The GAP Act: Introduction

September 4, 2019 § 1 Comment

Effective January 1, 2020, every statute now existing in Title 93, Chapter 13 will be repealed and replaced by SB 2828, known as the GAP Act. GAP is an acronym for “guard and protect” children and vulnerable adults.

The act is a product of a commission initiated in 2017 and headed by Justice Dawn Beam of the MSSC. The commission produced the content that was introduced in the legislature as SB 2828 in 2018, and was signed into law by Governor Bryant in 2019. The effective date was set far enough in the future to give lawyers and judges time to acquaint themselves with the new law.

All guardianships and conservatorships opened after January 1, 2010, must comply with the act. There are four Articles of the act: Article 1 consists of general provisions; Article 2 deals with guardianship of the minor; Article 3 addresses guardianship of the adult; and Article 4 is for conservatorships.

As for pre-Act guardianships and conservatorships, Section 125 provides that GAP applies to them also unless the chancellor finds that application of a particular provision would “substantially interfere” with the guardianship or prejudice the rights of the parties, in which case that provision does not apply and the superseded law applies. So don’t toss out your Title 93 when the new code arrives.

One of the biggest changes is that the term ”Guardian” will mean the person responsible for the personal affairs of the ward – what we now call a “guardian of the person.  A guardian may have a minor or adult ward. “Conservator” will mean the person responsible for the financial affairs of the ward. A conservator may have a minor or adult ward.

Another big change is heightened notice requirements. More people will have to be given notice of the proceeding, and some of those may be allowed to participate. Notices will have to include certain language, as will pleadings.

Hearings are mandated. The court is required to make specific findings.

The MSSC will publish forms for pleadings, process, and even court orders. The forms you have now will not work under the GAP Act.

I will publish a series of posts giving you some insight into what is coming. In the meanwhile, I urge you to read the act and become conversant with it. This blog is no substitute for your own mastery of the subject, which will require that you read and digest its content.

It’s not in the Record Until You Get it into Evidence

September 3, 2019 § 4 Comments

It is elementary that until you get something into evidence it is not part of the record, and it cannot be considered by the court in making a decision.

Judge Westbrooks of the COA specially concurred in the case of Almasri v. Miss. Dept of Revenue, decided August 6, 2019, to remind attorneys and judges of that very point:

¶14. I agree with the majority’s opinion and write separately only to emphasize the importance of following procedures necessary to ensure that pertinent statements and representations are eligible for consideration as evidence and thereby designated as a part of the record.

¶15. The majority opinion notes that during the hearing on the MDOR’s motion to dismiss, counsel for Almasri indicated his client was unable to pay the required bond or assessment under protest. Though officers of the court, lone “statements by attorneys are not evidence.” Wackenhut Corp. v. Fortune, 87 So. 3d 1083, 1092 (¶27) (Miss. Ct. App. 2012) (Court held circuit court erred by allowing expert witness’s baseless testimony; expert’s assertion was partially supported by lone attorney statement indicating plaintiff’s sobriety). As noted, there was no affidavit or sworn testimony supporting the attorney’s representation to the court; the lack thereof precluded Almasri’s alleged inability to pay from evidence in the chancery court, and consequently, the record this court considered on appeal.

¶16. To establish evidentiary value, it is imperative that attorneys take the opportunity to (1) reduce the statement(s) to written form by sworn affidavit or (2) provide sworn testimony to affirm any potentially relevant assertions. In instances where assertions, such as the one Almasri’s attorney made, may impact the outcome of a proceeding or appeal, the statements need to be a part of admitted (or proffered) evidence in the record. Lone statements or arguments of counsel simply are not enough.

To that very apt statement I would add that pleadings and motions are not evidence until they are admitted into evidence by the court. The same goes for exhibits to pleadings and motions. Even affidavits are not in the record until they are admitted into evidence.

I have had attorneys, while questioning a witness, pause and look over at me: “She is referring to Exhibit 2 to the complaint, your honor.” All I can do is inwardly wince.

September 2, 2019 § Leave a comment

State Holiday

Courthouse closed.

Travelogue

August 30, 2019 § 5 Comments

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More on Costs

August 28, 2019 § Leave a comment

Yesterday we touched on the concept of costs, as distinguished from fees and expenses.

In the case of Hubbard v. Delta Sanitation of Mississippi, 64 So. 3d 547, 559 (Miss. Ct. App. 2011), the COA, by Judge Myers, reversed a trial court’s award of certain expenses as costs in a case. Although it addresses the seldom-used MRCP 68, its rationale applies to other rules involving costs. The opinion includes a scholarly, if somewhat lengthy, exposition on costs that you might find useful if you are briefing or arguing the point and need more authority than mere Advisory Committee Notes:

¶ 45. This is a case of first impression with regard to Rule 68. Because we are asked to interpret Rule 68, we do so de novo. Miss. Transp. Comm’n v. Fires, 693 So.2d 917, 920 (Miss.1997).

¶ 46. There is scant Mississippi case law dealing with Rule 68. The rule is patterned after Federal Rule 68. Harbit v. Harbit, 3 So.3d 156, 162 (¶ 20) (Miss.Ct.App.2009). Mississippi’s version states, in pertinent part, that:

At any time more than fifteen days before the trial begins, a party defending against a claim may serve upon the adverse party an offer to allow judgment to be taken against him for the money or property or to the effect specified in his offer, with costs then accrued…. If the judgment finally obtained by the offeree is not more favorable than the offer, the offeree must pay the cost incurred after the making of the offer.

M.R.C.P. 68.

