December 22, 2017 § Leave a comment

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The Night Before Christmas — Legal Version

December 20, 2017 § 4 Comments

The Night Before Christmas

(Legal Version)
Author Unknown

Whereas, on or about the night prior to Christmas, there did occur at a certain improved piece of real property (hereinafter “the House”) a general lack of stirring by all creatures therein, including, but not limited to a mouse.

A variety of foot apparel, e.g. stocking, socks, etc., had been affixed by and around the chimney in said House in the hope and/or belief that St. Nick a/k/a/ St. Nicholas a/k/a/ Santa Claus (hereinafter “Claus”) would arrive at sometime thereafter.

The minor residents, i.e. the children, of the aforementioned House, were located in their individual beds and were engaged in nocturnal hallucinations, i.e. dreams, wherein vision of confectionery treats, including, but not limited to, candies, nuts and/or sugar plums, did dance, cavort and otherwise appear in said dreams.

Whereupon the party of the first part (sometimes hereinafter referred to as “I”), being the joint-owner in fee simple of the House with the party of the
second part (hereinafter “Mamma”), and said Mamma had retired for a sustained period of sleep. (At such time, the parties were clad in various forms of headgear, e.g. kerchief and cap.)

Suddenly, and without prior notice or warning, there did occur upon the unimproved real property adjacent and appurtenant to said House, i.e. the lawn, a certain disruption of unknown nature, cause and/or circumstance. The party of the first part did immediately rush to a window in the House to investigate the cause of such disturbance.

At that time, the party of the first part did observe, with some degree of wonder and/or disbelief, a miniature sleigh (hereinafter the “Vehicle”) being
pulled and/or drawn very rapidly through the air by approximately eight (8) reindeer. The driver of the Vehicle appeared to be and in fact was, the
previously referenced Claus.

Said Claus was providing specific direction, instruction and guidance to the approximately eight (8) reindeer and specifically identified the animal co-conspirators by name, to-wit: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder and Blitzen (hereinafter the “Deer”). (Upon information and belief, it is further asserted that an additional co-conspirator named Rudolph may have been involved.)

The party of the first part witnessed Claus, the Vehicle and the Deer intentionally and willfully trespass upon the roofs of several residences located adjacent to and in the vicinity of the House, and noted that the Vehicle was heavily laden with packages, toys and other items of unknown origin or
nature. Suddenly, without prior invitation or permission, either express or implied, the Vehicle arrived at the House, and Claus entered said House via the chimney.

Said Claus was clad in a red fur suit, which was partially covered with residue from the chimney, and he carried a large sack containing a portion of the aforementioned packages, toys, and other unknown items. He was smoking what appeared to be tobacco in a small pipe in blatant violation of local ordinances and health regulations.

Claus did not speak, but immediately began to fill the stocking of the minor children, which hung adjacent to the chimney, with toys and other small gifts. (Said items did not, however, constitute “gifts” to said minor pursuant to the applicable provisions of the U.S. Tax Code.) Upon completion of such task, Claus touched the side of his nose and flew, rose and/or ascended up the chimney of the House to the roof where the Vehicle and Deer waited and/or served as “lookouts.” Claus immediately departed for an unknown destination.

However, prior to the departure of the Vehicle, Deer and Claus from said House, the party of the first part did hear Claus state and/or exclaim: “Merry
Christmas to all and to all a good night!” Or words to that effect.

Reprise: The Reasonable Attorney’s Fee in a Contempt Case

December 19, 2017 § 1 Comment

REASONABLENESS AND ATTORNEY’S FEES IN CONTEMPT

September 17, 2012 § 1 Comment

In the COA case of Bowen v. Bowen, decided September 11, 2012, the court reversed and remanded the chancellor’s award of $10,000 fees in a case where the judge found the defendant in contempt. It was not the award of fees that the COA questioned, but rather the amount and reasonableness.

