Justia Mississippi Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Family Law
Hawkins v. State of Mississippi
In the case at hand, the Supreme Court of Mississippi dealt with an appeal by George Hawkins who was convicted for sexual battery of a minor under Mississippi Code Section 97-3-95(2). This law requires the State to prove that the defendant was in a position of trust or authority over the minor when the crime was committed. Hawkins' appeal was based on the argument that the State failed to present sufficient evidence of him being in such a position over the victim, as he had no legal authority over her.In 2014, Hawkins began dating Tonya Ingram and gradually became a part of her and her children’s lives, to the point where they even considered themselves to be common-law married. In the spring of 2015, Tonya and her children moved into Hawkins's home "as a family". Hawkins and Tonya filed their taxes jointly, claimed Tonya’s children as dependents, and contributed equally to the family’s finances. The victim, Jane, one of Tonya's children, trusted Hawkins, which ended when he sexually assaulted her one night.The court found that while Hawkins did not possess any legal authority over Jane, a reasonable jury could have concluded that he was in a position of trust or authority over her based on the totality of the circumstances and their relationship. The court held that the list of individuals who are typically in positions of authority provided in Section 97-3-95(2) serves only as examples, and does not limit this to persons in positions of legal authority over the child. Therefore, the court affirmed Hawkins' conviction. View "Hawkins v. State of Mississippi" on Justia Law
S.F. v. Lamar County Department of Child Protection Services, et al.
Child Protection Services (CPS) petitioned to terminate the parental rights of both parents of three minor children who were sexually abused by their father. The mother, S.F., objected and argued that she should not lose her parental rights. The trial court granted CPS’s petition and terminated the rights of both parents. S.F. appealed. The Mississippi Supreme Court found that through the totality of the circumstances and the evidence presented to the youth court satisfied the grounds for termination. Because S.F. lacked protective capacity toward her children, the youth court did not err by finding clear and convincing evidence that termination was appropriate. As such, the Court affirmed. View "S.F. v. Lamar County Department of Child Protection Services, et al." on Justia Law
West v. West, et al.
Litigation that had been ongoing for twenty years, went before the Mississippi Supreme Court for the third time. The direct appeal involved the West family-owned corporations, West Quality Food Services, Inc. (West Quality), and Coastal Express, Inc. (Coastal) (collectively, “West Entities”), and Deborah West (Debbie West), former wife of Charles Timothy West (Tim West). The major issue on direct appeal was whether the chancellor erred in his priority-of-liens analysis. On cross-appeal, which was brought by Tim West, the issue was whether the chancellor considered his claim for retroactive child support. While these issues were pending on appeal, Tim West filed a separate action to challenge the statute of limitations applicable to an underlying judgment and to writs of garnishment that had been entered against him. The chancellor determined that the statute of limitations had run and ordered that the judgment, the writs of garnishment, and the writs of execution be deemed null and void. Debbie West appealed, and the Supreme Court consolidated the two cases. Regarding the direct appeal, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s ruling and remanded for a determination of whether each of Tim West’s capital stock certificates were noted conspicuously with a bylaws restriction. If so, then the conspicuously noted stock certificate(s) should have priority over Debbie West’s valid equitable lien. If the stock certificate failed to conspicuously note the bylaws restriction on the stock certificate, then the 1994 equitable lien has priority over Tim West’s stock. Neither the Supreme Court nor the trial court addressed whether the penalty in Mississippi Code Section 13-3-129 was applicable in this case. As such, the Supreme Court remanded this issue for the chancellor to determine that question. As for the cross-appeal, the chancellor erred by failing to address Tim West’s retroactive child support claim. Thus, the Supreme Court remanded this issue for the chancellor to consider his claim in the first instance. Regarding the consolidated appeal, West v. West, No. 2022-CA-00147-SCT, the Supreme Court found that because Tim West engaged in claim splitting, the chancellor’s decision was reversed with orders to dismiss the case and reinstate the 2008 judgment, the writs of garnishment, and the writs of execution. View "West v. West, et al." on Justia Law
Brownlee v. Powell, et al.