¶ 47. The purpose of Rule 68, and its federal counterpart, is “to encourage settlements, avoid protracted litigation, and protect the party who is willing to settle from the burden of costs that subsequently come.” Fiddle, Inc. v. Shannon, 834 So.2d 39, 49 (¶ 38) (Miss.2003) (quoting M.R.C.P. 68 cmt.); see also Marek v. Chesny, 473 U.S. 1, 10, 105 S.Ct. 3012, 87 L.Ed.2d 1 (1985) (“[Federal] Rule 68’s policy of encouraging settlements is neutral, favoring neither plaintiffs nor defendants; it expresses a clear policy of favoring settlement of all lawsuits.”).

¶ 48. In Shannon, our supreme court spoke to the operation of the rule. Citing Delta Air Lines, Inc. v. August, 450 U.S. 346, 101 S.Ct. 1146, 67 L.Ed.2d 287 (1981), the Shannon court found that in order to trigger Rule 68’s “cost-shifting procedure[,]” the offeree must obtain a judgment. Shannon, 834 So.2d at 49 (¶ 39). Shannon held that because the defendant was the prevailing party, the trial court did not err in denying the defendant’s Rule 68 motion. Id.; cf. Johnston v. Stinson, 495 So.2d 1023 (Miss.1986) (holding that the trial court erred in requiring the plaintiff-offeree to pay “court cost” under Rule 68 because the plaintiff obtained a judgment more favorable than the defendant’s offer of judgment); see also Poteete v. Capital Eng’g, Inc., 185 F.3d 804, 806 (7th Cir.1999) ( “[Federal] Rule 68 is applicable only to cases the defendant loses.”); La. Power & Light Co. v. Kellstrom, 50 F.3d 319, 333 (5th Cir.1995) (per curiam) (“If a plaintiff takes nothing … [Federal] Rule 68 does not apply.”).

¶ 49. The term “costs” is not defined in our Rule 68 or its federal counterpart. Neither Shannon nor Johnston addressed the meaning of “costs” under the rule. This Court touched on the subject in Harbit, but the issue there was limited to the propriety of attorney’s fees having been awarded as costs in a divorce action.

¶ 50. Harbit held that the chancery court erred when it used Rule 68 to award attorney’s fees as part of costs. Harbit, 3 So.3d at 162 (¶ 20). Relying on federal jurisprudence as persuasive authority, Harbit noted that Marek held “the most reasonable inference” of the meaning of “costs,” in Federal Rule 68, is that the term “was intended to refer to all costs properly awarded under a relevant substantive statute or other authority.” Id. (quoting Marek, 473 U.S. at 9, 105 S.Ct. 3012). Harbit then explained:

We are not aware of any Mississippi statute that authorizes a chancellor to award attorney’s fees, as part of costs, to a prevailing party in a divorce proceeding. While there is plenty of authority authorizing a chancellor, in the chancellor’s discretion, to award attorney’s fees to a party in a divorce action, that authority is decisional law and is based on financial needs of the party. Therefore, we find that the chancellor erred in using Rule 68 to calculate the amount of attorney’s fees awarded….

Id. at (¶ 21) (internal citation omitted).

¶ 51. Federal courts have interpreted “costs” under Federal Rule 68 as referring to those costs ordinarily awarded under Rule 54(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Hedru v. Metro–North Commuter R.R., 433 F.Supp.2d 358, 360 (S.D.N.Y.2006); Thomas v. Caudill, 150 F.R.D. 147, 149 (N.D.Ind.1993) (citing 7 Moore’s Federal Practice § 68.06(3) (3d ed.1997)). In Thomas, the district court opined that the United States Supreme Court indicated in Marek that “the position in Moore’s Federal Practice is the correct definition of ‘costs’ and that the costs which a defendant is entitled to recover under [Federal] Rule 68 are limited to the costs allowable under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d).” Thomas, 150 F.R.D. at 149. Thomas based its finding on Marek’s comment that “Rule 68 does not come with a definition of costs; rather, it incorporates the definition of costs that otherwise applies to the case.” Id. (quoting Marek, 473 U.S. at 11 n. 2, 105 S.Ct. 3012).

¶ 52. In Delta Air Lines, the Supreme Court indicated that there is an intrinsic link between Federal Rules 68 and 54, stating:

Rule 68 provides an additional inducement to settle in those cases in which there is a strong probability that the plaintiff will obtain a judgment but the amount of recovery is uncertain. Because prevailing plaintiffs presumptively will obtain costs under Rule 54(d), Rule 68 imposes a special burden on the plaintiff to whom a formal settlement offer is made. If a plaintiff rejects a Rule 68 settlement offer, he will lose some of the benefits of victory if his recovery is less than the offer. Because costs are usually assessed against the losing party, liability for costs is a normal incident of defeat.

Delta Air Lines, 450 U.S. at 352, 101 S.Ct. 1146.

¶ 53. In Johnston v. Penrod Drilling Co., 803 F.2d 867 (5th Cir.1986), the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, interpreting Delta, also acknowledged the interrelationship between the two rules, and the court noted the following distinction:

Rule 68 is a mandatory rule designed to operate automatically by a comparison of two clearly defined figures. In Delta [,] … the defendant argued that Rule 68 operated to shift the costs to the plaintiff when the defendant’s $450 offer was rejected and defendant later obtained a take nothing judgment. The [Supreme] Court held that Rule 68 did not operate to shift costs because a take nothing judgment was not a “judgment finally obtained by the offeree.” Our interpretation of Rule 68 is consistent with the teaching of Delta: it is a mandatory rule to be narrowly applied. [Federal] Rule 54(d) gives the district court the necessary discretion to tax costs against the party who should equitably bear them. Rule 68, which provides that the plaintiff must pay costs if its conditions are met, is not such a rule.

Penrod Drilling, 803 F.2d at 870–71.

