Decisions – Miss.S.Ct. – Oct. 8, 2015 – part 1

Katarina Galanis v. CMA Management Co. – premises liability denied where tenant killed by roommate – Bobby Batiste murdered his roommate, Andreas Galanis, in the apartment that they shared at 21 Apartments in Starkville, Mississippi. Andreas’s mother Katerina Galanis sued the owners and managers of the complex claiming that they negligently failed to warn Andreas of Batiste’s violent tendencies. 21 Apartments moved for summary judgment on the grounds that  there was no evidence that it had actual or constructive knowledge of Batiste’s propensity for violence, so it had no duty to warn Andreas.  The trial court granted summary judgment which was affirmed on appeal.

21 Apartments was geared toward college students. To help tenants find roommates, 21 Apartments provided a questionnaire regarding each tenant’s habits, lifestyle, etc.  It then  notified tenants of potential roommates and introduced them but it was up to the individual tenants to select a roommate. 21 Apartments introduced Andreas and Batiste because they were both football
fans, and they were both older than traditional college students. Years before, 21 Apartments instituted a policy of performing background checks.  When Batiste sought to renew his lease during 2007, his background check indicated Batiste was  convicted of credit-card fraud. 21 Apartments notified it would not renew his tenancy.  Batiste’s lawyer faxed the complex a letter explaining that Batiste was “not a convicted felon”  because he had been given non-adjudication.   21 Apartments allowed him to renew his lease.  Apparently while Baptiste was living with Galanis, he used Galanis’s debit card without Galanis’s permission.  When confronted, Baptiste   killed Galanis.

Galanis’s case was based on the fact that  Batiste had previously been roommates with two other students and he wrote to management that he was disgusted with their bad housekeeping.  In the complaint form, Baptiste wrote, “I can’t take it anymore. I don’t want to get violent. He’s had to[o] many chances” and “I hope this get[s] resolved soon because I really don’t want to take matters into my own hands.”  On appeal, the Court of Appeals writes, “Essentially, the Galanises argue that 21 Apartments should have known that Batiste was a violent person because he said he did not want to “take matters into his own hands” or use violence to resolve a dispute. However, there is no evidence that 21 Apartments had any reason to think that Batiste had been violent with his former roommate.”  The Miss. S. Ct. granted cert and reverses finding that whetehrthe defendants knew Batiste was violent was a material issue of fact.

Perry and Lori Elchos v. Kevin and Lisa Haas house built on wrong lot – In 2001, Haas purchased 55 acres on the Jourdan River in Hancock County planning to divide the property into individual lots.  He sold one such lot to the Elchos in 2004.  After the Echols built their house, Haas contended that Echols built it in the wrong location.  Litigation ensued.  The chancellor ordered the house removed and ordered that the Echols pay attorneys fees to the Haas’s.  The Echols appealed.  After the initial briefs were filed, the Miss. S.Ct ordered additional briefing on a number of issues including whether the record establishes beyond a reasonable doubt the existence of a mutual mistake such that the chancellor can reform the deed; if mutual mistake were found, does the chancellor have the authority to reform the deed;  what evidence was there about the estimated cost of moving the Echols house; etc.  The Miss.S.Ct. affirms finding that this was a fact intensive case and, thus, the chancellor’s findings are to be given deference.

Randy Braswell v. Ergon Oil Purchasing – contract for sale of oil –  Braswell entered into a series of contracts in which he agreed to sell all of his oil production in Amite County and Pike Countyi to Ergon.  In 2012, Braswell filed a lawsuit alleging that Ergon fraudulently  misrepresented that he would receive a premium of three dollars per barrel above the price which he would have received if he sold his oil to Ergon’s main competitor.  Ergon removed the Amite County lawsuit to the United States District  Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.  Two days after Braswell’s complaint was filed in Amite County, Ergon filed a Complaint for Declaratory and Other Relief in the Circuit Court of Rankin County, Mississippi involving the same contracts.

Ergon moved for summary judgment attaching the twenty years’ worth of letter agreements that set forth the price to be paid for the oil.  The court granted summary judgment for Ergon.  Braswell filed a motion to reconsider.  While that motion was pending, the federal court, on January 30, 2014,  remanded the Amite county case to state court. A week later Braswell  asked the Rankin County court to transfer the case to Amite County pursuant to the doctrine of priority jurisdiction.  The Rankin County court denied reconsideration and the motion to transfer and Braswell appealed. The Miss. S. Ct. reverses.

Braswell argues that the circuit judge erred when he refused to transfer the action to Amite County. We agree.

. This Court “repeatedly” has stated that it is a ‘“well established rule in this jurisdiction that where two (2) suits between the same parties over the same controversy are brought in 10 courts of concurrent jurisdiction, the court which first acquires jurisdiction retains jurisdiction over the whole controversy to the exclusion or abatement of the second suit.”’ Copiah Med. Assocs. v. Mississippi Baptist Health Sys., 898 So. 2d 656, 663 (Miss. 2005) (citations omitted) (emphasis added). Priority of jurisdiction is determined by the date the initial pleading was filed, provided ‘“process issues in due course.”’ Id. (citations omitted). “In order that the rule may be applicable which prevents interference by another court with the jurisdiction of the court first assuming it, the second action should be between the same parties, seeking on the one hand, and opposing on the other, the same remedy . . . . ”’ Id. (citations omitted) (emphasis added).

Clayton Hinton v. Nate Rolison –  right to surplus after foreclosire – Clayton Hinton purchased and financed property in Hattiesburg to use as a used car lot.  The mortgage was financed by Wells Fargo.   In agreement with his wife and in contemplation of divorce, he  deeded the property to his two children, Nathan Hinton and Seneca Eubanks but remained obligated on the loan.  Later Hinton took on a partner in the business, Nate Rolison.  In 2012, a dispute arose between Clayton and Nate when  Clayton discovered that the property was no longer titled in his children’s names but in Nate’s name. . The children filed suit to quiet and confirm title in their names, which Clayton joined as a necessary party due to his mortgage interest. The parties ultimately settled their lawsuit at mediation, though Clayton reserved a pending lawsuit against Nate over profit distribution from the business.  Clayton remained obligated on the mortgage with Wells Fargo.  The parties’  settlement agreement provided that the property be foreclosed but had no provision for who would receive  any  surplus foreclosure funds. At the foreclosure sale, the property sold for  $576,000 to Rolison  netting a surplus of $147,045.92.

The instant case was an interpleader filed by Wells Fargo.  Nate filed a  Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings claiming he was entitled to the surplus as the only person with an ownership in the property.  Clayton opposed the Motion  relying upon his right to the surplus funds pursuant to his deed of trust.   Clayton also requested additional time to respond to Nate’s Motion because matters outside the pleadings were offered.  The Court granted the Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings.   Hinton filed a Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment  and also requested permission to file an amended pleading setting forth facts regarding the settlement agreement  The court denied the motions and Hinton appealed.

The Court’s ruling: “Finding that res judicata did not bar Hinton’s claims against Rolison, and that Hinton failed to state a viable claim for injunctive relief against the financing company, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.”

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