OF JUDGMENT: 10/20/2017
SIMPSON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT TRIAL JUDGE: HON. EDDIE H. BOWEN
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: JOHN D. SMALLWOOD
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: RAYMOND PATRICK TULLOS
CARLTON AND J. WILSON, P.JJ., AND TINDELL, J.
Oshaun Johnson appeals the Simpson County Circuit Court's
order granting summary judgment in favor of T&T Farms
On appeal, Johnson asserts that the circuit court erred by
finding that Johnson failed to establish prima facie cases of
both negligence and liability, and that the circuit court
erred in deciding material issues of fact reserved for a
After our review, we find no error. We therefore affirm the
circuit court's order granting summary judgment in favor
of T&T Farms.
In October 2013, Johnson was employed as a night shift
clean-up crew member at Polk's Meat Products Inc. Johnson
alleged that on October 10, 2013, while cleaning a machine at
Polk's, his left hand and arm became caught in the
exposed chain drive of the meat grinder. Johnson stated that
his hand remained stuck in the meat grinder until he was
eventually discovered by co-workers. As a result of his
injuries, Johnson suffered multiple hand fractures, which
required surgery and skin grafts.
In December 2014, Johnson filed a complaint against T&T
Farms, Robert Reiser & Company Inc. (Reiser), John Does
1-5, and John Doe Entities 1-5 asserting claims of
negligence, breach of warranty, and strict liability. In his
complaint, Johnson alleged that Polk's purchased a used
meat grinder from T&T Farms, which was distributed by
Reiser. (Reiser was later dismissed from the case by
agreement of the parties.) Johnson claimed that T&T Farms
made modifications to the meat grinder, including removing
safety devices associated with the chain drive, and that
T&T Farms then sold the meat grinder to Polk's in an
altered, dangerous, and defective condition. Johnson asserted
that as a result of the defective meat grinder, he sustained
severe injuries to his left hand and arm, lost wages, and
loss of earning potential. Johnson sought compensatory and
punitive damages in the amount of five million dollars.
On June 12, 2017, T&T Farms filed a motion for summary
judgment asserting that no genuine issue of material fact
existed and that Johnson failed to demonstrate the essential
elements of the claims set forth in his complaint. T&T
Farms explained that Polk's came into possession of the
meat grinder at issue when Polk's purchased T&T Farms
in its entirety. Along with the meat grinder, Polk's
acquired all assets and liabilities associated with T&T
Farms. T&T Farms asserted that T&T Farms ceased to
exist almost fifteen years prior to Johnson's injuries
and that Johnson failed to demonstrate any duty that T&T
Farms owed him. T&T Farms argued that, although it
entered into a contract with Polk's for a business
acquisition, Johnson failed to demonstrate that his
relationship with Polk's-fifteen years following the
execution of the contract-was one contemplated by the
original parties for purposes of liability and duty. T&T
Farms further asserted that pursuant to the standard provided
by the Mississippi Products Liability Act for failure-to-warn
cases, Johnson's claims failed because Johnson did not
demonstrate that the ordinary user or consumer would have
required a warning or instruction from T&T Farms.
See Miss. Code Ann. §11-1-63(a) (Rev. 2014).
T&T Farms also argued that prior to Polk's
acquisition of the meat grinder, T&T Farms asserted that
it performed regular maintenance and cleaning of the machine,
but at no time did it change, alter, or modify the meat
grinder. T&T Farms claimed that Johnson failed to
disclose any evidence showing that T&T Farms modified or
altered the meat grinder while it was under the control of
T&T Farms or that T&T Farms engaged in any negligent
behavior that caused Johnson's injuries.
On August 11, 2017, Reiser also filed a motion for summary
judgment, claiming that Johnson failed to offer any proof
that Reiser breached any duty owed to him. Reiser stated that
it purchased the meat grinder at issue in 1975 and then sold
the meat grinder to Morton Frozen Foods in 1976. Reiser
maintained that it neither designed nor manufactured the meat
grinder at issue, nor did it make any modifications or
alterations to the meat grinder. Reiser asserted that since
1980 it has not received any information relating to the
location, use, or condition of the meat grinder. Reiser also
argued that Johnson was barred from prevailing on his claim
for breach of warranty by the applicable statute of
limitation,  and Johnson was precluded from recovery
against Reiser as an innocent seller.
On October 9, 2017, the circuit court held a hearing on both
of the summary judgment motions. At the hearing,
Johnson's counsel explained how Johnson received his
injuries: while Johnson was at work cleaning a machine, one
of Johnson's co-workers opened the cover to the chain
drive on the meat grinder without Johnson's knowledge.
Johnson turned, and his arm went into the chain drive of the
meat grinder. Johnson's counsel claimed that Terry
Windham, the owner of T&T Farms who sold the business to
Polk's in 1998, made it "relatively clear" in
his deposition testimony that machines like the meat grinder
at issue are usually manufactured with an electronic
interlock feature which shuts the machine off when someone
opens part of the machine that exposes moving parts.
Johnson's counsel argued that although Windham was aware
of interlock features on other machines, he failed to inform
Polk's that the meat grinder at issue did not have an
interlock feature. Johnson's counsel clarified that
Windham did not "necessarily [possess] a duty to warn,
but a duty to . . . [update] the machine" and install an
interlock feature on the meat grinder.
After hearing arguments, the circuit court stated: "I
don't see the defect here. I don't see the failure to
warn as an issue. The machine was used for so many years
after [acquisition from T&T Farms]. Polk's had
constructive or actual knowledge that if you left that door
open something was going to happen." The circuit court
ultimately determined that "after looking at all these
documents[, ] . . . I don't see where there's any
genuine issue of material fact for a jury to determine.
I'm going to grant summary for T&T Farms[.]" The
circuit court also recognized that Johnson and Reiser reached
an agreement dismissing Reiser from the lawsuit.
On October 20, 2017, the circuit court entered its order
granting summary judgment in favor of T&T Farms. That
same day, the circuit court also entered an order granting
summary judgment in favor of Reiser.
On October 31, 2017, Johnson filed his notice of appeal from
the circuit court order granting summary ...