Aggrieved by a chancellor’s decision, Pamela Brownlee (Pam) appeals to the Mississippi Supreme Court, averring that the chancellor erred by failing to extend in loco parentis visitation rights to her as a former live-in romantic partner. Jessica Powell had two children, A.M.P. and E.R.L., born to different fathers. A.M.P.’s father maintained no relationship with the child; E.R.L.’s father was an active parent in his child’s life. Pam and Jessica began their romantic relationship in early 2014, just before E.R.L.’s birth, and the couple lived together throughout their relationship until their breakup in 2019. Even though Pam and Jessica cohabited from 2014 to 2019, they did not marry. On December 19, 2019, approximately two months after the couple’s breakup in October 2019, Pam filed her Petition to Establish Custody and Visitation, in which Pam initially sought custody of E.R.L. and visitation with A.M.P. At the initial hearing in October 2020, Pam withdrew her request for custody of E.R.L., revising her request to seek only visitation with Jessica’s children under the doctrine of in loco parentis. Although the chancellor did not find any legal basis for Pam’s request, given her status as an unmarried non-parent and former live-in partner to the children’s natural mother. The Mississippi Supreme Court reversed: “we also recognize special circumstances exist…in which justice so requires and the child’s well-being demands a relationship with a person who has stood in loco parentis in his or her life. The floodgates are not open for any third party visitation if the circumstances do not rise to this level, but Pam deserves an opportunity, at least, to provide proof of whether she meets this ‘very limited, unique situation.’” View "Brownlee v. Powell, et al." on Justia Law
Blagodirova v. Schrock
Katy Blagodirova and Jose Schrock married in November 2006 and had one child, J.R., in October 2007. In 2013 the couple filed a joint complaint for divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. The divorce agreement provided that Blagodirova had primary physical custody of the child subject to Schrock’s visitation. Schrock agreed to pay $500 monthly in child support payments. Following the divorce, Blagodirova began a romantic relationship with Andres Maldonado De La Rosa (Maldonado), J.R.’s soccer coach and an undocumented immigrant. Blagodirova and Maldonado married in August 2014, divorced in 2015 and remarried in 2018. While she worked, Blagodirova entrusted J.R.’s care to Maldonado. Maldonado testified that after remarrying Blagodirova, he obtained an illegal driver’s license to drive J.R. around. Blagodirova had not provided alternatives for childcare for J.R., and instead relied on Maldonado to care for the child despite her awareness that Maldonado could have been taken into custody and deported. Schrock filed to a modification of custody, requesting physical custody of J.R. and the termination of his child support obligation. He alleged there has been a material change in circumstances adverse to J.R.’s best interests. A chancery court granted Schrock’s petition, but the Court of Appeals reversed. Schrock appealed. Finding the chancellor’s decision to modify child custody was supported by substantial evidence, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the appeals court and reinstated the chancery court’s judgment. View "Blagodirova v. Schrock" on Justia Law
Jane Doe v. Department of Child Protection Services
Jane Doe appealed the youth court’s denial of her motion to transfer for lack of jurisdiction and motion for recusal. In 2019, Jane was arrested in Natchez, Adams County, Mississippi, and charged with possession and sale of a controlled substance. At the time of her arrest, Jane was pregnant and homeless. As a condition of her bond with Adams County, Jane was placed at Born Free, a residential facility in Hinds County that provided substance abuse treatment to pregnant mothers. Jane entered Born Free on May 30, 2019. On July 16, 2019, Jane gave birth to Karen at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Hinds County. Jane later returned to Born Free with Karen. On August 19, 2019, Jane was negatively discharged from Born Free for various program violations. The Adams County Sheriff’s Department was contacted, and Jane was transported back to Adams County. The Adams County Department of Child Protection Services (CPS) was also contacted and took Karen into custody. Karen was placed in an approved foster home where she remained under the supervision and control of CPS. Upon her return to Adams County, Jane rented an apartment in Adams County. On December 10, 2019, the Adams County County Court, sitting as a youth court,2 adjudicated Karen a neglected child. As part of the permanency plan of reunification, CPS developed a service agreement with Jane. Jane failed to comply with the service agreement and further failed to maintain contact with CPS. As a result, on December 10, 2020, the youth court found that it was in Karen’s best interests for the permanency plan to change from reunification to adoption. CPS ultimately filed a petition to terminate parental rights. Jane moved to transfer her case to Hinds County since she was in court-ordered rehabilitation in Hinds County, and that the judge presiding over her case should have recused because he concluded termination of her parental rights was proper. Jane's motions were denied and she appealed. The Mississippi Supreme Court found no reversible error in the court's denial of Jane's transfer motion and recusal and affirmed. View "Jane Doe v. Department of Child Protection Services" on Justia Law
