July 26, 2011 § 2 Comments

If you will read the statutes that apply in your case, you will find exactly the language you need to plead a proper claim and lay out jurisdiction and venue. It’s right there in the code. The closer you adhere to the statutory language, the more likely it is that your complaint will withstand an MRCP 12(b)(6) motion.

For example, in a divorce case, you must plead all of the following: either one or more grounds set out in MCA §93-5-1, and/or irreconcilable differences as in MCA § 93-5-2; and proper venue as in MCA § 93-5-11; and that one of the parties meets the residence requirement of MCA § 93-5-5. All of the language you need to do that is right there in the statutes for your penalty-free plagiarization.

As a side note, many older chancellors through the years required the complaint to quote the language of the residency statute for divorce that, ” … [plaintiff] has been an actual bona fide resident within this state for six (6) months next preceding the commencement of this suit.” If you varied by a single word, you had pled yourself out of court. There may still be chancellors adhering to that practice. Whether your chancellor does or not, you can’t go wrong tracking the language of the statute.

Some lawyers copy other lawyers’ pleadings. That’s fine as long as the copied pleadings are adequate. Several years ago a few new lawyers used pleadings filed by a weathered, older lawyer as their template. You could tell because they slavishly replicated the older lawyer’s misstatement that “Plaintiff is entitled to a divorce from the defendant on the ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment as codiciled in Section 93-5-1, MCA.” If you’re going to copy, at least put some thought into what you’re doing.

The MRCP offer another source of pleading material. For instance, if you will read Rule 57, you will find every word you need to plead to obtain a declaratory judgment. Same with Rule 56 summary judgment. Same with Rule 65 for temporary restraining orders, temporary injunctions, and preliminary and permanent injunctions.

In modification of custody cases, you will be out of court on your ear unless you plead specifically in your petition that (1) there has been a material change in circumstances that (2) is having or has had an adverse effect on the minor child(ren), and (3) that it is in the best interest of the child(ren) to change custody to your client. McMurry v. Sadler, 846 So.2d 240, 243-4 (Miss. App. 2002). Note that in McMurry, the petitioner had pled only a material change justifying modification. The respondent moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim at the outset of trial, and the judge even prompted counsel that the word “adverse” was absent. The judge dismissed the pleading with leave to amend, and counsel for petitioner moved ore tenus to amend to add the language that an adverse effect would occur if modification were not granted. At that point, the chancellor found the pleadings insufficient as a matter of law and dismissed with prejudice. The COA affirmed.

As McMurry illustrates, faulty pleading will cause nothing but trouble. And it can be fatal. Look what happened there: the judge granted leave to amend as is prescribed in MRCP 12(b), but when counsel failed to fix the problem by amendment, the judge took the case off of the respirator and it died.

What if counsel for the respondent had said nothing about the adequacy of the pleadings before trial, but then had objected to every question about any adverse effect on the basis that it had not been pled? I saw that on more than one occasion when I was in practice, and the judge always sustained the objections, effectively gutting the petitioner’s case, or, more accurately, letting it gut itself. If you’re in that situation and you’re not too discombulated to think clearly, you might try making a Rule 15 motion for leave to amend. Maybe the judge will let you off the hook. At least you will have it in the record.

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  • […] In McMurry v. Sadler, 846 So.2d 240, 243-4 (Miss. App. 2002), it was held that a mere allegation of material change in circumstances in a pleading was inadequate to support a claim for modification, and that the pleading must expressly include the allegation that the change has had an adverse effect on the child. A distinguishing factor here is that, apparently, that issue was not contemporaneously raised to the chancellor as it was via a motion to dismiss in McMurry; but it was raised in this case by Stephanie on appeal. Although the appellate opinion references McMurry, it does so not for the pleading aspect of the case, but only for its holding that the proof must support a finding of adverse effect. I agree with Judge Roberts that the requirement imposed in McMurry elevates form over substance, but that is what the appellate court specifically mandated for this specific cause of action, “notice pleading” notwithstanding.  […]

  • […] interest, and “Neither did the motion so charge nor the chancellor so find.” As we’ve discussed before, the law now is that if you fail to plead the elements of custody modification, your case is […]

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