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Carpenter v. Kenneth Thompson Builder, Inc.

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

August 21, 2014

JEANETTE CARPENTER
v.
KENNETH THOMPSON BUILDER, INC., COASTAL MASONRY, PRO MOW LAWN CARE, INC. AND CAPITAL SECURITY SERVICES, INC. CONSOLIDATED WITH JEANETTE CARPENTER
v.
KENNETH THOMPSON BUILDER, INC., COASTAL MASONRY, PRO MOW LAWN CARE, INC., CAPITAL SECURITY SERVICES, INC., MALLETTE BROTHERS CONSTRUCTION, INC. AND MISSISSIPPI TRANSPORTATION COMMISSION a/k/a MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

         DATE OF JUDGMENT: 06/27/2011.

Page 821

          COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: JACKSON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT.  TRIAL JUDGES: HON. ROBERT P. KREBS, HON. KATHY KING JACKSON.

          THE JUDGMENT OF THE COURT OF APPEALS IS REVERSED AND THE JUDGMENTS OF THE JACKSON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT ARE REINSTATED AND AFFIRMED.

         FOR APPELLANT: A. NORRIS HOPKINS, JR.

         FOR APPELLEES: STEPHEN G. PERESICH, PATRICK H. ZACHARY, VICKI R. LEGGETT, MARK D. NORTON, RICHARD D. NORTON, EDWARD C. TAYLOR, KRISTI R. BROWN.

         FOR APPELLEES: STEPHEN G. PERESICH, JOHANNA M. MCMULLAN, PATRICK H. ZACHARY, VICKI LEGGETT, MARK D. NORTON, RICHARD D. NORTON, EDWARD C. TAYLOR, KRISTI R. BROWN, J. STEPHEN WRIGHT, T. PHILLIP HUSKEY, WILLIAM E. WHITFIELD, III, KARA L. LIND.

         CHANDLER, JUSTICE. RANDOLPH, P.J., PIERCE AND COLEMAN, JJ., CONCUR. LAMAR, J., CONCURS IN PART AND DISSENTS IN PART WITH SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION JOINED BY KITCHENS AND KING, JJ. WALLER, C.J., AND DICKINSON, P.J., NOT PARTICIPATING.

          OPINION

Page 822

          NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - PERSONAL INJURY

         ON OF CERTIORARI

         CHANDLER, JUSTICE

         [¶1] We granted certiorari in this personal-injury negligence action to clarify state law on the doctrine of claim-splitting. After new defendants were identified during discovery on her original complaint, Plaintiff Jeanette Carpenter filed a motion to amend her complaint to include the newly discovered defendants. A hearing could not be scheduled in time for the trial court to approve the amendment before the expiration of the three-year statute of limitations. In an effort to avoid losing the opportunity to bring the new defendants into the litigation, Carpenter filed a second action before the statute of limitations ran, based on the exact same set of facts, in the same court, and naming the same new defendants named in the motion to amend. The trial court dismissed both cases. The cases were consolidated for purpose of appeal. We hold that Carpenter's procedural actions constituted impermissible claim-splitting as outlined by this Court in Wilner v. White, 929 So.2d 315 (Miss. 2006). Therefore, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and affirm the judgments of the Jackson County Circuit Court.

         FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS BELOW

         [¶2] On August 15, 2007, Jeanette Carpenter tripped on some parking-lot striping tape at a welcome center on Interstate 10. The resulting fall caused injuries, including two broken wrists as well as lacerations and bruising to her face from the impact with the pavement.

         [¶3] On June 26, 2008, Carpenter filed a negligence suit against the Mississippi Department of Transportation and five John Does (" Carpenter I" ). The case was assigned to Circuit Judge Kathy King Jackson. More than a year later, Carpenter moved to amend her complaint to add Mallette Brothers Construction, Inc., and J.L. McCool Contractors. Judge Jackson granted the motion. This first amended complaint was filed within the statute of limitations.

Page 823

          [¶4] On March 4, 2010, Carpenter filed a second motion for leave to amend her complaint. This time, she sought to add Kenneth Thompson Builders (" KTB " ), Coastal Masonry, Pro Mow Lawn Care, and Capital Security as defendants. At this time, Carpenter had been aware of the existence of these potential defendants (via interrogatory responses) for almost a year. Carpenter attempted to set a hearing on the motion before the statute of limitations expired on August 15, 2010, but the parties were not able to select a hearing date agreeable to all parties.[1] The court ultimately approved the second amended complaint on November 12, 2010, after the statute of limitations had run.

         [¶5] On July 22, 2010, prior to the statute-of-limitations deadline and in light of the likelihood that the amendment would not be granted before August 15, Carpenter filed a second complaint (" Carpenter II" ), also in the Circuit Court of Jackson County, naming KTB, Coastal Masonry, Pro Mow Lawn Care, and Capital Security as defendants. This case was assigned to Circuit Judge Robert Krebs. Carpenter filed various motions to consolidate the cases. The motions to consolidate were never ruled on at the trial level.

         [¶6] KTB and the other new defendants filed motions to dismiss both cases. Judge Jackson granted the motion to dismiss Carpenter I on the ground that the second amended complaint was filed after the statute of limitations had run.[2] This order granting dismissal was entered June 27, 2011. Judge Krebs granted the motion to dismiss Carpenter II on the ground that the second complaint impermissibly split Carpenter's cause of action in violation of Wilner. This order granting dismissal was entered on June 28th, 2011.[3]

         [¶7] The Court of Appeals reversed both dismissals, rejecting the claim-splitting argument and finding that the two cases should be considered consolidated for purposes of remand. Jeanette Carpenter v. Kenneth Thompson Builder, et al., 186 So.3d 855, 2013 WL 2180136 (Miss. Ct.App. 2013). The defendants appeal.

         DISCUSSION

         1. Standard of review

         [¶8] Typically, we review motions to dismiss under a de novo standard. Scaggs v. GPCH-GP, Inc., 931 So.2d 1274, 1275 (Miss. 2006). While the question of whether the claim-splitting doctrine is applicable to a case is a question of law

Page 824

reviewed de novo, dismissals on the basis of the claim-splitting doctrine are made for the purpose of eliminating duplicative litigation and for docket control. See Kanciper v. Suffolk Co. Soc. for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Inc., 722 F.3d 88 (2d Cir. 2013); Katz v. Gerardi, 655 F.3d 1212, 1217 (10th Cir. 2011). Such dismissals are premised on the fact that the party in question is involved in a pending duplicative action in which the party's procedural and substantive due-process rights are being satisfied. Therefore, " [w]e will review for abuse of discretion when a [trial] court's 'dismissal for claim-splitting was premised in significant measure on the ability of the district court to manage its own docket,' and will reverse the [trial] court only if we find its judgment 'exceeded the bounds of the rationally available choices given the facts and the applicable law in the case at hand.'" Katz, 655 F.3d at 1217 (quoting Big Sky Network Canada, Ltd. v. Sichuan Provincial Gov't, 533 F.3d 1183, 1186 (10th Cir. 2008)).[4]

         2. The doctrines of res judicata and claim-splitting

         [¶9] We agree with the circuit court that Carpenter II violated this state's long-standing prohibition on claim-splitting. Since a final judgment was entered dismissing the defendants with prejudice from Carpenter I before a final judgment was entered dismissing Carpenter II, we additionally find it ...


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