The Price of Breach of Trust

February 7, 2017 § Leave a comment

The law of trusts in Mississippi may be the least litigated area of our jurisprudence, judging from the paucity of reported cases on trust issues.

That’s why I was planning to do a post on the COA’s recent 30-page decision by Judge Barnes in Cassibry v. Cassibry, decided January 24, 2017. But Philip Thomas posted about the case on his excellent Mississippi Litigation Review and Commentary blog, so you can read his take at this link. At the trial level, the trustee was found to have violated the trust and was assessed a judgment in the amount of $144,865.86, plus post-judgment interest of eight percent per annum, and was ordered to pay $17,902 in costs and $28,500 in attorney’s fees. He was also ordered to transfer 7,757 shares of stock to the prevailing party. On appeal the COA affirmed but remanded for further proceedings on the issue of attorney’s fees, which the appellee conceded was not properly documented at trial.

One minor quibble with Mr. Thomas’s post: he refers to the trial court’s ruling as a “verdict,” but since it came from a chancellor and not a jury, it was a judgment. Not intended as a swipe at the knowledgeable Mr. Thomas.  Just pointing this out for the young chancery lawyers and law students. Mr. Thomas will tell you that he spends most of his time in federal and circuit court, and not in chancery, so he can be forgiven the lapse into his more familiar verbiage.

Many trusts are extra-judicial, grant extremely broad discretion to the trustee, and waive accountings and other reporting. I guess that’s why relatively few are litigated. I had a case in my court years ago in which the beneficiary claimed a breach of trust because the trustee refused to disburse any money to him at all. The trust specifically gave the trustee unfettered discretion in that regard. The beneficiary also complained that the trustee had sold some of the assets of the trust; however, the trust gave him broad discretion in that area, also. The case fell to summary judgment and, to my knowledge was never appealed. It would have been interesting to litigate, since the were conflicting provisions as to which state’s laws controlled, and none of them were Mississippi.

An epic case in which the trustee was removed for non-monetary breach of duty to the beneficiaries is Wilbourn v. Wilbourn, decided April 24, 2012.

When the GAL Goes Beyond the Court’s Mandate

February 6, 2017 § 2 Comments

What is the court’s duty to address a GAL’s recommendations on matters not included in the court’s order appointing the GAL?

Angela Davis and her ex-husband, Gary Davis, shared joint legal and physical custody per an irreconcilable differences divorce judgment entered in 2004. In 2013, following an altercation between Gary’s then wife and one of the children, Angela sued him for termination of parental rights (TPR), or for modification of custody, and for an upward modification in child support. Gary counterclaimed for contempt and for modification to give him sole custody.

The chancellor appointed a GAL to make recommendations with respect to the TPR issue. The GAL recommended that Gary’s parental rights not be terminated, and went on to recommend that Angela have “primary custody,” with Gary having visitation, “because that is how they have been operating since the date of the divorce.”

The chancellor denied Angela’s prayers for TPR, for modification of custody and visitation, and for an increase in child support. He did order Gary to pay the children’s private school tuition. Angela appealed, and one of the issues she raised was that the chancellor’s ruling failed to address why he did not follow the GAL’s recommendation as to custody and visitation.

The COA affirmed in Davis v. Davis, handed down January 24, 2017. Here’s how Judge Lee wrote for the unanimous court (Westbrooks not participating):

¶19. In her third issue, Angela claims the chancery court should have followed the GAL’s recommendation as to the modification-of-custody/visitation issue, or it should have provided written findings as to why the GAL’s recommendations were not followed.

¶20. “Our supreme court does not require a chancellor to follow the findings of a GAL.” In re N.B., 135 So. 3d 220, 228 (¶35) (Miss. Ct. App. 2014) (citing S.N.C. v. J.R.D. Jr., 755 So. 2d 1077, 1082 (¶17) (Miss. 2000)). “However, ‘when a chancellor’s ruling is contrary to the recommendation of a statutorily required GAL, the reasons for not adopting the GAL’s recommendation shall be stated by the court in the findings of fact and conclusions of law.’” Id. (quoting S.N.C., at 755 So. 2d 1082 (¶18)).