As we have mentioned here before, inability to pay is not a threshhold issue to an award of attorney’s fees based on contempt. In a contempt case, attorney’s fees may be awarded where a party’s intentional conduct causes the opposing party to spend time and money needlessly.

Judge Ishee’s opinion in Bowen points out that the determination whether a fee is reasonable depends on consideration of Mississippi Rule of Professional Conduct 1.5(a) and the McKee factors. He said:

” … even in contempt actions, “[t]he reasonableness of attorney’s fees [is] controlled by the applicable [Rule] 1.5 factors and the McKee factors.”   …

¶25. When awarding Patricia attorney’s fees, the chancery court stated:

‘Although [John] has attempted to purge himself of his contempt by bringing the child support and medical insurance payments current, . . . the [c]ourt is going to assess [John] with attorney’s fees incurred by [Patricia]. If not for [John’s] repeated, willful refusal to abide by the orders of this court, [Patricia] would not have incurred the attorney’s fees, which the court finds to be reasonable and [to] meet all of the McKee factors.

There is no indication the chancery court adequately considered the McKee factors when assessing the reasonableness of the attorney’s fees. There was no consideration regarding the parties financial abilities, the novelty and difficulty of the question at issue, or the assessment of the charges.

¶26. The case at hand appears to be a routine contempt action. While large awards for attorney’s fees may still be awarded in contempt actions, they are not typical for a routine contempt action. … Here, an award of $10,000 appears excessive for a routine contempt action in which only $135 in child support remains unpaid. Furthermore, upon a review of the fees incurred, some charges relate to matters outside of the contempt action, such as modification of child support. Because the attorney’s fees were awarded based on John’s ‘repeated, willful refusal to abide by the orders of [the chancery court],’ fees not related to the contempt action should not have been included in the award amount awarded.”

I’ve made the point here before that …

Notwithstanding the more relaxed standard for contempt and misconduct cases, I encourage you to put on proof of the McKee factorsand documentation of your time in the case, so that it is in the record if you need it. A post on what you need to prove attorneys fees is here.

Most attorneys in my opinion do not devote much attention or care to making a record on attorney’s fees. That’s ironic, because you would think it would be a subject of sublime importance to the trial attorney.

Here’s a post about how to prove attorney’s fees in a divorce case. It’s more elaborate than the minimum required in a contempt, but it will give you an idea of what is involved in making a record that won’t spring a fatal leak.

Bailey Appointed to First District Seat

December 18, 2017 § Leave a comment

Attorney Stephen T. Bailey of Saltillo has been appointed by Governor Bryant to take the place of First District Chancellor T.K. Moffett of Tupelo, who is resigning effective January 31, 2018. Bailey will take office February 1, 2018, and the position will be on the ballot for the judicial elections in the following November.

You can read a complete article on the appointment at Judge Griffis’s blog.

Dispatches from the Farthest Outposts of Civilization

December 15, 2017 § 2 Comments

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Another Joint Custody Award in a Non-Divorce Case

December 13, 2017 § Leave a comment

In previous posts that you can read here and here, we talked about awards of joint custody in cases that did not involve divorce. The former link was a paternity case; the latter was a third-party custody dispute between grandparents.

In yet another paternity case the chancellor awarded joint custody and his decision was affirmed in Rayner v. Sims, handed down October 17, 2017, by the COA.

The case is not particularly noteworthy, except to add it to your stockpile of authority supporting awards of joint custody in non-divorce cases.

The COA’s decision does include a discussion of one way that a chancellor may calculate child support in a shared-custody arrangement. Here’s what Judge Griffis’s opinion had to say about it:

¶29. Mackie further claims the chancellor “engaged in his own computation of the child support obligation that is not supported by or authorized by statute.” We disagree. The chancellor ordered that Chance would have physical custody three days per week, and Mackie would have physical custody four days per week. The chancellor found that child support for the minor child would be based “upon 14 percent of each party’s adjusted-gross income” and that each party “shall pay child support in proportion to their periods of shared custody and their incomes.” [Fn 6] We find statutory support for the chancellor’s decision.

