Does MRCP 4(h) Apply to R81 Cases?

October 21, 2014 § 2 Comments

R4(h) states:

If a service of the summons and complaint is not made upon a defendant within 120 days after the filing of the complaint and the party on whose behalf such service was required cannot show good cause why such service was not made within that period, the action shall be dismissed as to that defendant without prejudice upon the court’s own initiative with notice to such party or upon motion.

In the case of Roberts v. Lopez, decided September 23, 2014, the COA said this:

[¶9]  Notwithstanding the provisions of Rule 4(h), Rule 81(a)(9) provides, in pertinent part:

Applicability in General. These rules apply to all civil proceedings but are subject to limited applicability in the following actions which are generally governed by statutory procedures [:] . . . Title 933 of the Mississippi Code of 1972.

(Emphasis added).

¶10. Rule 81(d)(2) provides that modification of custody matters “shall be triable 7 days after completion of process in any manner other than by publication . . . .” Rule 81(d)(5) provides in part:

Upon the filing of any action or matter listed in subparagraphs (1) and (2) [of Rule 81(d)], summons shall issue commanding the defendant or respondent to appear and defend at a time and place, either in term time or vacation, at which the same shall be heard. Said time and place shall be set by special order, general order[,] or rule of court.

David was served with a Rule 81 summons commanding him to appear at the August 24, 2012 hearing. Therefore, it is of no moment that Liza’s initial complaint and amended complaint, which sought to set aside or modify previous custody orders, were filed more than 120 days prior to David being served with the Rule 81 summons. The modification of custody orders that Liza sought was governed by Rule 81(d), not Rule 4(h) as David contends …

This is a novel rationale. The court did not cite, nor have I been able to find, a prior case that supports this assertion. There is nothing in the language of R4(h) that excepts R81 matters. I had always understood the limitation language of R81(a) as applying to statutory provisions that set out specific deadlines such as some estate and guardianship matters.

As a practical matter, R4(h) is usually applied in circuit court actions where its application has statute-of-limitations ramifications. In chancery, since statutes of limitation seldom apply, the 4(h) dismissal is without prejudice, and one can simply shrug it off and refile. David, in his case, tried to use 4(h) as a sword to set aside the trial court’s judgment. He failed, though, based on the court’s reasoning above, but most importantly due to this:

Moreover, David appeared and participated generally in the August 24, 2012 hearing. So even if process were defective, which it was not, David waived the defect by his appearance and general participation in the hearing. See Isom v. Jernigan, 840 So. 2d 104, 107 (¶9) (Miss. 2003). Thus, this issue is without merit.

As we all know, a voluntary general appearance waives any objection to personal jurisdiction.

So, does Roberts v. Lopez establish the rule that R4(h) simply does not apply to R81 matters based on the language quoted above? I think I’m going to treat that language as dicta, since the dispositive fact here was that David waived the objection. It was unnecessary for the court to go into that R4 vs. R81 analysis when all that had to be said was that David’s general appearance subjected him to personal jurisdiction regardless of any defect of process. Your chancellor may see it differently.

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