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Date: 07-22-2022

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Kylie Browning Hill, Individually and as Administrator of the Estate of William Carol Browning, Deceased v. Janice Moore, MTD Holdings Inc. f/k/a MTD Products Inc. d/b/a MTD Consumer Group Inc., and The Hamilton-Ryker Group Inc

Case Number: 2019-CA-00365-COA

Judge:

Donna M. Barnes; Presiding Judge


Jack L. Wilson
Neil McCarty

Court:

IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI


On Appeal From The CHICKASAW COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT



ANDREW K. HOWORTH
JUDGE

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Defendant's Attorney: ROBERT F. STACY JR. SAM STARNES THOMAS
TIFFANY NICOLE CAREY
OWEN PATRICK TERRY

Description:

Jackson, MS - Wrongful Death lawyer represented Appellant with a Wrongful Death suit.



On March 27, 2015, William Browning was killed in a head-on collision with a
vehicle driven byYolanda Wofford (a/k/a Yolanda Keeton). Wofford, a temporaryemployee
assigned to MTD Holdings Inc. (MTD) by Hamilton-Ryker, a staffing agency, had just
finished her work-shift and was driving home. According to the Mississippi Highway
Patrol’s accident report, Wofford tested positive for “nicotine, acetaminophen, caffeine,
diphenhydramine, tramadol, fluconazole, hydrocodone and metabolite, alprazolam and
metabolite, clonazepam metabolite and oxycodone” after the accident.
¶2. According to an affidavit by MTD’s on-site nurse, Janice Moore, Wofford had
apparently “hit the floor” right before the end of her shift that day. However, when Moore
responded, Wofford was sitting up and conscious; Moore never saw her “on the floor or
unconscious.” Assuring Moore that she was “fine,” Wofford said that “she suffered from
insomnia and had slept very little the night before.” Because Wofford’s shift was almost
over, Moore inquired whether Wofford had driven to work. Wofford told Moore that she had
but that her sister and cousin had ridden with her to work, and they could drive her home.
They went to the first-aid room, and someone who Moore believed was Wofford’s “relative”
came in. Moore spoke with the “relative” about driving Wofford home. Wofford clocked
out and sat on a bench outside for a few minutes, and Moore believed that the “relative”
would drive her home.1 Thirty minutes later, Wofford was involved in the fatal vehicular
accident with Browning.
¶3. On August 22, 2017, Kylie Browning Hill, as administrator of Browning’s estate and
individually, filed a suit for negligence against Wofford, MTD, Moore, and Hamilton-Ryker
in the Chickasaw County Circuit Court.2 MTD and Moore moved for summary judgment,
1
The identity of this unknown “relative” was never determined.
2 Wofford is not a party to this appeal. Where applicable, we will refer to the
remaining parties (MTD, Moore, and Hamilton-Ryker) collectively as the “Appellees.”
2
arguing that Hill could not “demonstrate any genuine issue of material fact that [they] owed
any duty to prevent Wofford fromleaving the premises.” Hamilton-Ryker also filed a motion
for summary judgment on April 25, 2018, asserting it was not liable because at the time of
the accident (1) Wofford was not acting within the course and scope of her employment; (2)
assuming Wofford was within the course and scope of her employment, she was subject to
MTD’s exclusive control and direction; and (3) even if Wofford was an employee of
Hamilton-Ryker for liability purposes, Hamilton-Ryker had no duty to protect Browning
from the alleged acts or omissions of Wofford by preventing her from leaving MTD’s
premises in her own vehicle.
¶4. Hill opposed the motions, arguing that Moore “should have foreseen the dangers of
letting Wofford drive her personal vehicle in her heavily intoxicated state” and that a “special
relationship of employee and employer existed between Wofford and MTD, and the addition
of employer’s medical professional created an enhanced duty on the part of MTD.” Hill also
asserted that “[b]y contract and action, Hamilton-Ryker had assumed a duty to control its
loaned employee.” Hill did not file any supporting affidavits or evidence to support her
response.3
¶5. The circuit court granted the Appellees’ summaryjudgment motions on December 28,
2018, finding “no genuine issue of material fact exists to show these [defendants] were
3 Although these responses were not included in the record until April 16, 2019,