¶21. Here, the GAL was appointed solely to investigate the termination of parental rights. The GAL recommended that Gary’s parental rights not be terminated, and the chancery court followed the GAL’s recommendation. Since the GAL was not appointed to investigate the modification-of-custody/visitation issue, we cannot find the chancellor erred in failing to state his reasons for not adopting the GAL’s recommendations regarding custody and visitation.

Some thoughts:

  • Make sure your GAL order is specific and clear as to which issues the GAL is required to serve. Angela’s appeal might have won the day had the GAL order been vague or general (e.g., ” … to make recommendations as to the best interest of the children …” ).
  • I’m not sure whether this issue has been squarely before the appellate courts before, but to me it’s definitely a new wrinkle in GAL jurisprudence.
  • Once again the term “primary custody” pops up in a case. In 2009, the MSSC ruled that the term “primary custody” and its permutations like “primary physical” and “primary legal” and “primary physical and legal” custody have no legal meaning in our law. You might recall that I posted here about it ‘way back in 2010. It’s not that big a deal in most cases, but, as I pointed out in that previous post, it can work some serious mischief in custody agreements and judgments. In my opinion, it’s better simply to purge the term entirely from your legal vocabulary than to use it heedlessly and have it ricochet fatally against a client or former client in later proceedings. In a recent custody case I heard, counsel for both parties used the term repeatedly. It was like fingernails on a blackboard to me.

“Quote Unquote”

February 3, 2017 § Leave a comment

“Under current law, it is a crime for a private citizen to lie to a government official, but not for a government official to lie to the people.”  —  Donald M. Fraser

“We have enjoyed so much freedom for so long that perhaps we are in danger of forgetting that the Bill of Rights, which cost so much blood to establish, is still worth fighting for.”  —  Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

“I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”  —  James Madisonimg_2943

Bills that Could Affect Your Chancery Practice

February 2, 2017 § Leave a comment

As I understand it, these are the pending bills that have made it out of committee. I tried to copy so as to preserve the hyperlinks to the bills, but was unsuccessful. You can find the text of the bills at this link. Also, some of the matters listed below apply to Youth Court, but I included them nonetheless because they may create some overlap with chancery, particularly in custody cases.

HB 476 Child abuse; require DHS to notify applicable military installation family advocacy program in certain cases.
01/25 (H) Title Suff Do Pass Comm Sub
Dixon

HB 481 Medical expenses; define admissibility during trial.
01/26 (H) Title Suff Do Pass
Gipson

HB 483 Multidisciplinary teams and child advocacy centers; provide information prepared by shall be confidential under certain circumstances.
01/31 (H) Title Suff Do Pass
Gipson

HB 489 % Mental health courts; authorize and provide for certification of.
01/26 (H) Title Suff Do Pass Comm Sub
Currie

HB 551 Pro se legal forms; provide that court-approved forms may be provided by public librarians and law librarians.
01/25 (H) Title Suff Do Pass Comm Sub
Reynolds

HB 605 Dept. of Child Protection Services; transfer of DHS functions to shall be completed by Jan. 1, 2018.
01/24 (H) Title Suff Do Pass
Dixon

HB 805 Supreme Court; authorize to have original jurisdiction for claims seeking injunctive relief against the state.
01/24 (H) Title Suff Do Pass
Baker

HB 806 Nonprobate Transfers Law of Mississippi; create.
01/31 (H) Title Suff Do Pass
Baker

HB 807 Jointly held property; authorize to be sold by broker in a commercially reasonable manner.
01/31 (H) Title Suff Do Pass
Reynolds

HB 843 Landlord-tenant law; revise certain provisions related to the nonpayment of rent.
01/24 (H) Title Suff Do Pass Comm Sub
Johnson (87th)

HB 849 Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets and Digital Accounts Act; create.
01/24 (H) Title Suff Do Pass
Lamar