[Fn 6] The chancellor stated he would leave it up to the attorneys to “do the math.”
Counsel subsequently submitted an exhibit, which outlined the child-support calculation.

¶30. Mississippi Code Annotated section 43-19-101(1) (Rev. 2015) provides that 14% of a party’s adjusted gross income should be awarded for the support of one child. Pursuant to section 43-19-101(2), the percentage outlined in subsection (1) applies unless the court “makes a written finding or specific finding on the record that the application of the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate in a particular case as determined under the criteria specified in section 43-19-103.” Under Mississippi Code Annotated section 43-19-103(g) (Rev. 2015), the “particular shared parental arrangement” is a factor the chancellor may consider in his adjustment of the statutory guidelines established by section 43-19-101(1). Miss. Code Ann. § 43-19-103(g).

¶31. Here, the record shows that the chancellor found the statutory percentage, as outlined in section 43-19-101(1), should be adjusted based on the parties’ joint custody arrangement, “in proportion to their periods of shared custody.” The chancellor further ordered that Chance shall continue to provide insurance for Frances. Such decision is supported and authorized by statute. Accordingly, we find no error and affirm.

We have all seen this apportionment of child support process handled a hundred different ways. I am sure you have seen some creative ways yourself. As long as the result comports with the statutory percentages and takes into account the shared custody arrangement, the judge’s decision would likely be affirmed.

Documenting the Agreement

December 12, 2017 § 2 Comments

Lawyers bicker with each other for a living. Sometimes that bickering spills over into my office. When it does I customarily say, “Bring me an agreed judgment or set the case for trial; don’t argue your case in here.”

There actually is another alternative: you can announce a settlement on the record. Sometimes that works handsomely, but many times not.

As I posted here before, the MSSC ruled in Sanford v. Sanford that you can not dictate a property settlement agreement or consent to divorce into the record and leave it at that. There must be a separate, written agreement.

In Samples v. Davis, 904 So.2d 1061, 1065 (Miss. 2004), the attempted announcement failed because:

There is no transcript in this matter memorializing the alleged agreement; given the fact that there is no transcript, there is no record of the terms to which Samples allegedly agreed, i.e., in the absence of a record, we are without proof of substantial credible evidence to support the chancellor’s order. According to Mississippi Uniform Chancery Court Rules 3.09 and 5.03, if there was an oral agreement, it should have been recorded by the Court reporter or reduced to writing and approved by Samples’ counsel. Neither of these methods were employed. Therefore, we will in effect “wipe the slate clean and put the parties back where they were prior to trial.” Massingill v. Massingill, 594 So.2d 1173, 1177 (Miss.1992).

The latest iteration of issues arising from a settlement announcement is in the case of Black v. Black, decided by the COA on November 7, 2017. Following a contentious divorce in which every major issue was hotly contested, Arthur and Alicia Black appeared before the court for R59 motions and verbally agreed to certain changes in the visitation regimen ordered by the court in its divorce judgment. But when the judge entered his judgment on the R59 motions, he failed to include the parties’ agreement on visitation. On appeal, Arthur argued that it was error for the trial court not to include the parties agreement in its final ruling. The COA agreed, with Judge Barnes writing for a divided court:

¶37. Lastly, Arthur asserts that the chancellor erred in failing to include visitation changes specifically agreed upon during the Rule 59 motions hearing in its posttrial order. Because of these omissions, he seeks to have these revised provisions memorialized. Reviewing the original visitation provisions in conjunction with the subsequent on-the-record agreement between Arthur and Alicia, we find this is proper.

¶38. In the original final order, the chancellor set forth specific visitation privileges with which the parties were to comply. For summer each year, the parties agreed that Arthur would receive the children on June 1 until June 21, and on July 10 until July 24. For Thanksgiving holidays each year, Arthur was to receive the children in odd-numbered years on the day following the last day of school until the day before school was to reconvene. As to Christmas holidays each year, Arthur was to receive the children in the second part of the holiday during odd-numbered years, and the first part of the holiday during even-numbered years.

