Notable Cases

August 4, 2016: Circuit Court enters Order dismissing with prejudice Plaintiff’s environmental damage claims against numerous oil company clients of Jeffery P. Reynolds, P.A., ending 20+ years of litigation

On August 4, 2016, the Circuit Court of Wayne County, Mississippi entered an Order Lifting Stay and Final Judgment Dismissing Plaintiff’s Claims with Prejudice in an environmental damage lawsuit filed by nationally-known toxic tort plaintiff’s lawyer Stuart Smith of Smith Stag, LLC. This lawsuit was commenced in May of 1996 and had worked its way to the Mississippi Supreme Court twice (after two separate dismissals) and into the Mississippi Commission on Environmental Quality (“MCEQ”); a sister lawsuit had been filed in the Southern District of Mississippi; and a fourth proceeding ultimately was commenced in the Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. In the end, the Plaintiff and her lawyers received zero dollars, and all claims were dismissed against all Defendants with prejudice.

The Plaintiff’s father had instituted the two lawsuits but passed away in 2001, leaving the Plaintiff as his sole heir and beneficiary. Under Mississippi law, the Plaintiff immediately inherited both the property at issue in her father’s lawsuits and the claims related thereto being pursued in the lawsuits. At the time of her father’s passing, the Plaintiff had recently instituted a Chapter 13 bankruptcy proceeding and was obligated by law to disclose to the Bankruptcy Court any assets she came into possession of. This would include any property (including the property at issue in the lawsuits) and any legal claims she was entitled to pursue (like those she inherited from her father related to the property).

While the Plaintiff’s claims against the oil company clients had always been legally and factually weak, the swift unravelling of her cases began in the summer of 2013 when Jeff Reynolds, lead counsel for multiple oil company Defendants in these lawsuits, became aware from the in-house counsel at one of his oil company clients that the Plaintiff had taken bankruptcy over a decade earlier. Upon investigating this, Mr. Reynolds discovered that she did not disclose her claims to the Bankruptcy Court. Under federal law, the Plaintiff’s non-disclosure was the same as representing to the Court that she did not own any such assets. The Plaintiff had obtained a full discharge of her debts in 2005, with no payments to her unsecured creditors.

Mr. Reynolds and his team, consisting of Mr. Carson Thurman and Mr. Gene Berry, first informed all of the involved Courts of the Plaintiff’s non-disclosure in her prior bankruptcy proceeding. Then, after the Plaintiff re-opened her bankruptcy proceeding in a belated attempt to right her wrong, the Reynolds team instituted an Adversary Proceeding against the Plaintiff seeking an Order from the Bankruptcy Court barring the Plaintiff from further pursuit of her lawsuits. The basis of this request was “judicial estoppel,” meaning that the Plaintiff should not be able to obtain a discharge of her debts based on her assertion that she had no assets or claims to the Bankruptcy Court but then turn around and pursue three separate lawsuits where she sought millions of dollars in damages from various oil companies.

The Reynolds Team obtained a Final Judgment in their Adversary Proceeding in November of 2014 on behalf of their oil company clients. The Bankruptcy Court found that the Plaintiff had an affirmative duty during the pendency of her bankruptcy to disclose to the Court any assets she obtained, including the property at issue in the lawsuits and the lawsuits themselves. Having found that she violated this duty, the Court entered an Order barring her from pursuing her claims in all forums against the oil company Defendants. The Plaintiff appealed this Final Judgment and three other issues stemming from the Adversary Proceeding to the District Court. She voluntarily dismissed one of her appeals to the District Court and lost the rest. The Plaintiff then appealed two of her remaining issues (including the main judicial estoppel Judgment) to the Fifth Circuit of Appeals, where after about three months of fighting, facing a dearth of case law against her, she finally conceded and voluntarily dismissed both of her appeals.

Once the Plaintiff’s Fifth Circuit appeals were resolved in favor of Mr. Reynolds’ oil company clients, the Reynolds team obtained dismissals with prejudice in each of the Plaintiff’s three pending lawsuits, culminating with the dismissal with prejudice of the Wayne County Circuit Court case.

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