Lawson v. City of Jackson, 2021-IA-00532-SCT

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
Writing for the CourtRANDOLPH, CHIEF JUSTICE
PartiesLATOYA LAWSON v. CITY OF JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI
Docket Number2021-IA-00532-SCT
Decision Date20 October 2022

LATOYA LAWSON
v.

CITY OF JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI

No. 2021-IA-00532-SCT

Supreme Court of Mississippi

October 20, 2022


DATE OF JUDGMENT: 05/14/2021

HINDS COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT HON. ADRIENNE ANNETTE HOOPER-WOOTEN TRIAL JUDGE:

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: PHILIP CAREY HEARN WILLIAM STACY KELLUM, III

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: DREW McLEMORE MARTIN JAMES RICHARD DAVIS, JR JAMES ANDERSON, JR.

BEFORE RANDOLPH, C.J., ISHEE AND GRIFFIS, JJ.

RANDOLPH, CHIEF JUSTICE

¶1. Latoya Lawson brings an interlocutory appeal of a protective order entered by the Hinds County Circuit Court in a negligence case against the City of Jackson. The trial court issued the order due to Lawson's lack of diligence in conducting discovery and her attempts to conduct discovery outside the agreed-upon deadlines. The order protects the City from having to respond to production requests that would be due after the discovery deadlines. Additionally, the order prohibits Lawson from making public records requests and from offering any public records she might obtain as evidence at trial. Lawson argues that the

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order was an abuse of the trial court's discretion because it improperly restricted her right to access public records. The City argues that the trial court's order was wholly within the court's discretion as a discovery matter.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶2. On or about March 9, 2018, Lawson was injured when "she hit an unavoidable pothole" while driving her motorcycle on Woodrow Wilson Drive in Jackson, Mississippi.

¶3. Lawson filed a complaint against the City of Jackson in the Hinds County Circuit Court on March 29, 2019. She alleged, inter alia, that the City was negligent in constructing and maintaining the roadway and that the City's negligence caused her injuries. The City filed its answer and served its first discovery requests on April 8, 2019. Lawson responded to the City's requests for admissions on April 17, 2019, and to the City's interrogatories and requests for production on May 10, 2019.

¶4. On August 22, 2019, the trial court entered an amended agreed scheduling order which set November 29, 2019, as the deadline for completing discovery and April 6, 2020, as the trial date. The City filed an unopposed motion for continuation of trial on March 17, 2020, due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, and the trial court entered an order of trial continuance on March 18, 2020.

¶5. In September 2020, the attorneys for both parties discussed executing an amended scheduling order. The attorneys agreed to extend the discovery deadline to November 15, 2020, but that agreement was never submitted to the trial court. On October 22, 2020, the City gave Lawson notice of its desire to depose her. That deposition took place on November 2, 2020.

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¶6. On November 4, 2020, Lawson filed a motion for a scheduling order and extension of the discovery deadline but did not specify how much additional time was requested. Lawson also filed a public records request with the City on November 4, 2020. Lawson requested records of any prior pothole-related accidents in the general area of her accident. On November 5, 2020, Lawson filed her first written discovery, which consisted of interrogatories and a request for production of documents. The production request similarly asked for any notice the City might have had about prior pothole-related accidents near the location of Lawson's accident.

¶7. The City filed its opposition to Lawson's motion to extend the discovery deadline along with a motion for a protective order on November 11, 2020, arguing that Lawson had not put forth adequate reasons for extending discovery. The City also noted that its response to Lawson's production request would not be due until after the November 15, 2020 discovery deadline. Moreover, the City argued, the use of a public records request was merely an attempt to circumvent the trial court's discovery deadlines.

¶8. A hearing took place on April 23, 2021, to resolve the outstanding motions. At the hearing, Lawson argued that an office move and a bout of COVID-19 had prevented her attorneys from meeting the discovery deadlines. The City countered by arguing that Lawson had not been diligent in conducting discovery for the year and a half the case had been active.

¶9. On May 14, 2021, the trial court entered an order granting the City's motion for a protective order against Lawson's request for production of documents and her public

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records request. The order held that "Lawson is prohibited from seeking to obtain records from the City of Jackson through a public records request" and "should Lawson attempt to obtain any information related to her claim against the City of Jackson through a public records request, she will not be able to use said records and will be subject to be found in contempt of this Court's ruling." Lawson timely petitioned this Court for an interlocutory appeal, which was granted.

STATEMENT OF THE ISSUES

¶10. We are asked to determine whether the trial court erred by granting the City's protective order as to (1) Lawson's request for production of documents, (2) Lawson's ability to file a public records request with the City, and (3) Lawson's ability to offer any public records she might obtain as evidence at trial.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶11. "Trial courts are afforded broad discretion in discovery matters, and this Court will not overturn a trial court's decision unless there is an abuse of discretion[.]" Ashmore v. Miss. Auth. on Educ. Television, 148 So.3d 977, 981 (Miss. 2014) (citing Pierce v. Heritage Props., Inc., 688 So.2d 1385...

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