February 3, 2014 § 1 Comment
Whether a party has standing to appeal is a question that does not often surface in our courts, but it did in a recent COA case.
The case of Posey v. Pope and Posey, handed down January 28, 2014, offers an interesting scenario invoving a standing issue on appeal.
Madison Posey died in 2004, leaving approximately 138 acres of land to his surviving wife, Gladys. Madison and Gladys had four children: Dorothy, Willard, Robert and Paul.
Dorothy had been deeded 2 1/2 acres by her father in 1984, and she used another 25 acres of the 138 on which she built and maintained fences, cut timber, and constructed buildings.
Some time around 1994, Willard began using some 60 acres of the 138 from which he cut timber, sharing the proceeds with his mother. He never obtained a deed for any of the 60 acres.
In 2007, by two, separate deeds, Gladys conveyed 132 acres of land to Paul and Robert, retaining a life estate.
Dorothy and Willard filed suit to set aside the 2007 deeds on the grounds of undue influence and adverse possession. The chancery court concluded not only that the deeds should be set aside because they were procured by undue influence, but also that Dorothy and Willard had title by adverse possession.
Robert and Paul appealed only from the decision that Dorothy and Willard had title via adverse possession. They did not attack the chancellor’s ruling of undue influence.
Dorothy and Willard moved to dismiss the appeal on the basis that the court’s finding of undue influence deprived Robert and Paul of standing to appeal solely from the adverse possession ruling. The COA agreed, and dismissed the appeal. Here’s what Judge Barnes, writing for a unanimous court said:
¶7. “[P]arties have standing to ‘sue or intervene when they assert a colorable interest in the subject matter of the litigation or experience an adverse effect from the conduct of the defendant, or as otherwise authorized by law.’” DeSoto Times Today v. Memphis Publ’g Co., 991 So. 2d 609, 612 (¶8) (Miss. 2008) (quoting Fordice v. Bryan, 651 So. 2d 998, 1003 (Miss. 1995)). Clearly, as recipients of the deeds from Gladys, the Appellants had standing to participate in the underlying chancery court action.
¶8. However, as a result of the chancellor’s ruling of undue influence, which voided the deeds, the Appellants no longer maintained any property interest when the appeal was filed. “A party’s claim ‘must be grounded in some legal right recognized by law, whether by statute or by common law[,]’ and that party must be able to show that it has ‘a present, existent actionable title or interest.’” In re City of Biloxi, 113 So. 3d 565, 570 (¶13) (Miss. 2013) (quoting City of Picayune v. S. Reg’l Corp., 916 So. 2d 510, 526 (¶40) (Miss. 2005)). Since the Appellants do not appeal the chancellor’s decision to void the warranty deeds, they no longer possess a “present, existent actionable interest” in the property at issue. The Appellants have also acknowledged that, at the time of appeal, Gladys was the only person who would benefit from a reversal of the chancellor’s finding that the Appellees gained title through adverse possession. Consequently, we find the Appellants lack standing to appeal the chancellor’s decision.
The appellants argued that they had standing as “anticipatory heirs,” which the COA rejected for the reason that Mississippi does not recognize heirship status until a person has died. They also contended that Paul had obtained a POA from Gladys that empowered him to pursue litigation on her behalf, which the court also rejected because she had never joined in the action, either at trial or on appeal.
One significant reason you should be interested in this case is that it highlights how joinder and non-joinder of persons in litigation may have repercussions that you should consider well before you file the initial complaint and any counterclaim. This result would likely have been avoided had Gladys been brought in as a party.
Another reason is that you need to analyze the effect on your client’s interests of limiting issues on appeal. Reading between the lines in this case, it appears that Robert and Paul were doing their best to keep Gladys out of the cross-fire among the siblings (indeed, she died during pendency of the appeal), but the result was the end of their litigation. I’m not being critical of or even questioning any legal advice in this particular case, but as a matter of general principle, always exercise independent, objective judgment and give advice on how to proceed based on that judgment; never let the clients call the shots about who should or should not be included as a party, or what issues should or should not be pursued.