Wesley Health System, LLC v. Estate of Love, 091516 MSSC, 2015-CA-01092-SCT
|Opinion Judge:||COLEMAN, JUSTICE.|
|Party Name:||WESLEY HEALTH SYSTEM, LLC d/b/a WESLEY MEDICAL CENTER v. ESTATE OF JACKIE KATHERINE LOVE, DECEASED, EDWARD LAVONNE LOVE, AS PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE AND EXECUTOR, ON BEHALF OF THE ESTATE OF JACKIE KATHERINE LOVE, DECEASED, AND EDWARD LAVONNE LOVE, CLARA GRACE LOVE, A MINOR, AND HANNAH VICTORIA LOVE, A MINOR, ALL INDIVIDUALLY AND AS HEIRS AND WRO...|
|Attorney:||ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: J. ROBERT RAMSAY ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEES: SETH MAGILL HUNTER|
|Judge Panel:||BEFORE DICKINSON, P.J., LAMAR AND COLEMAN, JJ. WALLER, C. J, DICKINSON AND RANDOLPH, PJJ, LAMAR, KITCHENS, KING AND MAXWELL, JJ, CONCUR BEAM, J., NOT PARTICIPATING.|
|Case Date:||September 15, 2016|
|Court:||Supreme Court of Mississippi|
DATE OF JUDGMENT: 05/21/2015
COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: LAMAR COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT TRIAL JUDGE: HON. ANTHONY ALAN MOZINGO
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: J. ROBERT RAMSAY
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEES: SETH MAGILL HUNTER
BEFORE DICKINSON, P.J., LAMAR AND COLEMAN, JJ.
¶1. Edward Lavonne Love ("Love") filed a complaint against Wesley Health System, LLC ("Wesley") alleging negligence, medical malpractice, and wrongful death of his wife, Jackie Katherine Love ("Mrs. Love").1 A default judgment was entered against Wesley. The trial court denied Wesley's motion to set aside the default judgment and entered a final judgment against Wesley awarding Love $1, 784, 715.18 in compensatory and punitive damages and attorney's fees.
¶2. Because the trial court erred by prohibiting Wesley from cross examining the process server on the disputed issue of whether process was served upon Wesley's registered agent, we reverse and remand. Although the trial court's prohibition of cross examination was reversible error and dispostive to our decision, we further hold that the trial court also erred by failing to apply the three-part balancing test articulated by the Court in determining whether to set aside a default judgment. See Woodruff v. Thames, 143 So.3d 546, 552 (¶14) (Miss. 2014). Accordingly, we reverse and remand with instructions consistent with the instant opinion.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
¶3. On March 7, 2013, Mrs. Love was admitted to Wesley for gastrointestinal bleeding. On April 30, 2013, Mrs. Love underwent subtotal gastrectomy surgery. Following surgery, Mrs. Love contracted sepsis and passed away on May 13, 2013, while still in the care of Wesley. On January 16, 2015, Love filed a complaint alleging negligence, medical malpractice, and wrongful death against Wesley. Love retained Quantum Process Servers to serve process upon Wesley. On March 24, 2015, Terry Keith, a process server with Quantum, allegedly served process upon Wesley's registered agent for service of process, CSC of Rankin County, Inc. ("CSC"). However, Wesley disputes that process was served upon its registered agent, CSC.
¶4. On March 25, 2015, Keith executed an affidavit of service stating that she served CSC with a copy of the summons, complaint, notice of service of discovery, first set of interrogatories, requests for production, and requests for admissions. According to the affidavit of service, Keith delivered the summons, complaint, and written discovery to Lorri Babb. Babb was identified as a paralegal with CSC, although she is actually a paralegal with the law firm of Watson & Jones. It is undisputed that CSC had authorized the law firm of Watson & Jones to accept service of process on its behalf.2
¶5. Wesley did not answer the complaint or otherwise defend for over thirty days. On May 12, 2015, Love filed an application for a clerk's entry of default, which the clerk entered that day. Also, on May 12, 2015, Love filed a motion for a default judgment. On May 15, 2015, Love filed a notice of hearing setting a hearing to determine damages for May 18, 2015. On May 15, 2015, the trial court signed a default judgment and fiat stating that a hearing to determine damages was set for May 18, 2015. On May 18, 2015, the trial court entered a default judgment and fiat stating that a hearing to determine damages was set for that day.
¶6. Also, on May 18, 2015, Love filed a motion to enlarge time to serve process. The motion offered no explanation why an enlargement of time to serve process was requested, other than stating that the time period to serve process was set to expire that day. Nonetheless, the trial court granted the motion and ordered that Love receive an additional 120 days to serve process. The trial court proceeded with a hearing where it received exhibits and heard testimony from Love's experts and Mrs. Love's husband in support of damages. On May 21, 2015, the trial court entered a final judgment awarding Love $2, 034, 715.18 in compensatory damages, $2.5 million in punitive damages, and $500, 000 in attorney's fees for a total judgment of $5, 034, 715.18 against Wesley.
¶7. On May 29, 2015, Wesley filed a motion to set aside the default judgment. Wesley contended that, on May 21, 2015, CSC received a copy of the default judgment and...
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