Priority of the Attorney’s Charging Lien

May 31, 2017 § 5 Comments

It is an ancient principle of the common law, and has long been recognized in Mississippi law, that attorneys have a lien on judgments and decrees obtained through the attorney’s successful representation. Where that lien falls in order of priority was the issue in a recent case.

Bar-Til, Inc. won a judgment for more than $205,000 against Superior Asphalt in chancery court. Instead of appealing, Superior interpled the money into the registry of the court while Bar-Til appealed the trial court’s denial of punitive damages. The chancellor granted the interpleader and entered a judgment declaring the judgment satisfied in full.

After the COA affirmed the denial of punitive damages, a scramble ensued among several creditors of Bar-Til, all of whom claimed a right to some of the funds. Some were judgment creditors. One was the McRae law Firm, which had successfully represented Bar-Til.

The interpled funds were insufficient to satisfy all of the claimants in full, so the chancellor apportioned the funds among them, including McRae, in a way that he deemed equitable.

Bar-Til appealed, arguing that McRae’s fees had priority, and that the chancellor erred by not recognizing the priority, and by not recognizing priorities or not of the other liens.

In Bar-Til, Inc. v. Superior Asphalt, et al., handed down May 9, 2017, the COA reversed and remanded. On the issue of priority of liens, Judge Greenlee wrote for the court:

¶10. Mississippi has long recognized an attorney’s right to have a lien on judgments and decrees procured through an attorney’s efforts on behalf of his client. An attorney has a “paramount lien on the money decree which he [has] obtained.” Collins v. Schneider, 187 Miss. 1, 192 So. 20, 23 (1939). “[A]n attorney’s lien on judgments and decrees obtained by [him] for fees on account of services rendered, belongs to the family of implied common law liens, and is firmly engrafted on the common law.” Id. A charging lien attaches when the attorney does “successfully pursue the [lawsuit] to conclusion and obtain a final judgment from which there [is] no appeal.” Tyson v. Moore, 613 So. 2d 817, 826 (Miss. 1992). At that point, “[the attorney’s] entitlement to a fee is vested.” In Collins, the Mississippi Supreme Court held that the attorney had a priority lien on funds held in the lower court’s register where “[t]he evidence conclusively show[ed] that nothing would have been recovered on the original cause of action . . . had it not been for [the attorney’s] labor, zeal[,] and skill in the investigation and vigorous prosecution of that suit to a successful conclusion.” Collins, 192 So. at 22.

¶11. In Indianola Tractor Co. v. Tankesley, 337 So. 2d 705, 706 (Miss. 1976), the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed a trial court’s acknowledgment of a plaintiff’s attorney’s lien on the proceeds of a successful garnishment action. In ordering disbursement of the judgment, the law firm was listed first in priority. Id. The court cited to Chattanooga Sewer Pipe Works v. Dumler, 153 Miss. 276, 120 So. 2d 450, 453 (1929), in which the Supreme Court reiterated that “[i]t has been uniformly held by this [C]ourt that an attorney has a lien on the funds of his client for the services rendered in the proceeding by which the money was collected.”

¶12. Our appellate courts have noted since 1939 the absence in Mississippi of a “statute fixing or regulating the lien of an attorney, or the enforcement thereof.” Collins, 192 So. at 22. Consistent with common-law principles, multiple states statutorily mandate the priority of attorney’s fees, including Oregon, New York, California, Arkansas, Massachusetts, Alabama, and Georgia. For example, Alabama’s statute provides:

Upon actions and judgments for money, [attorneys] shall have a lien superior to all liens but tax liens, and no person shall be at liberty to satisfy the action or judgment, until the lien or claim of the attorney for his or her fees is fully satisfied; and attorneys-at-law shall have the same right and power over action or judgment to enforce their liens as their clients had or may have for the amount due thereon to them.

Ala. Code § 34-3-61(b). These statutes codify the equitable principle long recognized at common law that attorneys deserve payment for their successful services. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, applying Mississippi law, held in American Fidelity that one of the rationales for not granting a law firm priority to retainage funds was that the law firm’s services had not been the cause of the release of the funds, therefore resulting in no injustice in not giving the law firm priority. We have the opposite situation at hand. Here, the services of the law firm—including seven years’ representation and over $16,000 in expenses—directly resulted in the judgment against Superior Asphalt.