rebuttal memos from the Appellees indicate that the responses were received in November
of 2018, before the court’s judgment.
3
negligent.” The court’s order further held:
This [c]ourt finds it is undisputed that Defendant Moore, an employee of
[MTD], attempted to prevent Defendant Wofford from leaving the premises
of [MTD] prior to the accident. Regardless, this Court finds even if Wofford
was acting in the course and scope of employment at the time of the accident,
and even if she was under the control of Hamilton-Ryker at that time, the
[c]ourt finds the Plaintiff’s claims fail because these Defendants had no duty
to protect the decedent from the alleged negligence of Wofford by preventing
Wofford from leaving MTD’s premises.
The circuit court entered a Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b) judgment of dismissal.
Hill appeals, claiming the court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the
Appellees. Finding no error, we affirm.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
¶6. We review a circuit court’s grant or denial of summary judgment de novo, “viewing
the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Booth v. S. Hens Inc., 244
So. 3d 888, 890 (¶5) (Miss. Ct. App. 2018) (citing Karpinsky v. Am. Nat’l Ins. Co., 109 So.
3d 84, 88 (¶9) (Miss. 2013)). Summary judgment is proper “if the pleadings, depositions,
answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show
that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to
a judgment as a matter of law.” M.R.C.P. 56(c). Once the summary judgment motion is
made, “an adverse party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleadings,
but his response . . . must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for
trial.” M.R.C.P. 56(e).
DISCUSSION
4
A. MTD and Moore
¶7. Hill asserts that “this appeal turns on duty. That is the only issue at bar.” Although
conceding that “MTD owed no specific duty” to restrain Wofford from leaving, Hill insists
MTD and Moore had “a broader, general duty to act as a reasonable and prudent person
would have under the same and similar circumstances” and take measures to assure that
Wofford posed no danger to herself or others. Hill also argues that by taking the affirmative
act of hiring an on-site nurse, MTD had assumed a special duty to Wofford and the general
public.
¶8. In order to prevail on a claim of negligence, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the
defendant owed him a duty, that said duty was breached, that the breach caused the plaintiff
injury, and that the plaintiff incurred damages. Wilbanks v. Hickman, 198 So. 3d 393, 397
(¶10) (Miss. Ct. App. 2016). “Whether a duty exists in a negligence case is a question of law
to be determined by the court.” McKean v. Yates Eng’g Corp., 210 So. 3d 1037, 1042 (¶19)
(Miss. Ct. App. 2015).
¶9. “Common law traditionally has not imposed a broad duty upon individuals to control
the conduct of others.” Doe v. Hunter Oaks Apartments L.P., 105 So. 3d 422, 426 (¶12)
(Miss. Ct. App. 2013). This Court has recognized that “[a] person who does not have the
ability to control another’s conduct should not have liability imposed upon him or her for the
tortious act of that other person.” Id. at (¶13). A duty to control a third person’s conduct
preventing him from causing physical harm arises only if “(a) a special relation exists
5
between the actor and the third person which imposes a duty upon the actor to control the
third person’s conduct, or (b) a special relation exists between the actor and the other which
gives to the other a right to protection.” Id. at (¶12). In the context of an employer/employee
relationship, “[a]n action against an employer based on the doctrine of respondeat superior
is a derivative claim arising solely out of the negligent conduct of its employee within the
scope of his or her employment.” J & J Timber Co. v. Broome, 932 So. 2d 1, 6 (¶19) (Miss.
2006) (emphasis added). Hill has not alleged that Wofford was acting in the course and
scope of her employment at the time of the accident, and it is indisputed that Wofford had
left work and was driving her own vehicle at the time of the accident. See Matheson v.
Favre, 586 So. 2d 833, 834 (Miss. 1991) (holding that, generally, “an employee is not within
the course and scope of his or her employment while driving to and from work”).
¶10. We find two cases from Tennessee persuasive on the issue of whether MTD and
Moore owed any duty to either Wofford or Browning. In Lett v. Collis Foods Inc., 60