¶ 54. Federal Rule 54(d) states in relevant part: “Unless a federal statute, these rules, or a court order provides otherwise, costs—other than attorney’s fees—should be allowed to the prevailing party.” Rule 54(d) of the Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure is patterned after former Federal Rule 54(d), and states in part: “Except when express provision therefor is made in a statute, costs shall be allowed as of course to the prevailing party unless the court otherwise directs….”

¶ 55. As with Rule 68, there is little Mississippi case law dealing with our Rule 54(d). The United States Supreme Court spoke to Federal Rule 54(d) in Crawford Fitting Co. v. J.T. Gibbons, Inc., 482 U.S. 437, 107 S.Ct. 2494, 96 L.Ed.2d 385 (1987), superseded on other grounds, 42 U.S.C. § 1988 (1991). There, the Court addressed “the power of federal courts to require a losing party to pay the compensation of the winner’s expert witnesses.” Id. at 438, 107 S.Ct. 2494.

¶ 56. Crawford held that “when a prevailing party seeks reimbursement for fees paid to its own expert witnesses, a federal court is bound by the limit [ations] [set out] in [28 U.S.C.] § 1821[ ] [and § 1920], absent contract or explicit statutory authority to the contrary.” Id. at 439, 107 S.Ct. 2494. The Supreme Court explained that the term “costs” as used in Rule 54(d) is defined by § 1920, which specifically enumerates expenses that a federal court may tax as costs under that rule. Id. at 441–42, 107 S.Ct. 2494. The Court said, “§ 1821 specifies the amount of the fee that must be tendered to a witness, § 1920 provides that the fee may be taxed as a cost, and [Federal] Rule 54(d) provides that the cost shall be taxed against the losing party unless the court otherwise directs.” Id. at 441, 107 S.Ct. 2494.

¶ 57. Briefly, we note that Federal Rule 54(d) was amended on April 30, 2007, effective December 1, 2007, and the language, “unless the court otherwise directs” was removed. In speaking to former Federal Rule 54(d), the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals explained that “the discretion that Rule 54(d) gives courts (the ‘unless the court otherwise directs’ proviso) is discretion to decline requests for costs, not discretion to award costs that [28 U.S.C.] § 1920] fails to enumerate.” In re Cardizem CD Antitrust Litig., 481 F.3d 355, 359 (6th Cir.2007) (emphasis added).

¶ 58. In Ezelle v. Bauer Corp., 154 F.R.D. 149, 152 (S.D.Miss.1994), the district court spoke to the operation of Federal Rule 68 in conjunction with Federal Rule 54(d):

The party who prevails in a lawsuit ordinarily recovers costs from the losing opponent pursuant to Rule 54(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. However, the award of costs under this Rule is a matter of the court’s discretion, and Rule 54(d) permits the district court, on a showing of good cause, to require a prevailing party to bear its own costs. Delta Airlines [Air Lines][,] 450 U.S. [at] 353–56, 101 S.Ct. 1146…. Therefore, the award of costs is not a merely mechanical event and remains, generally speaking, a matter of a district court’s discretion.

However, the district court may be deprived of its discretion under Rule 54(d) where Rule 68 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure properly comes into play. [Penrod Drilling,] 803 F.2d [at] 869[.]

¶ 59. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals applied Crawford’s holding in Parkes v. Hall, 906 F.2d 658, 658 (11th Cir.1990), a personal-injury diversity case, where Federal Rule 68 was invoked. The question in Parkes was whether Federal Rule 68, once triggered, obligated the plaintiff to pay costs in addition to those allowed by statute. Id. at 659. Parkes held that “costs which are subject to the cost-shifting provisions of Rule 68 are those enumerated in 28 U.S.C. § 1920, unless the substantive law applicable to the particular cause of action expands the general § 1920 definition.” Id. at 660; see also Knight v. Snap–On Tools Corp., 3 F.3d 1398, 1404 (10th Cir.1993) (holding same); Phillips v. Bartoo, 161 F.R.D. 352, 354 (N.D.Ill.1995) (“absent substantive law authorizing the expansion of § 1920 provisions, Rule 68 ‘costs’ are limited to the definition in § 1920”).
10 ¶ 60. Mississippi does not have a specific statute comparable to that of § 1920, which enumerates all the expenses a court may tax as costs. Rather, items that may be taxed as costs can be found throughout the Mississippi Code.

¶ 61. Other states with procedural rules similar to ours have concluded that costs under their own respective version of Rule 68 are limited to those costs allowable under their version of Rule 54(d). The Court of Appeals of Indiana, in interpreting the term “costs” under Indiana Trial Rule 68, which is almost identical to our Rule 68, said the following: “ ‘Cost’ is a term of art with a specific legal meaning, and we must presume that it was used consistently absent evidence of a contrary intent by the drafters.” Missi v. CCC Custom Kitchens, Inc., 731 N.E.2d 1037, 1039 (Ind.Ct.App.2000). The Missi court held that there is nothing “on the face of T.R. 68 to indicate that the drafters intended a more expansive definition of ‘costs’ than its traditional meaning as embodied in [Indiana Trial Rule] 54(D)….” Id.7

¶ 62. The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, in Carper v. Watson, 226 W.Va. 50, 697 S.E.2d 86, 95 (2010), held that:

the “costs” that may be assessed against a plaintiff under West Virginia Rule of Civil Procedure 68(c) include only those expenses defined as “costs” by statute. Typically, costs under Rule 68(c) will be limited to “court costs,” i.e., the costs taxable under West Virginia Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d).

¶ 63. We find the logic and reasoning behind the foregoing interpretations persuasive. There being no express indication in the rules of civil procedure, or controlling case law, to the contrary, this Court must presume that the drafters of Rule 68 intended for the term “costs” to be used consistent with Rule 54(d). Therefore, we hold that the costs for which Delta is entitled to recover under Rule 68 are limited to those costs allowable under Rule 54(d). The operation of Rule 68 in this case simply made it mandatory, rather than discretionary, for the trial court to impose upon Hubbard the costs allowed under Rule 54(d) after Delta made its offer of judgment.

