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Allen v. Jackson Square Apartment Homes, LLC

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

December 12, 2017

PERSEPHANY ALLEN, AS THE NATURAL DAUGHTER AND NEXT FRIEND OF CATINA ALLEN STAFFNEY, DECEASED, AND ON BEHALF OF ALL THE HEIRS AT LAW AND WRONGFUL DEATH BENEFICIARIES OF CATINA ALLEN STAFFNEY, DECEASED, AND AS NEXT FRIEND OF MINORS, T.S. AND T.S. APPELLANT/CROSS-APPELLEE
v.
JACKSON SQUARE APARTMENT HOMES, LLC D/B/A MELROSE PLACE APARTMENTS AND JUSTIN DAVIS APPELLEES/CROSS-APPELLANTS

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 06/06/2016

         HINDS COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT HON. WILLIAM A. GOWAN JR. TRIAL JUDGE

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: JEFFREY MATTHEW GRAVES DENNIS C. SWEET III

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES: DORIS THERESA BOBADILLA MATTHEW MILES WILLIAMS

          BEFORE GRIFFIS, P.J., CARLTON AND GREENLEE, JJ.

          GRIFFIS, P.J.

         ¶1. Persephany Allen, as the natural daughter and next friend of Catina Allen Staffney, deceased, filed an action against Jackson Square Apartment Homes, LLC, for negligence following the death of Catina in an apartment fire. The circuit court allowed Allen to withdraw admissions previously deemed admitted, but ultimately granted summary judgment in favor of Jackson Square.

         ¶2. Upon review, we find the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the withdrawal of the admissions, and did not err in granting summary judgment in favor of Jackson Square. Thus, we affirm. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶3. Terry Staffney executed a residential lease agreement with Melrose Place Apartments, an apartment complex owned and managed by Jackson Square. Staffney identified himself, Catina, Terry Allen, and Terrick Allen as the occupants of Unit L-205. The lease agreement expired February 28, 2014. Following the expiration of the lease agreement, the occupants remained on the premises despite their failure to pay additional rent. As a result, Jackson Square obtained a money judgment against the occupants in the amount of $639. Thereafter, Jackson Square executed an affidavit for warrant of removal and, on May 6, 2014, deposited the requisite sum of money with the court clerk in order to obtain the removal of the occupants.

         ¶4. Despite the expiration of the lease agreement, their failure to pay rent, and Jackson Square's actions to remove them, the occupants were inside the apartment unit on the night of May 16, 2014, when a fire occurred. All of the occupants were able to vacate the unit with the exception of Catina, who unfortunately died. At the time of the fire, an order of removal had not yet been obtained.

         ¶5. On August 20, 2015, Allen filed a complaint on behalf of herself and all wrongful- death beneficiaries of Catina, and alleged various premises-liability claims against Jackson Square and Justin Davis, the maintenance man for the apartment complex.[1] Specifically, Allen alleged that Jackson Square had nonfunctioning or inadequate smoke detectors and fire alarms at the time of the fire, had inadequate and improperly trained maintenance personnel and managers, and knew or should have known that no warnings were provided and that the fire-protection measures in place were unreasonable and inadequate to warn tenants.

         ¶6. Jackson Square subsequently served written discovery, including requests for admission, upon Allen and her counsel. The discovery requests were served to Allen's counsel via email on February 26, 2016, and again at the request of Allen's counsel on February 29, 2016. Allen did not respond to the requests for admission within thirty days and, as a result, the admissions were deemed admitted by operation of law.

         ¶7. On April 12, 2016, Jackson Square's counsel sent a good-faith request to Allen's counsel and requested that Allen provide responses within ten days. Allen's counsel acknowledged the good-faith request and confirmed that discovery responses would be provided within ten days.

         ¶8. Despite the agreed-upon extension, on April 13, 2016, Jackson Square moved for summary judgment based, in part, on Allen's failure to timely respond to the requests for admission. Thereafter, on April 28, 2016, Allen filed a motion to withdraw the admissions and acknowledged her failure to timely respond to the requests for admission. Allen asserted her failure to timely respond was due to her attorney being busy and interoffice miscommunication. Despite seeking to withdraw her admissions, Allen did not respond to the requests for admission. In fact, Allen did not respond to the ...


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