Estate of Bloodworth ex rel. Wrongful Death Beneficiaries Bloodworth v. Ill. Cent. R.R. Co., No. 2011–CA–01908–SCT.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
Citation129 So.3d 888
Decision Date21 November 2013
PartiesThe ESTATE OF Christopher Allan BLOODWORTH, by and through Opal BLOODWORTH, Administratrix, on behalf of the wrongful death beneficiaries of Christopher Allan Bloodworth; the Estate of Steven Earl Tallant, Jr., by and through Linda Tallant and Stephanie Dykes, Co–Adminstratrix, on behalf of the wrongful death beneficiaries of Steven Earl Tallant, Jr.; Opal Bloodworth, individually; Earl Bloodworth, individually; the Estate of Marcus Richardson, by and through Jacqueline Amos, Administratrix, individually and on behalf of the wrongful death beneficiaries of Marcus Richardson; and the Estate of A.W. Hilson, by and through Melvin Hilson, Administrator, individually, and on behalf of all wrongful death Beneficiaries of A. W. Hilson v. ILLINOIS CENTRAL RAILROAD COMPANY, Ronnie C. Hollowell; J.D. Miller; James Shoemaker and Thomas Caldwell.
Docket NumberNo. 2011–CA–01908–SCT.

129 So.3d 888

The ESTATE OF Christopher Allan BLOODWORTH, by and through Opal BLOODWORTH, Administratrix, on behalf of the wrongful death beneficiaries of Christopher Allan Bloodworth; the Estate of Steven Earl Tallant, Jr., by and through Linda Tallant and Stephanie Dykes, Co–Adminstratrix, on behalf of the wrongful death beneficiaries of Steven Earl Tallant, Jr.; Opal Bloodworth, individually; Earl Bloodworth, individually; the Estate of Marcus Richardson, by and through Jacqueline Amos, Administratrix, individually and on behalf of the wrongful death beneficiaries of Marcus Richardson; and the Estate of A.W. Hilson, by and through Melvin Hilson, Administrator, individually, and on behalf of all wrongful death Beneficiaries of A. W. Hilson
v.
ILLINOIS CENTRAL RAILROAD COMPANY, Ronnie C. Hollowell; J.D. Miller; James Shoemaker and Thomas Caldwell.

No. 2011–CA–01908–SCT.

Supreme Court of Mississippi.

Nov. 21, 2013.


[129 So.3d 890]


Sara Bailey Russo, Ralph Edwin Chapman, Dana J. Swan, Clarksdale, Jason Lee Shelton, Tupelo, Edward P. Connell, Jr., Clarksdale, attorneys for appellants.

Glenn F. Beckham, Harris Frederick Powers, III, Greenwood, attorneys for appellees.


Before DICKINSON, P.J., PIERCE and COLEMAN, JJ.

PIERCE, Justice, for the Court:

¶ 1. This appeal arises out of a civil suit by the estates and wrongful-death beneficiaries of Christopher Allan Bloodworth, Steven Earl Tallant Jr., Marcus Richardson, and A.W. Hilson, four men killed at a railroad crossing when a freight train collided with the truck in which they were traveling (hereinafter Plaintiffs). The wrongful-death beneficiaries of Bloodworth, Tallant, Richardson, and Hilson filed their complaint(s) against Illinois Central and its employees: the train crew, Ronnie C. Hollowell (the engineer) and J.D. Miller (the conductor), as well as other employees of Illinois Central's track department, Thomas Caldwell and James Shoemaker, (hereinafter Defendants).1

¶ 2. Defendants filed two motions for summary judgment in the matter. The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants with respect to Plaintiffs' claims alleging negligent operation of the train. The circuit court also granted partial summary judgment in favor of Defendants on three of four contested issues regarding the engineering and maintenance of the railroad crossing—leaving one surviving claim. The circuit court then granted five of Defendants' motions in limine to exclude Plaintiffs' evidence. Finding that, without the excluded evidence, Plaintiffs could not support the remaining claim, the circuit court granted Defendants' motions for summary judgment in their entirety and issued a judgment and certificate pursuant to Rule 54(b) of the Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiffs appeal to this Court, and Defendants have filed a cross-appeal as to certain rulings issued by the trial court. Because we affirm the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendants on each claim by Plaintiffs, we dismiss Defendants' cross-appeal as moot.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶ 3. At approximately 6:23 a.m. on May 30, 2005, a southbound Illinois Central freight train struck an eastbound Tallahatchie County work truck at a railroad crossing

[129 So.3d 891]

(known as the Mikoma Crossing) on Highway 32 in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, killing all four of the truck's occupants—Hilson, Bloodworth, Tallant and Richardson. Hilson, the driver, was an employee of Tallahatchie County. The passengers, Bloodworth, Tallant, and Richardson, each were inmates at the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility.

