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Sweet Valley Missionary Baptist Church v. Alfa Ins. Corp.

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

October 31, 2013

SWEET VALLEY MISSIONARY BAPTIST CHURCH a/k/a Hub Community Baptist
v.
ALFA INSURANCE CORPORATION a/k/a Alfa General Insurance Corporation a/k/a Alfa Mutual General Insurance Company a/k/a Alfa Specialty Insurance Corporation.

Marc L. Frischhertz, David Lee Brewer, attorneys for appellant.

Toby Justin Gammill, Whitney Warner Gladden, Jackson, Jacob O. Malatesta, Greenville, attorneys for appellee.

Page 644

COLEMAN, Justice.

¶ 1. Sweet Valley Missionary Baptist Church (Sweet Valley) filed a complaint on August 29, 2008, against its insurance carrier, Alfa Insurance Corporation (Alfa). Based on Sweet Valley's failure to cooperate in discovery, the trial court entered an order of dismissal on June 29, 2009. On July 8, 2009, Sweet Valley filed a motion to set aside judgment, or, in the alternative, a motion for new trial. The trial court denied the motion on January 29, 2010, and, in response, Sweet Valley filed a second complaint against Alfa the same day. The trial court dismissed the second claim based on the expiration of the statute of limitations. Sweet Valley appealed. On rehearing, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's judgment and remanded for further proceedings. Alfa filed a petition for writ of certiorari, and we granted it. We hold that a motion filed pursuant to Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) tolls the applicable statute of limitations, and we reverse the decision of the trial court.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶ 2. Sweet Valley filed a complaint on August 29, 2008, against Alfa, its insurance carrier. Sweet Valley alleged a breach of contract based on Alfa's allegedly deficient coverage payment for damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. Sweet Valley alleged that Alfa's payout did not cover all of its losses and did not meet its policy limits as provided in the insurance contract. During discovery, problems arose when one of Sweet Valley's attorneys, Marc Frischhertz, failed to follow the proper procedures to be admitted to practice pro hac vice in Mississippi. Under the belief that he already had been admitted to practice pro hac vice, Frischhertz signed discovery and expert designations. Because doing so while not admitted to practice law created discovery issues, the trial court dismissed Sweet Valley's case without prejudice on June 29, 2009.

¶ 3. Soon after, on July 8, 2009, Sweet Valley filed a motion to set aside the judgment or for a new trial. A hearing was held, and on January 29, 2010, the circuit court denied Sweet Valley's motion. On that same day, Sweet Valley filed a new complaint against Alfa. Alfa filed a motion to dismiss the second complaint alleging that while the three-year statute of limitations was tolled during the first lawsuit, the clock resumed when the suit was dismissed on June 29, 2009. Therefore, Alfa argues that the statute of limitations has run as to Sweet Valley's January 29, 2010, complaint. In its order dismissing the second complaint, the trial court determined that Sweet Valley had filed its motion to set aside the judgment or for a new trial pursuant to Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 59, and that the motion did not toll the running of the statute of limitations. Additionally, the trial court found that as of June 29, 2009, forty-six days remained on the three-year statute of limitations, thus making August 14, 2009, the operative deadline for the filing of new complaints. Because Sweet Valley's second complaint was not filed until January 29, 2010, the trial court dismissed the complaint as untimely, and Sweet Valley appealed. We assigned the case to the Court of Appeals.

¶ 4. The Court of Appeals first affirmed the trial court's dismissal. However, on rehearing, the Court of Appeals issued a second opinion, replacing the first, in which the court agreed with Sweet Valley's claim that its motion was timely. Sweet Valley Missionary Baptist Church v. Alfa Ins. Corp., 124 So.3d 683 (Miss.Ct.App.2013), cert. granted, 115 So.3d 804 (Miss.2013). The court noted that a Rule 59 motion for new trial tolls the statute of

Page 645

limitations on the underlying claim, just as it tolls the period of appeals and suspends the finality of judgments. The Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the trial court dismissing the second complaint and remanded the case. Alfa filed a petition for writ of certiorari, which we granted.

DISCUSSION

¶ 5. The issue presented by Alfa is whether the " Motion to Set Aside Judgment or in the Alternative, Motion for New Trial" filed by Sweet Valley on July 8, 2009, tolled the statute of limitations on the underlying contract claim.

¶ 6. The standard of review concerning a trial court's grant or denial of a motion to dismiss is de novo. Scaggs v. GPCH-GP, Inc., 931 So.2d 1274, 1275 (¶ 6) (Miss.2006). " When considering a motion to dismiss, the allegations in the complaint must be taken as true[,] and the motion should not be granted unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff will be unable to prove any set of facts in support of his claim." Id. (quoting Lang v. Bay St. Louis/Waveland Sch. Dist., 764 So.2d 1234, 1236 (¶ 7) (Miss.1999)) (citing T.M. v. Noblitt, 650 So.2d 1340, 1342 (Miss.1995)). Issues involving the statute of limitations are reviewed de novo. Lincoln Elec. Co. v. McLemore, 54 So.3d 833, 835 (¶ 10) (Miss.2010).

¶ 7. Sweet Valley argues that the trial court erred when it denied Sweet Valley's motion for a new trial based on the expiration of the statute of limitations. Instead, Sweet Valley would apply the decision of Court of Appeals, which determined that the statute of limitations was tolled by the filing of the ...


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