HB 853 Power of Attorney; revise to authorize parents to delegate for care and custody of a child.
01/31 (H) Title Suff Do Pass Comm Sub
Eubanks

HB1013 Department of Child Protection Services; make technical amendments to provisions of law relating to and give certain powers and duties to.
01/26 (H) Title Suff Do Pass Comm Sub
Dixon

HB1210 Youth Court; require to provide redacted copy of child’s record to child’s parent/guardian upon request of the parent/guardian.
01/30 (H) Title Suff Do Pass
Bennett

HB1211 Youth court prosecutor; require district attorney to appoint and require residency in county where youth court is located.
01/30 (H) Title Suff Do Pass
Bennett

HB1212 % Child Protection Services; authorize to have background check of home residents during emergency placement situation.
01/31 (H) Title Suff Do Pass Comm Sub
Gipson

HB1213 Youth court; authorize to utilize volunteer Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) in abuse and neglect cases.
01/31 (H) Title Suff Do Pass
Bell (65th)

HB1366 Domestic abuse protection orders; revise appellate procedure.
01/31 (H) Title Suff Do Pass
Bain

HB1406 Marketable Record Title Act; enact.
01/31 (H) Title Suff Do Pass Comm Sub
Touchstone

SB2063 Appropriation FY2018; pilot programs for legal representation for indigent parents in child abuse cases.
01/05 (S) Referred To Appropriations
Dearing

SB2161 % Constables; revise fees charged by.
01/30 (S) Title Suff Do Pass Comm Sub
Burton

SB2302 % “Ban the box;” facilitate post-incarceration employment opportunities for nonviolent felons.
01/31 (S) Title Suff Do Pass Comm Sub
Barnett

SB2327 Conversion and Domestication; revise.
01/24 (S) Title Suff Do Pass
Tindell

SB2342 Termination of parental rights; technical corrections.
01/24 (S) Title Suff Do Pass Comm Sub
Tindell

SB2350 Business Corporation Act; technical revisions.
01/24 (S) Title Suff Do Pass
Tindell

SB2369 Youth court prosecutor; must be resident of the county and appointed by the DA.
01/26 (S) Title Suff Do Pass Comm Sub
Tindell

SB2388 Domestic abuse protection orders; revise appellate procedure.
01/24 (S) Title Suff Do Pass Comm Sub
Wiggins

SB2427 Code of Judicial Conduct; immunity for members of a special campaign committee.
01/27 (S) Title Suff Do Pass
Hopson

SB2483 Divorce; bona fide separation as a ground for.
01/24 (S) Title Suff Do Pass Comm Sub
Tindell

SB2520 Youth court records; parents have right to redacted copies.
01/24 (S) Title Suff Do Pass
Hill

SB2628 Court reporter; may be hired to record court proceeding.
01/31 (S) Title Suff Do Pass
Branning *

SB2644 Mental illness; revise acquittal and commitment for.
01/26 (S) Title Suff Do Pass Comm Sub
Hopson

SB2673 Guardian ad litem fees; failure to pay enforced as any other civil debt.
01/26 (S) Title Suff Do Pass Comm Sub
Tindell

SB2680 Abused and neglected children; clarify alternative of relative care.
01/31 (S) Title Suff Do Pass Comm Sub
Hill

SB2703 Divorce; domestic violence as a ground for.
01/24 (S) Title Suff Do Pass Comm Sub
Doty

SB2821 Youth court referees; appointed to a 4-year term.
01/31 (S) Title Suff Do Pass Comm Sub
Tindell

SB2842 % Mental health court intervention programs; authorize.
01/31 (S) Title Suff Do Pass Comm Sub
Branning

 

Reprise: The Artful Withdrawal

January 31, 2017 § Leave a comment

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

ANOTHER WRINKLE IN WITHDRAWING FROM REPRESENTATION

November 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

We’ve talked here before about the proper procedure to withdraw from representing a client.

It often happens that the judge signs an order letting the attorney out, and in the same order sets the case for trial. That can cause problems for the remaining attorney and client, as was the case in Turner v. Turner, decided by the COA on November 1, 2011.

