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Henderson v. Blount

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

May 8, 2018

JEROME HENDERSON AND WILLIE HENDERSON APPELLANTS
v.
ROOSEVELT BLOUNT APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 01/05/2016

          MARSHALL COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. ANDREW K. HOWORTH JUDGE

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANTS: KENT E. SMITH

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: ROOSEVELT BLOUNT (PRO SE)

          BEFORE GRIFFIS, P.J., WESTBROOKS AND TINDELL, JJ.

          TINDELL, J.

         ¶1. Jerome Henderson and Willie Henderson appeal the judgment of the Marshall County Circuit Court, which held that their breach of a lease-purchase contract entitled Roosevelt Blount to rescission of the contract and return of all monies he paid to or on behalf of the Hendersons. On appeal, the Hendersons claim the trial court awarded damages under an unenforceable liquidated-damages clause, failed to apply the defense of quasi-estoppel, and failed to base its determination on substantial credible evidence. After review, we find no error and affirm the circuit court's judgment.

         FACTS

         ¶2. On May 17, 2013, the Hendersons and Blount entered into a written agreement (the contract) that contemplated Blount's lease and eventual purchase from the Hendersons of five acres, including an existing structure (the building) and the use of its name, "Club Emotions." In the event of a breach or failure in certain aspects of the contract, the contract set forth remedies in separate clauses that applied depending on the specific breach or failure of either party. The contract terms relevant to this appeal required the Hendersons to make, prior to the start of the contract, certain building repairs including (but not limited to): full and total repair of the roof; repair of the exterior entrance ceilings; and curtailment of water leaking into the restroom.

         ¶3. In two separate clauses, once as "Covenants of the Landlord/Seller, " and again under "Special Provisions, " the contract delineated those repairs in all caps and bold. The contract further set forth the remedies due to Blount if the Hendersons failed to complete the repairs:[1]void the contract by written notice to the Hendersons and receive all monies paid thereunder in return; or complete the repairs himself and receive reimbursement or credit toward the payments due under the contract. Regarding Blount's obligations to the Hendersons, the contract required the tenant/buyer, Blount, to make monthly payments of $3, 000 to the Hendersons toward the total purchase price of $125, 000. Blount's default in those payments entitled the Hendersons to keep all monies paid.[2]

         ¶4. For at least eighteen months after signing the contract in May 2013, Blount made a number of payments to or on behalf of the Hendersons. Blount presented direct evidence from his wife, April Blount, that he paid the Hendersons $30, 420 during this eighteen-month time span. All parties agree that this amount fell short of the $3, 000 a month the contract contemplated for use of the property and the repaired building. However, during this time, the Hendersons failed to undertake the required repairs.

         ¶5. Between November 2014 and early 2015, the Hendersons prematurely demanded payment from Blount of the remaining balance due on the full contract amount of $125, 000. And, in early 2015, the Hendersons terminated Blount's use of the property when they sued for Blount's removal from the property by writ in the Marshall County Justice Court. Thereafter, in April 2015, Blount sued the Hendersons for breach of contract in the circuit court and sought $38, 771.[3] The circuit court held a bench trial on January 4, 2016, with the parties proceeding pro se.[4] After hearing from the parties and their witnesses, the court rendered a judgment in favor of Blount. The circuit court held: the Hendersons committed several material breaches of the contract; Blount was entitled to rescission of the contract; and Blount was entitled to a return of all monies paid in the amount of $30, 427. Aggrieved, the Hendersons appeal.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶6. On the issue of contract construction and defenses to its enforcement, "[t]he standard of review for questions concerning the construction of contracts are questions of law that are committed to the court rather than to the fact-finder." Fairchild v. Bilbo, 166 So.3d 601, 605 (¶9) (Miss. Ct. App. 2015) (citing Cherry Bark Builders v. Wagner, 781 So.2d 919, 921 (¶5) (Miss. Ct. App. 2001)). "Appellate courts review questions of law de novo." Id.

         ¶7. This Court must defer to the trial court's factual determinations when they are supported by substantial evidence unless the trial judge abused his discretion, was manifestly wrong or clearly erroneous, or applied an erroneous legal standard. Covington Cty. v. G.W., 767 So.2d 187, 189 (¶4) (Miss. 2000) (quoting Church of God ...


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