¶13. Garnishees have the statutory right to compel interpleader. Miss. Code Ann. § 11-35-41 (Rev. 2004). This right protects the garnishee from double liability on the same judgment. The charging lien, protecting the attorney’s right to the fruits of his labor, and the right to interplead, protecting the garnishee from double liability, should not intersect with each other in such a way that frustrates one or the other right. If we were to adopt the approach that the contingency is not triggered in this circumstance, then practically—or rather, impractically—a plaintiff’s attorney working for a contingency fee would need to research standing garnishment claims in all eighty-two Mississippi counties prior to determining whether to accept a case. Any case that may result in an interpleader may be too risky to pursue. As the Mississippi Supreme Court explained in 1939, “it would be most inequitable and unjust for [the other claimants to the judgment] to be allowed to ‘ride free’ on the facts of this case.” Collins, 192 So. at 23.

¶14. We also note that the third-party creditors can continue to pursue collection of any remaining funds owed them pursuant to their respective judgments against Bar-Til. But as to the law firm, if the charging lien has not attached and does not have priority, the law firm will only receive for its successful services what—if anything—is left after all of the garnishors have taken the first bite at the interpled funds.

¶15. Here, the monies would not be available for distribution to the garnishors had not Bar-Til’s right to the judgment first vested. Superior Asphalt surrendered the money in satisfaction of the judgment against it, with no further right of appeal. We find that Superior Asphalt’s deposit of the funds into the registry of the court, consistent with its right to protect itself from double liability, did not prevent the law firm’s charging lien from attaching to the interpled funds. The law firm is first in priority.

¶16. As to priority between H&E Equipment and MMC Materials, MMC Materials properly concedes that H&E Equipment has priority. Even though MMC Materials’ judgment against Bar-Til was obtained first in 2008, priority here is governed by our garnishment statutes. Mississippi Code Annotated section 11-35-24(1) (Rev. 2004) provides in part that “[w]here more than one garnishment has been issued against an employee of a garnishee, such garnishee shall comply with the garnishment with which he was first served.” H&E Equipment was first to serve Superior Asphalt with a writ of garnishment related to any funds owed by Superior Asphalt to Bar-Til.

To make a longish story shortish: (a) the lien of an attorney who has been successful in obtaining the judgment that resulted in the interpled funds has first priority among creditors; and (b) garnishors stand in order of filing after the first priority.

Reprise: Man ist was er Isst

May 30, 2017 § 1 Comment

“Man ist was er isst.”

“You are what you eat.”  —  Feuerbach

Reprise replays posts from the past that you may find useful today.

Garbage in, Garbage out

April 29, 2015 § 3 Comments

Output often bears a marked resemblance to input.

One cannot expect to emulate the deep luster and luxe of mahogany with coarse plywood. Nor does ground round yield an acceptable chateaubriand. In either case, the product will look shabbily like the original material.

So why should we expect that the cultural garbage that we daily consume in the form of trash novels (for the few of us who still read), situation comedies, reality dance and bachelor shows, alarmist “news” programs, and television “dramas,” will produce from us any more refined output than the quality of what we have consumed?

What do these rubbish add to our store of wisdom, or our deeper understanding of human nature, or our grasp of how other cultures view the world, or how we can make things better?

This is not to suggest that one should not add a little cultural cotton candy, or broadcast Ben & Jerry’s, or reading Reese’s peanut butter cups to one’s life every now and then. No. What I am saying is that a steady diet of that stuff will transform you from a lithe, supple thinker into a bloated, lazy advocacy short-cutter.

Before I entered law school, a wise judge told me that the more exposure one is able get to the great ideas, to the history behind the way things are, to the principles that influence people in their daily lives, the better one can understand how to use the tools of the legal profession for the benefit of one’s clients. That process takes place over a lifetime, and it does not end when one graduates from law school.

We learn much of what we come to know from our experiences. You decide what you are learning by the experiences you choose.

Anderson made a similar point recently on his blog with reference to writing: the best way to learn the art of persuasive writing is to read persuasive writers. [Note: Anderson’s blog is regretably defunct since the original publication of this post in 2015].

The quality of what you produce depends on the quality of the raw materials used.

May 29, 2017 § Leave a comment

State Holiday

Courthouse closed

Cuba Travelogue

May 26, 2017 § 1 Comment

Click any smaller photo for a slide show. If the picture is not sharp, reload your page. For more Cuba photos, click on this link.

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Does Mississippi Need Class Actions?

May 23, 2017 § 1 Comment

When the idea of Mississippi rules of court first took flight, the drafters modelled the MRCP on the federal rules. For the most part, anyway. When it came to class actions — FRCP 23, 23.1, and 23.2 — the MRCP counterparts read, “Omitted.”

