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Triplett v. Southern Hens, Inc.

Supreme Court of Mississippi

March 15, 2018

STACY TRIPLETT
v.
SOUTHERN HENS, INC.

          Date Of Judgment: 07/13/2016

         COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED HON. DAL WILLIAMSON GARY DALE THRASH CHRISTOPHER RAY FONTAN STEPHEN J. CARMODY EUGENE M. HARLOW ADAM FRAZIER THRASH LAUREN OAKS LAWHORN JONES COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT TRIAL JUDGE

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: ADAM FRAZIER THRASH GARY DALE THRASH.

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: STEPHEN J. CARMODY CHRISTOPHER RAY FONTAN.

          BEFORE KITCHENS, P.J., MAXWELL AND ISHEE, JJ.

          ISHEE, JUSTICE.

         ¶1. Stacy Triplett filed three lawsuits against her former employer, Southern Hens-all stemming from an incident in which Triplett, while working, witnessed the gruesome death of a coworker. This incident caused Triplett mental anguish leading to an award of workers' compensation benefits. After Triplett allegedly incurred some trouble in collecting her award of workers' compensation benefits, Triplett sued Southern Hens and Southern Hens's carrier, Liberty Mutual. Triplett's first lawsuit against Southern Hens, for failure to pay, ultimately was dismissed. Triplett then filed a second lawsuit against Southern Hens in the Jones County Circuit Court, this time for failure to report. But for whatever reason, Triplett failed to serve Southern Hens within 120 days, as required under Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 4(h).

         ¶2. With no official court action on her second suit, and admittedly knowing that she could not show good cause for failure to serve in the second suit, Triplett filed a third suit against Southern Hens in the Jones County Circuit Court. This suit, like Triplett's second one, was for failure to report. Aware of the second suit, the circuit court dismissed Triplett's third suit as an impermissible duplicative suit. Triplett appeals. Finding no error, we affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶3. In early September 2012, Triplett, an employee at Southern Hens working the night shift, witnessed the gruesome death of a coworker. The incident caused Triplett emotional trauma-for which she sought the medical treatment of a physician. The treating physician released Triplett from work and prescribed her medication coupled with counseling sessions.

         ¶4. While these facts are disputed, Triplett claims that Southern Hens received notice that her injury was work-related on several occasions between September 9, 2012, and October 10, 2012. Triplett claims that Southern Hens failed to timely report the claim to the insurer, Liberty Mutual-which led to an inexcusable delay of Triplett receiving her benefits. And so, in July 2013, Triplett filed a petition to controvert her claim with the Mississippi Workers' Compensation Commission (the Commission), alleging that she had suffered a compensable injury in the course of her employment and she had suffered a disability as a result. Then in August 2013, Triplett filed a motion to compel medical benefits and weekly compensation against the employer and carrier. On October 17, 2013, the judge for the Commission entered an order in which the judge found no medical evidence to dispute Triplett's total-disability claim and also awarded Triplett a ten-percent penalty for untimely paid benefits. After the award, however, Triplett had trouble collecting the scheduled benefit payments from the insurer. Triplett's trouble in receiving timely payments led to three different lawsuits.

         ¶5. First, on April 9, 2014, Triplett filed suit against Southern Hens and Liberty Mutual in the Jones County Circuit Court (Triplett I). In this suit, Triplett sued Southern Hens and Liberty Mutual for alleged bad faith and gross negligence relating to their alleged failure to pay her workers' compensation benefits in a timely manner. On May 13, 2014, Southern Hens and Liberty Mutual jointly removed the case to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. On August 27, 2014, the United States District Court granted Southern Hens's Rule 12(b)(6) motion and dismissed Triplett's failure-to-pay lawsuit against Southern Hens. Specifically, the district court ruled that Triplett had failed to state a claim for relief against Southern Hens for alleged bad faith or gross negligence.

         ¶6. Nearly ten months after filing her first suit, on June 9, 2015, Triplett filed a second suit against Southern Hens, again in the Jones County Circuit Court (Triplett II). This time, Triplett sued only Southern Hens, and did so under a new theory of liability-alleged bad faith and gross negligence in failing to report her claim to Liberty Mutual in a timely manner. Even though she filed the claim, Triplett failed to serve Southern Hens with process within the mandatory 120-day period prescribed under the Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure.

         ¶7. On December 22, 2015, with Triplett II still pending in the same court, Triplett filed a third lawsuit against Southern Hens in the Jones County Circuit Court (Triplett III). The legal theory on which Triplett sued on in this suit was the same as it was in Triplett II-bad faith failure to report. Then on March 7, 2016, Southern Hens moved to dismiss Triplett III. At the time it filed its motion, Southern Hens was unaware that Triplett II even existed-because the company never had been served with process in that suit. Oral argument on Southern Hens' motion was heard, and during the hearing, Triplett's counsel notified Southern Hens and the circuit court of the existence of Triplett II-including the fact that Triplett never had served Southern Hens with ...


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