Decisions – Miss.S.Ct. – August 6, 2015

In the Matter of the Guardianship of O.D. sanctions for improper removal – O.D. was injured in a car accident.  SInce she was a minor, the settlement had to be approved by a chancellor.  On the day of the hearing, O.D.’s medical insurer, Ashley Healthcare Plan, which had a subrogation lien, removed the case to federal court claiming that the case was preempted by ERISA.  The United States District Court disagreed and remanded the case.  O.D. moved for attorneys fees for the improper removal and the judge granted them.  On appeal, the Miss.S.Ct. affirms.

 Although O.D. could have sought recovery of attorney’s fees under Rule 54 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, frivolous removals to federal court also are subject to the Mississippi Litigation AccountabilityAct. Miss. CodeAnn. §§ 11-55-1 to 11-51-15 (Rev. 2012). Furthermore, Ashley Healthcare Plan’s removal to federal court was contrary to two decades of case law which uniformly held that Mississippi’s law requiring chancerycourt approval of minors’ settlements is not preempted byERISA and that Ashley Healthcare Plan was seeking a remedy in federal court that was unavailable to it under the ERISA Civil Enforcement Clause. We therefore affirm the judgment of the chancery court because its award of attorney’s fees on this basis was not an abuse of discretion.

Thus Blogged Anderson is not a fan of this decision (as you can tell from his comment below). Read his take on it here.  As he notes, Justices Dickinson, Pierce and Coleman dissent.

Damon Fagan v. State –  child sexual abuse/sufficiency of the evidence  – Fagan was convicted of four counts of sexual battery on a child of a woman with whom he had once lived.  He was sentenced to 30 years. The allegations were made several years after the incidences. The now-15 year old victim testified that it started when she was in fourth grade,  In addition to her testimony, her mother testified that she walked on it happening once.  Fagan argues that the evidence was insufficient.  The Miss.S.Ct. affirms.

The Peoples Bank v. John McAdams in his official capacity as Chancery Clerk of Harrison County and as Guardian of the Estate of Sylvia Bowden and Jonathan Dunn –  sol for embezzlement from estate – This is another case arising out of conservator Woody Pringle having looted an estate.  The Bank moved for summary judgment on the statute of limitations which the trial court denied.  On interlocutory appeal, the Miss.S.Ct reverses.

Christopher Baxter v. State –   aiding and abetting instruction– In April 2010, Baxter pleaded guilty to two counts of manufacture and possession of a controlled substance. He skipped his sentencing hearing a few months later. A bench warrant was issued. When Baxter’s girlfriend Brandy Williams was spotted in her truck with what appeared to be a passenger hiding in the seat next to her, a deputy pulled in behind her and the truck sped off. Other deputies joined the chase. Eventually the truck turned around, struck the sheriff (who later died from his injuries) and left the scene. No one could tell who was driving the truck. The next day both Baxter and Williams  were found hiding in a trailer. Baxter signed a Miranda waiver and admitted to being the driver and having “nudged” a deputy. Baxter was charged with capital murder but was considered too mentally challenged to qualify for the death penalty. Among the issues was an instruction on aiding and abetting.  The COA affirms.

The Miss. S. Ct. grants cert and also affirms but writes to clarify regarding the aiding and abetting instruction at issue.  The jury in Baxter’s case  was given the same aiding and abetting instruction as was given in Williams’ (the girlfriend’s) case but the COA found it reversible error in Williams case. Williams v. State.  Baxter was given two aiding and abetting instructions.  The third instruction of which he complains, was given because Baxter was claiming that the negligence of the sheriff’s department contributed to his death.

The Court instructs the Jury that it is not necessary that an unlawful act of the Defendant be the sole cause of death. Responsibility attaches if the act of the Defendant contributed to the death. If you believe the Defendant committed an unlawful act or aided and abetted another in committing an unlawful act that contributed to the death of Garry Welford, then the Defendant is not relieved of responsibility by the fact that other causes may have also contributed to his death.

The court finds that the language of the instruction is problematic but not reversible.

Here, the jury received two instructions, S-5 and S-6A, that fairly stated our aiding-and abetting law. Baxter also raised a contributing-cause defense, and therefore the trial court did not abuse his discretion in granting an instruction on this point. Given that aiding and abetting, as well as contributing causes, were issues in this trial, we cannot say, taking the instructions as a whole, that the jury was not fairly informed of the relevant law or that S-7 created an injustice. See Wilson, 967 So. 2d at 36-37; Milano, 790 So. 2d at 184.

5 thoughts on “Decisions – Miss.S.Ct. – August 6, 2015

  1. That sanctions case is … not wise. The thought of Talmadge Littlejohn construing ERISA doesn’t do much for me, either.

      • Oh, definitely hear us on that. Thx for the link! Shortsighted of the Court’s plf wing to approve sanctioning args vs existing law … will bite their constituents in the butt.

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