CATES v. SWAIN REDUX

November 26, 2012 § 1 Comment

This from the MSSC decisions of November 15, 2012:

Mona Cates v. Elizabeth Swain; Tate Chancery Court; LC Case #: 06-6-243(PL); Ruling Date: 10/29/2010; Ruling Judge: Percy Lynchard, Jr.; Disposition: Petition for writ of certiorari filed by Elizabeth Swain is granted. To Grant: Waller, C.J., Carlson and Dickinson, P.JJ., Kitchens, Chandler, Pierce and King, JJ. To Deny: Randolph, J. Not Participating: Lamar, J. Order entered.

You may recall that this is the April, 2012, COA case in which Judge Maxwell’s opinion held in essence that equitable relief is not available to enforce implied contractual rights between unmarried cohabitants. The holding which was based on the MSSC decision in Estate of Alexander, 445 So. 2d 836, 840 (Miss. 1984), that any such relief must be created by act of the legislature. The decision also touched on rights of unmarried couples in relationships nearly tantamount to marriage. You can read my post about Cates v. Swain here.

So what does the grant of cert in this case portend?

It seems unlikely that the court would have granted cert merely to reiterate what Judge Maxwell said in his excellent exposition on Alexander. And it seems just as unlikely that the MSSC would go so far as to reverse Alexander.

But when one looks at Cates v. Swain, it seems that there are some inequities that could be addressed without sweeping aside Alexander. After all, the court did say in that case that, “While the judicial branch is not without power to fashion remedies in this area, we are unwilling to extend equitable principles to the extent plaintiff would have us to do, since recovery based on principles of contracts implied in law essentially would resurrect the old common-law marriage doctrine which was specifically abolished by the Legislature.” That seems to me to leave some wiggle room on at least two points: One, that the judicial branch has the power to fashion remedies in this area, and might do so in this case; and two, that equitable remedies may be narrowly crafted to address the inequities without creating the problems contemplated in Alexander.

It will interesting to see how this develops. Stay tuned.

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