Davis v. Davis

Decision Date16 March 2023
Docket Number2020-CA-01304-SCT
PartiesSANDRA DAVIS AND PORTER HORGAN v. JOHN DAVIS
CourtMississippi Supreme Court

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 07/16/2020

PIKE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. BARRY W. FORD TRIAL JUDGE:

TRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS: EDWIN L. BEAN, JR. TYLER BO SHANDY ANTHONY ANTONIO HEIDELBERG GREGORY MALTA

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANTS: BRAD RUSSELL BOERNER JOHN S. GRANT IV JOHN S. GRANT, III

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: EDWIN L. BEAN, JR. TYLER BO SHANDY

BEFORE KING, P.J., CHAMBERLIN AND ISHEE, JJ.

KING PRESIDING JUSTICE

¶1. John and Sandra Davis, a then-married couple, had two children in the 1980s. In 2018, John discovered the possibility that the children were not biologically his, but that they may have been the biological result of Sandra's extramarital sexual relations with Porter Horgan. Almost immediately after discovering this possibility, John sued Sandra and Horgan for fraud, alienation of affection, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. A jury ultimately awarded John $700,000 in damages. Because some of the claims are barred by the statute of limitations, and because John completely failed to request proper jury instructions on damages, this Court reverses the jury verdict and renders judgment in favor of Sandra and Horgan on John's claims against them.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶2. John and Sandra Davis were married in 1979. John had two children from a previous marriage and had had a vasectomy. John testified that he had his vasectomy reversed in 1985. Two children were born during their marriage, Jared in 1987 and Becky in 1989. Both children were born in Louisiana where the parties lived.

¶3. In the late 1980s, Horgan pursued Sandra and they began having occasional unprotected sexual intercourse. Both testified that the relationship was sporadic and sexual, not emotional. At some point during the 1990s, Sandra began to work for Horgan, and did so at various intervals during the 1990s. Sandra estimated that the last time she and Horgan had sexual relations was in the late 1980s or early 1990s. Horgan testified that the affair had ended, at the latest, by 1997 or 1998, when he did not see her any longer in a business capacity.[1]

¶4. Sandra testified that the marriage between her and John was never good. But John testified that, in the 1980s, he and Sandra were happily married. He testified that he had no reason to believe that Horgan was interfering with his marriage in the 1980s. He further testified that, in the early 1990s, his marriage was good and that he had no reason to believe Sandra was having an affair. He further stated that their sex life was fine and that Sandra never seemed emotionally detached. He testified that he was shocked when Sandra left the marital home in 1999.

¶5. In 1999, John and Sandra separated, and their divorce was finalized in 2001. For approximately one year prior to the divorce, the family lived in Mississippi. Sandra was granted custody of the children, and John was ordered to pay child support in the amount of $838 per month. The divorce was finalized by a Louisiana court, but a Mississippi court decided custody and property issues. Sandra had filed an affidavit in the court stating that she and John were the parents of their two children. Sandra testified that John did not actually pay his child support, but that she never pursued contempt because she could not afford an attorney. Additionally, the children had trusts, which John emptied by selling the underlying assets and keeping the proceeds for himself.

¶6. In July 2018, John learned that Jared and Becky were possibly not his biological children. John's older daughter told John that Jared did not match with their family on 23andMe.[2] Then, Becky and John took DNA tests, which showed that they were not related.

¶7. In July 2018, John called Sandra to confront her and recorded the telephone conversation. During a heated conversation, John asked Sandra how she knew Horgan was the father, assuming in the question that she knew. She said that she did not know for a few years, and then she saw that Jared looked like Horgan. John asked her again how she knew the children were Horgan's. She replied that she did not really know, but she saw that they resembled Horgan physically, and she never checked their biological origin. Replying to John's questions regarding why she did not tell him, she responded that she "buried her head in the sand" and was scared. In the same conversation, John asserted that Sandra denied him sexual intercourse when she was having sexual relations with Horgan. The recording also indicated that John was frequently out of town. John also asserted more than once that Horgan's ex-wife was the "most" important person in the entire situation and must be told of the situation.

