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Amicus Analytica: August 29, 2023


Summary Spotlight:

This past week, the Mississippi Supreme Court handed down four written opinions, all regarding the review of recent motions for summary judgment. Without giving too much away, let’s get into the nitty-gritty details of one of the opinions regarding the review of some Civil Procedure no-nos in regards to the service of process of a governmental entity.

University of Mississippi Medical Center v. Jackie Aycock and Debra Aycock, No. 2022-IA-00030-SCT

Justice Josiah Coleman’s recent decision gave a cancer patient another chance at legal relief. The
University of Mississippi Medical Center (“UMMC”) appeals this denial of its summary judgment motion following the lawsuit against it by Jackie and Debra Aycock for medical negligence. In 2021, the Aycocks filed a Complaint in Hinds County Circuit Court alleging that Jackie suffered injuries from surgery he had to correct jaw cancer at UMMC in February 2020. However, following the filing of suit, UMMC sought dismissal of the claim against it, citing that the Aycocks’ claim was time-barred by the applicable statute of limitations and the Aycocks’ failure to provide proper service of process on its chief executive officer, Dr. [Lou Ann] Woodward. The Hinds County Circuit Court denied the motion at issue on account that a material fact existed as to the identity of the chief executive officer (“CEO”). UMMC argues that the Aycocks’ claim is time-barred as their “CEO,” the representative required to be served with a notice of claim prior to instituting suit, was not properly notified of the claim.

The procedure for notice, prescribed in Mississippi Code Section 11-46-11, provides that “...the person must file a notice of claim with the CEO of the governmental entity.” The Aycocks’ counsel stated he sent the notice of claim to four hospital executives: Jonathon Wilson, Chief Administrative Officer; Dr. J. Michael Henderson, Chief Medical Officer; D. Lynnice Pierce, Claims Manager; and William Smith, III. Esq, Counsel. However, UMMC consistently asserts that the “CEO” in the capacity to be served is none of the above-listed officials but Dr. Lou Ann Woodward, the Dean of the Medical School. During the discovery process, UMMC produced documents of separate hierarchical charts describing the CEOs. However, none of them listed Dr. Woodward in the position of CEO. The Court emphasizes that strict compliance with the notice requirement is mandatory, therefore requiring the Aycocks to serve the “CEO” so as to notify UMMC of the claim. However, the Court continues by citing a recent case, Stuart v. University of Mississippi Medical Center, which “opened the door for equitable principles such as waiver and estoppel to apply to the notice requirements of Miss. Code Section 11-26-11 under strict compliance.” Stuart, 21 So. 3d at 550.

Based on this decision, the Court introduces that the facts at hand could likely support a finding of equitable estoppel. Applying the elements of equitable estoppel to the present case: (1) belief and reliance on some representation, (2) change of position, as a result thereof; (3) detriment or prejudice caused by the change of position, the Court determined that UMMC’s behavior specifically of corresponding with the Aycocks’ counsel as though the claim of notice had been received and was being investigated, may amount to a representation that they received notice. State v. RW Dev., LLC., 357 So. 3d 1028, 1038 (quoting Miss. Div. of Medicaid v. Yalobusha Cnty., Nursing Home, 346 So. 3d 413, 426 (Miss. 2022). However, the facts are not developed enough to fully support equitable estoppel. Nonetheless, the Court held that the summary judgment denial should be affirmed and the case be remanded to determine whether a waiver or equitable estoppel could apply, and if so, the Aycocks’ claims will not be time-barred.

Justice Kenny Griffis dissented, asserting that the Aycocks failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact regarding a waiver or equitable estoppel as UMMC notes in the documents it has produced the ease in which one would identify Dr. Woodward as the CEO through a simple Google search or case law search where UMMC was a recent defendant. (Indeed, anybody even slightly familiar with UMMC would recognize Dr. Woodward’s name). Justice Griffis continues that the summary judgment should be reversed as there are no triable issues of fact, and allowing this case to be remanded opens up the door for the Aycocks to take a second bite at the apple.

Stay tuned for the next Amicus Analytica on September 5, 2023.

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