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Kuljis v. Winn-Dixie Montgomery, LLC

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

March 30, 2017

CYNTHIA KULJIS
v.
WINN-DIXIE MONTGOMERY, LLC

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 02/06/2015

         ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI

         HARRISON COUNTY CHANCERY COURT HON. CARTER O. BISE JUDGE

          TRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS: DAVID W. STEWART JAMES K. WETZEL GARNER J. WETZEL

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: GARNER J. WETZEL JAMES K. WETZEL

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: DAVID W. STEWART BRIAN C. WHITMAN

          WALLER, CHIEF JUSTICE

         ¶1. Cynthia Kuljis appeals the chancery court's dismissal of her Bill of Discovery for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The Bill sought discovery related to a prospective premises-liability and personal-injury claim. Finding the actions of the chancery court were correct as a matter of law, we affirm the Court of Appeals' judgment and the chancery court's dismissal of this case.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. Cynthia Kuljis alleges she suffered injuries when she tripped on a piece of rubber holding down a carpet in the Winn-Dixie grocery store in D'Iberville, Mississippi. As a result, she filed a Complaint for Discovery in the Harrison County Chancery Court, requesting that the chancellor order Winn-Dixie to "produce incident reports, photographs, video surveillance, investigation reports, work orders, witness statements of the incident in question and all other information that may be in their possession." Winn-Dixie moved to dismiss, arguing Kuljis must first file a complaint for negligence in the circuit court and obtain discovery through the Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure.

         ¶3. The chancellor dismissed Kuljis's complaint, finding she could not pursue a complaint for discovery in chancery court when the Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure provided her an adequate opportunity for discovery in circuit court. Kuljis appealed, and the Mississippi Court of Appeals affirmed. Kuljis v. Winn-Dixie Montgomery, LLC, 2016 WL 1203823, *1 (Miss. Ct. App. Mar. 29, 2016). We granted certiorari.

         DISCUSSION

         ¶4. The bill of discovery is a viable equitable action and remedy in chancery court, but not under the facts of this case. Kuljis seeks discovery in chancery court for a trip and fall at a Winn-Dixie grocery store. Yet the chancery court lacks jurisdiction over personal-injury actions. See Miss. Const. art. 6, § 159 (1890). To distinguish between the chancery court's and circuit court's subject-matter jurisdiction, "the substance of the action . . . should be controlling on the issue, not its form or label." Briggs & Stratton Corp. v. Smith, 854 So.2d 1045, 1049 (Miss. 2003) (quoting Tillotson v. Anders, 551 So.2d 212, 214 (Miss. 1989)). In addition, where doubts exist regarding the legal or equitable nature of a case, the case should be tried in the circuit court. Southern Leisure Homes, Inc. v. Hardin, 742 So.2d 1088, 1090 (Miss. 1999).

         ¶5. The bill of discovery is an original action that may be pursued when there is no other remedy, as set out in State Oil & Gas Board v. McGowan and Moore v. Bell Chevrolet-Pontiac-Buick-GMC, LLC. McGowan involved an administrative proceeding before the Mississippi Oil and Gas Board where McGowan sought additional discovery to prepare for a hearing. State Oil & Gas Bd. v. McGowan, 542 So.2d 244, 245 (Miss. 1989). After the Board denied his request, he filed a Bill of Discovery in chancery court. Id. The McGowan Court found that the Bill of Discovery was a viable action, as administrative proceedings specifically are excluded from the Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure and no discovery mechanism exists under the Administrative Procedures Act. Id. at 247. Despite finding that the Bill of ...


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