¶ 4. At the time of the accident, Illinois Central owned, controlled, and operated the railway and the trains running thereon. When the accident occurred, the train's engineer, Hollowell, and the conductor, Miller were employed by Illinois Central and were operating the train during its travel. Hollowell and Miller, were the only surviving eyewitnesses to the accident.

¶ 5. Following the accident, the passenger-inmates' families and estates initiated a wrongful-death action against Illinois Central, Hollowell, Miller and various other employees and affiliates of Illinois Central.2 In addition, Bloodworth, Richardson, and Tallant sued Hilson's estate, as he was the driver of the inmate's work truck. The passengers' families also demanded punitive damages from both the Illinois Central Defendants and Hilson. Hilson's estate and beneficiaries filed a cross-claim against Illinois Central and its employees for wrongful death and death benefits.

Procedural History

¶ 6. Defendants filed two motions for summary judgment, dividing Plaintiffs' claims into two genera: negligence with respect to the train's operation and negligence with respect to the crossing's engineering and maintenance. Specifically, Plaintiffs claimed that Hollowell and Miller had failed to keep a proper lookout, had failed to avoid the accident, and had failed to sound the train's horn; while Illinois Central had failed to supervise them as its employees. Further, Plaintiffs claimed Illinois Central and its employees had failed to remove obstructive vegetation, had negligently engineered and designed the Mikoma crossing, had installed an inadequate warning mechanism at the crossing, and negligently had maintained the signal system itself.

¶ 7. The circuit court initially granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants on all claims except one; it denied summary judgment with respect to the adequacy of the type of signal system installed at the crossing.

¶ 8. Defendants then filed eight motions in limine to exclude Plaintiffs' evidence at trial. Via the in limine motions, Defendants sought to limit testimony of Plaintiffs' expert Kenneth Heathington, and to exclude evidence of other accidents at the crossing, near-accidents at the crossing, alleged vegetation removal after the instant accident, evidence of instances of signal malfunctions, and evidence of economic damages, because three of the decedents were incarcerated at the time of their deaths. The circuit court subsequently granted these exclusions/limitations in favor of Defendants.

¶ 9. After granting three in limine motions, partially granting two in limine motions and reserving ruling on one of Defendants' motions in limine, Defendants made a supplemental motion for summary judgment. The trial court thereafter heard arguments concerning the sole surviving claim—whether the type of signal system installed at the Mikoma crossing was appropriate for such a crossing, and similarly, whether it was adequate for warning purposes therein. Having excluded

[129 So.3d 892]

much of Plaintiffs' evidence necessary to plead the surviving claim, the trial court concluded that summary judgment was proper on Plaintiffs' last claim.3 After granting summary judgment in favor of Defendants on Plaintiffs' last claim, the trial court disposed of the action pursuant to Rule 54(b).4

¶ 10. This appeal followed. Additional facts, as necessary, will be related in our discussion of the issues.

ISSUES

¶ 11. Plaintiffs' assert the following issues:

I. Whether the circuit court erred when it granted Defendants' motions for summary judgment.

II. Whether the circuit court erred when it granted Defendants' motions in limine.

III. Whether the circuit court erred in denying Plaintiffs' right to have a jury decide their claims.

ANALYSIS

¶ 12. Specifically, the Plaintiffs contest the circuit court's orders granting Defendants' two motions for summary judgment and four motions in limine. Defendants, conversely, contest the three motions in limine which were granted partially and partially denied. As mentioned, because we find Defendants' claims are moot, they will not be addressed.5

