Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Mississippi
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Kimberlyn Seals and her counsels of record, Felecia Perkins, Jessica Ayers, and Derek D. Hopson, Sr., appealed a chancery court's: (1) Contempt Order entered on April 8, 2020; (2) the Temporary Order entered on April 28, 2020; (3) the Jurisdictional Final Judgment entered on June 16, 2020; (4) the Final Judgment on Motion for Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law entered on June 18, 2020; and (5) the Amended Final Judgment entered on June 18, 2020. Seals argued the chancellor lacked jurisdiction and erroneously found them to be in contempt of court. These orders arose out of a paternity suit filed by the father of Seals' child, born 2017. A hearing was set for April 7, 2020, but Seals sought a continuance. The motion was deemed untimely, and that the court expected Seals and her counsel to appear at the April 7 hearing. When Seals and her counsel failed to appear, the court entered the contempt orders at issue before the Mississippi Supreme Court. The Supreme Court: (1) affirmed the chancellor’s finding that Perkins and Ayers were in direct criminal contempt for their failure to appear at a scheduled April 7 hearing; (2) vacated the $3,000 sanction because it exceeded the penalties prescribed by statute; (3) affirmed the award of attorneys’ fees to opposing counsel; (4) found the chancellor erred in finding Hopson to be in direct criminal contempt for failing to appear - "Constructive criminal contempt charges require procedural safeguards of notice and a hearing;" and (5) found the chancellor erroneously found the attorneys to be in direct criminal contempt for violation of the September 2019 Temporary Order. "If proved, such acts are civil contempt." The matter was remanded for a determination of whether an indirect civil contempt proceeding should be commenced. View "Seals, et al. v. Stanton" on Justia Law

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While driving a forklift at work, Lori Chandler was hit by another forklift and injured. She retained Turner & Associates to file a workers’ compensation claim. But Turner & Associates failed to file her claim within the statute of limitations. Adding to that, the firm’s case manager engaged in a year-and-a-half-long cover-up, which included false assurances of settlement negotiations, fake settlement offers, and a forged settlement letter purporting to be from Chandler’s former employer. Because of this professional negligence, Chandler filed a legal malpractice action. The only issue at trial was damages. The trial judge, sitting as fact-finder, concluded that Chandler had suffered a compensable work-related injury—an injury that caused her to lose her job and left her unemployed for nearly two years. Based on her hourly wage, the trial judge determined, had Turner & Associates timely filed Chandler’s workers’ compensation claim, Chandler could have reasonably recovered $50,000 in disability benefits. So the trial judge awarded her $50,000 in compensatory damages. The trial judge also awarded Chandler $100,000 in punitive damages against the case manager due to her egregious conduct. The Court of Appeals affirmed the punitive-damages award. But the court reversed and remanded the compensatory-damages award. Essentially, the Court of Appeals held that Chandler had failed to present sufficient medical evidence to support a $50,000 workers’ compensation claim. The Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the appellate court: "Were this a workers’ compensation case, we might agree with the Court of Appeals. But this is a legal malpractice case. And part of what Chandler lost, due to attorney negligence, was her ability to prove her work-related injury led to her temporary total disability. ... the Court of Appeals erred by applying exacting statutory requirements for a workers’ compensation claim to Chandler’s common-law legal malpractice claim." The Court reversed on the issue of compensatory damages and reinstated the trial judge’s $50,000 compensatory-damages award. Because this was the only issue for which Chandler sought certiorari review, it affirmed the remainder of the Court of Appeals’ decision, which affirmed the punitive-damages award but reversed and remanded the grant of partial summary judgment against attorney Angela Lairy in her individual capacity. View "Turner & Associates, PLLC, et al. v. Chandler" on Justia Law

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After losing their bids for the November 2019 elections for Quitman County Chancery and Circuit Clerk, Shirley Smith Taylor and Tea “Windless” Keeler, respectively, filed election contests. In July 2020, following a two-day trial of the consolidated contests, the court entered its Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, dismissing the election contests with prejudice and finding that six enumerated claims brought by Taylor and Keeler were frivolous.Further, the court denied Brenda Wiggs’s and T.H. “Butch” Scipper’s requests that Taylor and Keeler be sanctioned, and that Wiggs and Scipper be awarded attorneys’ fees under Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 11(b) and the Litigation Accountability Act of 1988 (LAA). The Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed in part the circuit court’s denial of an award of attorneys’ fees under Rule 11(b) since the court’s decision was not an abuse of discretion. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded in part the circuit court’s decision to deny the imposition of sanctions and award of attorneys’ fees under the LAA in light of its finding that six of Taylor’s and Keeler’s claims were frivolous. View "In Re: Contest of the November 5, 2019 General Election for the Chancery Clerk of Quitman, Mississippi" on Justia Law