¶ 64. But that does not end our analysis. As with Rule 68, Rule 54(d) does not expressly define what constitutes “costs.” Rather, as previously mentioned, Rule 54(d) states in part: “Except when express provision therefor is made in a statute, costs shall be allowed as of course to the prevailing party unless the court otherwise directs….” Here, there is no underlying, substantive statute with a cost provision contained therein that forms the basis of Hubbard’s case, as it is predicated on common-law negligence. That no such statute governs in this instance means that the trial court was limited to the usual statutory costs. We explain.

¶ 65. Historically, costs were unknown at common law. Alyeska Pipeline Serv. Co. v. Wilderness Soc’y, 421 U.S. 240, 247, 95 S.Ct. 1612, 44 L.Ed.2d 141 (1975); see also Vincennes Steel Corp. v. Miller, 94 F.2d 347, 348 (5th Cir.1938) (“Costs, as we know them today, were unknown to the common law, and, without the aid of statute, liability therefor rests only upon the party incurring them, as for any other debt.”). Thus, “[c]osts are generally allowable only when authorized by statute or court rule.” 20 C.J.S. Costs § 3 (2007).

¶ 66. In Martin v. McGraw, 249 Miss. 334, 340, 161 So.2d 784, 786 (1964), our supreme court stated that courts of equity have “no inherent jurisdiction to award costs independently of statute.” The supreme court reiterated this principle in Ex parte Ashford, 253 Miss. 768, 179 So.2d 192 (1965). There the court held:

(1) The cost alleged to be due the circuit clerk is cost growing out of many ‘state fail’ cases, but since Mississippi Code Annotated Section 3952(d) (1956) prevents an allowance to the circuit clerk by this Court of a sum in excess of the sum set out in the statute, we cannot allow additional cost over and above the amount set out in the law.

(2) This Court has no implied or inherent power to award cost, and may allow only such cost as the Legislature may expressly permit or direct to be awarded by the Court in acts of the Legislature. Martin v. McGraw, 249 Miss. 334, 161 So.2d 784 [ (1964) ]; 20 C.J.S. Costs § 2 (1940).

Id. at 768–69, 179 So.2d at 192.

¶ 67. In Board of Trustees of Hattiesburg Municipal Separate School District v. Gates, 467 So.2d 216, 218 (Miss.1985), the supreme court held that the transcription costs submitted by a freelance-court reporter, and already prepaid by a school board, were statutorily set and, thus, “limited thereby.” Finding that the court reporter had charged an appearance fee, which the statute made no provision for, the supreme court remanded the matter back to the chancery clerk for retaxation of costs. Id. at 219. In its discussion, the supreme court parenthetically referred to § 1920. See id. at 218 (noting that in the federal courts, “items to be taxed as costs under 28 U.S.C. § 1920 must be within express language of statute”).

¶ 68. In Aeroglide Corp. v. Whitehead, 433 So.2d 952, 952–53 (Miss.1983), due to a mistrial caused by defense counsel’s improper cross-examination, the trial court awarded $14,784.51 to the plaintiffs “for expenses incurred in preparation of trial pursuant to its inherent authority to control the proceedings before it and the conduct of the participants therein.” The Mississippi Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case to the trial court for assessment of the “usual and statutory costs” against the defendants. See id. at 953 n. 2 (acknowledging that the defendants were “liable for the full amount of statutory costs incurred up until the time the mistrial was declared”). Id. The Whitehead court stated:

We agree with the learned trial judge that all courts possess the inherent authority to control the proceedings before them including the conduct of the participants. However, an examination of our holding in Newell v. State, 308 So.2d 71 (Miss.1975) lends no support for the action taken by the trial court in the case sub judice.

Id.

¶ 69. The aforementioned Mississippi cases are very instructive in that their holdings are consistent with the general language found in the comment to Rule 54(d),9 a portion of which states: “costs represents those official expenses, such as court fees, that a court will assess against a litigant.” We now examine the items awarded as costs in this case.

A. Expert Fees

11 ¶ 70. As a general rule, “[f]ees for expert witnesses, beyond the ordinary fees authorized for witnesses …, are not taxable as costs unless there is a statute specifically allowing such an expense.” 20 C.J.S. Costs § 123 (2007). There are a number of Mississippi statutes that allow for expert-witness fees to be taxed as costs in certain cases. None, though, apply in this case.

¶ 71. Rule 706 of the Mississippi Rules of Evidence gives our trial courts general authority to appoint expert witnesses and provide for their compensation. But it is inapplicable because Delta’s expert witness was not court appointed.

¶ 72. What is applicable is Mississippi Code Annotated section 25–7–47 (Rev.2010), one of Mississippi’s fee statutes. Section 25–7–47 is Mississippi’s counterpart to § 1821, the federal statute discussed in Crawford, and it authorizes witness fees. The statute provides that witnesses in the county, circuit, and chancery courts shall receive $1.50 per day in attendance fees and five cents per mile to and from the court. Miss.Code Ann. § 25–7–47.

¶ 73. This being the statutory limit allowed by law, we hold that Hubbard may not be taxed with costs in excess thereof with respect to Delta’s expert witness.

¶ 74. As to Delta’s assertion that Hubbard waived his challenge on this point, it is not well taken. Hubbard’s counsel merely informed the trial court, albeit inaccurately, what he believed the law to be. The law does indeed afford our trial courts some discretion with regard to litigation expenses that a litigant must ordinarily bear. But that discretion is very limited.

