LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a $122.5 million judgment against a former doctor who severely injured the former chairman of the state Medical Board in a 2009 bombing.
The state’s top court rejected an appeal by Randeep Mann, who was ordered to pay the judgment to Dr. Trent Pierce and his wife, Melissa Pierce, in a civil suit in Crittenden County Circuit Court.
On Feb. 4, 2009, Trent Pierce was about to get into his vehicle to drive from his West Memphis home to Little Rock to attend a Medical Board meeting when he saw a tire leaning against his car and moved it. The movement of the tire triggered an explosive device believed to be a grenade and caused Trent to receive injuries that included the loss of an eye.
Mann, a pain specialist who had a private practice in Russellville, was indicted, tried and convicted in the bombing. After his first sentence was tossed by a federal appeals court because of errors, he was sentenced by a federal judge to life in prison and 30 years on two bombing charges, 10 years on two weapons charges and five years on two obstruction charges. He also was ordered to pay $100,000 in restitution.
Prosecutors said Mann was upset over multiple investigations by the Medical Board and comments by Pierce that he believed Mann was providing improper care to his patients.
The Pierces’ civil suit accused Man and unnamed defendants of conspiring in a plot to kill or injure Trent Pierce and accused Mann of committing assault and battery against Pierce.
In December 2013, a Crittenden County circuit judge granted a motion by the Pierces for partial summary judgment, finding that Mann could not re-litigate the issue of his liability because of his criminal conviction. A jury trial on damages followed.
Mann argued on appeal that the facts the Pierces had to prove in the civil case were not the same facts the government had to prove in the criminal case.
The court said in its majority opinion Thursday that the elements of proof in the two cases did not line up completely and that under certain facts a person could be guilty of the criminal charges without the necessary elements for assault and battery being present. Mann’s case did not present such a set of facts, however, because in both the federal trial and the civil trial the key element of proof was that Mann took part in a scheme to injure or kill Trent Pierce, the court said.
The Supreme Court also rejected an argument by Mann that the Pierces could not collect damages for conspiracy because they did not sue any other conspirators by name. Mann did not present a convincing argument or cite legal authority to support his point, the court said.
Mann further argued that he would have had more opportunity to prepare for a civil trial than he had for his criminal trial, but the Supreme Court said Mann did not show that his preparation for his criminal trial or the trial itself were insufficient.
Finally, Mann argued that it was premature to grant summary judgment in the civil case because his criminal conviction could be overtutned. The Supreme Court disagreed, saying in its majority opinion that the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis has affirmed Mann’s conviction and that Mann could not challenge the basic underpinnings of his conviction in any future appeals.
Justice Josephine Hart wrote in a dissenting opinion that to convict Mann in the criminal case, prosecutors had to show the use of a weapon of mass destruction against a person or property, which would require the government to show facts that would not necessarily prove assault or battery.
“Put simply, Mann was not charged with assault or battery in federal criminal court,” Hart wrote.
Justice Karen Baker joined in Hart’s dissent.
Justice Rhonda Wood wrote in a separate opinion that she agreed with the majority on the merits of the case but was writing separately to state that the majority erred in stating that notice of appeal was properly given because neither party raised that issue.
Justice Courtney Goodson wrote in a separate opinion that she agreed with the majority on the merits of the case but was writing separately to state that the majority correctly opined on the notice of appeal because the issue was raised by the state Court of Appeals.