Decisions – Miss.S.Ct. – June 19, 2014

Loyacano v. The Traveler’s Insurance Co. – issue of proximate cause in car wreck – Loyacono was driving home when an uninsured driver, Shelby, backed into her. Loyacono was transported to the hospital by ambulance where she was treated for neck and back pain. Loyacano sued her own insurer and at trial she put on evidence that she had cracked her teeth as a result of grinding them because of the pain. Shelby testified that the accident was a minor one and there was no damage to Shelby’s vehicle. The court submitted a special interrogatory with five questions to the jury but the court itself answered the first question on whether Shelby was negligent with a “yes”. The jury, though, was to answer the question of causation. The jury found for Loyacano but awarded 0 damages. The Ct. of Appeals reversed finding that the question of causation should have also been directed by the court. “Apparently, the trial court directed a verdict for Loyacono on the issues of negligence and liability. This conflicted with special interrogatory question three, which effectively cancels that finding by allowing the jury to determine causation. It is error for a court to give instructions that “are likely to mislead or confuse the jury as to the principles of law applicable to the facts in evidence . . . .” Moak v. Black, 230 Miss. 337, 351, 92 So. 2d 845, 851 (1957). Therefore, it was error for the court to grant a directed verdict and then submit causation to the jury. “Under these circumstances, the task of the jury was to determine the extent of [the plaintiff’s] injuries and loss, not whether any existed.” The Ct. of Appeals reversed and remanded for a trial solely on damages. Traveller’s cert. petition argued that the issue of causation was one for the jury.  

On cert. the Mississippi Supreme Court disagreed with the Ct. of Appeals that the award of zero conflicted with the overwhelming weight of the evidence.  However, it, too, reverses and remands the case on the grounds that the trial judge “admitted irrelevant and highly prejudicial evidence of the plaintiff’s husband’s income.”  Loyocano worked as an office manager for her lawyer husband.   Apparently, in cross examining Loyacano about her lost income, Traveler’s tried to show that she earned far more than she would have because her husband had a substantial income and paid her more than her work was worth.  “[E]ven if a jury could draw some probative value from her husband’s ability to pay, the trial judge should have excluded that evidence under the balancing test of [MRE] 403.”

Cotton v. State – In Cotton, the Court of Appeals affirmed the murder conviction of Joe Cotton.  The issue on cert. deals with sufficiency of the evidence.  Fannie Lee Burks was found shot dead in her apartment in April 1995.  The case went unsolved for two decades.  In 2008, fingernail scrapings that had been taken from Ms. Burks during the autopsy were submitted for DNA testing and then compared with DNA profiles in a national database.  The DNA was found to match that of Joe Cotton who was then incarcerated in the MDOC.     At trial, Cotton testified that Ms. Burk waited on him at the cafe where she worked the day before she was found dead.  The defense argued that the tiny amount of DNA under her fingernails could have come from casual contact with Joe Cotton at the cafe.   The cert. petition also challenges the Court of Appeals’ conclusion that Cotton saw Ms. Burk’s jewelry when she waited on him and that this was the motive for the killing.  One of Ms. Burks’ coworkers testified that Ms. Burks did not put her jewelry on until she was leaving work that day. The defense argues that the circumstantial evidence may have raised a suspicion but was not sufficient to support a guilty verdict.

The Miss.S.Ct. affirms.  Cotton argues that Ms. Burks could have gotten his DNA through casual contact while waiting on him at the cafe.  However, there was no evidence that Ms. Burks touched Cotton or his belongings.  The testimony does not support even an inference of casual contact. This was a close case inasmuch as Justice Kitchens writes a dissent in which he joined by Justices Dickinson, Chandler and King. 

Clay Point, LLC, Clay Point Property, LLC and O. Lee Simms, II v. MVB Holding, LLC – circuit versus chancery – In this case the Court grants the interloc. appeal and remands the case  “for entry of an order granting Petitioners’ Motion to Transfer to Circuit Court in cause no. 24CH2:13-cv-00443.”    MVB Holding owns Margaritaville.  According to the documents, MVB owes rent to the tune of $2.7 million and filed a lawsuit in chancery court alleging various equitable claims such as intentional interference with business relations, breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing, etc.  Clay Point moved to transfer the case because the thrust of the lawsuit is for breach of contract or for tort damages that should be heard by a jury.  The chancellor denies.  Clay Point filed an interloc. and the Miss.S.Ct. agrees with Clay Point. 

Clay Point’s Petition
MVB Holding’s Response

3 thoughts on “Decisions – Miss.S.Ct. – June 19, 2014

  1. I am a little puzzled that the defense vs. Loyocano appears to’ve been “wives of rich trial lawyers aren’t entitled to recover in court.” Sounds neither effective nor professional.

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