000 in benefits paid for MacNabb’s injury. The circuit court ultimately granted summary judgment to Herrgott because the Trust’s Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 30(b)(6) representative could not articulate a legal theory entitling it to recover. The Mississippi Supreme Court found there was sufficient evidence of Herrgott’s negligence for the case to go to trial, and the deposition testimony of a lay witness should not have bound the Trust as to which legal theories it could pursue. The Supreme Court therefore reversed the summary judgment and remanded the case for trial. View "Mississippi State Agencies Self-Insured Workers' Compensation Trust v. Herrgott" on Justia Law
Wallace v. Mississippi
On April 7, 2020, Matthew Wallace was hired by the Centreville Police Department, located in the Town of Centreville, Mississippi. In 2021, Wallace was dispatched with a Town of Centreville certified police officer, to a scene involving multiple juveniles riding all-terrain vehicles in the town limits. An altercation occurred; at some point during the altercation, Wallace went to the patrol unit to retrieve the police-issued pepper spray. Upon returning to the scene, Wallace released the pepper spray. Sometime following the incident, one of the juveniles and his mother filed charges against Wallace for simple assault on a minor. The issue presented for the Mississippi Supreme Court's review centered around a probable cause hearing pursuant to Mississippi Code Section 99-3-28. Before the hearing, the State petitioned the circuit court to determine whether Wallace was entitled to a probable cause hearing, alleging Wallace was not a sworn law enforcement officer. At the hearing, the circuit determined that Wallace was not a sworn law enforcement officer and, therefore, was not entitled to a probable cause hearing. Wallace moved the circuit court for a probable cause hearing for the same underlying incident. The circuit court denied the motion, finding, again, that Wallace was not a sworn law enforcement officer and, therefore, was not entitled to a probable cause hearing under Section 99-3-28. Wallace appealed. The Supreme Court held that a law enforcement officer who is not certified pursuant to Mississippi Code Section 45-6-11(3)(a) is not entitled to a probable cause hearing under Mississippi Code Section 99-3-28(1)(a)(i). Further, the Court held Wallace was not entitled to a probable cause hearing under Section 99-3-28(1)(a)(i) because he was not a law enforcement officer as defined by Mississippi Code Section 45-6-3(c). View "Wallace v. Mississippi" on Justia Law
White v. Targa Downstream, LLC
Andy White, an independent contractor, worked for Ergon Trucking, Inc. (Ergon), loading and hauling chemicals. Another Ergon, Inc., subsidiary, Lampton-Love, Inc., contracted with Targa Downstream, LLC to store Lampton-Love’s propane at Targa’s facility in Petal, Mississippi. Targa owned and operated the facility in Petal, which consisted of propane storage as well as equipment to load and unload the propane. Prior to operating the propane loading equipment at the Targa facility and hauling the propane, White was required to load and unload the trailer with propane during several supervised training sessions. White testified he operated the Targa loading equipment exactly as he had done on all previous occasions but that when he was returning the Targa hose to its resting tray, the valve on the Targa hose opened, and liquified propane began spilling out of the hose. White testified that he tackled the hose, grabbed the detachable handle, placed it back on the Targa hose valve and, eventually, closed the valve, stopping the flow of propane. Following the incident, White stated he left the Targa facility with no feeling or indication that he had been injured by coming in contact with the liquified propane. White went to the Ergon yard, removed his “propane soaked clothes,” took a shower and put on fresh clothes. White then proceeded to his trailer to complete the propane delivery. White did not seek medical attention until the following day, January 15, 2017. By the time White did seek medical treatment, he stated that blisters had formed on his legs and that he was in excruciating pain. This case presented for the Mississippi Supreme Court's review an issue of the scope of the intimately connected doctrine, which immunizes a premises owner against claims of an independent contractor for injuries that arise out of or are intimately connected with the work that the independent contractor was hired to perform. The circuit court granted Targa's second summary judgment motion based on this doctrine. The circuit court initially denied Targa’s first motion, holding that a genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether Targa modified its equipment in a manner that constituted a dangerous condition and whether White knew or should have known of the alleged dangerous condition. After a careful review of the law, the Supreme Court reversed the circuit court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Targa and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "White v. Targa Downstream, LLC" on Justia Law
Saunders v. National Collegiate Athletic Association