The Turner litigation spanned 4 years of conflict between Jane and Michael over a divorce and custody. There were trial dates set and continued, and intervening pleadings, culminating in a trial date on November 12, 2009.

On the last date set for trial, Michael appeared and saw his attorney talking first with counsel opposite and then the chancellor. He learned that his attorney had made a motion ore tenus to withdraw, even though UCCR 1.08 requires a written motion and notice. There also was not five days’ notice to opposing counsel or Michael, as required in MRCP 6. The judge signed an order on November 12, entered the next day, allowing Michael’s attorney to withdraw over counsel opposite’s objection and continuing the divorce trial to December 8. That order is the only record of what transpired that day. According to Michael, his attorney took him to a conference room where his attorney told him of the withdrawal and offered assistance in finding new cocunsel; however, Michael said that the attorney did not advise him of the reset trial date, and the attorney later testified that he had no recollection whether he had advised Michael of the trial date.

On December 8, 2009, court convened for the divorce and Michael was not present. The record showed that he had never missed any prior scheduled proceedings. The chancellor granted Jane a divorce on the ground of habitual drunkenness, and awarded her custody, marital property and attorney’s fees.

Michael timely filed a motion under MRCP 59 and 60 to set the divorce aside for lack of proper notice of the trial setting. The chancellor refused, citing MRCP 5. Michael appealed.

The majority COA opinion rejected the rationale that MRCP 5, which essentially provides that notice to an attorney is imputed to the client, was applicable here. Citing Fairchild v. GMAC, 254 Miss. 261, 265, 179 So.2d 185, 187 (1965), the opinion held that an attorney who has moved to withdraw cannot at the same time continue to exercise authority on behalf of the client with respect to other matters. “While ‘withdrawal is prospective [and] does not erase those steps in the proceeding already taken,’ withdrawal likewise prevents an attorney from taking future steps on behald of his client.” Id. The Turner opinion stated at ¶21 that “We find [Michael’s attorney] could not simultaneously withdraw as Michael’s representative and be ‘counsel for the defendant’ for purposes of notice of the December 8 hearing.”

The COA admonished trial judges to follow UCCR 1.08 and MRCP 6 in entertaining motions to withdraw, and found that due process was lacking in this case. At ¶25, the court prescribed the solution for future cases:

” … [I]n cases where permission to withdraw is granted outside of the presence of the requesting attorney’s client, to avoid future notice problems, it is certainly permissible for a chancellor to enter a written order scheduling a future hearing, which expressly conditions the requesting attorney’s withdrawal only upon submission of proof to the court that he or she has given notice of the subsequent hearing to the client. Another suitable method, under this circumstance, would be to allow withdrawal of counsel subject to the condition that subsequent papers may continue to be served upon counsel for forwarding purposes as the judge may direct, unless and until the client appears by other counsel or pro se.”

In my opinion, the problem in this case could have been avoided if the defendant had been required to sign off on the order that let his attorney out of the case and set the trial date. He would have been hard-pressed to argue later that he did not have notice of the trial date. That’s the practice we try to follow in this district. Of course, we also try to follow UCCR 1.08 and MRCP 6 in these situations, but sometimes things come up at the last minute, and, in those cases we try to document as best we can.

The majority opinion in Turner provoked staunch dissents from Judges Russell and Griffis. Russell attacked the chancellor’s grant of a divorce, denial of visitation and other relief. Griffis took issue with the majority’s due process rationale.

Denial of Divorce: What is the Standard of Review?

January 30, 2017 § Leave a comment

The recent COA decision in Gwathney v. Gwathney, decided January 10, 2017, is notable for the fact that it was an appeal from a chancellor’s decision denying the appellant a divorce. She had proceeded on the ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment (HCIT). You can read the decision for yourself. It’s instructive on the subject of what it takes to support a finding of HCIT.

