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Turner & Associates P.L.L.C v. Watkins

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

December 4, 2018

TURNER & ASSOCIATES P.L.L.C., THE ESTATE OF BENNIE L. TURNER AND ANGELA TURNER APPELLANTS
v.
GERALD WATKINS APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 08/28/2017

          PONTOTOC COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, HON. JAMES LAMAR ROBERTS JR. JUDGE:

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANTS: RANDOLPH WALKER ANGELA TURNER FORD

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: J. RHEA TANNEHILL JR. JACOB BYSTROM JORDAN

          BEFORE GRIFFIS, P.J., BARNES AND WILSON, JJ.

          BARNES, J.

         ¶1. After Gerald Watkins, a roofing contractor, was injured when he fell off a roof, he hired Turner & Associates PLLC to file a personal-injury lawsuit against the homeowner. Years later, Watkins discovered no action was filed on his behalf, and the statute of limitations had expired. He filed a complaint against Turner & Associates PLLC, Bennie Turner, and Angela Turner (collectively "Turner"), alleging legal malpractice/negligence, breach of contract, intentional or negligent misrepresentation/fraud, negligent supervision, and intentional/negligent infliction of emotional distress.

         ¶2. On August 13, 2013, Watkins filed a motion for summary judgment, which the Pontotoc County Circuit Court denied, finding there were genuine issues of material fact as to whether there was a binding contract between the parties and whether Turner's paralegal, Carolyn Turner Karriem, "had the authority to enter into the settlement of the legal malpractice case."[1]

         ¶3. On June 28, 2016, Watkins filed a notice of discovery, including requests for admissions. When Turner failed to respond, Watkins filed a second motion for summary judgment on February 8, 2017, arguing that his requests for admissions were deemed admitted. Turner claimed it never received the discovery requests. The trial court granted the motion, finding that under Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 36, the requests for admissions were deemed admitted and Watkins was entitled to summary judgment.

         ¶4. Turner appeals, claiming: (1) Watkins did not prove the underlying claim would have been successful; (2) Karriem's authority to enter into a settlement was not addressed by the requests for admissions; (3) the trial court failed to make any findings of fact whether Turner received the notice of service of discovery; (4) the requests for admissions did not resolve all genuine issues of material fact; and (5) the "release" was not enforceable. Finding the trial court's order granting summary judgment is not a final, appealable judgment, we dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.[2]

         DISCUSSION

         ¶5. Although the issue of jurisdiction was not raised by either party, this Court must address on its own initiative whether the trial court's order was a final, appealable judgment. Jeffers v. Saget, 235 So.3d 103, 105 (¶8) (Miss. Ct. App. 2017). "Jurisdiction is a question of law, which we review de novo." Way v. Clark, 208 So.3d 9, 11 (¶10) (Miss. Ct. App. 2017) (citing Germany v. Germany, 123 So.3d 423, 427 (¶8) (Miss. 2013)). "A final, appealable judgment is one that adjudicates the merits of the controversy which settles all issues as to all the parties and requires no further action by the [trial] court." Walters v. Walters, 956 So.2d 1050, 1053 (¶8) (Miss. Ct. App. 2007) (internal quotation marks omitted). In its order filed on August 28, 2017, the trial court concluded:

On June 28, 2016, counsel for the Plaintiff propounded discovery including interrogatories, request for production of documents and requests for admissions on the Defendants. To date, the Defendants have failed to respond to the discovery requests. Pursuant to . . . Rule 36, the Requests for Admissions are deemed admitted since the Defendants failed to respond within thirty (30) days. The Requests for Admissions addressed dispositive items like admitting there was a valid contract between the Plaintiff and Defendants, admitting the Defendants misrepresented possible awards to Plaintiff, admitting the statute of limitations expired on the Plaintiff's claim, admitting negligence, misrepresentations, and fraud by Defendants, and admitting that the Absolute Release was a legally and bind[ing] document.
In light of these admissions, under Rule 56 of the [Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure, ] there are no genuine issues of material facts and therefore summary ...

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