City of Tupelo v. Patterson, 2015–IA–01409–SCT

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
Writing for the CourtBEAM, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT
Citation208 So.3d 556
Parties CITY OF TUPELO, Mississippi v. John PATTERSON (Pat) O'Callaghan and Patsy K. O'Callaghan
Docket NumberNO. 2015–IA–01409–SCT,2015–IA–01409–SCT
Decision Date19 January 2017

208 So.3d 556

CITY OF TUPELO, Mississippi
John PATTERSON (Pat) O'Callaghan and Patsy K. O'Callaghan

NO. 2015–IA–01409–SCT

Supreme Court of Mississippi.

January 19, 2017





¶ 1. After a nearby ditch began to erode causing significant property damage and mold-related health issues, Plaintiffs John and Patsy O'Callaghan filed an inverse condemnation action under the Takings Clause of the Mississippi Constitution, requesting that the City of Tupelo compensate the couple for both personal injuries and significant property loss. The City of Tupelo presents this interlocutory appeal challenging the Lee County Court's order denying its motion for summary judgment on the matter. The City of Tupelo presents four issues, all of which were promulgated by the Lee County Court in its order on summary judgment. Finding that personal injuries are not recoverable in a claim under the Takings Clause and that the three-year limitations period under Mississippi Code Section 15–1–49 is applicable to takings claims, we reverse the lower court's ruling, rendering a decision for the defendants.


¶ 2. In the late 1960s, John "Pat" O'Callaghan purchased the home at 2306 Rasberry Street in Tupelo, Mississippi, where he and his first wife resided for nearly fifteen years. Built in 1961,1 the property originally included a one story, single-family home, with an attached, open-wall carport. To accommodate storm water drainage,

208 So.3d 559

the developer installed a six-inch pipe, running adjacent to the home and under Rasberry Street, diverting rain water flowing from the land into a ditch across the road. When O'Callaghan purchased the property, this drainage pipe provided an adequate solution to water runoff flowing from his yard during moderate to heavy rainstorms.

¶ 3. Between 1981 and 1982, O'Callaghan and his first wife filed for divorce. He then moved out of the Rasberry Street residence, while his wife continued to dwell in the home. As part of their marital settlement agreement, both O'Callaghan and his first wife remained as co-owners on the property's title. In 1993, O'Callaghan purchased his first wife's interest in the property. O'Callaghan and his second wife moved into the home shortly thereafter and have remained there since.

¶ 4. In 1992, just prior to O'Callaghan's return to Rasberry Street, the City of Tupelo (Tupelo) replaced the six-inch drainage pipe with a thirty-six to forty-two-inch pipe, attached to an open ditch along the west side of the property.2 The ditch originally spanned roughly four feet wide by four feet deep and served to funnel the rain runoff from the neighboring subdivisions which frequently would wash out yards on Rasberry Street. Although the ditch encroached onto their property, neither O'Callaghan nor his first wife filed a complaint with the City regarding its installation.

¶ 5. In 1996, O'Callaghan and his second wife decided to improve the property by enclosing the existing carport and creating an apartment living space. The carport—located on the west end of the property, adjacent to the drainage ditch—was an open structure attached to the main dwelling house, including a roof and a half-wall on the west side of the foundation. It also housed the property's laundry room in the back corner. O'Callaghan enclosed the carport, adding front and back walls, windows, and a full bathroom. Although he never had the foundation inspected prior to the renovation, O'Callaghan used a licensed carpenter, along with other contractors, to complete the project.

¶ 6. Roughly eighteen months after the apartment was finished, O'Callaghan noticed wall cracks and roof leaks developing in the new apartment each time it rained. Knowing that houses in the area frequently shift due to poor soil quality, O'Callaghan was familiar with such issues: in fact, just prior to patching the apartment's walls and roof, the main house required comparable repairs. Additionally, in 1994 (one year before the apartment build-out), O'Callaghan hired a local contractor to "re-level" the home in an effort to prevent similar cracking and shifting in the future.

