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Oxford attorneys ask court to reconsider mission-trip lawsuit decision

By Patsy R. Brumfield

Mississippi Today

JACKSON – Attorneys for a New Albany church asked the Mississippi Court of Appeals to reconsider its order to try a lawsuit arising from teenager Marshaun Braxton’s death while on a 2009 mission trip.

“While it is common knowledge that waves and tides exist at the edge of every ocean,” Oxford attorneys Wilton V. Byars III, and Luke Benedict wrote representing First United Methodist Church of New Albany, “no one anticipated the large wave that knocked Braxton and others off a rock into the water.”

In 2014, Circuit Judge Robert W. Elliott ruled in favor of the church without a trial on a lawsuit filed by Deliah Colyer, the mother of Marshuan Braxton.

Braxton, 17, died after a wave swept him and others off a Pacific Ocean rock formation as they began a mission trip to Costa Rica.

His mother’s 2011 lawsuit, filed by attorney Josh Turner of Oxford, claimed the trip leaders, including the church’s associate pastor, were negligent in failing to supervise Braxton on the trip.

After a series of hearings, Judge Elliott decided that Colyer’s claims of negligence were unfounded.

Colyer via Turner appealed to the Mississippi Court of Appeals, which heard the case through judges Tyree Irving, Virginia Carlton and Ceola James.

The 7-1 majority recently agreed Elliott was wrong to decide the case, reversed him and sent it back to Union County for trial.

“There is sufficient evidence before this court that genuine issues of material fact exist as to whether FUNA’s supervision was negligent,” wrote Judge Ceola James for the majority.

Colyer’s lawsuit asked for $1 million damages for her son, who was about to begin his senior year at New Albany High School when he went on the mission trip.

Elliott retired in 2014 and was succeeded by Kelly Luther.