Estate of Martin Luther King, Jr., Inc. v. Ballou, 12-60306

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtPER CURIAM
PartiesTHE ESTATE OF MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., INCORPORATED, a Georgia Corporation, Plaintiff - Appellant v. HOWARD NELSON BALLOU, Defendant - Appellee
Docket NumberNo. 12-60306,12-60306
Decision Date08 March 2013

INCORPORATED, a Georgia Corporation, Plaintiff - Appellant
HOWARD NELSON BALLOU, Defendant - Appellee

No. 12-60306


Filed: March 8, 2013

Summary Calendar

Appeal from the United States District Court for
the Southern District of Mississippi
U.S.D.C. No. 3:11-CV-591

Before JONES, DENNIS, and HAYNES, Circuit Judges.


The Estate of Martin Luther King, Jr., Incorporated ("the Estate") appeals the district court's grant of Howard Ballou's ("Howard") motion for summary judgment. Because the statute of limitations renders the Estate's claims untimely, we AFFIRM.

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During her employment as personal secretary to the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Maude Ballou ("Ms. Ballou") came into possession of certain documents now sought by the Estate through claims of replevin and conversion. Over the course of five years, Ms. Ballou worked for Dr. King at the Montgomery Improvement Association ("MIA") and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference ("SCLC"). Upon leaving Dr. King's employ in the summer of 1960, Ms. Ballou moved from Georgia to Alabama. After relocating, she retained possession of the documents at issue, which relate to Dr. King's work at MIA and SCLC.

Ms. Ballou and her husband began working at the Elizabeth City State University ("ECSU"). In his role as an archivist at ECSU, Ms. Ballou's husband stored the documents at issue in the basement of ECSU's library. Following his death, an archivist at ECSU discovered the documents and, believing they belonged to Ms. Ballou's husband, returned them to Howard—the son of Ms. Ballou and her husband. After learning of the documents from a newspaper article published in February 2010, the Estate contacted Howard asserting ownership of the documents and requesting their return. Howard made no response, and the Estate sued.

Howard moved for summary judgment, contending that the Estate's claims were barred by the statute of limitations and, in the alternative, that Dr. King gave the documents to Ms. Ballou as a gift, thereby divesting the Estate of any ownership interest in the documents. In support of his statute-of-limitations defense, Howard argued that the Estate's claims accrued when: (1) the documents were created by Dr. King; (2) the Estate was incorporated; or (3) the documents were discovered at ECSU by the archivist. The Estate responded that its claims accrued only after Howard refused to return the documents following the Estate's demand. The district court rejected both parties'

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arguments and found that the limitations period commenced when Ms. Ballou retained possession of the documents after leaving Dr. King's employ in the summer of 1960. Because the limitations period had run, the district court granted the motion for summary judgment. In the alternative, the district court also granted the motion based on the Estate's inability to establish its ownership of the documents in light of evidence that Dr. King gave the documents to Ms. Ballou as an inter vivos gift. The Estate timely appealed.


We review a grant of summary judgment de novo, applying the same standard as the district court. Gen. Universal Sys., Inc. v. HAL, Inc., 500 F.3d 444, 448 (5th Cir. 2007). Summary judgment is appropriate if the moving party can show that "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a). The evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. United Fire & Cas. Co. v. Hixson Bros., Inc., 453 F.3d 283, 285 (5th Cir. 2006). Generally, a party asserting an affirmative defense carries the burden of proof to establish that it applies. See Crescent Towing & Salvage Co. v. M/V ANAX, 40 F.3d 741, 744 (5th Cir.1994).


The district court appropriately determined that the Estate's claims are time-barred by Mississippi's statute of limitations.1 Depending on when the

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Estate's conversion and replevin claims arose, Mississippi's residual statute of limitations requires the commencement of these actions within three or six years after they accrue. See MISS. CODE. ANN. § 15-1-49(1) (requiring that actions arising after July 1989 "shall be commenced within three (3) years next after the cause of such action accrued, and not after"); First Bank v. E. Livestock Co., 886 F. Supp. 1328, 1330 (S.D. Miss. 1995) (explaining that § 15-1-49(1) was...

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