Now the MSSC has posted proposed MRCP 23, 23.1, and 23.2. You can read the proposed rule at this link. Your comments and suggestions are solicited.

I don’t really have a position on this one way or the other. I do note that Mississippi is the only state that does not have class-action practice. We leave it to the federal courts to do class-action work in cases arising in our state that meet the Erie criteria for federal jurisdiction.

 

Bell Seminar

May 22, 2017 § Leave a comment

As I have said here many times, if you are going to practice family law in Mississippi, there is no better way to keep up with the developing case law than to attend Professor Deborah Bell’s seminars.

This year’s venues and dates are: Jackson, Downtown Marriott, July 21, 2017; Oxford, Oxford Conference Center, July 28, 2017; Biloxi, Imperial Palace, August 4, 2017. (Note that a brochure already mailed has the Jackson and Oxford dates transposed). You can verify the correct seminar info and register online at this link.

While you’re at it, the very best reference resource available to you for family law is Professor Bell’s Bell on Mississippi Family Law. Click the link for more information.

My only interest in encouraging you to attend the seminar and purchase the book is that lawyers who do their research and keep up with this ever-changing area of law tend to run circles in court and in negotiations around those who do not. This seminar and this book will help you with that.

Dispatches from the Farthest Outposts of Civilization

May 19, 2017 § Leave a comment

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A Contempt Potpourri

May 18, 2017 § 4 Comments

Every now and then a case wafts its way down from the exalted appellate stratosphere to us mortals down here at ground level and blesses us with a veritable potpourri of legal points that we can use in our mundane chancery existence.

A recent example is the case of Carter v. Davis, handed down by the COA on April 4, 2017.

Deveaux Carter had sued her ex-husband, Allen Davis, for contempt based on non-payment of child support. She contended that he owed $23,682 in child support arrearage, plus interest in the amount of $35,599, plus $88,664 for the children’s college expenses, plus $13,703 for unpaid medical expenses of the children, plus one-half the cost of the children’s vehicles, plus attorney’s fees and costs.

Following a trial, the chancellor determined that Allen owed $201,187, but the chancellor gave him credit for: (1) direct payments to the children during their time in college; (2) amounts paid to Deveaux and the children even after their emancipation; and (3) amounts paid by Allen’s mother. All three categories of payments combined totalled $197, 911, leaving a difference of $3,276, for which Deveaux was awarded a judgment. Allen was assessed a $7,500 attorney’s fee and costs.

Deveaux appealed, complaining about the credits. Allen cross-appealed, unhappy with the attorney’s fee award.

Judge Fair wrote the opinion for a unanimous court. Here are the points you can use:

  • It’s discretionary with the chancellor whether to grant credit for direct payments to the children (¶13).
  • It is proper to allow credit for direct payments to the children where to hold otherwise would unjustly enrich the other parent (¶13).
  • The credit may only be allowed when the payments by the payor were for matters contemplated by the original support order, such as food, shelter, or clothing (¶13).
  • Payments made by a grandparent may properly be credited to a parent if they are not restricted to some non-support purpose (¶11-12).
  • In order to support an award of attorney’s fees against a party, that party must be found in “willful” contempt. It is not enough to find that the action was made necessary by the conduct of that party (¶15).
  • The appellate court will not award appellate attorney’s fees when the trial court award of attorney’s fees is reversed (¶16).

The COA affirmed as to the chancellor’s credits, but reversed on the award of attorney’s fees, finding that the chancellor specifically held that Allen was not in willful contempt, but assessed the attorney’s fee solely because Deveaux was forced to bring the action. Since the attorney’s fee award at trial was reversed, the COA refused Deveaux’s request that she be awarded the customary one-half of the trial court’s award as an appellate attorney’s fee.

Ex Parte Communication with a Treating Physician in an Estate Matter

May 16, 2017 § Leave a comment

Most of us are familiar with the prohibition in MRE 503(f) against ex parte communication with the treating physician of an opposing party, even when that party has put his own physical, mental, or emotional condition in issue.

Does that prohibition apply in a will contest where both parties claim to be personal representatives of the deceased?

In a case of first impression, the MSSC answered that it does not.

