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City of Belzoni v. Johnson

Supreme Court of Mississippi

September 12, 2013

CITY OF BELZONI, Mississippi
v.
Shirley JOHNSON.

Page 217

Stephanie N. Morris, attorney for appellant.

S. Craig Panter, Ronald E. Stutzman, Jr., Jackson, attorneys for appellee.

Before WALLER, C.J., LAMAR and PIERCE, JJ.

WALLER, Chief Justice.

¶ 1. Shirley Johnson sued the City of Belzoni and two city employees for employment discrimination and sexual harassment. A Humphreys County jury rendered a verdict in Johnson's favor, resulting in monetary judgments against each of the three defendants, severally. The defendants appealed, and this Court affirmed the verdict. The City now appeals from the circuit court's order granting Johnson's motion to enforce the defendants' supersedeas bond against the City alone. Finding that the trial court erred in enforcing a deficient supersedeas bond against the City to satisfy the judgments against the two codefendants, we reverse and render.

FACTS & PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶ 2. Shirley Johnson began working as a patrol officer for the City of Belzoni in 2004, and she was the only female officer on the force at the time. In 2006, Johnson filed suit against the City, Chief of Police Mickey Foxworth, and police officer David James, claiming she had been subjected to gender discrimination, including sexual harassment, in the workplace.[1] The three defendants were represented by the same

Page 218

attorney.[2] At the conclusion of the trial, the jury returned a verdict in Johnson's favor, awarding her $50,000 against each of the three defendants, severally. In addition, the trial court awarded attorney's fees and litigation expenses to Johnson, allocated equally among the defendants. On October 28, 2010, the trial court entered its final judgment of $213,734.88, ordering each defendant to pay $71,244.96 to Johnson.

¶ 3. On November 18, 2010, the defendants submitted an " Appeal Bond to Supreme Court with Supersedeas" to the circuit clerk. The bond was submitted by " City of Belzoni, et al.," and signed by Stephanie N. Morris, " Attorney for Appellants." The specific language of this supersedeas bond is the focus of the City's appeal. The bond states, in relevant part:

KNOW ALL BY THIS BOND, that we, the City of Belzoni, as principal and as an Agency of the State of Mississippi, are held and firmly bound unto Plaintiff Shirley Johnson, or her administrators, executors, successors or assigns, in the total penal sum of $213,734.88, payable by three severally by the City of Belzoni, Mickey Foxworth and David James, for which payment to be made, we bind ourselves, our successors and assigns, jointly and severally.

(Emphasis added.) The circuit clerk approved the bond, and the defendants prosecuted their appeal with this Court. This Court affirmed the judgment in favor of Johnson on February 16, 2012. See City of Belzoni v. Johnson, 80 So.3d 99, 102 (Miss.2012).

¶ 4. Once this Court's decision was final, Johnson served a writ of garnishment on the City's bank and acquired payment for the City's one-third portion for the judgment. Johnson then moved the circuit court to enforce the rest of the judgment against the City. In her motion, Johnson claimed that, by posting the supersedeas bond, the City had bound itself to her for the entire judgment, not just the one-third originally allocated to it. In response, the City argued that the language of the bond merely reflected each defendant's obligation under the initial judgment, with each defendant remaining one-third liable. On May 16, 2012, the Humphreys County Circuit Court ruled that, pursuant to the language of the supersedeas bond, the City had bound itself to Johnson not only for its one-third of the judgment, but also for the two-thirds owed by the other two defendants. Accordingly, the court granted Johnson's motion to enforce the supersedeas bond against the City.

¶ 5. Aggrieved by the trial court's order, the City has appealed to this Court, ...


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