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City of Jackson v. Williamson

February 25, 1999

CITY OF JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI
v.
CHARLES WILLIAMSON AND BETH WILLIAMSON



The opinion of the court was delivered by: McRAE, Justice

ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 09/05/95

TRIAL JUDGE: HON. JAMES E. GRAVES, JR.

COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: HINDS COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT

NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - PERSONAL INJURY

DISPOSITION: AFFIRMED; REMANDED-2/25/99

MOTION FOR REHEARING FILED:

MANDATE ISSUED:

EN BANC.

¶1. Certiorari was granted in this case so that we might consider only the application of post-judgment costs, statutory damages, and interest against the state and it's political subdivisions. We do not decide any other issues.

STATEMENT OF THE FACTS

¶2. Charles and Beth Williamson filed a negligence action in Hinds County Circuit Court against the City of Jackson and the Town of Flowood after Charles Williamson struck a cable while riding his motorcycle. Williamson was seriously injured. The cable spanned an access road leading to a sewage metering station on the Town of Flowood's property was owned by the City of Jackson. The cable was invisible to Williamson until he passed a point where he could not avoid it. The City had received permission from the Town to place a gate at the entrance to the access road in an attempt to curb vandalism in the area. The City instead erected two posts with a cable spanning the road. The Town denies granting permission for the cable.

¶3. Williamson was awarded $102,500 which included a 55 percent reduction for contributory negligence. The jury failed to award Beth Williamson anything for loss of consortium. The City then moved to have the judgment reduced by $17,500, the amount of a pre-trial settlement between the Williamsons and the Town. This motion was granted, and the Williamsons' Motion for Additur or New Trial as to Beth Williamson's consortium claim was denied.

¶4. Both the City and the Williamsons appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court's judgment as to the City and reversed and remanded issues raised by the Williamsons on cross-appeal. 704 So. 2d 466 (Miss. Ct. App. 1997) (table). The Court of Appeals found the formula used to reduce the jury's award of damages was incorrect and found some amount should have been awarded for loss of consortium.

¶5. The City filed a motion for rehearing, asserting that it was not liable for interest or statutory damages as a political subdivision. The Court of Appeals granted the motion for rehearing, withdrew the original opinion, and substituted a modified opinion which deleted the statutory damages and interest award. 706 So. 2d 264 (Miss. Ct. App. 1998) (table).

DISCUSSION

¶6. The Williamsons raise only one issue for review: whether a political subdivision may be taxed with post-judgment interest, statutory damages, and costs after the trial court's final judgment is entered and the political subdivision appeals. In its modified opinion, the Court of Appeals held that:

"[W]e find that the supreme court has as recently as the 1994 Mound Bayou case stated that interest on a judgment is not assessable against a governmental subdivision. 457 So. 2d at 340. We adhere to that pronouncement, but encourage its reconsideration."

"The legislature may have intended to permit interest in some circumstances by stating that "no judgment against a governmental entity . . . shall include an award for . . . interest prior to judgment . . ." Miss. Code Ann. § 11-46-15(2)(Supp. 1997). It is the implication of that statement, not the explicit language as required under the cited case law, that might allow post-judgment interest."

¶7. The "specific language" to which the Court of Appeals refers is found in dicta in City of Mound Bayou v. Roy Collins Constr. Co., 457 So. 2d 337 (Miss. 1984), in which this Court stated:

"Neither the state nor any of its political subdivisions has any liability to pay anything to anybody, except as expressly authorized by law. Such laws are ordinarily found in statutory form. Occasionally they undergird and are embodied in the holdings of this Court. See Pruett v. City of Rosedale, 421 So. 2d 1046, 1051-52 (Miss. 1982) (partial abolition of sovereign immunity). . . ." 457 So. 2d at 339 (emphasis added).

¶8. In a plurality decision in Presley v. Mississippi State Highway Commn., 608 So. 2d 1288, 1298 (Miss. 1992), we stated: "[t]he Legislature, as that branch of our government charged most directly with establishing policy, has a right to prescribe the parameters of the immunity of the sovereign." In response to Presley, the Mississippi Legislature enacted the following language regarding governmental liability:

"The Legislature of the State of Mississippi finds and determines as a matter of public policy and does hereby declare, provide, enact and re-enact that the "state" and its "political subdivisions", . . . are not now, have never been and shall not be liable, and are, always have been and shall continue to be immune from suit at law or in equity on account of any wrongful or tortious act or omission or breach of implied term or condition of any warranty or contract . . ." Miss. Code Ann.§ 11-46-3(1) (Supp. 1998).

We then held that statute constitutional in Mohundro v. Alcorn County, 675 So. 2d 848, 851-52 (Miss. 1996). Quoting Grimes v. Pearl River Valley Supply Dist., 930 F.2d 441, 443-44 (5th Cir. 1991), we wrote:

"The basic principle of sovereign immunity is that the "king can do no wrong." Consequently, the state is free from any liabilities unless it carves an exception. These exceptions come in the form ...


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