Jones Cnty. v. Estate of Bright, 2021-IA-00631-SCT

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
Writing for the CourtCOLEMAN, JUSTICE
PartiesJONES COUNTY, CITY OF ELLISVILLE, AND LAUDERDALE COUNTY v. ESTATE OF JADA BRIGHT AND ON BEHALF OF THE WRONGFUL DEATH BENEFICIARIES OF JADA BRIGHT
Docket Number2021-IA-00631-SCT
Decision Date17 November 2022

JONES COUNTY, CITY OF ELLISVILLE, AND LAUDERDALE COUNTY
v.

ESTATE OF JADA BRIGHT AND ON BEHALF OF THE WRONGFUL DEATH BENEFICIARIES OF JADA BRIGHT

No. 2021-IA-00631-SCT

Supreme Court of Mississippi

November 17, 2022


DATE OF JUDGMENT: 05/19/2021

PEARL RIVER COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. PRENTISS GREENE HARRELL TRIAL JUDGE

TRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS:

MARCUS ALAN McLELLAND

MARY LEE HOLMES

CORY NATHAN FERRAEZ

SCOTT TIMOTHY ELLZEY

CAROLINE P. GATELY

JAMES GRADY WYLY, III

DRURY SUMNER HOLLAND

LEE THAGGARD

L. CLARK HICKS, JR.

JESSICA SUSAN MALONE

WILLIAM ROBERT ALLEN

CECIL MAISON HEIDELBERG

CHADWICK MITCHELL WELCH

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANTS:

WILLIAM ROBERT ALLEN

LEE THAGGARD

L. CLARK HICKS, JR.

KATELYN ADELE RILEY

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES:

MARY LEE HOLMES

MARCUS ALAN McLELLAND

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BEFORE KING, P.J., COLEMAN AND BEAM, JJ.

COLEMAN, JUSTICE

¶1. After being arrested twice in a two-day span, once in Lauderdale County and once in Jones County, for being suspected of driving under the influence and public intoxication, Shelley Rose allegedly drove a rental van the wrong way down Interstate 59 in Pearl River County. A motor vehicle collision ensued, killing Jada Bright. On January 30, 2020, Plaintiff Estate of Jada Bright (Bright) filed a wrongful death suit in Pearl River County Circuit Court against Defendants Estate of Shelley E. Rose; EAN Holdings, LLC; Enterprise Leasing Company-South Central, LLC; Elco Administrative Services Company; Enterprise Holdings, Inc.; National Car Rental System, Inc.; Lauderdale County; Jones County; City of Ellisville; Beech's Towing &Recovery LLC; ABC 1-5; and John Does 1-5, and asserted that venue was proper per Mississippi Code Section 11-11-3 (Rev. 2019) because the claim arose out of a motor vehicle accident which occurred in Pearl River County.

¶2. Defendants Jones County, Lauderdale County, and the City of Ellisville, filed motions to change venue, alleging that they had not been sued in the proper venue, based on the specific venue statute, Mississippi Code Section 11-46-13(2) (Rev. 2019), of the Mississippi Tort Claims Act. The circuit court directed the parties to supplement their briefing on the change of venue issue, and the motions were ultimately denied. Aggrieved, Jones County, Lauderdale County, and the City of Ellisville petitioned for an interlocutory appeal arguing that venue in the Circuit Court of Pearl River County was improper and that the case should be transferred either to Jones County or Lauderdale County.

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¶3. We reverse the circuit court's judgment denying the change of venue motions, and we remand the case with instructions to transfer venue either to Jones County or Lauderdale County.

FACTS

¶4. On November 19, 2018, Shelley Rose rented a Dodge Caravan from EAN Holdings, LLC; Enterprise Leasing Company-South Central, LLC; Elco Administrative Services Company; Enterprise Holdings, Inc; and/or National Car Rental System, Inc. The next day, deputies with the Lauderdale County Sheriff's Department responded to a call at TravelCenters of America Truck Stop in Meridian, Mississippi, concerning a suspected impaired driver in a vehicle matching the description of the rental car Rose had rented. Witnesses claimed they had been run off the road by the driver of the car and that the car hit a pole in the parking lot of the truck stop. Deputies reached the driver of the car and found her exhibiting signs of intoxication. Rose was taken to the Lauderdale County Detention Center, was booked around 4:24 p.m., and was charged with DUI 4 and later released from custody around 10:23 p.m. of the same day.

¶5. On November 21, 2018, Ellisville Police Department received a report of a suspicious woman attempting to break into vehicles at a local gas station. Captain Wayne McLemore responded to the call and found an intoxicated Rose. She was charged with public intoxication and transported to the Jones County jail at around 9:48 a.m. Rose remained in jail until 11:00 p.m., when she was transported to the Ellisville Police Department and

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released on bond. Ellisville police drove Rose to a towing service, where she arranged to retrieve her rental vehicle just as she had done after her arrest in Lauderdale County

¶6. The next morning, November 22, 2018, while driving the rented Dodge Caravan in Pearl River County, Rose, while impaired, traveled north in the southbound lane of I-59 and collided head-on with a vehicle driven by Jada Bright, who died at the scene of the accident.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶7. "The determination for proper venue is governed by statute." Miss. Crime Lab. v. Douglas, 70 So.3d 196, 202 (¶ 16) (Miss. 2011); see also Park on Lakeland Drive, Inc. v. Spence, 941 So.2d 203, 206 (¶ 8) (Miss. 2006) ("Venue is a function of statute." (quoting Flight Line, Inc. v Tanksley, 608 So.2d 1149, 1155 (Miss. 1992))). The application of the Mississippi Tort Claims Act and its venue statute is a question of law, to which the Mississippi Supreme Court applies de novo review. Miss. Dep't of Hum. Servs. v. S.C., 119 So.3d 1011, 1013 (Miss. 2013); City of Jackson v. Harris, 44 So.3d 927, 931 (Miss. 2010). Indeed, it is well established that "statutory interpretation is a matter of law which this Court reviews de novo." Adams v. Baptist Mem'l Hosp.-DeSoto, Inc., 965 So.2d 652, 655 (Miss. 2007) (citing Franklin Collection Serv., Inc. v. Kyle, 955 So.2d 284, 287 (Miss. 2007)).

DISCUSSION

I. Whether the Court properly denied a transfer of venue.

¶8. The Estate of Jada Bright has asserted monetary damages claims against Jones County, Lauderdale County, and the City of Ellisville. The claims are exclusively governed

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by the Mississippi Tort Claims Act, Mississippi Code Sections 11-46-1 to -23 (Rev. 2019). Mississippi Code Section 11-46-7(1) provides:

(2) The remedy provided by this chapter against a governmental entity or its employee is exclusive of any other civil action or civil proceeding by reason of the same subject matter against the governmental entity or its employee or the estate of the employee for the act or omission which gave rise to the claim or suit; and any claim made or suit filed against a governmental entity or its employee to recover damages for any injury for which immunity has been waived under this chapter shall be brought only under the provisions of this chapter, notwithstanding the provisions of any other law to the contrary.

Miss. Code Ann. § 11-46-7(1) (Rev. 2019).

¶9. The tort claims act is to "be interpreted as expressly written or by necessary implication in order to carry out the Legislature's intent to strictly limit the State's waiver of state sovereign immunity." Knight v. Miss. Transp. Comm'n, 10 So.3d 962, 967 (Miss. Ct. App. 2009), overruled on other grounds by Little v. Miss. Dep't of Transp., 129 So.3d 132 (Miss. 2014). All parties agree that the Mississippi Tort Claims Act controls here.

¶10. The...

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