¶39. However, at the hearing on the Rule 59 motions, Arthur and Alicia verbally revised the provisions of Arthur’s visitation privileges with the children. The parties agreed that for summer visitation, Arthur would receive the children the first Sunday of June, and the Sunday following July 9 each year. They further agreed that Alicia would have the children during Thanksgiving in odd-numbered years, and Arthur would have the children in even numbered years. For Christmas, they agreed that Arthur would have the children the first part of the Christmas holiday in odd-numbered years, and the second part of the holiday in even-numbered years. The parties also agreed that all times relevant to the visitation
provisions should be according to Eastern Standard Time, and that Arthur would maintain a $1,000 credit balance with Alicia for the children’s noncovered medical expenses. Finally, the parties agreed that any remaining balance in a child’s college fund at the conclusion of his or her college schooling would be transferred to the next child for his or her college education.

¶40. Yet none of these revisions were documented in the chancery court’s posttrial order except to note that the visitation-exchange times would be on Eastern Standard Time. To avoid future visitation conflicts, Arthur seeks to have the chancery court incorporate these revised provisions in an order. Due to the material changes to dates, as well as which party shall receive the children during odd- or even-numbered years, we find such memorialization necessary. “If parties reach an agreement, the agreement containing the terms should be signed by the parties’ attorney(s) or in appropriate cases, the parties, or recorded by the court reporter.” Samples v. Davis, 904 So. 2d 1061, 1066 (¶15) (Miss. 2004) (discussing
agreement of parties in open court). Though Arthur and Alicia’s agreement was of record, this is not sufficient to ensure the absence of future conflict regarding these altered provisions. Therefore, we remand on this issue for the chancery court to memorialize the terms of the parties’ final agreement regarding Arthur’s visitation privileges.

I have said here before that orally announcing terms of settlement on the record is an unsatisfactory and inadequate way to represent your client. People do not listen or pay as much attention to what they are saying as they do when they are writing or reading. Settlement announcements often include imprecise terms, incomplete provisions, and lack of attention to detail. We take more time and care with written agreements, and there are two or more sets of eyes scrutinizing their terms.

Of course, in Black the problem was not indefiniteness, but rather lack of a definitive record at all of that to which they agreed. It was compounded by the court’s entry of an order that omitted their agreement, which left open the question whether the court was refusing to approve it, or what exactly the court intended.

Another problem in Black is that, once the chancellor ruled on the R59 motions, that was that. No more proceedings. As I said here before, “In the case of Edwards v. Roberts771 So.2d 378 (Miss.App. 2000), the COA held that there is one round of R59 motions, and only one round. You do not get to file for rehearing after the judge has ruled on the motion for rehearing. If that were not so, one could almost permanently toll the time for appeal by filing serial R59 motions after every ruling on previously-filed R59 motions, ad infinitum. There has to be finality of judgments.” Thus, the only avenue for relief following ruling on the R59 motions was appeal.

The Rule of Linking Continuances

December 11, 2017 § Leave a comment

MRCP 81(d)(5) requires that process shall command the defending party to appear at a specified date, time, and place. If the matter is not heard on the day specified in the summons, then ” … it may by order signed on that day be continued to a later day for hearing without additional summons …” on the defending party. And, subsequently, if the matter can not be heard on the date to which it was continued, then a continuance order must be entered on that date to a later date. And so on in the same fashion from one continued date to another until final judgment. Some refer to those continuance orders as “linking” continuance orders.

So, is it necessary to preserve process for the non-appearing defending party to receive notice of each linking continuance order? That was what Jessica Tullos argued about the final judgment modifying custody to her ex-husband James. The matter had been continued several times, all in her absence, and she complained that linking orders were not entered, and that it was error that she did not receive any of them.