¶ 75. The comment to Rule 54(d) states in relevant part: “Absent a special statute or rule, or an exceptional exercise of judicial discretion, such items as attorney’s fees, travel expenditures, and investigatory expenses will not qualify either as statutory fees or reimbursable costs.” This language is congruent with the supreme court’s longstanding view with respect to attorney’s fees and litigation expenses. See Grisham v. Hinton, 490 So.2d 1201, 1205 (Miss.1986) (“With the sole exception of punitive damages cases, in the absence of contractual provision or statutory authority therefor, this Court has never approved awarding trial expenses and attorney’s fees to the successful litigant.”); see also Smith v. Dorsey, 599 So.2d 529, 550 (Miss.1992) (opining that such expenses are analogous to the grant of punitive damages); but see Universal Life Ins. Co. v. Veasley, 610 So.2d 290, 295 (Miss.1992) (where the supreme court carved out a narrow exception to the general rule and held that attorney’s fees “and the like” may be awarded in cases where an insurer wrongly denies a claim even though the party’s conduct does not warrant punitive damages).

¶ 76. In Allred v. Fairchild, 916 So.2d 529, 532–33 (¶¶ 9–12) (Miss. 2005), the supreme court applied the Veasley exception in a breach-of-contract case and upheld an award of accounting fees to the plaintiff because the defendant, who had entered into a confidential business relationship with the plaintiff, had actively engaged in fraud and deceit throughout the parties’ business dealings. Relying on the comment to Rule 54(d), the supreme court said, “[e]xceptional circumstances must exist in order for the court to exercise exceptional judicial discretion” under Rule 54(d). Allred, 916 So.2d at 532 (¶ 10) (indicating that such exceptional circumstances must be shown in the record).

¶ 77. We find no exceptional circumstances, as contemplated by Veasley and Allred, present in this case. Nor do we find that Hubbard waived this point of contention.

B. Copying/Printing Costs, Trial Materials, Court Reporter

¶ 78. We know of no statutory authority or court rule that authorizes these items to be awarded as ordinary costs. The copying expenses sought by Delta in this case are considered office expenses of an attorney and are not recoverable. See, e.g., 20 C.J.S. Costs § 109 (2007). The expenditures made for the demonstrative aids used at trial and the professional technical assistance employed by Delta for help in the courtroom are likewise not recoverable as ordinary costs. See, e.g., 20 C.J.S. Costs § 115 (2007). And with regard to the court reporter fee, the record indicates that it is for the deposition taken of Hubbard’s wife, Denise, prior to trial. Rule 30(h) of the Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure says: “No part of the expenses of taking depositions, other than serving of subpoenas, shall be adjudged, assessed or taxed as court costs.” Accordingly, this too is not a recoverable cost item.

¶ 79. We point out that Delta relied exclusively on federal case law interpreting the federal counterpart to Rule 68 in support of its argument as to what items may be taxed as costs. As previously indicated, we find the interpretations of those authorities persuasive with respect to the operation of Rule 68. There is no distinction between the mechanics of our Rule 68 and Federal Rule 68; they are the same, Shannon, 834 So.2d at 49 (¶ 39), and the federal courts are well versed with this aspect of the rule.

¶ 80. But such cases offer little assistance for determining the specific items that may be taxed as costs under state law. See, e.g., Carper, 697 S.E.2d at 95 n. 4 (same finding). The federal courts “necessarily base their analysis on … § 1920,” a statute that is not applicable to Mississippi’s law of costs.12 See, e.g., id. (stating that § 1920 is inapplicable to West Virginia’s law of costs).

¶ 81. Even though the Mississippi Supreme Court referenced § 1920 in Gates, it did so merely to illustrate that the federal courts, not unlike Mississippi courts, award costs only permitted by statute. See Gates, 467 So.2d at 218. In no way did the Gates court apply § 1920 to the case.

¶ 82. In Missi, the Indiana case mentioned above, cost items similar to those authorized by § 1920 were awarded by an Indiana trial court apparently because Indiana Trial Rule 68 had been invoked, as the following portion from the Missi court’s opinion illustrates:

In support of their argument that the award of litigation expenses should be affirmed, [the appellees] cite Thomas, wherein the [federal] district court held that the defendant whose offer of judgment had been rejected could recover for photocopy expenses, subpoena and mileage fees, and deposition fees. 150 F.R.D. at 150. The Thomas court relied in part upon Justice Brennan’s dissent in Marek, in which he opined that “ ‘costs’ as that term is used in the Federal Rules should be interpreted uniformly in accordance with the definition of costs set forth in § 1920.” 150 F.R.D. at 148 (citing Marek, 473 U.S. at 18, 105 S.Ct. 3012, … (Brennan, J., dissenting)). [Section] 1920 enumerates among recoverable costs the “[f]ees and disbursements for printing and witnesses,” and “[f]ees for exemplification and copies of papers necessarily obtained for use in the case.”

Missi, 731 N.E.2d. at 1040.

¶ 83. In response, the Missi court explained that Indiana courts “may award costs only when they are expressly authorized by statute.” Id. (quoting Board of County Comm’rs of Vanderburgh County v. Farris, 168 Ind.App. 309, 342 N.E.2d 642, 644 (1976)). The Missi court reiterated that Indiana courts “have no inherent power to assess or award costs to a prevailing party” and stated that “[t]he right to recover costs is a matter left entirely to [Indiana’s] legislature.” Id. (citing Linder v. Ticor Title Ins. Co. of Cal., 647 N.E.2d 37, 40 (Ind.Ct.App.1995)). The Missi court then held that the costs awarded by the trial court were not the sort of costs contemplated by Indiana Trial Rule 54(D) and reversed the trial court’s award of such items. Id.

