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Thibodeaux v. The Humane Society of South Mississippi

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

December 5, 2017

BEULAH M. THIBODEAUX APPELLANT
v.
THE HUMANE SOCIETY OF SOUTH MISSISSIPPI, A MISSISSIPPI NON-PROFIT CORPORATION APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 07/14/2016

         JACKSON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. DALE HARKEY JUDGE

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: DAVID MICHAEL HUGGINS ZACHRY W. TURNER G. KEVIN HOWELL

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: PETER C. ABIDE

          BEFORE LEE, C.J., WILSON AND WESTBROOKS, JJ.

          LEE, C.J.

         ¶1. Beulah M. Thibodeaux filed suit against the Humane Society of South Mississippi after being bitten by a dog previously in the Humane Society's custody. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the Humane Society. In this appeal, we must determine whether the trial court erred in doing so. Finding summary judgment was properly granted in favor of the Humane Society, we affirm.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. On April 11, 2013, Thibodeaux was bitten by a dog owned by Derek Paul Smith and Danette Smith-Petitt (the Smiths). Thibodeaux initially filed suit against the Smiths, but later amended her complaint to include the Human Society and the City of Biloxi (the City). The City was eventually dismissed due to Thibodeaux's failure to properly serve notice under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act. The Humane Society filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. Thibodeaux now appeals, asserting that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment for two reasons: (1) the Humane Society owed her a duty of care under the dangerous-propensity rule, and (2) she is a third-party beneficiary to the contract between the Humane Society and the City.

         FACTS

         ¶3. On February 12, 2013, Amanda Herndon, an officer with the City's animal-control office, responded to a call concerning a dog bite in an area of town near Irish Hill Drive and Travia Avenue. This area was known to be populated by homeless persons and was referred to in the record as a "homeless camp." Herndon completed a "bite report" noting that the dog bit a female on the left leg. Per an agreement between the City and the Humane Society, Herndon transported the dog to the Humane Society for a ten-day quarantine. The intake form completed by Herndon indicated that the dog's owner was unknown at the time. The bite report and the intake form were attached to the dog's cage during the quarantine period.

         ¶4. Crystal Cornelson was the Humane Society's animal-control supervisor. In her deposition, Cornelson stated that she observed the dog during the quarantine period and had no problems with it. After the quarantine period ended, the dog was released to his owner, Dennis Lanter. Although Herndon had testified in her deposition that Lanter was homeless, Cornelson stated that she was unaware of this since Lanter gave the Humane Society an address and phone number. In response to a question asking whether she attempted to verify addresses before releasing animals to their owners, Cornelson responded, "No, sir. All we have is their ID that we get from them, and the address that they give us." Cornelson also testified that the dog would not have been released if the intake form indicated the dog was dangerous and should not be released to Lanter. Cornelson further stated that it was the animal-control officer's responsibility to notify them if a dog should not be released.

         ¶5. On March 27, 2013, Herndon and Candice Jones, an officer with the City's animal- control office, conducted a follow up with Lanter regarding the dog. According to Jones and Herndon, the dog was chained to a tree at the homeless camp. Since this violated a city ordinance, Herndon gave Lanter the option to complete an owner-surrender form in order to avoid paying a fine. Lanter agreed, and the dog was then transported to the Humane Society. The form indicated that Lanter had until April 3, 2013, to revoke his voluntary surrender and retrieve the dog; otherwise the dog would remain at the Humane Society. Both Jones and Herndon indicated that while transferring the dog to the Humane Society, the dog was acting aggressively.

         ¶6. Portions of another Humane Society employee's deposition are in the record. According to Tara High, the purpose of the ten-day quarantine is to determine whether a dog that has bitten someone shows symptoms of rabies. And the animal must be released back to the owner after the ten days ...


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