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A jury returned a $4 million verdict in favor of Plaintiff Jana Bracewell, Administratix of the Estate of Cameron Chase Hill, in a medical negligence/wrongful-death suit against Defendants, B. Michael Weber, M.D., and The OB-GYN Group of Laurel, P.A. Defendants appealed the judgment, claiming the trial court erred by denying their posttrial motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) or, in the alternative, a new trial. Plaintiff cross-appealed, claiming the trial court erred by reducing the jury’s noneconomic-damages award. Dr. Weber’s partner, Dr. Robert DeSantis, was Erica Shae Hill’s primary OB-GYN throughout her pregnancy. On November 23, 2001, Hill went into labor around 2:30 a.m.; she went to South Central Regional Medical Center in Laurel, Mississippi. Dr. Weber, who was on call for Dr. DeSantis that night, managed Hill’s care throughout labor, and he delivered Cameron Chase Hill by vaginal delivery at approximately 1:10 p.m. that afternoon. Cameron and Hill were discharged on November 25, 2001. The next day, Cameron was taken to Forrest General Hospital because he was not eating. Cameron ultimately was diagnosed with hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), a neurological injury resulting from lack of oxygen to the brain. According to Defendants, Cameron’s Forrest General Hospital records for his admission shortly after birth included a secondary diagnosis of “viral meningits – NOS.” Cameron lived only to age five. Plaintiff filed a complaint in December 2002 on behalf of Cameron, alleging negligence on the part of Dr. Weber and The OB-GYN Group of Laurel. The complaint claimed that Dr. Weber breached the applicable standard of care by failing to recognize, appreciate, and respond to the signs and symptoms of fetal distress, ischemia, and/or hypoxia during the labor and delivery of Cameron. The Mississippi Supreme Court found no error in the trial court’s decision to deny Defendants’ motion for a JNOV or a new trial. As to Plaintiff’s cross-appeal, the Court agreed that the trial court erred by reducing the jury’s noneconomic-damages award, given that this action was filed before September 1, 2004, the date the amended version of Section 11-1-60(2)(a) went into effect. View "Weber, et al. v. Estate of Hill" on Justia Law

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Judge Mark Watts of Jackson County, Mississippi acknowledged he made appearances or filed motions in nine cases in Jackson County Chancery Court more than six months after assuming office. He joined in the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance’s motion recommending a public reprimand and a fine of $2,500. To this, the Mississippi Supreme Court agreed and granted the Commission’s recommendation. View "Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance v. Watts" on Justia Law

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Following an investigation, the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance determined that Copiah County Justice Court Judge Teresa Bozeman had violated Canons 1, 2A, 2B, 3B(2), 3B(7), and 3C(1) of the Code of Judicial Conduct as well as Mississippi Code Section 9-11-9 (Rev. 2019). During her tenure on the bench, Judge Bozeman’s conduct resulted in violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct and Mississippi Code Section 9-11-9. Specifically, Judge Bozeman (1) initiated improper ex parte communications to investigate a pending civil matter, (2) failed to comply with the statutory limitations of money judgments in justice court, and (3) retaliated against a complainant who filed a complaint with the Commission. The Commission found that Judge Bozeman’s conduct constituted willful misconduct in office and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brought the judicial office into disrepute, actionable under article 6, section 177A, of the Mississippi Constitution. The Commission recommended that Judge Bozeman be suspended from office without pay for thirty days, be publicly reprimanded, and be fined $1,000. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court found the agreed recommendation was appropriate and commensurate with similar cases of misconduct. Thus, the joint motion was granted, and Judge Bozeman was suspended from office without pay for thirty days, was publicly reprimanded, and fined $1,000. View "Mississippi Comm'n on Judicial Perf. v. Bozeman" on Justia Law

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Bettye Turner invested approximately $2 million into a securities brokerage account that was created and managed by David Carrick, an investment broker then employed with Morgan Stanley Smith Barney (Morgan Stanley). Carrick later worked for Stern, Agee & Leach, Inc. (Stern Agee). Turner and Carrick signed an Account Application in order to transfer Turner’s funds to a Stern Agee account. The Account Application incorporated by reference a Client Account Agreement that contained an arbitration provision. Eventually, Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, Inc. (Stifel), acquired and merged with Stern Agee. Turner filed a lawsuit against Carrick and Stifel alleging negligent management and supervision of her investment account. Carrick and Stifel moved to compel arbitration. The trial court denied their motion to compel arbitration, and Carrick and Stifel appealed. Because the trial court erred by failing to compel arbitration, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s judgment and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Carrick v. Turner" on Justia Law