¶ 84. A similar type argument was made to the Court of Appeals of Tennessee in the case of Person v. Fletcher, 582 S.W.2d 765, 766 (Tenn.Ct.App.1979), where the court was “urged to declare certain items as costs under Rule 68 [of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure,] [because] to hold otherwise Rule 68 will provide no deterrent to the unreasonable prosecution of nuisance value cases.”

¶ 85. Rejecting it, the Person court said:

While Rule 68, T.R.C.P., [i]s patterned after Federal Rule 68, this state has not enacted a law comparable to the federal law found at … § 1920, which expressly empowers the judge or clerk of any court of the United States to tax certain enumerated items as cost. This federal statute is the controlling distinction between Rule 68, T.R.C.P., and the federal rule insofar as what may be included as items of costs.

What constitutes costs is determined from legislative enactment on the subject and this principle is expressed in American Jurisprudence, vol. 20, Costs, [§ ] 52:

Inasmuch as the recovery of costs is dependent on statutory provision, a party who has been adjudged to be entitled to recover or tax costs may include in his bill or memorandum only such items of expense as are taxable by virtue of legislative enactment.

The Supreme Court in the case of [Louisville & N.] Railroad [Co.] v. Boswell, 104 Tenn. 529, 58 S.W. 117 (1900), overruling an effort to include a fee as costs not authorized by statute and quoting its earlier case of Mooneys v. [State], 10 Tenn. 578, [ (1831),] tersely stated: “costs are created by statute; unless there be some law to authorize it, the Court cannot Ex officio give costs against any one.” At common law, costs were not recoverable Eo nomine, 20 C.J.S. Costs [§ ] 2. In the absence of statute expressly designating the claimed items as costs, we hold the costs referred to in Rule 68, T.R.C.P., are those costs authorized by statute as assessed by the trial court in this case.

Id. at 766–67. (emphasis added).

¶ 86. And in Carper, it was argued “that limiting the types of ‘costs’ recoverable under Rule 68(c) to ‘court costs’ undermines the purpose of the rule, because such limitation reduces the economic risk to a plaintiff who refuses an offer of judgment, thereby diminishing the incentive to agree to such offers.” Carper, 697 S.E.2d at 95. The Carper court replied:

While the [a]ppellees’ policy argument may be compelling, this [c]ourt has no authority to sanction the taxation of costs which are not permitted by statute or court rule. Indeed, as previously noted, prohibition will lie against a circuit court that awards costs not specifically allowed by statute or court rule. Consequently, any expansion of the “costs” that may be assessed against a plaintiff pursuant to Rule 68(c) must be left to the [l]egislature or be expanded by this [c]ourt through a new judicial rule.

Id.

¶ 87. We find the holdings in Martin, Ex parte Ashford, Gates, and Whitehead are indicative that the Mississippi Supreme Court’s view on the matter is in line with that held in Missi, Person, and Carper.

¶ 88. Also, we point out that one of the cases relied on by Delta in support of its argument, arguing that we should affirm the trial court’s cost award, involved an action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which therein contains a provision for attorney’s fees, authorizing courts to award reasonable fees and expenses. See, generally, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e–5(k) (2006). Certainly, when a statute allowing for litigation expenses applies to the case, the types of “costs” awarded will differ significantly compared to a case where a trial court (whether it be a state or federal court) is relegated to the usual statutory costs. Such would have been the circumstances had this case involved, for example, a trespass-to-timber action under section 95–5–10(3) (see n. 10).

¶ 89. Survey of the case law dealing with Rule 68, in general, reveals that litigants often rely on incommensurable cases for support of cost items they contend should be awarded simply because Rule 68 was invoked. See, e.g., Crossman v. Marcoccio, 806 F.2d 329, 331 (1st Cir.1986) (describing Federal Rule 68 as “the most enigmatic of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure,” partly for this reason). Respectfully, the bench and the bar should keep this in mind.

¶ 90. In conclusion, having found the aforementioned cost items awarded by the trial court to Delta in this case unauthorized by Mississippi law, we must reverse on this issue and remand this case to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

What are Costs?

August 27, 2019 § Leave a comment

What, exactly, are costs within the meaning of the MRCP?

Costs, security for costs, and awards of costs are mentioned in MRCP 3, 4(c)(1), 4(c)(3)(C), 30(h), 41(a)(1), 41(e), 43(f), 53(a), 54, 56(h), 65(c), and 68.

R 54(e) provides that costs are awarded to the prevailing party. The Advisory Committee Note to R 54 includes this helpful guidance:

Three related concepts should be distinguished in considering Rule 54(d): These are costs, fees, and expenses. Costs refer to those charges that one party has incurred and is permitted to have reimbursed by his opponent as part of the judgment in the action. Although costs has an everyday meaning synonymous with expenses, taxable costs under Rule 54(d) is more limited and represents those official expenses, such as court fees, that a court will assess against a litigant. Costs almost always amount to less than a successful litigant’s total expenses in connection with a law suit and their recovery is nearly always awarded to the successful party.

Fees are those amounts paid to the court or one of its officers for particular charges that generally are delineated by statute. Most commonly these include such items as filing fees, clerk’s and sheriff’s charges, and witnesses’ fees. In most instances an award of costs will include reimbursement for the fees paid by the party in whose favor the cost award is made.

Expenses include all the expenditures actually made by a litigant in connection with the action. Both fees and costs are expenses but by no means constitute all of them. Absent a special statute or rule, or an exceptional exercise of judicial discretion, such items as attorney’s fees, travel expenditures, and investigatory expenses will not qualify either as statutory fees or reimbursable costs. These expenses must be borne by the litigants.

That is probably enough to get you through most situations. But if you need a more scholarly analysis with case law, I’ll post one here for you tomorrow.

GAP Act is Coming

August 26, 2019 § 1 Comment

On January 1, 2020, every one of the now-existing guardianship and conservatorship statutes will be repealed. That means that the entire Title 93, Chapter 13, will no longer exist in its present form.

