Decisions – Miss.S.Ct. – Oct. 2, 2014

McBroom v. Jackson County, Miss.  –  maintenance of road used by public –  “In 1972, the Board of Supervisors of Jackson County, Mississippi, approved the final plat for Spring Lake Subdivision. At that time, the sole means of vehicular access to the subdivision was Spring Lake Drive East, which crossed Spring Lake Dam. The McBrooms,who own Spring Lake, three subdivision lots on Spring Lake, and the dam forming the lake and providing access to the subdivision, contend that Jackson County is obligated to maintain the dilapidating roadway by virtue of the McBrooms’ dedication of the roadway to public use and Jackson County’s acceptance of their dedication. The Chancery Court of Jackson County held that the McBrooms were entitled to no relief. Finding that the Spring Lake Dam and the roadway over it were dedicated to public use and accepted by Jackson County under the common law of this State, as evidenced by more than thirty years of continuous use by the public, we reverse and render judgment for the McBrooms.”

Smith v. Express Checkarbitration of employment agreement –  Lacie Smith went to work for Express Check and signed a two page confidentiality and non-compete agreement in which she agreed to submit “any employment-related dispute” to arbitration. When she was fired, she sued and claimed that she was fired for reporting her supervisor’s illegal acts.   The trial court compelled arbitration.  Smith appealed and an en banc court affirms. King dissents.

Bariffe v. Estate of Lawsonconstructive trust/sol and statute of frauds –  New Orleans lawyer Eugene Barriffe and his wife Ernie gave $165,000  to Ernie’s brother, Lawson Nelson, to start a landfill business in Jackson County, Mississippi. The Barriffes testified that they were to receive two-thirds of the profits from the landfill business, with payments to begin when Eugene retired.  Lawson sold the landfill business nine months later in December 2002 but the Bariffe’s never made a claim for the money.  After Hurricane Katrina destroyed their home in New Orleans, the Bariffe’s moved into an apartment on Lawson’s property.  In 2009, the Barriffes asked Lawson to deed the property with the apartment to them. According to Ernie, Lawson became furious and refused to deed the property to them, deeding it instead to his sons. The Bariffes filed suit.  Lawson died and the estate was substituted. The chancellor found the $165,000 to be a loan and not an investment.  The chancellor also found that Lawson intended to convey the property to the Barriffes.  It then imposed two constructive trusts for the Barriffes—one for the $165,000 when the Barriffes transferred their eighty acres to Lawson to sell, and the second, which was in the nature of an equitable lien on the apartment and property, for $72,645.18.

The Nelsons moved for a new trial which the chancellor granted. This time the chancellor found four constructive trusts and  awarded the Barriffes a “joint and several judgment” for $96,221.09 ($60,000 from the third constructive trust plus $36,221.09 from the fourth constructive trust) against the Estate of Lawson Nelson and Nelson’s two sons.   An en banc court reverses in part finding as far as the loan aka investment, the only evidence of the investment was the Bariffe’s testimony.  Given that the chancellor was the finder of fact and he could very well have found that the investment did not happen.  Regardless, the sol had long run on the agreement and the chancellor erred in finding a constructive trust.

Whether a constructive trust exists is a question of law, which this Court reviews de novo. The party advocating a constructive trust must show by clear and convincing proof that a constructive trust is necessary as a matter of law. “The proof must establish the facts and circumstances giving rise to the trust with an extraordinary degree of certainty and clarity.” Given this heavy burden, this Court views parol testimony about a constructive trust “with caution.”

As far as the apartment, the constructive lien based on it is also reversed and rendered. “The Barriffes claim they had an oral agreement with Lawson that they could make improvements on his land and that he would transfer the land to them. This alleged contract fails under the statute of frauds. An equitable lien cannot save a contract that violates the statute of frauds.”

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