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In re Estate of Cleaveland

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

June 10, 2014

IN THE MATTER OF THE ESTATE OF AMANDA CLEVELAND, DECEASED.
v.
HERITAGE PROPERTIES, INC. AND U.S. SPECIALTY INSURANCE COMPANY, APPELLEES BECKY HODGES, ADMINISTRATOR, APPELLANT

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 02/21/2013

Page 736

COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: HINDS COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. TRIAL JUDGE: HON. JEFF WEILL SR. TRIAL COURT DISPOSITION: AFFIRMED THE MISSISSIPPI WORKERS' COMPENSATION COMMISSION'S ORDER DENYING BENEFITS.

FOR APPELLANT: DAVID N. GILLIS.

FOR APPELLEES: ROBERT P. THOMPSON, LORI JORDAN GRAHAM.

BEFORE GRIFFIS, P.J., ISHEE AND MAXWELL, JJ. LEE, C.J., IRVING AND GRIFFIS, P.JJ., BARNES, ISHEE, ROBERTS, CARLTON, FAIR AND JAMES, JJ., CONCUR.

OPINION

Page 737

NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - WORKERS' COMPENSATION

MAXWELL, J.

¶1. Amanda " Missy" Cleveland claimed she suffered physical and mental injuries from a filing cabinet falling on her at the apartment complex she managed. Afterwards, she attempted suicide several times, was in and out of the emergency room, and eventually overdosed on drugs, dying at the age of forty-one. Cleveland's mother, as administrator of Cleveland's estate, sought workers' compensation disability and death benefits, citing the supposed work accident as the cause. After sifting through evidence of Cleveland's preexisting conditions, mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, suicide attempts, and other unfortunate and tragic life circumstances, the administrative judge (AJ) and Mississippi Workers' Compensation Commission (Commission) found Cleveland's mental decompensation and death were not linked to the claimed work injury. Because we find substantial evidence supports the Commission's decision, we affirm the denial of disability and death benefits.

Procedural History

¶2. On April 15, 2000, a filing cabinet allegedly fell on Cleveland while she was managing apartments for Stonegate Apartments in Clinton, Mississippi. She filed for disability benefits with the Commission for a closed-head injury and mental injury. While her claim was pending, Cleveland died of a drug overdose. And her mother, Becky Hodges, pursued a workers' compensation claim for Cleveland's estate. Hodges later filed an amended petition to controvert, seeking death benefits for herself as Cleveland's dependent.[1]

¶3. On July 12, 2006, a hearing was held at the Commission. Both the employer and carrier admitted a physical injury occurred on April 15, 2000. But they contested any physical impairment after April 18, 2000--the date neurosurgeon Dr. Robert Smith found Cleveland reached maximum medical improvement. The employer and carrier also disputed liability for mental injury and resulting death.

Page 738

¶4. The documentary evidence offered at the hearing was quite voluminous. Scores of records of Cleveland's extensive medical history, both before and after the alleged work injury, were admitted. Depositions and/or medical records from at least twenty-five doctors and hospitals were also admitted, as were records from seven different pharmacies. Three lay witnesses and one expert witness testified live. And deposition testimony from four lay witnesses was offered.

¶5. After review, on November 1, 2006, the AJ entered an order denying disability and death benefits. The AJ found no credible evidence that the effects from the physical injury sustained on April 15, 2000, persisted after April 18, 2000. Nor did the AJ find a work-connected mental injury. She likewise found Cleveland's August 14, 2001 death was neither a direct and natural consequence of any work-connected injury, nor related to the reported filing-cabinet injury. The full Commission affirmed the AJ's order denying benefits. And on appeal, the circuit court affirmed the Commission's denial.

¶6. Hodges has now appealed to this court.

Facts

1. The Filing-Cabinet Incident

¶7. Caron Downey was Cleveland's assistant at Stonegate Apartments. She remembered Cleveland's boyfriend, Ron Allen, being with Cleveland at work when the cabinet allegedly fell on her. She also recalled Cleveland was not scheduled to work that day.

¶8. Shortly before the claimed accident, Cleveland and Allen were in Cleveland's office with the door closed for about fifteen minutes. Downey remembered Allen leaving Cleveland's office and closing the door. Then, a few minutes later, Downey heard a loud crash and scream. When she opened Cleveland's door, she saw her on the floor. The filing cabinet was resting partially on Cleveland and on a bench. Downey lifted the cabinet so Cleveland could roll from under it. Though Downey did not see any cuts or bruises, Cleveland immediately asked her to contact Allen. When he arrived, an ambulance was called. Downey and Allen both followed the ambulance to Central Mississippi Medical Center (CMMC). Cleveland was treated and released but never returned to work at Stonegate Apartments.

2. Preexisting Conditions and Circumstances

¶9. Cleveland's history of preexisting psychological issues is significant. Her mother and sister testified that Cleveland's natural father sexually abused her between the ages of ten and thirteen. And Cleveland quit school in the ninth or tenth grade. At age seventeen, she married Allen Cleveland, and the two moved to California.

¶10. In 1979, after turning eighteen, Cleveland posed for Playboy as a centerfold model. Soon after, she divorced her husband, and for the next ten years did promotional work for Playboy. Cleveland also appeared in several films, including " Blowout" and " Cheech and Chong--The Next Movie." During her time in Los Angeles, Cleveland took pills, used cocaine, and attempted suicide twice.

¶11. After her stint in California, Cleveland moved to Montreal, Canada, and became celebrity Nanette Workman's personal assistant. Four years later, in 1990, Cleveland moved back to Jackson, Mississippi, where she worked as a bartender, receptionist, leasing agent, and apartment manager. She became romantically involved with Keith Puckett, who was murdered in 1993. Medical records document her lingering grief from Puckett's death.

Page 739

¶12. In 1995, Cleveland married David White. But the couple divorced two years later. White described Cleveland's drinking problems and use of Xanax and Valium. He claimed her drug and alcohol abuse caused their divorce. Her drinking led her to rehab, and at some point in their marriage, Cleveland asked White for ...


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