Clark v. NeeseAnnotate this Case
Helen Schroeder appealed a circuit court's grant of summary judgment to the Estate of Harry Schroeder, arguing that the trial court erred in finding that the Estate was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the grounds of release, res judicata, and accord and satisfaction. A log truck driven by Royce Sullivan collided with the rear of an automobile being driven by Harry Schroeder, who had just pulled his car onto a highway. Harry died as a result of the accident; his wife, Helen (a passenger in her husband’s car) suffered severe injuries, permanent disability, and diminished mental capacity. Helen, both individually, and as one of Harry’s wrongful-death beneficiaries, sued Sullivan in federal court, alleging that Sullivan’s negligence had caused Harry’s death and her permanent disability. Sullivan moved for summary judgment at the close of discovery, arguing that the uncontradicted evidence established Harry’s negligence as the sole cause of the accident. In denying summary judgment, the federal judge stated that the evidence created a jury question as to Sullivan’s fault, and that “plaintiffs do not appear to dispute Harry Schroeder’s potential contributory negligence.” The parties settled and agreed to a release of claims, and the district court dismissed the case. Following the settlement agreement, release, and subsequent dismissal of the action against Sullivan, Helen filed suit against Harry in Mississippi circuit court, alleging Harry negligently had failed to yield the right of way and pulled in front of Sullivan’s log truck at an extremely slow rate of speed, causing the accident which resulted in Helen’s permanent disability. Harry moved for summary judgment, arguing Helen pleaded facts in her complaint that were materially different from the facts she alleged in the federal court case, and that the state trial court should grant summary judgment based on the doctrines of judicial and equitable estoppel. Harry also argued the settlement and release of claims against Sullivan in federal court barred the circuit-court action under the doctrines of contractual release, accord and satisfaction, and res judicata. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Harry and found that Helen was judicially estopped from bringing a claim against Harry. The Mississippi Supreme Court reversed and remanded. Harry again moved for summary judgment, and the trial court granted it based on res judicata, accord and satisfaction and contractual release. Finding the trial court erred a second time in granting Harry's motion as to all three issues, the Supreme Court again reversed and remanded for further proceedings.