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Griffis Oil Co. v. Morrow Pump Service Inc.

April 16, 1998

GRIFFIS OIL COMPANY, INC.
v.
MORROW PUMP SERVICE, INC.



Before Prather, C.j., Smith And Waller, JJ.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Smith, Justice, For The Court:

THIS OPINION IS NOT DESIGNATED FOR PUBLICATION AND MAY NOT BE CITED, PURSUANT TO M.R.A.P. 35-A

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 8/16/96

TRIAL JUDGE: HON. C.E. MORGAN, III

COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: GRENADA COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT

NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - CONTRACT

On or about May 4, 1992, the Appellee, Morrow Pump Service, entered into a contract to install two (2) underground fuel holding tanks for Griffis Oil Company, Appellant herein. Morrow was to dig holes in which to place the fuel tanks, install the fuel tanks, refill the holes, and cover them with concrete. Upon completion of the installation process, an area of concrete over the fuel tanks settled down approximately six to eight inches. Thus, removal and replacement of a portion of the concrete was necessary.

Morrow contends that removal and replacement of a 30 x 32 foot area of concrete was all that was necessary to correct the problem and that prior to litigation they offered to make such repairs at no charge. Morrow further contends that Griffis declined Morrow's offer and hired another company who installed a 40 x 45 foot concrete pad.

On the other hand, Griffis contends that they declined Morrow's offer because it was conditioned upon a complete release of Morrow from any further liability. On March 6, 1995, Griffis filed a complaint against Morrow asserting the following causes of actions: (1) a breach of contract claim, and (2) a tort, including a claim for extra contractual damages, punitive damages, and litigation expenses, predicated upon gross negligence and reckless disregard for the rights of Griffis.

Trial regarding these matters was held on August 14, 1996, in the Circuit Court of Grenada County. At the Conclusion of Griffis' case in chief, Circuit Court Judge C.E. Morgan granted Morrow's motion to dismiss Griffis' claim for punitive damages, extra-contractual damages, attorney's fees and litigation costs. On the claim for contract damages/compensatory damages, the jury returned a verdict for Griffis in the sum of $8,000.00 and final judgment was entered accordingly on August 16, 1996.

Griffis appeals to this Court and raises the following issues:

I. WHETHER THE TRIAL COURT COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR IN GRANTING THE DEFENDANT MORROW'S MOTION FOR DIRECTED VERDICT AS TO PUNITIVE DAMAGES, EXTRA CONTRACTUAL DAMAGES, AND ATTORNEY'S FEES AT THE CONCLUSION OF THE PLAINTIFF GRIFFIS' CASE IN CHIEF?

II. (a) WHETHER TESTIMONY REGARDING MORROW'S ESTIMATE OF REPAIRS CONSTITUTED INADMISSIBLE COMPROMISE SETTLEMENT NEGOTIATIONS OR WHETHER THE SAME CONSTITUTED EVIDENCE REGARDING DAMAGES AND MITIGATION THEREOF.

(b) WHETHER COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT WAIVED ANY ERROR IN THIS REGARD BY HIS FAILURE TO TIMELY ENTER AN APPROPRIATE OBJECTION.

III. WHETHER THE TRIAL COURT COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR IN ALLOWING THE TESTIMONY OF DWAYNE HUDSPETH, AS AN EXPERT WITNESS, AND REGARDING THE REASONABLE COST OF REPAIR OF GRIFFIS' PROPERTY.

IV. WHETHER THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN GRANTING MORROW'S INSTRUCTION D-8 AS TO MITIGATION OF DAMAGES.

LEGAL ANALYSIS

I. WHETHER THE TRIAL COURT COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR IN GRANTING THE DEFENDANT MORROW'S MOTION FOR DIRECTED VERDICT AS TO PUNITIVE DAMAGES, EXTRA CONTRACTUAL DAMAGES, AND ATTORNEY'S FEES AT THE CONCLUSION OF THE PLAINTIFF GRIFFIS' CASE IN CHIEF?

This Court has established the standard of review for directed verdicts.

When a defendant moves for a directed verdict at the close of plaintiff's case in chief, the circuit court must consider evidence before it at the time in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, giving the plaintiff the benefit of all ...


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