Decisions – Miss.S.Ct. – February 27, 2014

Watkins v. Mississippi Department of Human Services – Watkins sued DHS after her son Austin  died from starvation  in the home of his paternal grandmother, Janice Mowdy,  a year and a half after  DHS placed the .two-year-old in Mowdy’s custody.  In the home visit survey, the place to write in Mowdy’s references was left blank. The last home visit was made nearly two years after the placement. A month after DHS closed the case (with the children still in Mowdy’s care), the now three-and-a-half-year old was brought to the hospital weighing a mere 24 pounds.   Austin  was in the hospital for two weeks when Mowdy came and tried to take the child home and a resident called DHS with concerns because testing had ruled out any physical basis for the child’s malnourishment.  Austin was discharged but missed all follow-up appointments. A little more than a year later Austin died weighing a mere 19 pounds. His mother filed suit against DHS and the trial court granted summary judgment.  On appeal the Miss.S. Ct. reversed.  The issues boiled down to whether DHS had received reports that would have required them to investigate.  Despite conflicting testimony on this issue, the trial court granted summary judgment.  The court also ruled that the plaintiff had not proven that DHS had not obtained references because DHS claimed that it did and that their absence of the form was due to a computer malfunction.  M.C.A. Sect. 43-21-353 requires certain people to report suspected abuse and then requires DHS to investigate it. DHS maintained that it never received a report of abuse and, besides, the determination of whether a report contains allegations of abuse is a discretionary function.  The Court held that there was a material fact question as to whether there had been a report and DHS’s argument that reports are sometimes not reports was “unavailing.”

(Mowdy and the adult daughter she lived with pleaded guilty to capital murder in the death)

Lee v. Thompson  – second appeal regarding MDL fees.  Lee argues that the Court should revisit its decision in the first appeal holding that the agreements Lee was to abide by in exchange for getting MDL phen-fen discovery never required that the MDL fee come solely out of the lawyer’s portion.  The Court adheres to the doctrine of law of the case stating that it will not ignore that doctrine to revisit a prior ruling where the party urges reconsideration based on an argument it did not make (but should have made) before.    Court also held that plaintiffs’ lawyer’s  pretrial letter regarding amounts it sought was not an admission binding on the party. And, finally, that all lawyers arguing before the court have a duty to make sure that the record reflects the facts that they are arguing. (This was my case and my mistake and point well taken).  

Moss Point School District v. Stennis – Stennis sued the school district after she sustained an off-campus assault by another student (off campus but occurred just after Stennis left the school parking lot.  Apparently the argument for making the school liable was the fact that the  school knew about the beef between the two students including the threat made by the other student going – so far to make them sign an agreement not to fight. The trial court denied summary judgment for the school district and the school district appealed.  The Court reverses finding that the school had no duty to the students once they were dismissed from  school and the students had left the campus.  The Court refused to rule on Stennis’ argument that the school handbook created a duty on the part of the school to report threats to local law enforcement given that Stennis provided only a few pages of the handbook (which would appear to support her argument).  The trial court was directed to consider this issue based on a reading of the entire handbook. since the legislature has granted school districts the authority to adopt their own rules which would place an affirmative duty on the schools. M.C.A. Sect. 37-9-69.    

 

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