Decisions – COA – Oct. 27, 2015

Dexter Johnson v. State –  ineffectiveness claims on direct appeal/dismissal of jurors –  In  August of 2005, Robert Hill Smith and JimBuck Frazier were riding in Frazier’s car, when they passed Johnson’s home.  Johnson started following them because  Smith owed him y $65. Johnson stopped Frazier and Smith and approached the car with a gun in his hand. Johnson got into the back seat of Frazier’s car and ordered Smith to give him the money he owed, pointing the gun at Smith’s leg. Johnson then forced Smith to get into Johnson’s car, and they drove away.  The next morning, Smith was found dead.  Frazier alerted the police to Johnson.   Johnson claimed Smith died when they started tussling.    Johnson was found guilty of kidnapping and murder  and sentenced to thirty years  and life without parole.  On appeal he argues that  he received ineffective assistance of counsel for failing to move to suppress his confession and for failing to move for a mistrial when the  court abused  dismissed two jurors during the trial.  The COA finds that the record is adequate enough to address the ineffective assistance claims on appeal but finds them meritless.  As for the statement, his attorneys wanted it in as part of their trial strategy. And even if this were not the case, Johnson can’t show that the statement would have been suppressed. As for the jurors, the court dismissed one when she failed to show up  on the second day, informing the court that she had to take her daughter to a doctor in Jackson.  The other juror was dismissed after he was observed by the State acknowledging a member of the defendant’s family on his way out of the court room. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing the jurors and, thus, it was not ineffetive to not request a mistrial.

Audrey Beasley v. Robert “Trey” Sutton –  insurance/promissory estoppel – Dr. Sutton was in a dental practice with Christopher Sprayberry.  Sprayberry’s sister was employed at their clinic as the office manager.  Spraberry died in an accident in May 2009.   At issue here are several insurance policies on Spraberry’s life.  After Spraberry died, Sutton received $5 million in inurance proceeds.   In 2008, Spraberry’s insurance agent helped Spraberry convert a $700,000 term policy into a whole life policy with Beasley as he primary beneficiary.  Two months later, Guardian issued two  separate policies: a term life policy for $2 million with Sutton as the beneficiary and a whole life in the amount of $1 million owned by Spraberry with his wife and child as beneficiaries.   The premium on the $2 million policy was paid for by the clinic and was intended to fund the buy-sell agreement between Spraberry and Sutton if either died.  In Nov. 2008, Spraberry discussed with his agent a $3 million policy that would cover the purchase of the clinic if either dentist passed.  The agent thought this policy would replace the other policies used to fund the buy-sell agreement. They never discussed the $700,000 policy. The $3 million policy was obtained.  Beasley was told to cancel the two other policies (for $1 million and $2 million) that were to be replaced by the $3 million policy.  Beasley, though, mistakenly canceled the $700,000 policy instead of the $2 million.  Spraberry, though, did not have the authority to cancel the $2 million policy since it was owned by Sutton. The agent realized the mistake in the letter written by Beasley  but although he left numerous voice mails, Spraberry never contacted him about the mix up.  When Spraberry died, Beasley did not get the $700,000 in insurance.  She sued Sutton and others for unjust enrichment , equitable estoppel and promissory estoppel. The trial court granted summary judgment for Sutton. The COA affirms summary judgment on promissory estoppel but reverses on the claims of unjust enrichment and equitable estoppel.

 It is undisputed that the clinic paid for the life-insurance premiums, and Sutton owned the $2 million policy and was the sole beneficiary. Even so, we find that there is a genuine issue of material fact for unjust enrichment. Here, there was no legal contract that Sutton pay Beasley the $700,000, but there were facts that could indicate an implied contract in equity that she receive these funds. Foremost, whether the $100,000 payment by Sutton to Beasley was a gift or partial payment of the $700,000 in lapsed life-insurance proceeds constitutes a jury question. Sutton claimed it was a gift because Spraberry’s will only provided $100,000 to Beasley’s brother Clay. Sutton explained he wanted Beasley to have the same 12 gift, even though this gift was not specified in Spraberry’s will. It could be surmised that the reason Beasley did not receive the $100,000 gift in Spraberry’s will is because she would be the beneficiary of $700,000 in life-insurance proceeds. In contrast, Beasley claimed the $100,000 was partial payment for the $700,000.

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