Justia Mississippi Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Family Law
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The issue presented for the Mississippi Supreme Court's review in this case involved the temporary termination of a father’s child-support obligation. Because the Supreme Court found that the Court of Appeals did not apply the abuse-of-discretion standard of review applicable to the chancery court’s decision, the Court of Appeals' decision was reversed, and the chancery court's judgment was reinstated and affirmed. View "Davis v. Henderson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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Michael Lockhart appealed a Chancery Court’s Opinion and Final Judgment entered in July 2019 (the 2019 Order) purporting to clarify the court’s previous 2018 Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Final Judgment (the 2018 Order) equitably distributing property between Lockhart and his ex-wife, Stella Payton. Lockhart also appealed the chancery court’s Order Denying Post Trial Motion entered in February 2020. In doing so, Lockhart claimed the chancery court erred: (1) by modifying the court’s property division ruling from its 2018 Order; (2) by assigning values to property identified in the 2018 Order; (3) in its determination of “proceeds” related to certain businesses owned by Lockhart; (4) by finding Lockhart in contempt; (5) by failing to penalize Payton’s contempt and allowing Payton equitable relief; (6) by failing to assign rental income to Lockhart for two marital rental properties; (7) by failing to provide Lockhart a way to retrieve his personal property from the marital home; and (8) by denying Lockhart’s motion to recuse. Since each of Lockhart’s eight assignments of error either lacked merit or ere procedurally barred on appeal, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the chancery court's decision. View "Lockhart v. Lockhart" on Justia Law

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In the aftermath of her divorce from ex-Methodist minister Andrew Johnson, Kim Miller sued not only Johnson but also his employer, the Mississippi Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church (MUMC). Miller also sued fellow MUMC minister Susan Woodard. Her claims against Johnson were aimed at his risky extramarital sexual behavior, which led to Johnson contracting HIV and later infecting Miller with the virus. Miller based her claims against MUMC and Woodard on her allegation that, had the conference and the fellow minister followed United Methodist policy and procedure, they would have discovered Johnson’s behavior and remedied it or warned Miller before she contracted HIV. The question before the Mississippi Supreme Court on interlocutory appeal was whether she established a wrong for which she could legally recover. After review, the Court found "it is clear that Miller seeks to hold MUMC and Woodard legally accountable for failing to follow religious doctrine and procedure. Under the First Amendment, this Court has no authority to consider and enforce religious standards. Thus, MUMC and Woodard are entitled to summary judgment." The Court found Miller’s claims against her ex-husband, Johnson, were not barred by the First Amendment. Still, Johnson insisted he was entitled to summary judgment based on a mutual release in Miller and Johnson’s divorce settlement. The Court found Johnson did not pursue his affirmative defense based on the release for more than two and a half years. By that time, the trial court deemed this defense waived. And after review, the Court held the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying Johnson summary judgment on this basis. The trial court's orders denying MUMC’s and Woodard’s motions for summary judgment were reversed; the order denying Johnson’s motion for summary judgment was affirmed and Miller’s claims against Johnson remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Woodard v. Miller" on Justia Law

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Kemily and Kelvin Rankin were married in July 2007 and had two children during the course of their marriage. In December 2017, Kemily filed a complaint for divorce on the ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment or, in the alternative, irreconcilable differences. At the conclusion of Kemily’s case-in-chief, Kelvin moved to dismiss the complaint for divorce and argued that the evidence “wholly, completely, [and] totally fail[ed] to make out a case for habitual cruel and inhuman treatment.” The chancellor entered a fifteen-page memorandum opinion and final judgment that denied Kemily’s complaint for divorce, finding “that the evidence presented [wa]s insufficient to grant [Kemily] a divorce on the ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment.” Kemily timely appealed. On appeal, the Court of Appeals found that “there was sufficient evidence to support granting the divorce on the ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment” and therefore reversed the chancellor’s judgment and remanded the case “for further findings in accordance with [its] opinion.” Kelvin filed a petition for writ of certiorari and argued that the Court of Appeals’ decision was (1) in direct conflict with well-established law regarding appellate review; and (2) in direct conflict with a prior decision of the Mississippi Supreme Court. The Supreme Court found the appellate court's decision was based on the absence of an express finding by the chancellor regarding Kemily's credibility, thus failing to recognize the required assumption “that the chancellor resolved [the credibility] issue[] in favor of [Kelvin].” The Supreme Court ultimately reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals, and affirmed the chancery court’s denial of the complaint for divorce on the ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment. View "Rankin v. Rankin" on Justia Law