The COA, by Judge Ishee, deferred to the chancellor’s findings of fact:

¶9. “[A]s the trier of fact, [the chancellor] evaluates the sufficiency of the evidence based on the credibility of the witnesses and the weight of their testimony.” Holladay [v. Holladay], 776 So. 2d [662] at 676 (¶62) [(Miss. 2000)]. We do not find that the chancellor was manifestly wrong or that he applied an erroneous legal standard. This opinion should not be construed as though a chancellor could never find cruel and inhuman treatment under the same or similar circumstances. Instead, we simply hold that it was within the chancellor’s discretion to consider the particular nuances of this case, weigh the evidence, and determine that the proof fell short of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment. To hold otherwise, we would have to improperly substitute our view for the chancellor’s. Because that would be beyond the scope of the standard of review, [Fn omitted] we affirm the chancellor’s judgment.

Fair enough. But it appears that there was some discussion among the judges as to whether the COA could act as “Super Chancellors” in a denial of divorce case, substituting its collective judgment for that of the trial judge who observed the demeanor and credibility of the witnesses. I say that because one judge, Wilson, “concurs in part and in the result without separate written opinion,” and because of the inclusion of a lengthy footnote at the end of the opinion that may have been intended to address Judge Wilson’s concerns. Here is the footnote (omitted above) in its entirety:

In Kumar v. Kumar, 976 So. 2d 957, 960 (¶13) (Miss. Ct. App. 2008), this Court stated that “[t]he chancellor’s determination of whether a spouse’s conduct rose to the level of cruel and inhuman treatment is a determination of law” that we review de novo. In so doing, we relied on Potts v. Potts, 700 So. 2d 321, 322 (¶10) (Miss. 1997), and Reed v. Reed, 839 So. 2d 565, 569 (¶13) (Miss. Ct. App. 2003). In Potts, the Mississippi Supreme Court cited Bland v. Bland, 629 So. 2d 582, 586 (Miss. 1993), and held that a chancellor’s findings regarding whether a spouse’s “conduct rose to the level of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment . . . is a determination of law, and is reversible where the chancellor has
employed an erroneous legal standard.” Potts, 700 So. 2d at 322 (¶10) (emphasis added). However, nothing in Bland appears to support the concept that a chancellor’s factual determination is a question of law. Instead, the Supreme Court stated that “[e]specially in the divorce arena, the chancellor’s findings will not be reversed unless manifestly wrong.” Bland, 629 So. 2d at 587. And no portion of Bland addressed a chancellor’s conclusion regarding whether conduct qualified as cruel and inhuman treatment. Fully cognizant of our place in the hierarchy of Mississippi courts, we do not comment on the subject out of any form of criticism, but to note our awareness of the precedent, and to explain our reliance on the more unequivocal command that an appellate court is “required to respect the findings of fact made by a chancellor” where they are “supported by credible evidence and not manifestly wrong [–] . . . particularly . . . in areas of divorce.” See Mizell v. Mizell, 708 So. 2d 55, 59 (¶13) (Miss. 1998) (quoting Newsom v. Newsom, 557 So. 2d 511, 514 (Miss. 1990)).

I will leave that there for you to ponder for the next time you have that issue on appeal.

One thing to add: HCIT is arguably the most difficult ground to prove despite the fact that most people think it is easy because of its preponderance-of-the-evidence burden, and they see it as a “catch-all,” one-size-fits-all ground to use when nothing else quite fits. Nothing could be more inaccurate. As you can read in Gwathney, it takes a particular specie of proof to support a finding of HCIT. And the days are long gone when a chancellor could grant an HCIT divorce because “It’s obvious that these parties need a divorce.”

Dispatches from the Farthest Outposts of Civilization

January 27, 2017 § Leave a comment

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When You Are An Imminent Peril to Your Client

January 25, 2017 § 1 Comment

Earlier this week I saw a piece on a news show about the increasingly rampant practice of thieves stealing tax refunds by filing false tax returns.

In one case, a woman learned that the outlaws had filed a tax return in her name claiming thousands of dollars in fake deductions that resulted in a refund — to them and not her — of $26,000. The refund was directed to a blank (prepaid) credit card where it can not be traced. Of course, the victim had to go through much travail to undo all the damage.