At the trial level, in a will contest involving Katherinne Lyons’ estate, between the testator’s brother (Larry Lyons) and nephew (Anthony Lobred), counsel for Lobred had ex parte communication with the testator’s treating physician before her depostion. Lyons filed a motion to strike the depostion testimony, which the chancellor granted. In the case of Estate of Lyons v. Lyons, handed down April 6, 2017, the MSSC reversed and remanded. Justice Coleman’s wrote for a unanimous court:

¶17. Although the facts surrounding Katherine’s testamentary capacity and Larry’s alleged undue influence are hotly disputed, the facts pertinent to the narrow issue before the Court on interlocutory appeal are not in dispute. It is undisputed that Lobred’s counsel communicated with Dr. Clement regarding Katherine’s medical condition prior to Dr. Clement’s deposition. The specific issue before the Court today is whether the testimony of the testator’s treating physician should be excluded based on contact between the treating physician and a party without the opposing party’s consent in a will contest wherein both parties are personal representatives of the deceased.

¶18. A panel of the Court ordered Larry to file a response to Lobred’s petition for permission to appeal addressing “whether the rule prohibiting ex parte communication with a treating physician applies in an estate matter.” The Court has held that the rule prohibiting ex parte communications under Mississippi Rule of Evidence 503(f) applies in the context of personal injury and medical malpractice cases. Scott v. Flynt, 704 So. 2d 998, 1000-01 (Miss. 1996). The comment to Rule 503 states that the “primary impact of subdivision (f) will be in personal injury actions, although the exception by its terms is not so limited.” According to the comment, the ex parte rule contained in Rule 503(f) could apply in estate matters. Thus, the question initially framed by a panel of the Court may be answered in the affirmative. However, the inquiry does not end here because the Court has yet to address how or if the rule prohibiting ex parte communications would apply in the context of a will contest where both parties can claim to be personal representatives of the deceased.

¶19. At the time of the trial court’s order on Larry’s motion to strike Dr. Clement’s testimony, Rule 503(f) provided:

(f) Any party to an action or proceeding subject to these rules who by his or her pleadings places in issue any aspect of his or her physical, mental or emotional condition thereby and to that extent only waives the privilege otherwise recognized by this rule. This exception does not authorize ex parte contact by the opposing party.

Miss. R. Evid. 503(f) (2015). Amended Rule 503(f) [Fn omitted] now provides:

(f) Waiver by Pleadings; Ex Parte Contact. A party whose pleadings place in issue any aspect of that party’s physical, mental, or emotional condition thereby–and to that extent only–waives the privilege. The exception in this subdivision (f) does not authorize ex parte contact by an opposing party.

Miss. R. Evid. 503(f) (2016).

¶20. In Scott, the trial court ordered the plaintiff in a medical-malpractice case to execute an unconditional medical waiver and permit ex parte conferences by the defendants with any medical provider of the plaintiff. Scott, 704 So. 2d at 999. On interlocutory appeal from the trial court’s order, the Scott Court addressed “two interrelated questions of law[,]” which were framed as “(1) the scope of the medical waiver as contemplated by Mississippi Rule of Evidence 503 and (2) whether or not ex parte contacts with medical providers are permissible under the rules of discovery in the Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure.” Id. at 1000.

¶21. The Scott Court recognized that a “significant argument about ex parte interviews revolves around who is the holder of the privilege.” Id. at 1004. Before answering the question of how or if the ex parte rule would apply in the context of a will contest, the Court must determine who holds the medical privilege of the testator in a will contest. One of the two permitted methods stated by the Scott Court for obtaining relevant medical information ex parte from a treating physician is through “voluntary consensual disclosure by the patient who is the holder of the privilege.” Id. at 1007. Here, the patient is deceased, so consent would have to be obtained from whoever holds the privilege of the deceased. We hold that in the instant case both parties were personal representatives of the deceased and, therefore, under either the rule or the statute, no prohibited ex parte contact occurred. Because the result is the same whether we employ the rule or the statute, we do not today address any argument or disseminate any holding addressing which governs over the other.

¶22. Mississippi Code Section 13-1-21(1) provides:

(1) All communications made to a physician, osteopath, dentist, hospital, nurse, pharmacist, podiatrist, optometrist or chiropractor by a patient under his charge or by one seeking professional advice are hereby declared to be privileged, and such party shall not be required to disclose the same in any legal proceeding except at the instance of the patient or, in case of the death of the patient, at the instance of his personal representative or legal heirs in case there be no personal representative, or except, if the validity of the will of the decedent is in question, at the instance of the personal representative or any of the legal heirs or any contestant or proponent of the will. (Emphasis added.)

