In what Hattiesburg attorney Clark Hicks called “one of the largest verdicts that’s ever been awarded in Lamar County,” a jury this week awarded a man $1.5 million in a civil trial involving a Hub City auto dealership.
In a suit that stretched through Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, the jury decided that defendant Nate Rolison, owner of Lincoln Road Autoplex, did not honor the terms of a 2009 agreement with plaintiff Clayton Hinton that specified the two would equally divide the profits from the business. After finding that Rolison had broken the agreement, the jury awarded Hinton half of the $3 million the dealership made between 2009 and 2012.
“What’s so unique about it, is that Lamar County is such a conservative venue in many different ways,” Hicks said. “In litigation circles, it’s viewed as one of the most difficult venues to get a damages recovery. They just don’t award them; it’s been years.
“It’s one that’s kind of an eyebrow-raiser to anyone that knows and has experience with cases that are tried down in Purvis – these are folks that are very suspicious, generally speaking, of lawsuits. But they do have a reputation of believing that if a man made a bargain and didn’t live up to the bargain, then they will award the damages that are owed, and that’s just what they did.”
Hicks said his partner Lane Dossett, who tried the case, showed the jury that although Rolison and Hinton had basically entered into a “handshake” partnership, there was a lease agreement between the two that reflected Rolison and Hinton were equal partners. In addition, there was a pattern in practice of Rolison and Hinton sharing the profits on some of the vehicles that were sold – a tenet which Bryan Strahan, owner of Strahan Auto Sales in Hattiesburg, testified to in court.
“(Strahan) said during those years, when he sold vehicles that were from the Lincoln Road Autoplex business for them, that he would split the profits equally between Mr. Hinton and Mr. Rolison,” Hicks said. “(The defense’s) position was that there was never a partnership or an agreement, and that the lease agreement that showed they were equal partners was a forgery – they even called a forensic expert to suggest that it was a forgery.
“They said that Mr. Hinton had more or less left the business in 2009, and had nothing to do with it. The jury didn’t buy that defense – they agreed with us.”
Hinton originally filed a lawsuit regarding the matter in 2013 in Lamar County Circuit Court with the help of a Jackson attorney. Shortly after, Hinton hired Hicks’ firm to represent him.
Hicks and his team will now proceed with recovering the amount of the verdict, with Rolison reserving the right to appeal the jury’s decision.
“He will have to post a bond, and if he doesn’t post a bond, then Mr. Hinton will have the right to attempt to begin collection on the amount of the judgment,” Hicks said. “So there’s some more work to be done, but Mr. Hinton is very pleased because it’s been a number of years that the case has been in the court system.
“He finally got to have his day in court, and each side got to present evidence, and a jury of 12 agreed with Mr. Hinton that there was a partnership. Once the jury believed there to have been a partnership, then they enforced that partnership.”