¶ 7. O'Callaghan initially patched any issues which occurred in the apartment, but the problems quickly proved to be more than cosmetic. Eventually the home's roof caved in and O'Callaghan hired a professional carpenter to repair the damage. However, even that work was nothing more than a temporary solution. By 2008, the carport-apartment had become uninhabitable: the roof fully caved in, the walls began to separate, and hazardous amounts of black mold formed.

¶ 8. In 1996, after building the apartment and making several repairs to the home, O'Callaghan noticed that the ditch Tupelo had created in 1992 was eroding—becoming wider and deeper with each heavy rain. Convinced the erosion and the home damage were related, O'Callaghan contacted city officials and requested they

208 So.3d 560

reconstruct the ditch to prevent future issues.3 Between his initial contact with the city and late 2004, a variety of Tupelo officials—including several councilmen, the city engineer, and two mayors—visited the property to evaluate the damage and address O'Callaghan's grievances. During visits to the property in the early 2000s, the city refused to remedy the erosion issue, noting that, unlike other ditches around the neighborhood, the O'Callaghan ditch was on private property. Accordingly, since 1992, Tupelo has not completed any other projects on the property aside from growth removal on the drain.

¶ 9. Aggrieved, O'Callaghan filed suit in 2008—more than ten years after he first recognized the ditch was causing damage to his home. Following a period of discovery, Tupelo filed a motion for summary judgment based largely on a lack of evidence to support the idea that the structural damage to the property was caused by the ditch. Because his expert witness—an engineer—changed his opinion, noting that he did not think the damage to the home was proximately caused by the drainage pipe or ditch, O'Callaghan voluntarily dismissed his case without prejudice.

¶ 10. Having experienced four additional years of rainfall and erosion, O'Callaghan hired another engineer in 2012 to evaluate the ditch and the continuing damage to his home. The engineer (the third to evaluate the issues since 2004) opined that the ditch is, in fact, the cause of the damage to the home, and with each heavy rain, new damage occurs. The O'Callaghans allege that, without the information from this engineer, they did not know nor could they have known of the existence of an actionable claim against Tupelo.

¶ 11. Relying on the engineer's report, O'Callaghan and his wife filed the instant lawsuit. Aside from new allegations that the resultant cracks, roof issues, and leaks created a scourge of black mold in the home, exacerbating existing pulmonary issues for the couple, the complaint largely avers the same claims as the 2008 suit. The O'Callaghans again seek relief for property damage under the Takings Clause of the Mississippi Constitution, but with the added claim of personal injuries resulting from the black mold.

¶ 12. Tupelo again sought summary judgment, noting that damages for personal injuries are not recoverable in a takings claim and that the lawsuit, in its entirety, is time-barred. The trial court denied the motion, finding no existing Mississippi caselaw ruling on the nature of damages available under the Takings Clause, and ruling that there exists a genuine issue of material fact as to when the O'Callaghans knew or should have known about the potential claim or cause of action against Tupelo.

¶ 13. As advised by the trial court, the City of Tupelo presents four issues on interlocutory appeal:

I. What does the language "without limitation or qualification" in Article 3, Section 17 of the Mississippi Constitution mean? More specifically, does the language mean that takings claims are not subject to a limitations period?

II. If a takings claim is subject to a limitations period, under the facts of this case, does each heavy rain constitute a separate taking? Alternatively, under the facts of this case, has the cause of action continued unabated since 1992?
208 So.3d 561
III. Under Article 3, Section 17 of the Mississippi Constitution, are damages for personal injuries recoverable?

IV. Is the Plaintiff's lawsuit barred by the applicable limitations period?

¶ 14. Because issues I and IV are closely aligned, we combine them into one issue and address them first.


¶ 15. When evaluating a trial court's grant or denial of summary judgment, this Court applies a de novo standard of review. Crawford Logging, Inc. v. Estate of Irving , 41 So.3d 687, 689 (Miss. 2010). Summary judgment is properly granted when "the pleadings, depositions,...

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