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Hyundai Motor America v. Ola Mae Applewhite

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

January 18, 2019

HYUNDAI MOTOR AMERICA AND HYUNDAI MOTOR COMPANY Appellants
v.
OLA MAE APPLEWHITE, AS PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF AND WRONGFUL DEATH BENEFICIARIES OF DOROTHY MAE APPLEWHITE, DECEASED, CEOLA WADE, AS PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF AND WRONGFUL DEATH BENEFICIARIES OF ANTHONY J. STEWART, DECEASED, AND KENNETH CORDELL CARTER, AS PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF AND WRONGFUL DEATH BENEFICIARIES OF CECILIA COOPER, DECEASED Appellees

          ORDER

          WILLIAM L. WALLER, JR., CHIEF JUSTICE.

         Before the en banc Court is Hyundai's Motion to Clarify this Court's October 18, 2017 Remand Order, Appellees' Corrected Response to Hyundai's Motion to Clarify this Court's October 18, 2017 Remand Order, and Hyundai's Reply. We grant Hyundai's motion in part and further instruct the parties and trial court as follows. See M.R.A.P. 14(a).[1]

         We have been informed that the discovery ordered by this Court has been concluded. The parties are now ordered to proffer to the trial court all evidence they believe to be probative to all Supplemental Motions for New Trial or for Relief from Judgment under Rule 60(b), for a Post-Trial Hearing to Investigate Possible Outside Influences on the Jury, and for Other Relief and the responses thereto, in order to fully supplement the record before this Court. The trial court is ordered to receive all evidence submitted by the parties, both testimony and documents, along with any objections to that evidence by the parties, and to certify same to this Court.

         However, a juror's competency as a witness is not unlimited as pointed out in Appellees' Corrected Response to Hyundai's Motion to Clarify this Court's October 18, 2017 Remand Order. See M.R.E. 606. Accordingly, the trial court is ordered to complete its hearings pursuant to Rule 606(b). Once the 606(b) hearings have been completed, the trial court shall make findings of fact related thereto and shall certify to this Court and supplement the record on appeal with the transcript of the hearing and any evidence proffered. See M.R.A.P. 14(b).[2]

         IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the parties are to present and the trial court is instructed to receive all evidence, along with objections, probative to the Supplemental Motion for New Trial or for Relief from Judgment under Rule 60(b), for a Post-Trial Hearing to Investigate Possible Outside Influences on the Jury, and for Other Relief and responses thereto.

         IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the trial court is to complete its Rule 606(b) hearings, ensuring jurors receive the protections specially afforded to them by Rule 606(b) and make findings of fact as provided by Rule 14(b) of the Mississippi Rules of Appellate Procedure.

         IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the trial court shall promptly certify to this Court a supplemental record to this appeal to be filed with the Clerk of this Court. The supplemental record shall include all evidence presented by the parties, objections, and transcripts of all proceedings, including transcripts of the 606(b) hearings, and all exhibits. Upon the filing of the supplemental record with the Clerk of this Court, the parties shall file supplemental briefs on the following schedule:

Appellants' supplemental brief to be filed within forty days of the filing of the supplemental record; Appellees' supplemental brief to be filed within thirty days of service of the Appellants' supplemental brief; and Appellants' supplemental reply brief to be filed within fourteen days of service of Appellees' supplemental brief. The length of the briefs are governed by Mississippi Rule of Appellate Procedure 28(h).

         SO ORDERED

          AGREE: WALLER, C.J., RANDOLPH, P.J., COLEMAN, BEAM AND ISHEE, JJ.

          NOT PARTICIPATING: MAXWELL AND CHAMBERLIN, JJ.

          KITCHENS, PRESIDING JUSTICE, OBJECTING TO THE ORDER WITH SEPARATE WRITTEN STATEMENT:

         ¶1. I find the procedure that this Court has contrived in response to Hyundai's motion to clarify our October 18, 2017, remand order to be highly irregular. Hyundai asks this Court to interpret its October 18, 2017, order in a manner that requires the trial court to complete the hearing pursuant to Rule 606(b) of the Mississippi Rules of Evidence and certify a supplemental appeal record without conducting any fact-finding or issuing any ruling on the ultimate issue of whether a reasonable possibility exists that the jury's verdict was altered by extraneous influences. In other words, Hyundai wants the trial court to hold a Rule 606(b) hearing, but for this Court, rather than the trial court, to rule on the evidence adduced at that hearing. Hyundai makes this request for clarification despite this Court's clear language in its October 18, 2017, order staying the appeal and remanding the case to the trial court "for discovery and investigation, and a full and complete hearing to determine if 'extraneous prejudicial information was improperly brought to the jury's attention' or if 'an outside influence was improperly brought to bear on any juror.' M.R.E. 606(b)(2)." (Emphasis added.) Because this Court ordered a hearing to determine the ultimate issues under Rule 606(b), it is abundantly clear that we ordered the trial court to make a judicial determination concerning those issues and no clarification of the October 18, 2017, order is needed.

         ¶2. Contrary to our perfectly clear remand order, the Court grants Hyundai's motion for clarification in part and orders the trial court to receive evidence and objections, complete its Rule 606(b) hearing, and make findings of fact related thereto. We require the trial court to refrain from making a ruling on the merits, but to certify a supplemental appeal record to this Court so that we can make the ultimate determination of whether a new trial is required because of extraneous influences on the jury, if any. In crafting this scheme, this Court sidesteps the procedure it adopted for addressing allegations of extraneous influences on juries in Gladney v. Clarksdale Beverage Co., Inc., 625 So.2d 407 (Miss. 1993), that has been applied in numerous cases. According to that procedure, when an allegation of juror misconduct arises, an investigation must occur if the party alleging misconduct makes a threshold showing that is adequate to overcome the presumption of jury impartiality. Id. at 418. That party must show "that there is sufficient evidence to conclude that good cause exists to believe that there was in fact an improper outside influence or extraneous prejudicial information." Id. at 419. If the trial court finds that a threshold showing has been made, then a post-trial hearing must occur. Id. "The trial court has the inherent power and duty to supervise these post-trial investigations to ensure that jurors are protected from harassment and to guard against inquiry into subjects beyond which a juror is competent to testify under M.R.E. 606(b)." Id. At the hearing, the trial court shall limit the questioning of jurors "to determine whether the communication was made and what it contained." Id. If the trial ...


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