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This case arose from a custody dispute between a natural mother and an adoptive mother. The chancellor allowed the natural mother to withdraw her surrender of parental rights and consent to adoption. The chancellor also found that the natural mother was under duress when she signed the surrender and revoked the order granting temporary custody of the child to the adoptive mother. Finding no reversible error, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the chancellor’s judgment. View "In the Adoption of A.M." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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At issue in this case was a custody dispute between the mother of an eleven-year-old boy and the boy’s paternal grandparents. “John” had been living in his grandparents’ home for about six years at the time of the judgment, and the chancery court ultimately found that John’s mother had deserted him and that it was in John’s best interest that his grandparents be awarded custody. The Mississippi Supreme Court did not find that judgment to be an abuse of discretion, so it affirmed the chancery court’s judgment. View "Summers v. Gros" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The chancery court granted divorce to William Jack ("BJ") Kerr on the ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment and its award of joint custody of the minor child, WHK. India Kerr argued the chancellor erred by granting her ex-husband's petition for divorce and not her own. She also sought an amendment to the custody award, arguing the chancellor's Albright analysis was incorrect. Finding no reversible error, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the chancery court's judgment. View "Kerr v. Kerr" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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D.G.E.C. was born on June 1, 2016. Her biological parents were Rachel Coulter and Cody Jones. Coulter and Jones never married. On the evening of August 6, 2016, Jones took the nine-week-old baby to a room in their two-bedroom trailer to change her diaper. He noticed that her leg appeared limp. He told Coulter “her leg flopped over like it had no life in it” and expressed concern that it was broken. Eventually, Coulter and Jones took the baby to an emergency room. Coulter suggested that the baby might be suffering due to a reaction to her first round of vaccinations received three days earlier. X-rays of the leg revealed that it was fractured. The baby was transferred to University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) for further evaluation and treatment. Upon admission to UMMC, medical professionals identified bruising to the baby’s forehead and cheek, acute posterior rib fractures on both sides of her chest, lateral rib fractures, an intertrochanteric femur fracture or hip fracture, corner fractures above and below both knees, and left ankle fractures. Given the baby’s medical condition upon admission, a UMMC social worker contacted the Jefferson Davis County Department of Human Services (DHS) to report the injuries. Coulter appealed a chancery court judgment terminating her parental rights. She challenged the chancellor’s finding of fact that she was the custodial parent of her daughter when her daughter was abused, and its conclusion of law that responsibility for abuse can be imputed to custodial parents. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the chancellor’s findings of fact, finding the judgment was supported by "ample evidence as is legally sound." View "Coulter v. Dunn" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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Linda Battise was the mother of Joseph Aucoin, deceased. Joseph and Sheila Aucoin were married and had two daughters. After Joseph’s death, Sheila began restricting Linda’s visitation with the children because Linda was not abiding by Sheila’s parental decisions. Through counsel, Linda petitioned for grandparent visitation. The chancellor encouraged the parties to confer because Sheila made some statements showing that they could come to a visitation agreement without court involvement. Linda and Sheila reached an agreement; however, the chancellor declined to sign the agreed order. The chancellor advised Sheila to retain an attorney because she did not believe that Sheila fully understood the implications of the agreement. Furthermore, the chancellor told Sheila that she was entitled to attorney’s fees. Shiela hired an attorney, and filed a motion to dismiss or stay proceedings until fees were paid in advance. The chancellor denied Linda’s motion to recuse, and ordered Linda to pay $3,500 to Sheila for attorney’s fees within thirty days or else she could not proceed with her case. Linda appealed, arguing that: (1) the chancellor erred by requiring her to prepay attorney’s fees to Sheila before Linda’s case could be heard; (2) the chancellor erred by not entering a final judgment; and (3) the chancellor erred by not recusing. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the chancellor's denial of the motion to recuse. The Court reversed the prepayment order, and remanded for further proceedings on the merits. View "Battise v. Aucoin" on Justia Law

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This interlocutory appeal stemmed from a trial judge granting partial summary judgment, dismissing a claim of malicious prosecution. Richard and Victoria Wilbourn were in a longstanding domestic matter. Victoria accused Richard of misconduct towards their children, but the chancellor determined that the accusations were unfounded. Victoria went to the Ridgeland Police Department for help and filed an eight-page report against Richard, restating his alleged misconduct. The Ridgeland Police Department followed protocol, investigated, and referred the case to the district attorney’s office. The case was presented to a grand jury; the grand jury returned no bill. Notably, Richard was never charged, indicted, or arrested in connection with the investigation, and Victoria did not swear an affidavit against him. In the summer of 2016, Richard discovered the investigation and grand jury presentment and responded by filing suit, claiming malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. In response, Victoria moved for summary judgment. And after a hearing, the trial judge granted partial summary judgment, dismissing Richard’s claim of malicious prosecution but retaining the others. Definitively, the trial judge found that “no criminal proceedings were instituted and therefore [Richard] cannot satisfy the first element of his claim.” With no arrest or indictment, or Richard otherwise being subjected to oppressive litigation of criminal charges for the report that Victoria gave to the Ridgeland Police Department, the Mississippi Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not err in dismissing Richard's malicious-prosecution claim. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Wilbourn v. Wilbourn" on Justia Law