A Remand Without a New Trial

December 15, 2014 § Leave a comment

I posted here a few months ago that on remand the parties are restored to the position that they occupied before entry of the reversed judgment. A new trial is the norm, and even amended pleadings that change the scope of the proceedings from the original action are allowed.

That post also pointed out that, by agreement of the parties, the court may render a judgment on remand using the original record. The latest example of that is the case of Wilson v. Davis, a COA decision, handed down November 18, 2014.

In this case, the mother of a minor child had died, and the maternal grandmother refused to surrender the child to the father. The father brought an action for custody, which the chancellor treated as a modification, and not as an original action. The chancellor found for the grandmother, and the father appealed. The COA reversed and remanded, concluding that it was error for the trial court to try the case by the standards of a modification rather than as an original action.

The second time around, the chancellor used the record from the original trial to render a decision applying the proper standard for adjudication of custody. That’s what Judge Roberts tells us in his dissent:

¶30. Upon remand, the chancery court did not hold a new hearing or take new evidence in the matter. It modified its original opinion and found that the natural-parent presumption had been overcome because [the father] had abandoned [the child] and he had engaged in immoral conduct; it then applied an Albright analysis; and it found that [the maternal grandmother] should retain custody of [the child] because it was in [the child’s] best interest.

Nobody raised the issue whether this procedure was proper in arriving at the trial court’s adjudication. Neither the majority nor the dissent raised the question on its own. It does not appear from the opinion that either party asserted the issue in a R59 motion for a new trial, which would have been the most efficacious way to assert it, in my opinion.

How to proceed on remand is something to which you should devote some thought before you have to deal with it. The outcome for the father in this case might have been dramatically different if he had used his knowledge of what the chancellor viewed as the weak points in his case, and reshaped his witness list and evidence to present a case that overcame them. Instead, he allowed the chancellor to adjudicate the case on the record that she had already used to find against him.

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