Inadequate Remedy at Law
October 11, 2016 § 1 Comment
After ten years had elapsed, during which multiple building permits expired, and deadlines were extended again and again, and Michael Gaffney still had not completed construction of a house, the City of Richland filed suit in Chancery Court for an injunction requiring him either to complete construction within a specific time, or, failing which, to demolish and remove the structure. The city also sought attorney’s fees.
There were several proceedings, in which Gaffney appeared pro se, that resulted in some progress, and further inspections, resulting in an order that the house be completed by a date certain. When Gaffney failed to do so, the chancellor found him in contempt and authorized the city to demolish the structure. The city was awarded $8,232.82 in attorney’s fees. Gaffney appealed.
Now, before we go any further, I have to say that if I had heard the case I would likely have done pretty much the same as the chancellor did here. Why not? Injunctive relief is appropriate in chancery. I am sure the pleadings said all of the proper things about irreparable injury, public interest, and inadequate remedy at law. I am sure that no one involved, either attorney or layperson, raised any legal issue or authority that might question the authority of the court to act. And act it did.
So, the case was affirmed, right? Well, no. The COA reversed. In Gaffney v. City of Richland, decided October 4, 2016, the court held that the city should have followed MCA 21-19-11(1), which requires the municipality’s governing authorities to conduct a hearing when a complaint is filed by a majority of residents within 400 feet of a property alleged to be unhealthy or unsafe. From that determination, appeal lies to Circuit Court, per MCA 11-51-75. Chancery Court is nowhere in that loop. Judge Lee, writing for the majority, expounded:
¶23. Although the chancery court’s jurisdiction encompasses relief sought through injunction, issuance of an injunction is an extraordinary relief requiring first a showing of “imminent threat of irreparable harm for which there is no adequate remedy at law.” Heidkamper v. Odom, 880 So. 2d 362, 365 (¶11) (Miss. Ct. App. 2004). When a statutory scheme exists concerning review of an agency or board’s decision, an adequate remedy at law exists, precluding the issuance of injunctive relief. A-1 Pallet Co. v. City of Jackson, 40 So. 3d 563, 569 (¶22) (Miss. 2010).
This case highlights a reason why many chancellors, I included, are skeptical when we are called upon for injunctive relief. Too often, especially in the case of TRO’s, they are brought in haste with breathless claims of imminent disaster if immediate relief is not granted. Haste, as they say, makes waste. I’m not saying that is what happened here. But it is clear that the lawyers convinced the chancellor that there was no adequate remedy at law when, in actual fact, there certainly was.
Remember that most chancellors do not have a research army standing at the ready to parse through the legal threads of your pleadings. Judges rely on you and your representations. You can plant fatal error in your own record by sending the judge off on a tangent that a little legal research and diligence on your part would have avoided.