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Hyundai Motor America v. Applewhite

Supreme Court of Mississippi

October 18, 2017

HYUNDAI MOTOR AMERICA AND HYUNDAI MOTOR COMPANY Appellants
v.
OLA MAE APPLEWHITE, AS PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF AND WRONGFUL DEATH BENEFICIARIES OF DOROTHY MAE APPLEWHITE, DECEASED, CEOLA WADE, AS PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF AND WRONGFUL DEATH BENEFICIARIES OF ANTHONY J. STEWART, DECEASED, AND KENNETH CORDELL CARTER, AS PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF AND WRONGFUL DEATH BENEFICIARIES OF CECILIA COOPER, DECEASED Appellees

          ORDER

          MICHAEL K. RANDOLPH, PRESIDING JUSTICE.

         In the interest of justice, this Court "may suspend the requirements or provisions of any of these rules in a particular case . . . on its own motion and may order proceedings in accordance with its direction." M.R.A.P. 2(c). On its own motion, this Court stays this appeal pending further order of this Court and issues this order of direction.

         Hyundai filed a Supplemental Motion for New Trial or for Relief from Judgment under Rule 60(b), for a Post-Trial Hearing to Investigate Possible Outside Influences on the Jury, and for Other Relief. Subsequently, Hyundai filed a Supplemental Submission in support of its motion, "seeking targeted discovery, an investigation, and such further relief as may be proper with respect to improper outside influence on the jury in this case." Finally, Hyundai filed its Second Supplemental Submission in support of its motion, seeking, at a minimum, the production of telephone records and targeted depositions. We have examined the motions and plaintiffs' responses to all three, and find that the trial court erred in denying Hyundai's motions and remand this case for discovery and investigation, and a full and complete hearing to determine if "extraneous prejudicial information was improperly brought to the jury's attention" or if "an outside influence was improperly brought to bear on any juror." M.R.E. 606(b)(2).

         On remand, the parties are entitled to conduct discovery and depositions as provided in Chapter 5 of the Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure, Rules 26 through 37, and to obtain and issue subpoenas pursuant to Rule 45 as part of their investigation. The trial court is instructed to allow full discovery and a complete investigation of any outside influences which may have brought "a taint of unfairness, real or perceived, to the pre-trial proceedings." Hunter v. General Motors Corp., 729 So.2d 1264, 1279 (Miss. 1999). The trial court is also instructed to conduct a hearing once discovery and an investigation have been completed pursuant to Rule 606(b) of the Mississippi Rules of Evidence.

         IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that this appeal is stayed pending further order of this Court.

         IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the trial court's denial of Hyundai's Supplemental Motions for New Trial or for Relief from Judgment under Rule 60(b), for a Post-Trial Hearing to Investigate Possible Outside Influences on the Jury, and for Other Relief is vacated.

         IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the parties are entitled to conduct discovery and depositions as provided in Chapter 5 of the Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure, Rules 26 through 37, and to obtain and issue subpoenas pursuant to Rule 45 as part of their investigation. The trial court is instructed to conduct a hearing once discovery and an investigation have been completed pursuant to Rule 606(b) of the Mississippi Rules of Evidence. The trial court is then directed to certify a supplemental record on appeal in this appeal and file it with the clerk of this Court.

         SO ORDERED.

          JOIN: WALLER, C.J., RANDOLPH, P.J., BEAM AND ISHEE, JJ.

          NOT PARTICIPATING: MAXWELL AND CHAMBERLIN, JJ.

          COLEMAN, JUSTICE, JOINS WITH SEPARATE WRITTEN STATEMENT.

         ¶1. One cannot overstate the essential nature of jury integrity. Maintaining the integrity of the jury panel is paramount, foundational, and critical to the American system of justice. Accordingly, I join in today's order finding that the trial judge erred by not allowing Hyundai to conduct additional discovery on the jury tampering issue. However, I do so with a concern.

         ¶2. The Mississippi Rules of Professional Conduct require lawyers to wear more than one hat. The Preamble to the Rules of Professional Conduct begins, "A lawyer is a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system and a public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice." It is clear enough that investigating alleged jury tampering falls under the second two duties. It is the effect of the Court's action today on the first that concerns me.

         ¶3. Hyundai raised the alleged jury tampering in its brief on appeal and, inter alia, asked the Court to hold the trial court erred by refusing to allow additional discovery on the issue. Today, we agree with Hyundai and grant the relief it requested. However, we do so with absolute silence as to the other assignments of error made by Hyundai on appeal. From today's order, the parties and their attorneys have no idea whether the verdict would otherwise have been reversed or affirmed. The Court denies all of the parties and their attorneys the means to valuate the resources they will be expending on additional discovery and a hearing in the context of the litigation in which they are involved. For example, if the Court were to find reversible error elsewhere, then Hyundai in consultation with its attorneys may well decide to allocate its resources in preparation for the new trial, if any, rather than on deposition and discovery costs and ...


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