¶23. Under Section 13-1-21(1), “the personal representative or any of the legal heirs or any contestant or proponent of the will” may waive the medical privilege. However, Rule 503(c) identifies the “personal representative” only as an individual who may waive the general medical privilege of a deceased patient. Rule 503(c) [Fn omitted] states:

(c) Who May Claim the Privilege. The privilege may be claimed by the patient, his guardian or conservator, or the personal representative of a deceased patient. The person who was the physician or psychotherapist at the time of the communication is presumed to have the authority to claim the privilege but only on behalf of the patient. Miss. R. Evid. 503(c).

¶24. Under Rule 503(c), a deceased patient’s “personal representative” may claim the medical privilege. Black’s Law Dictionary defines a “personal representative” as: “Someone who manages the legal affairs of another because of incapacity or death, such as the executor of an estate. Technically, an executor is a personal representative named in a will, while an administrator is a personal representative not named in a will.” Personal representative, Black’s Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014).

¶25. Katherine unequivocally stated in her 2005 will: “I hereby nominate, constitute, and appoint my nephew, Anthony Lobred, Executor of this my Last Will and Testament and I authorize and empower my said Executor to do any and all things which in his opinion are necessary to complete the administration and settlement of my estate, including full right, power and authority, without the necessity of obtaining an order from any Court and upon such terms and conditions as my said Executor shall deem best for the settlement of my estate, to bargain, sell at public or private sale[,] convey, transfer, deed, mortgage, lease, exchange, pledge, manage and deal with any and all property belonging to my estate.” Here, Lobred carried out his duty as Katherine’s personal representative by probating her 2005 will as muniment of title. Katherine’s 2012 will contained a similar provision designating Larry as executor. As a result, both Lobred and Larry hold the general medical privilege as Katherine’s “personal representative” under the plain language of Rule 503(b).

¶26. Lobred argues that there is no conflict because Rule 503 is silent regarding will contests, whereas Section 13-1-21(1) specifically addresses the medical privilege in the context of will contests and provides rights not otherwise provided for by the rules of evidence. While we agree with the result urged by Lobred, we disagree that the result stems only from the combination of the statute and the silence of the rule. Rather, because Rule 503 provides that the personal representative may claim the privilege on behalf of a deceased person, and in Scott we held that the party who may claim the privilege may waive the privilege, it is not the silence of Rule 503 but its content that undergirds our holding.

¶27. Section 13-1-21(1), on the other hand, specifically addresses waiver of the medical privilege in the context of a will contest. Under both Rule 503 and Section 13-1-21(1), the medical privilege belongs to both Lyons and Lobred. Under Section 13-1-21(1), the medical privilege may be waived by the personal representative, any legal heir, or any proponent or contestant of a will. Thus, Section 13-1-21(1) authorizes Lobred to waive the entire medical privilege as a personal representative and contestant of the 2012 will. Because Rule 503(c) and Section 13-1-21(1) both authorize Lobred to waive the entire privilege, the ex parte rule of Rule 503(f) does not operate to bar his attorney from speaking alone with the physician witness.

Best Interest and Grandparent Visitation

May 15, 2017 § Leave a comment

Tier One grandparent visitation, which is provided in MCA 93-16-3(1), allows grandparents to petition for visitation when either (a) one or both of the parents have their parental rights terminated; or (b) one or both of the parents dies.

I think it’s fair to say that most of us have construed 93-16-3(1) to mean that visitation in the specified cases is automatic, and that the real issue at such hearings is the amount and frequency of visitation, based on the trial judge’s analysis of the factors in Martin v. Coop

In the recent case of Smith v. Martin, handed down April 20, 2017, the MSSC granted cert. to address the question whether the language of the statute requires a more thorough analysis. Appellants Smith argued that the provision in MCA 93-16-5 that the court “may, in its discretion, if it finds such visitation rights would be in the best interest of the child, grant to a grandparent reasonable visitation rights with the child,” requires the court to use Martin v. Coop not only for a frequency and amount analysis, but also for a best interest analysis.

