Notable Cases

May 15, 2014: The Mississippi Supreme Court reinstates Summary Judgment for ExxonMobil in Wilkinson County, MS "Alligator" case.

On May 15, 2014, the Mississippi Supreme Court reinstated the Wilkinson County Circuit Court’s dismissal of a lawsuit brought by two landowners adjacent to ExxonMobil’s property located near Woodville, MS. In the lawsuit, the Plaintiffs had alleged that a former waste treatment facility now owned by ExxonMobil caused environmental damage to their property. The Plaintiffs also claimed that ExxonMobil should be held responsible for wild alligators seen near and on their property. The Plaintiffs wanted ExxonMobil to pay them damages totaling the entire purchase price of their property.

Jeff Reynolds, lead counsel in this matter, obtained Summary Judgment for ExxonMobil at the trial court level based on the expired statute of limitations and the “prior trespass” doctrine. Upon appeal, the Mississippi Court of Appeals reversed this decision, holding that (1) there were disputed facts as to when the Plaintiffs’ should have discovered the alligators on or near their property and (2) the prior trespass doctrine did not apply. The Court of Appeals sent the case back for a trial on the merits of the Plaintiffs’ alligator claims. (The Plaintiffs did not appeal the dismissal of their environmental damage claim.)

Mr. Reynolds next filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari to the Mississippi Supreme Court, asking for a further review of the matter. Although such Petitions are rarely granted, the Supreme Court accepted the case. After en banc oral argument, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ decision in a 5-4 split and reinstated the dismissal with prejudice of this lawsuit.

The Supreme Court held, as ExxonMobil had argued, that there is no legal claim for liability due to wild alligators and that the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks has exclusive authority over the protection and management of all wild alligators. The Supreme Court’s decision closed the door on a potential flood of litigation by landowners against their neighbors for the actions and movement of wild animals over which Mississippi residents have no control.

ExxonMobil deserves credit for a significant victory in a Mississippi county that historically has been a dangerous venue for defendants.

For more information about the case contact Jeffery Reynolds at 601 355.7773 or jeff@jprpa.com.

“There is no other lawyer I would rather have on my side than Jeff. I wish I could clone him.”
—Lynn Bortka, In-House Attorney, BP (retired) More testimonials