Suit against Harrah’s, Yates can go on

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 20, 2000

The civil trial in which Surplus City USA and its owner are suing a local casino and its building contractor went into its third day today after the judge ruled the plaintiff had presented enough evidence for the case to continue.

Surplus City is a Jackson-based sporting goods firm that owns a branch location in Vicksburg at Clay and Levee streets. In 1993, the company and its owner, Carl N. Thomas of Jackson, sued Harrah’s Vicksburg Hotel and Casino and W.G. Yates & Sons Construction Co. The suit in Warren County Circuit Court claimed Harrah’s, Yates and Yates’ subcontractors trespassed on Thomas’ property when the hotel and casino were under construction. Court documents also say Surplus City lost $30,600 during the six-month construction for the hotel and casino that opened in November 1993.

The case was originally tried in 1994, and the jury found in Thomas’ favor, saying the construction company alone was responsible. Thomas was awarded $3,000 in actual damages but no punitive damages. The Mississippi Court of Appeals overturned the verdict in 1999 and opened the door to damages against Harrah’s.

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As the new trial before Judge Isadore Patrick began Monday, Thomas’ attorney, Joseph Lotterhos, told jurors the case was about punishing Harrah’s and Yates for violating Thomas’ property rights.

Attorney David Kaufman, speaking for Harrah’s and Yates, said the trespass was unintentional and did not cause any losses to Thomas. The crux, he said, was that Thomas wanted more for his property than the $465,000 offered by the City of Vicksburg in earlier negotiations about the siting of Mississippi’s first casino and hotel combination.

Lotterhos rested the plaintiff’s case late Tuesday afternoon and Kaufman asked Patrick to dismiss the case. “These facts do not rise to the level where punitive damages would apply,” Kaufman said.

Further, he said, there was no willful and gross negligence and no malice on the part of Harrah’s toward Thomas.

Lotterhos responded that the Mississippi Supreme Court also said that juries could consider punitive damages not just for trespass that impinges on the safety of the landowner, but also for violations of the landowner’s property rights.

In his ruling, Patrick said there are valid questions for the jury to rule on in the case.