OF JUDGMENT: 08/06/2015
COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, HON. WILLIAM A. GOWAN JR. TRIAL JUDGE
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: CRYSTAL WISE MARTIN SUZANNE KEYS.
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: JAMIE D. TRAVIS TUJUANA S. MCGEE.
IRVING, P.J., ISHEE, FAIR AND WILSON, JJ.
On June 5, 2013, while working as a manager at Dollar
General, Erin Howard was kidnapped and assaulted at gunpoint
by Justin Dennis. Dennis later pleaded guilty to kidnapping
and was sentenced to fourteen years in the custody of the
Mississippi Department of Corrections. Erin Howard filed a
negligence-based premises-liability claim against R.M. Smith
Investments L.P., the owner of the property where the Dollar
General was located. After proceeding with discovery, on
October 30, 2014, R.M. Smith filed its initial motion for
summary judgment. The motion was denied, but renewed again on
July 31, 2015. The Hinds County Circuit Court granted the
renewed motion for summary judgment in favor of R.M. Smith,
and Howard now appeals. Finding no error, we affirm.
Howard began working as a manager at the Dollar General
located on Capitol Street in downtown Jackson approximately
three years before the kidnapping incident occurred. R.M.
Smith leased the property to Dolgencorp LLC, the owners of
the Dollar General franchise. Howard worked for Dollar
General, and was in no way employed by R.M. Smith. Prior to
the incident, there had only been two instances of violence
on the premises. While the surrounding neighborhood
experienced frequent criminal activity, the Dollar General
location was relatively unscathed.
A few months prior to the kidnapping incident, Howard and
Dennis had two volatile encounters in which Dennis became
belligerent, and cursed at and threatened Howard. On both
occasions, Howard subsequently banned Dennis from the store
until further notice. Dennis generally abided by Howard's
ban. Howard never informed police, R.M. Smith, Dolgencorp, or
any other authoritative figure of her prior encounters with
On or about June 3, 2013, Howard was preparing the store and
the employees for supervisory visits. However, during her
preparation, the store telephone rang repeatedly. Howard
answered the phone calls, but the caller hung up each time.
She used the store's caller-ID feature to obtain the
caller's phone number, and she used her personal cell
phone to text the caller. Howard asked the caller if there
was "anything or anyone at Dollar General can assist
with [sic]." The caller responded crudely, and the pair
exchanged a series of "heated" messages that
insinuated threats of violence against the other. The caller
ended the conversation with an ominous text telling Howard
that they would "see [her] later" that day. Howard
maintains that she was unaware that the caller was in fact
Justin Dennis, and that she did not realize who the caller
was until Dennis kidnapped her. Again, Howard did not inform
anyone of this encounter.
Approximately thirty minutes after the last heated text
message was exchanged, Howard went outside into the parking
lot of the store. As seen on the indoor security video
footage, one minute later, Howard ran back into the store,
trailed by Dennis, who was carrying a handgun. Dennis fired
one shot in the store and brought Howard back outside and
loaded her into his vehicle. Howard remained with Dennis for
roughly six hours before police officers successfully
negotiated her freedom. There were no security guards
employed by R.M. Smith for the Dollar General location, nor
were any working security cameras facing the parking lot
where a large part of the incident occurred.
R.M. Smith renewed its initial motion for summary judgment,
which was granted on October 30, 2015. Howard appealed the
circuit court's decision and, while Howard asserts four
issues in her brief, all of the issues relate to the ...