In Tullos v. Tullos, decided November 7, 2017, the COA rejected Jessica’s argument and affirmed the trial court. Judge Westbrooks wrote for the unanimous court, Tindell not participating:

¶10. Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 81(d) provides special procedures for hearings on modification or enforcement of custody. M.R.C.P. 81(d)(2). When a modification action is filed, notice of the action and the procedures for continuances are governed as follows:

[S]ummons 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 [action or matter] shall be heard. Said time and place shall be set by special order, general order, or rule of the court. If such action or matter is not heard on the day set for hearing, it may by order signed on that day be continued to a later day for hearing without additional summons on the defendant or respondent. The court may by order or rule authorize its clerk to set such actions or matters for original hearing and to continue the same for hearing on a later date. M.R.C.P. 81(d)(5).

¶11. “[T]he Mississippi Supreme Court has held that a central consideration under Rule 81 is the adequacy of the notice of the date, time, and place of the hearing.” Brown v. Tate, 95 So. 3d 745, 749 (¶13) (Miss. Ct. App. 2012) (citing Vincent v. Griffin, 872 So. 2d 676, 678 (¶5) (Miss. 2004)). However, if a proper summons is given that notifies the other party of a new controversy that has arisen and of the date, time, and place for a hearing, the rule itself provides that an order entered on the day of the initially scheduled hearing obviates the need for any new summons for a hearing actually held on the later date. Bailey v. Fischer, 946 So. 2d 404, 407 (¶11) (Miss. Ct. App. 2006) (citing M.R.C.P. 81(d)(5)). If no such order is entered, there should be a new Rule 81 summons. Id.

¶12. Though there were five continuances, all orders were signed by the chancellor on each respective hearing date. Therefore, the initial summons was preserved. Jessica argues that because she was not provided a copy of the four subsequent orders continuing the case and
resetting the trial, a new Rule 81 summons should have been issued. Caselaw does not support this contention. The rule states that if the matter is not heard on the day it is set, then an order entered on that day may continue the cause to a later date without a new summons being issued. Sanghi v. Sanghi, 759 So. 2d 1250, 1259 (¶32) (Miss. Ct. App. 2000) (citing M.R.C.P. 81(d)(5)).

¶13. Jessica had notice of the first continuance, and the record does not reflect that she attended that hearing. Jessica also admits that she may have had actual notice of the final hearing through the GAL’s statement regarding the hearing, but she contends that actual notice is insufficient to cure defective process. We agree. “Actual notice does not cure defective process.” Pearson v. Browning, 106 So. 3d 845, 852 (¶39) (Miss. Ct. App. 2012). “[J]urisdiction is not obtained by a defendant’s informally becoming aware that a suit has been filed against him.” Id. Nevertheless, Jessica was aware of a pending custody matter, evidenced by her initial appearance at the first hearing and her signature on the first order of
continuance. A central tenet of Rule 81 is adequate notice of a pending legal matter, and Jessica was given notice at the inception of the custody matter.

¶14. Therefore, we do not agree with Jessica’s argument that a Rule 81 summons should have been reissued because she was not notified of subsequent court-ordered continuances. The summons was preserved with each signed order of continuance. Moreover, each order provided a day certain for the next hearing. Though the final order of continuance was not filed until the day after the hearing, the summons was still preserved because the trial judge signed the order on the day of the hearing. Rule 81 states “if such action or matter is not heard on the day set for hearing, it may by order signed on that day be continued to a later day for hearing without additional summons on the defendant or respondent.” M.R.C.P. 81(d)(5). Accordingly, we find that an additional summons was not required, and Jessica was adequately notified of the custody matter. Finding no error, we affirm.

Nothing to quibble with here. The rule itself is pretty clear that there is nothing in the rule that supports Jessica’s position; in fact, the rule weighs against her. Nothing further than linking continuances was required.

Close Things

December 8, 2017 § Leave a comment

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Christmas Gift Ideas for Lawyers

December 6, 2017 § Leave a comment

Just in time for your last-minute Christmas shopping.

On Pinterest courtesy of ABA Journal.

Non-Disclosure Agreement iPad 2 Cover

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