By Christopher M. Myatt

Rankin v. Matthews, No. 2015-CA-005533-COA

(Miss. Ct. App. Aug. 9, 2016)

The Mississippi Court of Appeals recently affirmed summary judgment for homeowners in a premises liability case involving a fight between guests. The friend of Defendants’ son invited Plaintiff Rankin and his rock band “Common Goals” to play a “concert” in the Defendants’ carport. Other wannabe rock stars showed up to play as well. The Defendants previously hosted parties like this for their son and his friends. Typically, someone would collect $5 from each guest to cover gas money for the bands. The Defendants played no part in collecting the money.

After Plaintiff’s band finished their set, a fellow concertgoer relayed to Rankin that someone wanted to talk to him. Rankin went to the individual, and a fist fight ensued. Rankin sustained injuries, including the loss of his two front teeth. The criminal youth court found the assailant guilty and ordered him to pay restitution. Rankin then sued the Defendants on premises liability grounds.

The trial court granted the Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment, holding that Rankin was a “social guest licensee.” Under Mississippi law, an individual’s legal status, namely whether he or she is a licensee, invitee or trespasser, determines the duty of care owed to that person. Many states have abandoned these distinctions—not so in Mississippi.

An invitee is one “who goes upon the premises of another in answer to the express or implied invitation of the owner for their mutual advantage.” Premises owners owe invitees a duty of reasonable care. Licensees, on the other hand, enter upon the property of another for their own convenience, pleasure or benefit pursuant to the license or implied permission of the owner. The duty owed licensees is much lower: The landowner must merely “refrain from willfully or wantonly causing injury to him.” As a Tupelo lawyer once memorably put it, “you can’t hunt ‘em.”

Rankin appealed the trial court’s entry of summary judgment for the homeowners, contending that the judge improperly classified him as a licensee rather than an invitee. The appellate court reiterated the distinctions between licensees and invitees under Mississippi law and affirmed Rankin’s status. The court held that the homeowners received no benefit by Rankin’s presence on their property as is required for invitee status. Rankin also argued that, even if a licensee, the Hoffman exception should apply, thereby raising the standard of care to that of reasonableness. The appellate court dispensed with this argument quickly, holding that the exception applies only to businesses, not homeowners. Further, the Hoffman exception requires active negligence on the part of the premises owner. Rankin failed to present any evidence that the Defendants engaged in any active negligence resulting in his injuries on the Defendants’ property. Summary judgment affirmed.

 

Chris is a partner in Spicer Rudstrom’s Memphis office. His practice is concentrated primarily in the areas of premises liability, business and commercial representation, products liability and insurance coverage.