Findings on a Rule 60 Motion
December 17, 2014 § 4 Comments
Aside from the remarkable fact that the December 9, 2014, COA case of Pride v. Pride involved twelve (12) pro se appellees, the decision also makes the notable point that findings of fact and conclusions of law are not necessarily required in the court’s ruling on a R60 motion.
This is a partition case involving 150 acres, more or less, in which siblings disagreed over the division. The chancellor ordered that a house and one acre be sold at auction, and six years later two brothers filed a R60 motion for relief from judgment, which the chancellor denied. The brothers also asked the court for specific findings of fact and conclusions of law, per R52(a), which the chancellor also denied. The brothers appealed.
The order for sale of the home had been the subject of a previous appeal, which was found to be without merit in Pride v. Pride, 60 So.3d 208 (Miss. App. 2011). The COA characterized the six-year after-the-fact R60 motion in this case as ” … nothing more than his unsupported assertion …” that he (one of the brothers, William) was entitled to some relief. He did not invoke any of the legitimate bases of R60, and he offered no evidence to support his claims. The court found no merit to his R60 argument.
As for his claim that the chancellor should have made specific findings of fact and conclusions of law, Judge Roberts, for the majority, said this:
¶10. Next, William claims that the chancellor erred when he did not provide written findings of fact and conclusions of law related to the decision to deny the Rule 60(b) motion. Rule 52(a) of the Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure provides that “[i]n all actions tried upon the facts without a jury[,] the court may, and shall upon the request of any party to the suit or when required by these rules, find the facts specially and state separately its conclusions of law thereon and judgment shall be entered accordingly.” If a party requests findings of fact and conclusions of law, and the trial court does not enter them, an “appellate court must consider the effect of the trial court’s missed responsibility, and overwhelming evidence may be required as a condition for affirmance.” Bodne v. King, 835 So. 2d 52, 57 (¶15) (Miss. 2003). “Whe[n] . . . a case is hotly contested and the facts [are] greatly in dispute[,] and whe[n] there is any complexity involved therein, failure to make findings of ultimate fact and conclusions of law will generally be regarded as an abuse of discretion.” Tricon Metals & Servs. Inc. v. Topp, 516 So. 2d 236, 239 (Miss. 1987). However, a trial court is only obligated to enter requested findings of fact when an action has been “tried upon the facts without a jury.” Harmon v. Regions Bank, 961 So. 2d 693, 700 (¶24) (Miss. 2007).
¶11. The chancellor was not required to view the allegations in William’s Rule 60(b) motion as though they were true. William’s Rule 60(b) motion was not an action “tried upon the facts,” because it did not include anything but allegations, and no facts were ever presented. William fails to explain how the chancellor could possibly find any facts after he failed to present any. And the chancellor’s decision to deny William’s Rule 60(b) motion did not result in the entry of a judgment. Therefore, the chancellor was justified in summarily denying William’s request for written findings of fact and conclusions of law. It follows that we find that the chancellor did not abuse his discretion, and there is no merit to this issue.
The axis upon which the COA’s decision turned was the absence of any evidence upon which the court was asked to rule. In essence, the brother(s) were asking the court for a do-over on their already-lost position.
One way to approach the rules is through a literal reading and rigid application: the rule says it, so do it. The better approach, to me, is to consider what is to be accomplished and why. Here, findings of fact and conclusions of law would be nothing more than a rehash of what had been done before, since the brothers presented nothing new. It would have been an empty exercise that might have planted the possibility of error in the record, which may be just what they had in mind to further delay this already-lengthy litigation. As MRCP 1 says, “These rules shall be construed to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action.”
In the COA’s recitation of the case’s history, the quotes from Pride, supra, repeatedly refer to the William’s 2006 motion for a JNOV (directed verdict) as to the court’s order for a partition in kind. <SIGH> It’s a lamentable subject I posted about here recently.