Replacing the present statutes will be the Mississippi Guardianship and Conservatorship Act (commonly known as the “Guard and Protect” (GAP) Act”). It was Senate Bill 2828 in the 2019 Mississippi legislature. You can access a copy of the 144-page bill at this link. All guardianships and conservatorships opened on or after January 1, 2020, will be under the new law.

Beginning next month I will do a series of posts summarizing the act for you.

In the meantime, I urge you to read the entire bill. Better yet, print out a copy and make notes or highlight.

It’s an understatement to say that this new legislation changes the way we do business in guardianships and conservatorships. Your existing forms, pleadings, and practice will no longer work under the GAP Act.

Lawyers who prepare in advance will be successful. Those who do not will likely keep returning to the drawing board (at their own expense) until they get it right. A good way to help get prepared is to attend a GAP Act CLE program in your area. I know of several being planned around the state. Keep your eyes open for notices of programs.

Reprise: The Best Evidence Rule

August 23, 2019 § Leave a comment

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

UNDERSTANDING THE BEST EVIDENCE RULE

January 12, 2011 § 7 Comments

I would nominate MRE 1002 for second-most misunderstood rule of evidence (the all-time front-runner, without peer, would be the hearsay rule).

It’s fairly common to hear an exchange like this in court:

Atty 1:     How much did you pay for the house?

Atty 2:     Objection. The best evidence of what was paid would be the closing statement.

That objection and every one like it should be overruled.

MRE 1002 states:

To prove the content of a writing, recording or photograph, the original writing, recording or photograph is required except as otherwise provided in these rules or by law.  [Emphasis added]

The rule only applies and requires the original when a party is seeking to prove the content of the original.  Farris v. State, 906 So.2d 113, 115 (Miss. App. 2004).  It does not apply simply because there exists a writing, recording or photograph that may be considered the “best” evidence of the matter.

The rule comes into play only when (a) the content of the writing, recording or photograph is itself the thing a party is trying to prove, or (b) a party is trying to prove a matter by using a writing, recording or photograph as evidence of it.  The rule applies only when one seeks to prove the contents of the writing, photograph or recording so that they may be construed, and does not apply when one is seeking only to prove the existence of a writing, recording or photograph.  Kinard v. Morgan, 679 So.2d 623, 625 (Miss. 1996).

An example of (a) would be where the party is trying to testify to the terms of a written contract.  The contract itself would be the best evidence, and the original would need to be produced.

An example of (b) would be where the witness is testifying about the a claim based on an invoice that shows the items purchased, dates of purchase and prices.  The original invoice would itself establish the claim and would be the best evidence of the transaction.

The rule would not apply to the following situations:

A witness with personal knowledge can testify about how much he earned in a pay period without producing the original pay records.  Simply because written documents pertaining to a matter exist does not mean that a witness may not testify on personal knowledge about the matter.  On the contrary, though, if the witness does not have personal knowledge and relies on documents for her information, she would be required to produce the original documents.

A witness may testify that a document exists without producing the original, but any testimony about the document’s content will require production of the original.

A person who heard another make a statement that was recorded may testify about what she heard without having to produce the recording.

The rule does not apply to physical evidence that is not writings, photographs or recordings.  Riley v. State, 1 So.3d 877, 882 (Miss. App. 2008).  In Riley, the appellant argued unsuccessfully that the State had violated the best evidence rule by not offering the original firearm involved in the crime into evidence.

The evidence qualifies as a “duplicate,” as defined in MRE 1001(4).

So here is the bottom line:  A witness may testify on personal knowledge about a matter even if there is a writing, recording or photograph that documents the same thing, and the writing, recording or photograph need not be produced in such an event; but you must produce the original if you are trying to prove its content.

An important caveat:  Just because you have satisfied MRE 1002 by producing the original does not in and of itself make that original admissible.  The document or recording must still meet authentication and hearsay objections, and a foundation must be laid for admission of the photograph.

MRE 1004 provides some exceptions to the requirement for the original, such as loss or destruction of the original, original not obtainable, or original in possession of an opponent.  Production of the original may also be dispensed with if the document, recording or photograph pertains only to collateral matters.

The Effect of Harris v. Harris

August 21, 2019 § 1 Comment

Back in February, 2018, I posted about the MSSC’s ruling in Harris v. Harris, which overruled Spalding v. Spalding, regarding the impact of Social Security (SS) retirement benefits on alimony. Spalding had held that the alimony-paying party is entitled to a credit against alimony in the amount of the other party’s receipt of SS benefits derived from the alimony-paying party’s work record. Harris held that receipt of SS does not automatically trigger modification. Here is a link to my post.

In Alford v. Alford, a July 23, 2019, COA case about which I posted yesterday, Judge Greenlee wrote a specially concurring opinion raising some concerns about Harris and how it will be applied:

¶37. I concur with the majority. However, because I am concerned about the effect Harris v. Harris, 241 So. 3d 622 (Miss. 2018), may have in this case and other cases, I specially concur.

¶38. Our supreme court’s decision in Harris has the potential to greatly impact those in our population who are aging and under a court-ordered duty of support. For our citizens who earn their wages through compensation from work for others, there comes a time that many should at least consider retirement, if retirement is not required or decided for them. The litigants in this case, if not retired, are rapidly approaching retirement.