S.W.3d 95, 97 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2001), an employee, Lynda Mills, arrived at work inebriated,
and her employer, Collis Foods, “attempted, without success, to sober up Mills.” Her
condition did not improve; so another employee offered her a ride home. Id. at 98. Mills
refused and left the premises. Id. While driving home, she collided with the plaintiff,
JoAnne Lett, who later sued Collis Foods. Id. The Tennessee Court of Appeals held that the
employer owed no duty to the plaintiff to control the conduct of the intoxicated employee
“because the conduct occurred off-premises, while [the employee] was off-duty, and because
6
[the employer] did not contribute to, participate in, or seek to accommodate [the employee’s]
state of intoxication.” Id. at 104. The appellate court further stated:
Collis Foods had no legal right to tie [Mills] up or “sit on her” or otherwise
prevent her from driving away in her own car. From a legal standpoint, it did
not have the means or the ability to control its employee when she made the
decision to drive a vehicle in her condition. . . . The employer’s passive
acquiescence in her leaving the premises and driving away in her own vehicle,
acts they had no legal right to prevent, is simply not enough to impose a duty
on this employer who was totally blameless in the condition—Mills’[s]
intoxicated state—that led to the accident and the plaintiff’s injuries. In our
judgment, Collis Foods took no affirmative steps that contributed to or
facilitated Mills’[s] negligent act—driving a motor vehicle while under the
influence of an intoxicant.
Id. at 105 (emphasis added).
¶11. In another case, Williams v. Wal-Mart Stores East L.P., 832 F. Supp. 2d 923, 925
(E.D. Tenn. 2011), an employee, Lindsey Williams, was reported to have been sleeping on
the job during a night shift. Her managers checked on her but noted nothing unusual—she
was completing her tasks, albeit slowly. Id. The managers talked with her, and the employee
explained that her mouth was hurting and that she had not gotten much sleep; so they asked
if they could call someone to take her home. Id. The employee refused and clocked out of
work, claiming she was okay to drive. Id. After Williams was killed in a single-car accident
on the way home, her family filed suit, alleging negligence on the part of the employer. Id.
Relying on Lett, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee found
Wal-Mart owed no duty to the employee and further concluded:
If in fact, Wal-Mart owed Williams any duty to provide assistance, that duty
was discharged by the actions of [the managers], who inquired about her
7
condition and offered to provide assistance in helping her get home, which
Williams declined. Williams left the store under her own power. Wal-Mart
had no legal right to prevent her from leaving. . . . [R]egardless of whether
Williams was medically impaired or simply tired, and regardless of the length
of time that her managers spoke to her before she left the premises, Wal-Mart
did not owe a duty to prevent Williams from leaving the store. . . . Wal-Mart
did not require Williams to drive home; in fact, it is undisputed that Wal-Mart
offered to call someone to pick her up, but she refused and stated that she was
okay to drive home. Wal-Mart did not provide Williams mobility she
otherwise did not have; it did not encourage her to drive home; and it did not
contribute to the condition that made it unsafe for her to drive.
Id. at 927-28. We find Lett and Williams in keeping with the Mississippi courts’
“reluctan[ce] to extend liability in alcohol[-]related injury cases to persons who are not
directly involved in causing the injury.” See Main v. Office Depot Inc., 914 F. Supp. 1413,
1419 (S.D. Miss. 1996) (discussing holdings in Williams v. U.S. Fidelity & Guaranty Co.,
854 F.2d 106 (5th Cir. 1988), Cuevas v. Royal D’Iberville Hotel, 498 So. 2d 346 (Miss.
1986), and Boutwell v. Sullivan, 469 So. 2d 526 (Miss. 1985)).
¶12. Hill has failed to demonstrate that MTD and Moore owed anydutyto prevent Wofford
from leaving the premises, especially considering there was no evidence that Moore knew
Wofford was under the influence of any drugs. Moreover, as in Lett and Williams, even if
Moore suspected Wofford was intoxicated, MTD and Moore still owed no duty to Browning
under the law. They did not “contribute to, participate in, or seek to accommodate” any such
intoxication. See Lett, 60 S.W.3d at 104.
