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Stevens v. Wade

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

March 21, 2017

MICHAEL STEVENS APPELLANT
v.
DERRICK WADE, PERSONALLY, AND AS AN EMPLOYEE OF WESLEY HOUSECOMMUNITY CENTER, INC., ANDY HODGES, PERSONALLY, AND AS AN EMPLOYEE OF WESLEY HOUSE COMMUNITY CENTER, INC., GINGER GRISSOM STEVENS, PERSONALLY, AND AS DIRECTOR OF WESLEY HOUSE COMMUNITY CENTER, INC., WESLEY HOUSE COMMUNITY CENTER, INC., NATIONAL BOARD OF GLOBAL MINISTRIES OF THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH AND BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF WESLEY HOUSE COMMUNITY CENTER, INC. APPELLEES

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 08/06/2015

         COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: LAUDERDALE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, HON. LESTER F. WILLIAMSON JR. JUDGE

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: GLENN S. SWARTZFAGER

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES: WADE G. MANOR JAMES LEROY BANKS IV WILLIAM E. READY JR. HENRY P. PATE III

         EN BANC.

          BARNES, J.

         ¶1. This case stems from the dismissal of Michael Stevens's malicious-prosecution case after his nearly two-year delay in answering discovery. Stevens appeals the judgment of the Circuit Court of Lauderdale County, which denied his motion for relief from a judgment of dismissal. Finding no error, we affirm.

         STATEMENT OF THE FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. On July 8, 2013, Stevens filed a complaint in the Lauderdale County Circuit Court against Wesley House Community Center (Wesley House); Derrick Wade and Andy Hodges, personally and as employees of Wesley House; and Ginger Grissom Stevens (Ginger), personally and as director of Wesley House; the Board of Directors of Wesley House (Board); and the National Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church (Global Ministries Board). Stevens alleged malicious prosecution, [1] abuse of process, and both intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, seeking unspecified compensatory damages and $1, 000, 000 in punitive damages.

         ¶3. The Defendants subsequently answered, and on March 13, 2014, discovery was propounded, with Ginger's filing a first request for interrogatories and production of documents on Stevens. Nearly three months later, on June 2, 2014, Ginger sent a letter via email to Stevens's counsel, D. Andrew Hassin, requesting a response to the discovery. On July 14, 2014, Stevens personally filed a letter stating he had been unable to reach his attorney for several weeks. Stevens noted that Hassin was no longer located in the office where Stevens had hired him, and was told Hassin had been hospitalized. In the letter, Stevens informed the court he was in the process of hiring a new attorney, but the record indicates he never did.

         ¶4. On August 15, 2014, Ginger's counsel, Wade Manor, sent a letter to Hassin via email demanding discovery responses by August 20, 2014, or a motion to compel would be filed. After no response from either Hassin or Stevens, Ginger filed a motion to compel discovery responses on September 19, 2014.

         ¶5. A hearing on the motion to compel was noticed on Stevens for November 18, 2014, via regular mail; however, neither Stevens nor Hassin attended. The circuit court therefore issued an order stating Stevens had until December 5, 2014, to provide discovery responses. The order was sent via regular mail and email to Hassin. On December 22, 2014, after no response from Stevens or Hassin, and no other communication between the parties, Ginger filed a motion to dismiss, which was granted as to all Defendants by the circuit court on January 26, 2015.

         ¶6. Hassin claimed he learned of the case's January 2015 dismissal with prejudice via an email from Manor's office on April 20, 2015.[2] Hassin waited another two weeks before filing a motion for relief from judgment on May 7, 2015. He explained that the reason for the delay in discovery responses was "a simple mistake" - that in October 2014, Hassin relocated his office from Jackson to Ridgeland, Mississippi.[3] He noted the address change was updated on the Mississippi Bar's website; however, Hassin's email address did not change.

         ¶7. On June 10, 2015, a hearing on the motion for relief from judgment was held, but the attorney for Appellees Wade, Hodges, Ginger, and the Global Ministries Board (Wade Manor), was absent, and the attorney for Wesley House and its Board (William Ready), objected to the hearing as he had not been notified of it. Accordingly, the circuit court ...


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