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Brown v. Professional Building Services, Inc.

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

August 30, 2018

CURTIS BROWN
v.
PROFESSIONAL BUILDING SERVICES, INC.

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 03/24/2016

          HINDS COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, HON. JEFF WEILL, SR. TRIAL JUDGE:

         ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI

          TRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS: STEVEN HISER FUNDERBURG JASON HOOD STRONG ROBERT L. GIBBS ROGER C. RIDDICK CRAIG ROBERT SESSUMS MARCIAL DAVIDSON FORESTER, III

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: STEVEN HISER FUNDERBURG CRAIG ROBERT SESSUMS

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: JASON HOOD STRONG ROBERT L. GIBBS RICHARD BENJAMIN McMURTRAY

          BEAM, JUSTICE

         ¶1. Curtis Brown petitioned this Court for a writ of certiorari, claiming the Mississippi Court of Appeals erred in affirming the judgment entered by the Hinds County Circuit Court in favor of Professional Building Services (PBS). Brown claimed the trial court had abused its discretion by admitting certain evidence and by instructing the jury with instructions to which Brown had objected at trial.

         ¶2. Finding that the jury was instructed properly on this evidence and that the testimony was provided by an expert qualified under Mississippi Rule of Evidence 702, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals, and we affirm the judgment of the circuit court.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶3. Brown was the former clubhouse manager at Colonial Country Club in Jackson, Mississippi, which closed its doors in 2014. On September 28, 2012, Brown arrived at the clubhouse around 5 p.m. to do a monthly inventory of the "19th Hole Lounge" and "the grill"-a restaurant inside the clubhouse. That night, PBS employees also were at the clubhouse, cleaning and vacuuming the grill area. Around 8:00 p.m., the PBS staff left, leaving Brown alone in the clubhouse.

         ¶4. After finishing his reports, Brown walked around the clubhouse to make sure all of the doors had been locked. Brown testified that, as he approached the grill, he noticed that the overhead lights were off, that the lights were on behind the bar, in the pool area outside, and in the hallway outside the grill. An ice cream machine, a soda machine, and beer signs inside the grill also produced some light. Brown noted that, with this secondary lighting, "[the grill] is never totally dark." On cross-examination, Brown told PBS that there was "quite a bit of light," even though the overhead lights had been turned off.

         ¶5. Brown testified that, "as soon as [he] made the turn" into the doorway of the grill, he stumbled and fell over a chair positioned "right in the doorway." He testified that his whole body went over the chair, the chair turned over, and he hit the ground. He felt immediate pain in his knees and face, then he passed out. When he woke up, he noticed his knees were swollen, but there was no blood. He tried to stand up but fell and fainted again. When he woke up a second time, Brown crawled to his phone and called his brother, who arrived at the clubhouse to take him to St. Dominic Hospital.

         ¶6. On separate occasions at the hospital, and before he was given pain medication, Brown told a doctor and a nurse that he had been injured when he hit a chair while running up stairs at work. But he told Michael Barrett, Colonial's general manager, that he had been injured chasing a mouse through the grill. He later reiterated the mouse story to Grace Owens, a bartender at the clubhouse. However, at trial, Brown testified that he did not remember describing any of these alternative versions of the events.

         ¶7. At St. Dominic Hospital, Brown was diagnosed with a bilateral patellar tendon rupture in both knees and underwent surgery for the injuries a few hours after he was admitted. Brown spent three days recovering in the hospital; then, he was transferred to Methodist Rehabilitation Hospital, where he had two more operations and spent more than two months rehabilitating.

         ¶8. In December 2014, Brown filed a negligence action against PBS. When the trial concluded on March 10, 2016, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendant. After reviewing Brown's post-trial motions, the circuit court denied Brown's requests for relief and entered a final judgment on the jury verdict.

         ¶9. Brown timely appealed, raising five issues. Therein, Brown argued that the trial judge had abused his discretion by:

(1) overruling Brown's objection to a photo of a chair in the doorway to the grill,
(2) denying Brown's request for a jury instruction that specifically mentioned that the overhead lights in the grill were turned off,
(3) allowing a defense expert in biomechanics to testify that Brown's claim that he suffered bilateral patellar tendon ruptures by walking into a chair was not "plausible, "
(4) excluding one answer from his treating physician's deposition testimony regarding the general possibility that there could be mistakes in medical records, and
(5) by responding to a note from a juror with a general instruction to continue deliberations.

Brown v. Prof'l Bldg. Servs., Inc., 2017 WL 4641265, at *1 (Miss. Ct. App. Oct. 17, 2017). The Court of Appeals held that the trial court properly had ruled on Brown's claims and affirmed its ruling.[1] The court first found issues (2), (4), and (5) to have been "well settled, and [that] their discussion and application to the facts of this case would not add value to the jurisprudence of this state." Id. at *2. (citing Gen. Motors Corp. v. Jackson, 636 So.2d 310, 311 (Miss. 1992)). The court analyzed only issues (1) and (3) and discussed only the photograph of a chair in the doorway of the grill and the admissibility of testimony by Dr. Bain-"an expert witness in the field of biomechanics." Id. at *5. Finding that the circuit court appropriately had allowed the jury to consider both the photograph and Dr. Bain's testimony, the Court of Appeals affirmed the circuit court's verdict, noting that "[t]he jurors were capable of considering the photo and the uncomplicated testimony . . . without being confused or misled." Id. at *5.

         ¶10. Aggrieved, Brown petitioned this Court for a writ certiorari. We granted certiorari to review whether the trial court erred in overruling Brown's objection to certain photographic evidence and expert testimony submitted by the defense.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Whether the trial court abused its discretion by allowing Exhibit 29 into evidence.

         ¶11. Before trial, Brown filed a motion in limine to exclude several pieces of evidence. Now before this Court is Exhibit 29: a photograph taken by defense counsel several years after the incident in an attempt to recreate the scene of the incident. The photograph was one of many photographs admitted into evidence by the defense to show the jury what the grill and doorway looked like. Unlike the other photographs, Exhibit ...


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