¶39. In such cases, the problem chancellors face is in reliably predicting the impact of retirement upon the earnings of the parties. Harris should not mean that once retirement occurs to one or both of the parties (although foreseeable at the time of the initial support order) that the parties are foreclosed from asking the court for a modification based on a material and substantial change in circumstances. See Plummer v. Plummer, 235 So. 3d 195, 199 (¶14) (Miss. Ct. App. 2017) (modification of alimony requires proof of a material and substantial change in circumstances since the date of the prior judgment). If the application of our law is to foreclose a litigant’s request for a modification of periodic alimony upon that party’s retirement, such could mean that in order to meet the amount required, that party must not retire. If that is the case, has our law not imposed a servitude upon a citizen until death? Retirement is a substantial change to an individual’s circumstances, and Harris should not be allowed to hinder such a change from being brought before the chancellor for consideration.

This is a conundrum I have never seen directly addressed by our appellate courts: retirement is reasonably foreseeable and even necessary at some age. Retirement almost always results in a downward shift in the retiree’s income. How does that foreseeability affect the right to request modification? I think Judge Greenlee makes a valid point.

No Attorney’s Fees for You After All

August 20, 2019 § Leave a comment

Nat Alford and his wife Linda consented to a divorce on the ground of irreconcilable differences, leaving it up to the chancellor to adjudicate several issues, including whether Linda should be awarded attorney’s and expert-witness fees. Linda testified that she had been “struggling” to make monthly payments against the more than $24,000 billed by her attorney.

The chancellor ordered Nat to pay $5,000 toward Linda’s attorney’s fees, and $6,000 toward expert witness fees. Nat appealed, and one issue he raised was that the award was erroneous.

The COA reversed and rendered in Alford v. Alford, decided July 23, 2019. Judge Jack Wilson wrote for the majority:

¶31. “An award of attorney’s fees is appropriate in a divorce case where the requesting party establishes an inability to pay.” Gray v. Gray, 745 So. 2d 234, 239 (¶26) (Miss. 1999). “The party seeking attorney’s fees is charged with the burden of proving inability to pay.” Riley v. Riley, 846 So. 2d 282, 287 (¶23) (Miss. Ct. App. 2003) (citing Jones v. Starr, 586 So. 2d 788, 792 (Miss. 1991)). “It is well settled in Mississippi that if a party is financially able to pay an attorney, an award of attorney’s fees is not appropriate. Furthermore, if the record is insufficient to demonstrate the wife’s inability to pay the attorney’s fees, then an award of the fees is an abuse of discretion.” Gray, 745 So. 2d at 239 (¶26) (citations omitted).

¶32. At trial, Linda offered a list of invoice amounts prepared by her attorney that showed that he had billed her a total of $24,572.94, which included the trial. Linda also requested expert witness fees (for Paris) in the amount of $6,000. Linda and her attorney both testified that she had been paying $1,000 per month in attorney’s fees, although neither of them could say how much she had paid in total. Linda also testified that she had been paying $500 per month to Paris’s firm, although she did not state how much she had paid or how much was left to pay. Linda testified that she had been able to make her monthly payments to her attorney and expert, although she said that she had “been struggling to” do so. Linda’s attorney testified regarding his time and fees and Linda’s ability to pay. On cross examination, he was asked whether the equitable distribution of the marital assets would provide Linda with sufficient “financial resources to pay [her fees].” In response, he stated, “I would certainly hope that the [c]ourt awards [Linda] what [she] requested, which is 50 percent of the marital assets. If that occurs, then she certainly would have the money to pay me at that time. I would agree with that.”

¶33. Following the trial, the chancellor found that Linda had the ability to pay some but not all of her attorney’s fees. The chancellor then ordered Nat to pay her $5,000 for attorney’s fees and $6,000 for expert witness fees.

¶34. We conclude that the award of attorney’s fees and expert witness fees was an abuse of discretion because “the record is insufficient to demonstrate [Linda’s] inability to pay.” Gray, 745 So. 2d at 239 (¶26). Linda testified that she had been able to pay her attorney’s fees and expert witness fees in monthly installments of $1,000 and $500, respectively, and she failed to show how much she had already paid or what she still owed. In addition, Linda was awarded bank accounts with a combined balance of approximately $17,000, a Merrill Lynch account with a balance of $134,115.06, and retirement accounts with a combined balance in excess of $375,000. Linda received nearly half of the marital assets, which her attorney agreed would be sufficient to allow her to pay her attorney’s fees. There is nothing in the record to show that Linda would have been required to liquidate any significant part of her savings to pay her attorney or her expert. Indeed, as stated, the record does not even show what Linda owed at the time of trial. On these facts, Linda failed to meet her burden of establishing an inability to pay her fees. See, e.g., Dauenhauer v. Dauenhauer, 271 So. 3d 589, 601 (¶51) (Miss. Ct. App. 2018) (holding that award of attorney’s fees was an abuse of discretion where the spouse had already paid part of his fees in installments and had sufficient assets to pay the balance). Accordingly, the award of attorney’s fees is reversed and rendered.

” … [S]he failed to show how much she had already paid or what she still owed.” So how could one expect the chancellor to make an accurate ruling? I will reiterate what I have said here many times: if you expect to get your client an award of attorney’s fees you have to put some time and thought into what it will take to prove entitlement to that award. Close will not get the cigar. Slapdash won’t even come close.

The chancellor clearly concluded that Linda should have help with some of her attorney’s and expert fees. What the chancellor was not given to support her conclusion, however, was: (1) the amounts Linda had paid; (2) the remaining balances; (3) more detail about the financial strain the fees had imposed on her; and (4) what financial impact it would have on her equitable distribution to have it reduced by attorney’s fees.

I also thought it was interesting that Linda’s attorney was allowed to testify, apparently without objection, to Linda’s ability to pay. That, to me, is a fact issue in the case, and attorneys are not allowed by ethics to be fact witnesses except as to what they are owed in attorney’s fees. I have stopped attorneys in situations like that and directed them to limit their testimony to how much is owed, what services were rendered, what has been paid, and the employment contract. Maybe that’s just me.