Justice Kitchens wrote for a unanimous court:

 ¶14. As the Smiths argue, the Martin Court did not take into account Mississippi Code Section 93-16-5, which states that the chancery court “may, in its discretion, if it finds that such visitation rights would be in the best interest of the child, grant to a grandparent reasonable visitation rights with the child.” Miss. Code Ann. § 93-16-5 (Rev. 2013). Section 93-16-5 obligates the chancellor to consider the best interest of the child(ren), even if the statutory elements of Section 93-16-3(1) are met. This Court has held that “[n]atural grandparents have no common-law ‘right’ of visitation with their grandchildren. Such right must come from a legislative enactment.” Settle v. Galloway, 682 So. 2d 1032, 1035 (Miss. 1996) (citing Matter of Adoption of a Minor, 558 So. 2d 854, 856 (Miss. 1990)). “Although the Mississippi Legislature created this right by enacting § 93-16-3, it is clear that natural grandparents do not have a right to visit their grandchildren that is as comprehensive to the rights of a parent.” Settle, 682 So. 2d at 1035.

¶15. The Martin Court erred by instructing chancellors to consider the best interest of the child(ren) only in the context of the amount of visitation, after finding an entitlement to grandparent visitation under Section 93-16-3(1). See Martin, 693 So. 2d at 916 (“The chancellor in this case found that under [Section 93-16-3(1)] the petitioners are in fact the grandparents of [the child] and that their son is deceased. Thus, all the proof necessary under § 93-16-3(1) was present and, therefore, the grandparents should be awarded visitation.”) The Martin Court ignored the requirement of Section 93-16-5 that the best interest of the child(ren) be considered in determining the grandparents’ entitlement to grandparent visitation rights. The Martin Court stated the following: “In determining the amount of visitation that grandparents should be granted in this situation, some guidelines by this Court may be helpful. As always, the best interest of the child must be the polestar consideration.” Id. (emphasis added). But, under Section 93-16-5, the best interest of the child(ren) must be considered, even if Section 93-16-3(1) is found to apply, since Section 93-16-3(1) states that “either parent of the child’s parent may petition the court . . . and seek visitation rights with the child.” Miss. Code Ann. § 93-16-3(1) (emphasis added). Section 93-16-3(1) only permits the grandparents to seek visitation; it does not entitle them to receive it. [Emphasis in original]

¶16. We have reversed a chancellor’s award of grandparent visitation where “[t]here is no indication from the chancellor’s statement, or anywhere else in the record, that the best interests of [the child] were considered by the chancellor in making her decision.” Morgan v. West, 812 So. 2d 987, 992 (Miss. 2002). This Court observed that the chancellor appeared to have been “more concerned with the best interests” of the grandmother because she found: “from prior testimony and testimony presented today that this grandmother was relied upon during the hard times, and at the present time the parents want to push her aside and treat her as an outsider. It is obvious to the Court they want to break the relationship between the grandchild and the grandmother . . . .” Id.

¶17. The Mississippi Court of Appeals likewise has reversed a chancellor’s award of grandparent visitation, noting that “the Legislature has outlined the steps a grandparent should take to pursue visitation” and that “because the child’s best interest is the fundamental concern, a chancellor must review all relevant factors as outlined in Martin before granting grandparent visitation.” Givens v. Nicholson, 878 So. 2d 1073, 1077 (Miss. Ct. App. 2004).

¶18. We clarify that, under Section 93-16-3(1), the chancellor’s consideration of the child’s or children’s best interest is not limited to the determination of the amount of visitation, but must be considered in determining whether the grandparents should receive visitation in the first place. The Smiths contend that the chancellor’s statements at the hearing indicate that she expected the Smiths, in order for them to prevail, to prove that the mental and emotional health of the Martins rendered them incapable of exercising grandparent visitation and that the Martins posed a threat to Cliff and Hank. But our review of the record leads us to conclude that the chancellor carefully analyzed Sections 93-16-3(1) and (2) and scrupulously weighed each Martin factor, thereby performing the correct analytical process and properly applying the right procedural, evidentiary, and statutory principles. This process led her to a fair and just resolution of a difficult and emotional case. The present case greatly differs from those in which this Court has deemed reversal the only appropriate remedy. See Morgan, 812 So. 2d at 992 (This Court reversed because the chancellor had not considered the best interest of the child at all and “the chancellor did not articulate her findings regarding the Martin factors . . . .”) Here, we can identify no manifest error which would warrant reversal, and the record before us is clear that the paramount consideration supporting the chancellor’s decision was the best interest of the children. [Emphasis mine]

This is an important decision that you need to know about when you handle a Tier One grandparent visitation case. From now on, when you represent the grandparents, you must put on proof that visitation is in the child’s best interest through the filter of the Martin v. Coop factors, as well as your case on the amount and frequency. If you fail to address best interest based on Martin v. Coop, you just might get 41(b)’d out of court.

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