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Decisions 8/13/09– A complicated but interesting day at the Mississippi Supreme Court

Things seem pretty baroque in today’s Mississippi Supreme Court cases, and it’s hard to make them simple.  In a real inside-baseball way there’s some interesting stuff, at least to me:

  • In Magyar v. State, a postconviction appeal, Justice Dickinson wrote the opinion holding that a plea cannot be set aside based on the failure to inform the defendant that he would have to register as a sex criminal; the opinion holds that registration is a collateral consequence of the plea and therefore not required to be disclosed.  Justice Kitchens writes a concurrence, joined by six justices including Dickinson, which sets out in detail the standard for distinguishing between collateral consequences (which don’t have to be disclosed) and material ones (which do).  Kitchen’s opinion is a good thing, because it out the reasoning rather than just stating the standard and then the result (a consistent problem with Mississippi Supreme Court opinions going way back).
  • In Modak-Truran v. Johnson, the court overturned Judge DeLaughter’s ruling (which had rejected a special master’s recommendation) in a zoning appeal.  This leads me to ask several questions:  Does anyone else think it odd that a special master was required in a zoning appeal? And here we have yet another rejection of special master’s ruling (along with Wilson and Eaton).  I’m not suggesting any impropriety this time, but what’s the point of special masters if the judge won’t respect their findings? In any event, Justice Kitchens reverses Judge DeLaughter (who, in rejecting the special master, held that the City of Jackson could properly rezone a hotel to allow a restaurant); Kitchens holds the restaurant zoning spot zoning and therefore arbitrary and capricious.  Justice Carlson dissents, joined by Lamar and Chandler, saying that the decision is supported by substantial evidence and not arbitrary.  I’m not sure how this would have gone last year, but I’d bet not 6-3 against the property owner seeking the zoning change.  I see that while I was writing this post, Jim Craig at Ipse Blogit posted about this case and notes that the couple who were the named objectors are, respectively, a partner at Butler Snow and a law professor at MC.
  • In Deer Plantation, Inc. v. Swarek, a contract suit for specific performance and other relief (including punitive damages) was filed in the Chancery Court of Issaquena County.  After being kicked around chancery for two years, the plaintiff decided they’d rather be in circuit (I’ll pause to ask whether folks think they’d be able to assemble a jury of twelve in Issaquena County. How many people are living there now?) and moved to transfer, which they got.  The defendants took an interlocutory appeal of the transfer.  A Chandler opinion reverses for the transfer, saying that the specific performance claim (even if later abandoned by the plaintiff) makes the lawsuit in essence a chancery matter.  In an concurrence joined by five others (including Chandler, who wrote the majority), Randolph emphasizes the unseemliness of waiting until things went bad for two years to move to transfer, and would apply judicial estoppel to bar the transfer.   Graves joins in the result only on the majority, and “in part” on the concurrence, but does not explain.  Insert here my rant about unexplained votes.  Randolph does not join in the majority.
  • J.K. v. R.K. (a Pierce opinion in which Carlson, Dickinson, and Kitchens did not participate) is interesting for an odd result on law of the case doctrine, and area of law that involves how prior appeals govern the result in cases that are appealed a second time.  In round one before the Mississippi Supreme Court, the court had reversed a chancellor for denying relief under from a judgment; in round two, the Court holds that it was wrong in round one and, in spite of the law of the case doctrine, reverses itself.

This was a domestic case.  In addition to fighting it out in chancery court, the doctor/lawyer and his wife had done a round in federal court, revolving around his and his lawyer’s claim she had illegally wiretapped them, and her claims for conversion and infliction of emotional distress. In federal court, J.K. had won relief against her husband R.K. She then won a contempt motion in chancery.  The chancellor refused to set aside the contempt order when R.K. asked, rejecting R.K.’s argument that the federal court judgment and the chancery contempt judgment would amount to a double recovery.  The Mississippi Supreme Court (in a Smith opinion) ruled that the Rule 60 relief should be granted to prevent a double recovery by J.K.  In round two in the Supreme Court, the court looks at the same information about the federal court case in the record from before, and concludes it was wrong in saying there was a double recovery involved.  And, thus, the court reverses the chancellor for doing as she was told on the original remand.  Possibly exhausted by explaining the procedural context (as am I), the court does not go into a lot of detail about law of the case doctrine, taking up one short paragraph on the topic, noting that it can change its mind to prevent “a grave injustice.”

  • Another case involved a dismissal for lack of prosecution, in which the trial court had dismissed with prejudice and made findings why; given the findings, the Supreme Court affirmed.

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