Hinds County Chancellor Denise Sweet Owens hit Patrick Kelly for $100,000 in punitive damages for taking an employee's wages that were garnished for child support. Mr. Kelly is the owner of the defunct Mint and Julep's restaurants. The nutshell version is that Mr. Kelly kept most of the garnishment for himself and only sent a pittance to the Mississippi Department of Human Services.
Charles Wiggins was a convicted felon and was on probation from 2010 to 2015. The terms of his probation decreed that he work and "support his dependents." He had to pay monthly child support of $433. He worked at Mint from 2013 to 2015. MDHS sent a garnishment order to Mr. Kelly. Unfortunately for Mr. Wiggins, his employer took his money out of his paycheck but then kept most of the money.
Mr. Kelly withheld $12,961 from his employee's wages for child support from 2013 to 2015 but only sent $2,046 to MDHS. The rest of the money went into Mr. Kelly's pocket.* Mr. Wiggins asked Mr. Kelly several times in 2015 to send the payments to MDHS. Mr. Kelly told him he would speak to his secretary but the money was never sent to MDHS.
Mint filed for bankruptcy on April 10, 2015. Earlier post. However, he did not include Mr. Wiggins as a creditor but did list him as one in his Chapter 7 bankruptcy he filed in 2016.
Mr. Kelly argued that he never took possession of the money but that argument did not hold water with Chancellor Owens. He also claimed that he was protected from any liability due to the corporate veil. However, the court ruled that it did not need to worry about piercing the corporate veil since he admitted to the debt in his chapter 7 bankruptcy petition. He thus waived his corporate veil defense by claiming it as a personal debt.
However, now the really disgusting part begins. The order states:
However, the Plaintiff inquired on his own volition about the status of his child support payments for tax purposes in December 2014. MDHS informed the Plaintiff that he was behind in child support for approximately $10,000. The Plaintiff testified that he was very surprised to know that he was behind because the funds were being withheld from his paycheck every other week.
Subsequently, the Plaintiff learned that the Defendants Kelly and Mint Restaurant continuously withheld money from the Plaintiff's wages and only remitted $2,046.78 to the Defendant, MDHS. Shortly thereafter, the Plaintiff took an accounting of his wages to MDHS to prove that the funds were actually being withheld from his wages. Testimony revealed that MDHS called Mint Restaurant to verify the Plaintiff's claims and his claims were substantiated when restaurant personnel informed MDHS that Mint Restaurant did withhold child support payments from the Plaintiff's wages during the time in question.
On September 24, 2015, the Plaintiff paid $516.00 through his unemployment back pay to MDHS toward his child support. Therefore, Defendants Mint Restaurant and Patrick Kelly owe Defendant MDHS and/or Defendant Latoya Lindsey $10,914.22....
The court then moves on to one Patrick Kelly and his actions:
The record reflects that the Defendant, Mint Restaurant gained control of the funds in a legal manner. They gained control of the funds via this Court's Withholding Order. However, the defendant converted the funds when they did not remit them to MDHS.....
The Plaintiff testified that this unpaid debt caused him to have panic attacks because he is a convicted felon. He was sentenced to fifteen (15) years of incarceration. Ten (10) years were suspended and five (5) years are to be served through supervised probation. He is currently on supervised probation. During the term of his supervised probation, he is required to work faithfully at suitable employment and support all dependents as required by law thereby making timely child support payments. If he failed to comply with the terms, he may be required to serve the suspended portion of his sentence. Therefore, the Plaintiff revealed that he worries daily about the possibility of going back to jail. ....
Because of Defendant's breach of duty, the Plaintiff was in contempt for not paying child support, subjected to being in violation of Miss Code Ann Section 9-5-3, a felony punishable by up to $10,000.00, and 2-5 years imprisonment; suspension of the Plaintiff's driver's license, professional, occupational or any state- issued license; interception of federal and/or state tax refunds and unemployment checks, and; reporting arrearage to credit bureaus which would include the same on Plaintiff's credit report.
Also the Plaintiff was in contempt for violating the terms of his supervised probation by not supporting all his dependents as required by law, which in this case, the court ordered child support. This heightened the probability of the Plaintiff's incarceration. As such, this Court finds the Defendant Mint Restaurant's actions were grossly negligent and evidenced a willful, wanton and/or reckless disregard for the rights and safety of the Plaintiff and others.Judge Owens ruled that Mr. Kelly's conduct was so egregious that it deserved punitive damages. She awarded punitive damages of $100,000 and attorney's fees to Mr. Wiggins. Mr. Kelly was represented by attorney James Scarff.
Kingfish note: Judge Owens don't play. Mr. Kelly qualifies for scumbag of the day.
*The order states that Mint withheld $4,486 in 2013 but only sent $1,241 to MDHS. Mr. Kelly thus pocketed $3,245. The conversion continued in 2014. Mint withheld $6,480 from Mr. Wiggin's wages but only sent $805 to MDHS- a difference of $5,674. Mr. Wiggins was garnished for $1,994 in 2015 but Mr. Kelly sent none of those funds to MDHS.