¶13. Hill also contends that Moore should have watched to see if Wofford would drive her
car “in defiance of Moore’s warnings,” at which point Moore “could have called the police
8
and advised that an intoxicated person was taking to the streets in a motor vehicle.” To
support her argument, Hill cites Cullum v. McCool, 432 S.W.3d 829 (Tenn. 2013), where a
store’s customer was injured in a parking lot accident with another patron who had been
kicked out of the store for being intoxicated and belligerent. Id. at 831. The Tennessee
Supreme Court, while acknowledging that it was “not ruling that businesses or their
employees must ‘call 911 for every blowhard drunk,’” held that “in some cases,” a store
employee may have a duty “to try to protect its patrons from known dangers[, and a]
reasonable factfinder could determine that the specific foreseeability of harm posed by an
intoxicated, belligerent patron certainly could outweigh the minimal burdens placed on store
employees to call the police or take another alternative course of action, as opposed to doing
nothing.” Id. at 837 (emphasis added) (quoting Del Lago Partners Inc. v. Smith, 307 S.W.3d
762, 777 (Tex. 2010)). Cullum, a premises-liability action addressing a store owner’s duty
to its patrons, is distinguishable from the present case.4 The accident here did not take place
4 We also disagree with Cullum’s conflation of duty with foreseeability.
“[F]oreseeability must not be confused with duty. The fact that a result may be foreseeable
does not itself impose a duty in negligence terms.” Barclay v. Briscoe, 47 A.3d 560, 574
(Md. 2012) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Ashburn v. Anne Arundel Cty., 510
A.2d 1078, 1083 (Md. 1986)). The Court of Appeals of Maryland has since reiterated this
position, finding a bar owner did not owe a duty to a person injured by an intoxicated patron
after leaving the premises:
When the harm is caused by a third party, rather than the first person, as is the
case here, our inquiry is not whether the harm was foreseeable, but, rather,
whether the person or entity sued had control over the conduct of the third
party who caused the harm by virtue of some special relationship . . . . In the
absence of control, our jurisprudence is replete with holdings that, regardless
9
on MTD’s premises, and Hill has cited no authority in a non-premises-liability context where
courts have imposed a duty on an employer to call the police upon suspicion that its
employee is driving home from work while impaired or fatigued. Nor have we found any.
¶14. Although not addressing the duty of an employer to contact police, we do note that the
Texas Supreme Court (in a 5-4 decision) has held that “when, because of an employee’s
incapacity, an employer exercises control over the employee, the employer has a duty to take
such action as a reasonable and prudent employer under the same or similar circumstances
would take to prevent the employee from causing an unreasonable risk of harm to others.”
Otis Eng’g Corp. v. Clark, 668 S.W.2d 307, 311 (Tex. 1983). In Otis, a supervisor noted an
employee’s inebriated condition at work and suggested that he go home, escorting the
employee to the parking lot. Id. at 308. The employee said he could drive home, but, shortly
thereafter, he was involved in an accident killing the plaintiffs’ decedents. Id. The plaintiffs
filed suit, contending that sending the employee home when the employer knew him to be
intoxicated constituted an affirmative act that imposed a duty upon Otis to exercise due care.
Id. The Texas Supreme Court concluded that the trier of fact should decide whether Otis
of any foreseeability, a duty does not exist to the general public, with respect
to harm caused by a third party, absent the existence of a special relationship
between the person sued and the injured party or the person sued and the third
party.
Ware v. JMGM Group LLC, 70 A.3d 347, 355 (Md. 2013) (emphasis added). As already
discussed, MTD and Moore had no duty to control Wofford’s conduct as she was not acting
within the course and scope of her employment at the time of the accident.
10
acted as a reasonable and prudent employer and that summary judgment was not appropriate.
Id. at 311.
¶15. We find nothing in Mississippi jurisprudence imposing such a duty upon an employer.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has held that “Mississippi law does
not impose on employers a duty to supervise their employees when they are not working.”
