Mississippi Courts Confronted with Array of High-Profile Alienation of Affection Lawsuits

We have previously followed alienation of affection lawsuit — difficult tort actions that are not recognized in most states. Mississippi appears to be cornering the market on such lawsuits this month with lawsuits involving two political different prominent individuals, including Democratic Party chairman Jamie Franks. The state Supreme Court has also released an interesting opinion on whether a law firm can be a defendant in an alienation lawsuit.

Franks has accused Lee County Schools Superintendent Mike Scott of alienation of affection after an alleged affair with his now ex-wife, who worked for the school district. Scott counterfiled an extortion claim (another relatively rare action), alleging that Franks tried to coerce him into resigning over the affair. He also alleges malicious interference with employment, defamation and negligence.

Mississippi courts are also considering a lawsuit by Leisha Pickering, the estranged wife of former U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering. She filed a lawsuit against a woman who allegedly had an affair with Pickering.

To make matters even more complicated, former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Chuck McRae is now seeking to withdraw as counsel for Leisha Pickering and trying to put a lien on property over failure to pay his bills.

For a discussion of the tort in Mississippi, read Pierce v. Cook: Pierce

The Mississippi Supreme Court also issued a ruling recently in a case with a similar charge brought against an entire law firm. (Baker Donelson v. Reed). The Court described the essential facts:

Sam Seay and William Reed began a lifelong friendship at age eight. In January 2003, following termination from his employment with BancorpSouth, Sam alleges that Reed, an attorney and then-president and chief operating officer (“COO”) of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, P.C. (“Baker Donelson”), undertook legal representation of Sam in the ensuing conflict. Reed acknowledges that Sam “asked me to look at some specific [legal] issues . . . .” In late October or early November 2003, Reed participated in an extramarital affair with Sam’s then-wife, Rebecca Seay. In January 2004, Sam filed a complaint against BancorpSouth using other counsel. While Sam concedes that Reed was never counsel of record in the case, he maintains that Reed agreed to advise him “behind the scenes . . . .” According to Sam, Reed provided legal advice through October 26, 2004. Reed’s affair with Rebecca ended between August and October 2004.

Among other interesting holdings, the Court concluded that this was the ultimate “frolic or detour” that placed the affair outside of the scope of employment for the attorney:

Given this Court’s earlier conclusion that the subject affair was not in any way “related to the representation or arising therefrom[,]” see ¶ 36 supra (quoting Tyson, 613 So. 2d at 827), along with Sam’s admission that the affair was not “motivated by a desire to benefit Baker Donelson” and the absence of any evidence that anyone at Baker Donelson other than Reed, was aware of the “secret and covert” affair prior to Sam’s demand on November 12, 2004, this Court concludes that this is the type of frolic “so clearly beyond an employee’s course and scope of employment that [it] cannot form the basis for a claim of vicarious liability, as a matter of law.” Children’s Medical Group, 940 So. 2d at 935.

16 thoughts on “Mississippi Courts Confronted with Array of High-Profile Alienation of Affection Lawsuits

  1. Well hell, the state line to Georgia is not to far away. Politician and sheep herding or is that what they call it today?

    I think the school issue and the bank case are going to be an interesting read. What will unfold….how many wood piles are there really in Mississippi?

  2. … ah Beauregard, suh … Mississippi has always supported the chivalry of “The Cause” … without the courts they’d all be dueling at sunrise.

  3. Leave my Beau alone. He was one that won one of the few battles in the strife atween the state, I think its also referred to as the Northern Aggression in the South, the final Abrogation of States Rights……

    It had nothing to do with but at the same time everything to do with slavery.

  4. I could never quite wrap my head around “alienation of affection.” You have an affair with my spouse, so I sue you – huh?

    The basis for this just dawned on me. I own a prize hunting dog. If you “trick” my dog into liking you and he runs off to go hunt with you, then I’ve lost the value and utility of my property. Yep – “alienation of affection” only make sense when you think of your wife as chattel or property. (I assume that these laws were written by men looking only at their own interests.)

    As far as I can tell, the conceptual basis for “alienation of affection” is something like horse rustling.

    There must be some constitutional basis for challenging these bizarre laws.

  5. Tom,

    as much as I hate to disappoint you, but not even your dogs is safe in the hollers in Mississippi…..

    Talking about Equal Protection or even Fundamental Due Process. Those words still do exist in our language as far as I know. But in Michigan a MAN can not swear or use foul language in the presence of females or children under the age of 13……Yeah it was recently upheld by the Republican led Michigan Sct….I kid you not.

    And in Texas, it was justifiable Homicide for a man to shoot his spouse if he came home and found her in bed with another man. I am unsure if a woman was ever charged if she caught her man in bed with another woman or if he found his wife in bed with another woman….

  6. having been through the state several times i can honestly say affection is alien in mississippi.

    AY

    when i lived in alabama i heard that if you come home and your wife is in bed with another man make sure you shoot both of them. only shooting the man proves you’re not crazy.

    i never thought to ask if she’s in bed with another woman.

  7. I won’t mock Mississippi. It’s at least a reasonable conjecture that some spouses won’t stray if they’re not invited to; some marriages may be preserved as a result. If Mississipians don’t mind having their courts tied up with these kinds of cases, I’m not going to sit here in NJ and say they can’t.

    It appears that if you want to have an extramarital affair in Mississippi, and want to avoid tort liability, the spouse who wants to have a fling should first leave her/his spouse. It’s the honorable thing, too. Charming.

    Still, I wouldn’t want the courts of my home state messing around with these soap-opera situations. Bad enough they have to be dealt with in divorce court; dragging in tort liability just prolongs the misery for everyone involved.

  8. Please note that the Baker Donelson vs Seay appeal did NOT involve an alienation of affection claim against the law firm but rather a breach of fiduciary duty claim against the individual lawyer Reed and his law firm.

  9. durn it…..apparently 1 can only have horns if they are ‘twisted’……….gee whiz….. :twisted:

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