April 24, 2013 § Leave a comment

The COA case of Maurer v. Maurer, handed down April 9, 2013, calls our attention yet again to the phenomenon of the self-represented parties and the imaginative ways that they can inflict damage on their interests using the legal system for that purpose.

Raven and Michael were divorced in 2006. Commencing in 2007, they engaged in a long-running battle over custody and visitation in which allegations of sexual abuse were made, a GAL was appointed, a termination of parental rights action was filed, custody orders were entered bouncing the children from one parent to the other, and, finally, a hearing was held in 2011, on the termination of parental rights, pleadings for modification of both visitation and child support, and multiple contempt allegations.

The chancellor ruled against Raven’s termination request and found Michael in contempt for failure to pay child support. But the judge did not adjudicate the amount of the arrearage or the amount of reduction in child support Michael should have; instead, she ordered the parties to submit proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law on those issues.

Raven filed a pro se appeal. Michael is listed as pro se in the appeal, also.

Just for fun, let’s have a little quiz on how the COA ruled. Multiple choice, pick the likely outcome:

(A)  The appeal is dismissed because this was an MRCP 81 action at trial, and MRCP 81 is hopelessly outdated and anachronistic and too complicated for pro se litigants to comprehend;

(2)  The appeal is dismissed based on MRCP 44.1, determination of foreign law; or

(x)  The appeal is dismissed because the chancellor’s “final judgment” adjudicated fewer than all of the contested issues, and there was no certification per MRCP 54(b).

If you guessed (x), you’re right. As the court’s opinion, by Judge Maxwell, stated, although the chancellor adjudicated “the vast majority of disputed issues,” there were matters left unaddressed, so there was no final, appealable judgment, and the COA has no jurisdiction unless there had been a certification under MRCP 54(b), or Raven had gotten leave to file an interlocutory appeal, which (surprise, surprise) she did not do.

The only remarkable thing to me about this case is how people, heedless of the legal harm and expense they can inflict on themselves, persist in pursuing complex legal matters pro se. We’ve seen many cases over the past several years where the R54(b) snare tripped even skilled lawyers; how is a lay person to know how to negotiate these shoal waters? As I have observed many times, I have never seen a pro se litigant walk out of the court room in better shape than when he or she walked in. Raven went to a lot of expense in this appeal for nothing.

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