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Hannah v. Piccadilly Holdings, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

August 30, 2019




         Before the Court is the defendants’ motion for summary judgment based on the statute of limitations. The matter is fully briefed and ready for adjudication.

         I. Factual and Procedural History

         On June 10, 2015,[1] Johnie Hannah consumed chicken while dining at the Piccadilly restaurant in Jackson, Mississippi. The next day, he began to experience nausea, vomiting, chills, and sweats. These symptoms lasted for several days until Hannah finally went to the hospital for treatment on June 17, 2015.

         Hannah filed this lawsuit in state court on June 15, 2018. It was properly removed to this Court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). In the action, Hannah alleges that the chicken he consumed at Piccadilly on June 10, 2015 was spoiled and therefore the cause of his severe symptoms. Piccadilly Holdings disputes this as the cause of Hannah’s illness.

         The dispute now before the Court, however, is whether Hannah timely filed his complaint against Piccadilly Holdings. Both parties recognize that the Mississippi statute of limitations for most tort actions is three years.[2] They do not dispute that Hannah dined at Piccadilly on June 10, 2015 and fell ill beginning on June 11, 2015. The issue is whether the statute of limitations to file a complaint began to run at the time Hannah realized he was ill or at the time his injury was diagnosed.

         II. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the movant can show that there is “no genuine dispute as to any material fact,” and consequently, the movant is entitled to a grant of judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). If a nonmovant wishes to avoid summary judgment, they must identify admissible evidence in the record indicating a disputed material fact. Id. at 56(c)(1). “Once a summary judgment motion is made and properly supported, the nonmovant must go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts in the record showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Neither ‘conclusory allegations’ nor ‘unsubstantiated assertions’ will satisfy the nonmovant’s burden.” Wallace v. Tex. Tech Univ., 80 F.3d 1042, 1047 (5th Cir. 1996) (quotation marks and citations omitted).

         The Court views the evidence and draws reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. Maddox v. Townsend and Sons, Inc., 639 F.3d 214, 216 (5th Cir. 2011). But the Court will not, “in the absence of any proof, assume that the nonmoving party could or would prove the necessary facts.” McCallum Highlands, Ltd. v. Wash. Capital Dus, Inc., 66 F.3d 89, 92 (5th Cir. 1995), as revised on denial of reh’g, 70 F.3d 26 (5th Cir. 1995).

         III. Discussion

         A. Substantive Law

         Because jurisdiction in this case is based on diversity of citizenship, the Court must apply Mississippi’s statute of limitations for tort claims. Capital City Ins. Co. v. Hurst, 632 F.3d 898, 902 (5th Cir. 2011). Mississippi law is determined by looking to the decisions of the Mississippi Supreme Court. Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Corp. v. Transportation Ins. Co., 953 F.2d 985, 988 (5th Cir. 1992).

         Statutes of limitation normally run from the time of injury. Weathers v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 14 So. 3d 688, 692 (Miss. 2009) (citations omitted). Section 15-1-49(2) of the Mississippi Code provides an exception to this general rule. It states that “[i]n actions for which no other period of limitation is prescribed and which involve latent injury or disease, the cause of action does not accrue until the plaintiff has discovered, or by reasonable diligence should have discovered, the injury.” Miss. Code Ann. § 15-1-49(2). This is “the discovery rule.” The Mississippi Supreme Court has cautioned that the discovery rule “should only be applied ‘in limited circumstances in [] negligence and products liability case[s] involving latent injury.’” PPG Architectural Finishes, Inc. v. Lowery, 909 So. 2d 47');">909 So. 2d 47, 50 (Miss. 2005) (citations omitted). Essentially, if the injury is not latent, then the discovery rule is inapplicable. Id. (citations omitted). A latent injury is defined as one where the “plaintiff will be precluded from discovering harm or injury because of the secretive or inherently undiscoverable nature of the wrongdoing in question . . . [or] when it is unrealistic to expect a layman to perceive the injury at the time of the wrongful act.” Id. (citations omitted).

         A plaintiff is not required to have “absolute certainty nor an expert opinion to vest the right to a cause of action.” Id. Rather, a court must look to a complainant’s actions to determine whether they “‘knew’ or ‘reasonably should have known’ that [they] suffered an injury.” Id. at 51. If based on the facts at hand, a plaintiff knew or reasonably should have known of an injury, then the injury is not considered latent. In certain ...

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