¶8. On August 24, 2018, John filed a complaint against Sandra and Horgan. He alleged fraud against Sandra and alienation of affection against Horgan, and he also alleged that Sandra and Horgan were jointly and severally liable for fraud, alienation of affection, intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED), and outrageous conduct. He asked for damages for alienation of affection, for allowing him to support Jared and Becky, and for "deceiving [him] into believing that those children were his own to where he developed a loving and bonding relationship with said children[.]"

¶9. Sandra and Horgan moved to dismiss the complaint based on the statute of limitations and failure to plead fraud with particularity. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss and allowed John to amend his complaint regarding fraud. Trial was held on June 30, 2020.

¶10. John first called Becky to testify. Becky testified that she remembered being picked up from daycare by Horgan when she was about three years old and that she "feel[s] sure" it happened more than once, although she did not specifically remember it happening more than once. On cross-examination, she testified that it happened twice. Becky further testified that she and John had taken a DNA test at a laboratory and that the results stated that John was not her father. Becky also testified that she saw Horgan through about 1995. She did not see Horgan after Sandra stopped working for Horgan. Becky testified that throughout her life, Sandra contributed more to her financially than did John, but that John was also there for her and contributed financially.

¶11. Horgan testified next and could not remember many details about his sexual encounters with Sandra. He admitted that he made the advances, but that they never had an "affair" with flowers and hotel rooms. He clarified that the encounters were "a convenient, spontaneous, sexual attraction." He further testified that he did not remember picking Becky up from daycare, but that he would have picked up any child of an employee from daycare had his employee asked him to do so. Horgan also testified that he had no knowledge that he was potentially Jared and Becky's biological father until 2018.

¶12. Sandra testified that she did not know that Horgan was the biological father of her children, although she did understand that there was a possibility that he was. She also testified that the sexual encounters between her and Horgan were sporadic. She further testified that she contributed more financially to the children's upbringing than did John. Moreover, she testified that a woman told her that the woman and John had an affair during Sandra and John's marriage.[3]

¶13. The jury was instructed regarding the elements of alienation of affection, IIED, and fraud. The jury instruction regarding fraud instructed that if the jury found the elements of fraud, it was "to return a verdict in favor of John Davis on his claim for Fraud and assess his damages, if any, in accordance with the other instructions from the Court." The jury instruction regarding IIED instructed that if the jury found the elements of IIED, it was "to return a verdict in favor of John Davis on the claim for the Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress and assess his damages, if any, in accordance with the other instructions from the Court." John submitted instruction P-9, which allowed the jury to determine damages for both fraud and IIED. The defendants objected to combining the two claims in one instruction because they have different standards of proof. John voluntarily withdrew P-9 and did not offer any substitutes for it.

¶14. The alienation of affection jury instruction, regarding only Horgan, instructed the jury that if they found the elements of alienation of affection, "you may consider the following factors in determining the amount of damages, if any, to award John Davis for alienation of affection[.]" (Emphasis added.) The instruction listed:

a. John Davis' loss of love, affection, and companionship;
b. John Davis' loss of help, services, and physical assistance provided by his wife;
c. John Davis' loss of sexual relations with his wife;
d. John Davis' loss of the duties and responsibilities of making a home together; and
e. John Davis' mental and emotional distress caused by Porter Horgan's interference in his and Sandra Davis' marriage.

The jury circled "d" and "e." The fourth question in the alienation of affection instruction, placed directly beneath these factors, then asked, "What are John Davis' damages, if any?" The jury wrote "$700,000." The trial court then awarded final judgment against Sandra and Horgan, jointly and severally, for $700,000. The jury found against Sandra and Horgan on their cross-claims.[4]

¶15. Sandra and Horgan filed post-trial motions, which the trial court denied. Sandra and Horgan appeal, arguing that various statutes of limitations have run, that insufficient evidence supported the verdict, and...

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