A Mississippi trial court dismissed David Saunders’s claims against the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) based on judicial estoppel because Saunders did not list these claims in his prior Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Until December 2010, Saunders served as football operations coordinator at the University of Mississippi. From January 2011 to October 2014, Saunders worked as an assistant football coach for the University of Louisiana. Based on Saunders’s alleged rule violations while at each institution, the NCAA conducted separate investigations and enforcement proceedings against both schools. The NCAA concluded Saunders had violated NCAA rules while at Louisiana. As punishment, the NCAA issued a show-cause directive to any NCAA member institution that may want to employ Saunders in an athletics position from January 2016 to January 2024. Saunders retained an attorney to represent him in NCAA proceedings. The attorney insisted financial strain prevented Saunders from traveling to defend himself personally. After a second show-cause directive, Saunders and his attorney discussed suing the NCAA, but at that time he did not pursue a lawsuit. Months later, Saunders filed a voluntary petition for Chapter 7 bankruptcy averring he had no claims against third parties. Saunders received a bankruptcy discharge in July 2018. Almost two years later, Saunders sued the NCAA: it was not until another football coach sued the NCAA, and made it past the summary judgment stage, that Saunders believed he had an actual shot at taking on the NCAA in court. The NCAA simultaneously filed an answer and a motion for summary judgment. In both, it asserted Saunders’s claims were barred by the doctrine of judicial estoppel because Saunders had not disclosed these claims against the NCAA in his 2018 bankruptcy proceedings. The court ruled that Saunders’s claims against the NCAA belonged to Saunders’s bankruptcy estate, so the bankruptcy trustee was substituted as the real party in interest and plaintiff in the action. Further, while judicial estoppel did not bar the trustee from pursuing these claims for the benefit of the bankruptcy estate, Saunders himself was barred by judicial estoppel from pursuing his claims against the NCAA, including the declaratory-relief claim abandoned by the bankruptcy trustee. The Mississippi Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred for two reasons: (1) the trial judge erred by estopping Saunders from pursuing this type of declaratory relief; and (2) it was error for the trial court to presume Saunders should be estopped based on his mere knowledge of the facts giving rise to his claims against the NCAA, coupled with his failure to list these claims on his bankruptcy schedule. View "Saunders v. National Collegiate Athletic Association" on Justia Law
Watercolor Salon, LLC v. Hixon
A Mississippi trial court denied Watercolor Salon LLC’s motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction filed against Watercolor’s former employee Nealie Hixon. The motion was based on an employment, confidentiality, and noncompetition agreement. Because Nealie was twenty years old and thus legally a minor when she entered the agreement, the trial court held the agreement was unenforceable. On appeal, Watercolor argues its employment agreement meets the statutory exception that permits minors eighteen years or older to enter into enforceable contracts “affecting personal property.” The Mississippi Supreme Court found Watercolor's logic was flawed and stretched the statutory minor disability exception too far. "Just because an employment contract restricts an employee from taking intellectual property or covers what happens upon breach or termination does not completely change the fundamental nature of the contract. And here the fundamental nature of the contract was a noncompetition agreement that Nealie would give up her ability to work in a certain geographical area for a fixed time in exchange for continued employment at a higher hourly wage. So this employment contract was simply a contract affecting Nealie’s right to work, not her personal property. Thus, the statutory exception does not apply. And because Nealie disaffirmed the contract, it is unenforceable against her." The Court affirmed the denial of Watercolor's motion for injunctive relief, which was based solely on the unenforceable agreement. Whether Watercolor had any remaining claims against Nealie that were not based on the contract, such as the taking of trade secrets, remained to be determined on remand. View "Watercolor Salon, LLC v. Hixon" on Justia Law
Thornhill v. Walker-Hill Environmental, et al.
In 2017, Jeremy Thornhill said that he had injured his back while working. He sought workers’ compensation benefits from his employer, Walker-Hill and its insurance carrier, Zurich American Insurance Company of Illinois, but the Employer/Carrier denied that Thornhill had sustained a compensable injury. Ultimately, the parties agreed to compromise and settled pursuant to Mississippi Code Section 71-3-29 (Rev. 2021). Thornhill submitted the settlement to the Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Commission for approval. After examining the application, the Commission approved the settlement and dismissed Thornhill’s case with prejudice. Pursuant to the settlement, Thornhill signed a general release, which reserved his right to pursue a bad faith claim. Believing he had exhausted his administrative remedies, Thornhill filed a bad faith suit against the Employer/Carrier; the Employer/Carrier moved to dismiss the case, arguing the circuit court lacked jurisdiction because the Commission never made a factual finding that he was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. The trial court concurred it lacked jurisdiction and dismissed the case. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, finding that Thornhill had exhausted his administrative remedies and that the circuit court had jurisdiction to hear his bad faith claim. The appeals court determined that “Thornhill exhausted his administrative remedies because he fully and finally settled his workers’ compensation claim against the Employer/Carrier, the Commission approved the settlement, and there is nothing left pending before the Commission.” To this, the Mississippi Supreme Court agreed. The circuit court judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Thornhill v. Walker-Hill Environmental, et al." on Justia Law