I. Whether the circuit court erred in granting Defendants' motions for summary judgment.

¶ 13. Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides for summary judgment.6 On appeal, this Court reviews an order of summary judgment de novo.7 “Upon reviewing a grant of summary judgment, this Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party against whom the motion has been made.” 8 The sole determination, with respect to a summary judgment motion, is whether “triable issue[s]” exist, and the Court does not proceed

[129 So.3d 893]

to resolve issues outside a trial.9 “The judgment sought shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” 10

¶ 14. On appeal, Plaintiffs assert that the circuit court improperly granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants, despite the existence of material factual issues that Plaintiffs believe should have been reserved for a jury. The circuit court, in its November 8, 2011, order, granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants with respect to all of Plaintiffs' negligent-operation claims, which alleged the operators (1) failed to sound the warning horn, (2) failed to brake to avoid the collision, (3) failed to keep a proper lookout, and that (4) Illinois Central failed to properly supervise its employees. Regarding Defendants' second motion for summary judgment, the court granted judgment on three of Plaintiffs' negligent-maintenance and engineering claims, including claims that Illinois Central (1) failed to remove obstructive vegetation at the Mikoma Crossing, (2) negligently engineered and designed the crossing, and (3) negligently maintained the Mikoma Crossing's flasher-light signal system. The court denied summary judgment regarding Plaintiffs' claims that the Mikoma crossing warning system was inadequate.11

Negligent Operation of the Train12

¶ 15. In their complaint, Plaintiffs allege the train's operators, Hollowell and Miller, failed to use reasonable care, maintain a proper lookout, maintain the train under the proper control or sound...

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3 practice notes
  • Hyundai Motor Am. v. Hutton, 2015-CA-01013-SCT
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • September 16, 2021
    ...them from taking, steps in furtherance of added safety.’ " Estate of Bloodworth ex rel. Bloodworth v. Ill. Cent. R.R. Co. , 129 So. 3d 888, 901 (Miss. 2013) (quoting FRE 407 advisory comm. n.). Notably, the rule contains an exception allowing the admission of subsequent measures to sho......
  • Hyundai Motor Am. & Hyundai Motor Co. v. Hutton, 2015-CA-01013-SCT
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • September 16, 2021
    ...them from taking, steps in furtherance of added safety.'"Estate of Bloodworth ex rel. Bloodworth v. Ill. Cent. R.R. Co., 129 So.3d 888, 901 (Miss. 2013) (quoting FRE 407 advisory comm. n.). Notably, the rule contains an exception allowing the admission of subsequent measures to show &q......
  • Holstine v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:14cv58-DPJ-FKB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Mississippi
    • June 16, 2015
    ...based on a violation of section 77-9-225 fails as a matter of law. See Estate of Bloodworth ex rel. Bloodworth v. Ill. Cent. R.R. Co., 129 So. 3d 888, 894 (Miss. 2013).Page 16 b. 49 C.F.R. § 222.21 The pertinent federal regulation provides: (a) [T]he locomotive horn on the lead locomotive o......
3 cases
  • Hyundai Motor Am. v. Hutton, 2015-CA-01013-SCT
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • September 16, 2021
    ...them from taking, steps in furtherance of added safety.’ " Estate of Bloodworth ex rel. Bloodworth v. Ill. Cent. R.R. Co. , 129 So. 3d 888, 901 (Miss. 2013) (quoting FRE 407 advisory comm. n.). Notably, the rule contains an exception allowing the admission of subsequent measures to sho......
  • Hyundai Motor Am. & Hyundai Motor Co. v. Hutton, 2015-CA-01013-SCT
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • September 16, 2021
    ...them from taking, steps in furtherance of added safety.'"Estate of Bloodworth ex rel. Bloodworth v. Ill. Cent. R.R. Co., 129 So.3d 888, 901 (Miss. 2013) (quoting FRE 407 advisory comm. n.). Notably, the rule contains an exception allowing the admission of subsequent measures to show &q......
  • Holstine v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:14cv58-DPJ-FKB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Mississippi
    • June 16, 2015
    ...based on a violation of section 77-9-225 fails as a matter of law. See Estate of Bloodworth ex rel. Bloodworth v. Ill. Cent. R.R. Co., 129 So. 3d 888, 894 (Miss. 2013).Page 16 b. 49 C.F.R. § 222.21 The pertinent federal regulation provides: (a) [T]he locomotive horn on the lead locomotive o......

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