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Keever v. Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

April 30, 2019

JOY RENEE KEEVER APPELLANT
v.
MISSISSIPPI INSTITUTIONS OF HIGHER LEARNING, UNIVERSITY OF MISSISSIPPI AND UNIVERSITY OF MISSISSIPPI ATHLETIC DEPARTMENT APPELLEES

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 01/26/2017

          LAFAYETTE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT TRIAL JUDGE: HON. ANDREW K. HOWORTH

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: WAYNE E. FERRELL JR.

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES: J. CAL MAYO JR. SARAH KATHERINE EMBRY

         EN BANC.

          BARNES, C.J.

         ¶1. On March 8, 2013, Joy Keever and a business associate were at the University of Mississippi's (University) campus in Oxford, in the course and scope of their employment with a company called 501C Solutions. After meetings with the University's Athletic Association, they attended a baseball game at the University's invitation. Afterward, they were walking to their car when a four-wheeler owned and operated by the University came up behind them suddenly. Keever jumped out of the way to avoid being hit, tripped on some rough asphalt, and fell to the ground, crushing the radius and ulna of her left forearm.

         ¶2. On July 31, 2013, Keever's attorney in Alabama mailed a notice of claim to the University's human resources director in accordance with the Mississippi Tort Claims Act (MTCA).[1] The University's insurance carrier denied the claim on October 2, 2013. Keever retained the services of a Mississippi attorney, Wayne Ferrell Jr., who sent a second notice of claim to the University's chancellor and the Mississippi Institutions for Higher Learning on March 3, 2014.[2]

         ¶3. Due to the one-year statute of limitations, Keever filed a complaint against the University on March 7, 2014, in the Hinds County Circuit Court. The University filed a motion to dismiss the action for failure to comply with the MTCA's pre-suit notice requirements in Mississippi Code Annotated section 11-46-11(2) (Rev. 2012), which requires certain categories of information be included in the notice of claim. The University also moved to transfer venue to the Lafayette County Circuit Court. Keever filed two subsequent complaints-one on June 9, 2014, and one on June 11, 2014-in which she named additional defendants. The University filed a second motion to dismiss on July 10, reiterating Keever's failure to comply with the pre-suit notice requirements under the MTCA.

         ¶4. After Keever moved to consolidate the three complaints in Hinds County, the University filed a motion to transfer the cases to Lafayette County, which the Hinds County Circuit Court granted on March 15, 2016. A motions hearing was held in Lafayette County on July 19, 2016. The circuit court entered an order on September 19, 2016, granting the consolidation of the cases.[3]

         ¶5. On January 3, 2017, the circuit court granted the University's motions to dismiss on the grounds that Keever's notice of claim letters failed to provide the University with: (1) the amount of damages sought; (2) Keever's residential address at the time of injury; and (3) Keever's residential address at the time the letter was mailed to the University. The court entered a final judgment under Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b) on January 26, and Keever appeals.

         ¶6. Because Keever's notice of claim did not substantially comply with the MTCA's notice requirements, we find that the circuit court did not err in granting the motions to dismiss. However, because Keever's March 2014 complaint was properly filed within one year of the incident, thereby tolling the statute of limitations, we find that the court erred in dismissing the claim with prejudice.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶7. Errors of law, including the proper application of the MTCA, are reviewed de novo. Marbly v. Manuel, 210 So.3d 1033, 1035 (ΒΆ5) (Miss. Ct. App. 2015). Likewise, we employ a de novo standard of ...


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