Williams, 854 F.2d at 109. “The Restatement (2d) of Torts § 317 narrowly limits an
employer’s duty to control a servant’s conduct outside the scope and place of employment
to instances in which the servant is ‘using a chattel of the master.’ The Mississippi
legislature and courts have not suggested a broader compass.” Id. (emphasis added). The
facts in the instant case do not present affirmative acts sufficient to impose a duty upon MTD
or Moore. Wofford was off-duty and acting outside the course, scope and place of her
employment when the accident occurred. MTD did not contribute to, condone, or seek to
accommodate Wofford’s impaired state. And, unlike Otis, Moore did not require Wofford
to drive but, instead, asked “a relative” to drive Wofford home.5
¶16. Lastly, Hill urges this Court “to recognize a special duty inherent to the employeremployee relationship” where an employer hires an on-site health-care provider “for the
specific purpose of tending to employees’ health, fitness for duty, and abilityto respect safety
protocols.” Hill notes that beyond a general duty of ordinary care, “[a] duty also exists where
5 We note that the Lett court also declined to follow Otis, noting that the employee’s
conduct occurred off-premises and while she was off-duty. Lett, 60 S.W.3d at 103.
11
a party contracts to undertake or otherwise assumes a duty.” Doe ex rel. Doe v. Wright Sec.
Servs. Inc., 950 So. 2d 1076, 1080 (¶13) (Miss. Ct. App. 2007). She claims that this duty
extends not only to Wofford, but to a third party such as Browning, the deceased. Hill,
however, has not demonstrated how the affirmative act of employing an on-site healthcare
professional imposes any greater legal obligation or duty on the part of MTD to its employee,
Wofford, or the deceased, Browning, and we decline to impose one.
6 Furthermore, the
United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has recognized, “[N]either the
Mississippi legislature nor its courts has imposed on employers a duty to supervise their
premises so as to prevent employees from clandestinely consuming intoxicants or to prevent
employees from going about their personal business in a state of inebriation.” Williams, 854
F.2d at 109.
¶17. We find no error in the circuit court’s grant of Moore’s and MTD’s motions for
summary judgment.
B. Hamilton-Ryker
¶18. Hill also claims that Hamilton-Ryker voluntarily assumed a duty to control its
6 Similarly, the Texas Supreme Court declined a plaintiff’s request “to recognize a
new duty on Texas employers whose work conditions may contribute to fatigue in an offduty employee.” Nabors Drilling U.S.A. Inc. v. Escoto, 288 S.W.3d 401, 410 (Tex. 2009).
“Considering the large number of [employees] who do shift work and work long hours,”
such as doctors, nurses, and law enforcement, the Nabors court concluded that “there is little
social or economic utilityin requiring everyemployer to somehow prevent employee fatigue
or take responsibility for the actions of off-duty, fatigued employees.” Id. at 410-11.
12
employee, Wofford, through its contract with MTD.7 To the contrary, the contract between
MTD and Hamilton-Ryker states that Hamilton-Ryker relinquished anysuch duty, providing:
[MTD] will direct the performance of all services performed by an employee
of Hamilton-Ryker during the tenure of such employee’s assignment.
Accordingly, [MTD] waives (on behalf of itself and its insurance companies
to the extent any losses may be covered by insurance) any right of recovery
against Hamilton-Ryker for any losses, costs, expenses or damages incurred
by [MTD] arising out of the work or services provided by such employee of
Hamilton-Ryker and, further, willindemnify, defend and hold Hamilton-Ryker
harmless from any claims arising from the action or inaction of a HamiltonRyker employee, whether negligent or otherwise.
Furthermore, as the nonmovant, Hill bore the burden of “present[ing] affirmative evidence
that a genuine issue of material fact exist[ed].” Hust v. Forrest Gen. Hosp., 762 So. 2d 298,
300 (¶4) (Miss. 2000). Hill submitted no evidence that Hamilton-Ryker (1) knew or should
have known Wofford was impaired in any way; (2) could have prevented Wofford from
leaving MTD’s premises; or (3) could have foreseen that Wofford posed a risk to Browning.
We find no error in the circuit court’s grant of Hamilton-Ryker’s motion for summary
judgment.

Outcome: AFFIRMED

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