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Vernon Walters was injured in a work-related incident in October 2006; the vehicle he was driving was struck by an oncoming train. After receiving workers’ compensation benefits, he and his wife, Donyell Walters, filed a third-party claim against the company operating the train involved in the collision, Kansas City Southern Railway Company (KCSR). The Walterses hired the Parsons Law Firm to represent them in their suit, and Tadd Parsons took the case. The Walterses’ lawsuit against KCSR was ultimately dismissed with prejudice in September 2010 for, among other reasons, failure to prosecute, failure to comply with discovery obligations and fraud upon the court. Tadd never told the Walterses that their case had been dismissed and led them to believe their case was ongoing. Three years after the case had been dismissed, Tadd admitted he fabricated a settlement offer from KCSR in the amount of $104,000 and advised the Walterses to accept the offer, which they did. When eight months passed after Tadd informed the Walterses about the fabricated settlement, the Walterses demanded to meet with Jack Parsons, the other general partner at the Parsons Law Firm. Jack offered the Walterses $50,000 to settle any claims they may have had against Tadd based on his conduct in representing them in the KCSR lawsuit. The Walterses refused Jack’s offer and then filed a claim against Tadd, Jack and the Parsons Law Firm, alleging claims of fraud, defamation, negligent representation, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress and punitive damages. The trial court granted partial summary judgment for the Walterses on the matter of liability, finding that Tadd and the Parsons Law Firm were liable for fraud and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The court then held a jury trial on damages. The jury verdict awarded the Walterses $2,850,002 in compensatory damages, which exceeded what the Walterses had demanded in compensatory damages in their complaint and in their motion to set damages. Finding the jury’s verdict shocked the conscience, the court remitted the damages to $1,034,666.67 in a second amended final judgment. Parsons appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court, and the Walterses cross-appealed. The Supreme Court determined the trial court did not abuse its discretion by excluding irrelevant evidence about the underlying KCSR lawsuit because the value of the lawsuit had no bearing on the damages the Walterses sustained due to Tadd Parsons’s and the Parsons Law Firm’s fraud and IIED. Further, the Court determined the remitted verdict’s award of damages was excessive and not supported by substantial evidence. The trial court was therefore affirmed in part, reversed in part, and the matter remanded for a new trial on damages. View "Parsons v. Walters" on Justia Law

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Gulfport OB-GYN was a professional association of physicians specializing in obstetrical and gynecological care. In 2008, it hired the law firm Dukes, Dukes, Keating & Faneca, P.A., to assist in negotiating the hiring of Dr. Donielle Daigle and to prepare an employment agreement for her. Five years later, Dr. Daigle and another physician left Gulfport OB-GYN to establish their own practice. They sued Gulfport OB-GYN for unpaid compensation and sought a declaratory judgment that the noncompetition covenant was unenforceable. The departing physicians ultimately prevailed, with the chancery court holding the noncompetition covenant not applicable to Dr. Daigle because she left voluntarily and was not “terminated by the Employer.” The chancery court decision was initially appealed, but the dispute was later settled through mediation when Gulfport OB-GYN agreed to pay Dr. Daigle $425,000. Gulfport OB-GYN then filed this legal-malpractice suit against the attorney who drafted the employment agreement and her firm. The circuit court granted summary judgment to the defendants after finding Gulfport OB-GYN had failed to produce sufficient evidence that it would have received a better deal but for the attorneys’ alleged negligence, i.e., Gulfport OB-GYN failed to prove that the alleged negligence caused it damages. The Mississippi Supreme Court agreed and affirmed. View "Gulfport OB-GYN, P.A. v. Dukes, Dukes, Keating & Faneca, P.A." on Justia Law

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Judge Jesse Burton of the Southern District of Coahoma County, Mississippi Justice Court, filed an affidavit claiming his former girlfriend had stolen money and personal property from him. Based on this affidavit, another justice court judge issued an arrest warrant for Judge Burton’s girlfriend, Regina Burt. But before the warrant was served, Judge Burton changed his mind and instructed the clerk’s office to rescind the warrant that the other judge had issued. As directed, the deputy clerk replaced Judge Burton’s girlfriend’s name on the warrant with Jane Doe and instructed the sheriff’s office not to execute it. Acting on a complaint from Burt, on August 29, 2018, the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance filed a formal complaint against Judge Burton, who cooperated and entered an agreed stipulation of facts with the Commission: Judge Burton agreed he committed misconduct when he ordered a deputy clerk to rescind his former girlfriend’s arrest warrant, and agreed he violated Canons 1, 2A, 2B, 3B(1), 3B(2), and 3E(1) of the Code of Judicial Conduct of Mississippi and Mississippi Code Section 97- 11-1. The parties’ agreement included the Commission’s recommended sanction of a public reprimand and $500 fine. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court agreed with the Commission’s findings and recommended sanction. View "Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance v. Judge Jesse Burton" on Justia Law