Davis, et al. v. Davis
John and Sandra Davis, then-married, had two children in the 1980s. In 2018, John discovered the possibility that the children were not biologically his, but that they may have been the biological result of Sandra’s extramarital relations with Porter Horgan. Almost immediately after discovering this possibility, John sued Sandra and Horgan for fraud, alienation of affection, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. A jury ultimately awarded John $700,000 in damages. Because some of the claims were barred by the statute of limitations, and because John completely failed to request proper jury instructions on damages, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the jury verdict and rendered judgment in favor of Sandra and Horgan on John’s claims against them. View "Davis, et al. v. Davis" on Justia Law
Denham v. Denham
In this divorce and custody case, the chancellor excluded the testimony of the parties’ minor children per se, without first interviewing the children and determining their competency and best interests. The chancellor then interviewed the children in chambers, but did not make a record of the interviews. The Court of Appeals affirmed the chancellor’s decision on all issues, including child custody. On certiorari review, the Mississippi Supreme Court found the chancery court erred in the procedures used and findings made attendant to the issue of the children’s testimony. It therefore reversed the chancellor’s judgment regarding child custody, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Denham v. Denham" on Justia Law
Williams v. Williams
Tuwanda Williams and John Williams, Jr., filed a “Joint Motion to Dismiss Fault Grounds and Consent to Divorce on Grounds of Irreconcilable Differences” and submitted for review a judgment of divorce based on irreconcilable differences and a divorce agreement. Shortly thereafter, Tuwanda changed her mind. She withdrew her consent to the divorce agreement and also withdrew her consent to the divorce based on irreconcilable differences. John moved to enforce the divorce agreement. The chancellor found that Tuwanda timely withdrew her consent to the irreconcilable-differences divorce but that the divorce agreement was an enforceable contract binding on both Tuwanda and John. The chancellor granted John’s motion to enforce the divorce agreement and entered what he called a “final judgment” incorporating the agreement. Tuwanda appealed. The Mississippi Supreme Court found that because the order entitled “final judgment” was not a final, appealable judgment, it lacked jurisdiction to review. Accordingly, the appeal was dismissed. View "Williams v. Williams" on Justia Law
Seals, et al. v. Stanton
Kimberlyn Seals and her counsels of record, Felecia Perkins, Jessica Ayers, and Derek D. Hopson, Sr., appealed a chancery court's: (1) Contempt Order entered on April 8, 2020; (2) the Temporary Order entered on April 28, 2020; (3) the Jurisdictional Final Judgment entered on June 16, 2020; (4) the Final Judgment on Motion for Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law entered on June 18, 2020; and (5) the Amended Final Judgment entered on June 18, 2020. Seals argued the chancellor lacked jurisdiction and erroneously found them to be in contempt of court. These orders arose out of a paternity suit filed by the father of Seals' child, born 2017. A hearing was set for April 7, 2020, but Seals sought a continuance. The motion was deemed untimely, and that the court expected Seals and her counsel to appear at the April 7 hearing. When Seals and her counsel failed to appear, the court entered the contempt orders at issue before the Mississippi Supreme Court. The Supreme Court: (1) affirmed the chancellor’s finding that Perkins and Ayers were in direct criminal contempt for their failure to appear at a scheduled April 7 hearing; (2) vacated the $3,000 sanction because it exceeded the penalties prescribed by statute; (3) affirmed the award of attorneys’ fees to opposing counsel; (4) found the chancellor erred in finding Hopson to be in direct criminal contempt for failing to appear - "Constructive criminal contempt charges require procedural safeguards of notice and a hearing;" and (5) found the chancellor erroneously found the attorneys to be in direct criminal contempt for violation of the September 2019 Temporary Order. "If proved, such acts are civil contempt." The matter was remanded for a determination of whether an indirect civil contempt proceeding should be commenced. View "Seals, et al. v. Stanton" on Justia Law