In another case, a man’s tax return with all of his dependency exemptions was hijacked for $5,000.

A tax expert came on screen and said that all a thief requires is the taxpayer’s Social Security Number (SSN), and the number of each co-filer and dependent.

Okay. Let that sink in. All that is required is the SSN’s.

Think about how many documents you have in your possession that are full of your clients’ SSN’s. Every tax return has the taxpayer’s SSN on every single page — sometimes in multiple places. Loan applications have them. Social Security earnings reports and other communications have them.

When you file an 8.05 financial statement and do not redact those SSN’s, you are sending your client’s personal information unprotected out into the world. When you produce unredacted records in discovery, you are violating your clients’ confidences. When you introduce information into evidence that includes SSN’s, you are exposing your clients to fraud.

This is something I have discussed here before. It’s serious, and it has serious implications for you. It won’t be long before PI lawyers discover a fertile new field for liability: lawyers who violate their clients’ financial confidentiality and integrity by not observing either the MEC confidentiality rules or the simple, common-sense precaution of redaction.

It seems like every week I have to caution a lawyer to redact confidential information from documents being introduced into evidence. In one case, we had to take an hour-long recess to allow 10 years of tax returns to be redacted. That should have been done long before the trial date.

The MEC rules make it clear that, if confidential information is filed, it is considered that the client has waived confidentiality. So when you file unredacted information, you have waived confidentiality for your client. Did you have authority to do that? Haven’t you committed an ethical violation when you did it without your client’s express permission?

When Less is Not Better

January 24, 2017 § 1 Comment

You know those annoying R81 linking continuance orders? The ones that you have to have entered on the return day and every successive continuance day to preserve your process? (R81(d)(5)).

This is what many of them look like to me:

The hearing on this matter is continued to the 8th day of February, 2017, at 9:00, a.m.

I think it should say in addition that the defendant (respondent) was called three times at the designated time, and he did not appear. Why? Because he could come up later and claim he was there all along and no one called out to let him know his case was up to be heard. The only record of what happened is the court’s order (unless you are in one of those rare districts where the docket call is on the record).

What about determination of heirship judgments? If you need to continue, and you simply recite that the matter is continued, a person claiming heirship can later pop up and claim that he or she was there and no one called him into the courtroom. Oops. No record to contradict it.

Often in chancery the only record you will have of what transpired is the order or judgment you present to the court. You should want it to be airtight, so you should include all the fact-finding and procedural recitations that the proceedings support. For instance:

  • In an uncontested divorce with a custody claim. Put on proof of Albright factors and address them in your judgment.
  • In an uncontested divorce with some property and alimony claims, put on proof of Ferguson and Armstrong factors, and add findings to your judgment.
  • The proof you present of those factors does not have to be elaborate. It just needs to be enough to justify the court’s signing off on the judgment you present.
  • In a case where the defendant appeared on a previous date or two and agreed to continuance(s), recite that history in your order or judgment.
  • If you published process, recite when, where, and how often published, and that no responsive pleading or other response was made.

The more detail you add, the more successful you will be later when the other party wakes up, realizes he has missed the train, and gets a lawyer to try to rescue him by filing a R59 or 60 motion. Just remember that whatever you recite in your order or judgment has to reflect what really transpired. You won’t get a chancellor to sign off on Albright findings when you never asked your witness the first question about them.

Appealing from a Special Master’s Ruling

January 23, 2017 § Leave a comment

The COA’s decision in In the Matter of J.W., decided January 3, 2017, is not likely to go down as a leading case in Mississippi jurisprudence, but for chancery practitioners in particular, it’s one you need to bear in mind.

To make a short story even shorter (the opinion is only three pages long), J.W. appealed from a finding made by a special master that he should be involuntarily committed to the custody of the Mississippi Department of Mental Health. The special master followed his findings with an “Order of Admittance after Hearing.” J.W. filed a R59 motion, but the COA does not tell us what the outcome of that was.

No matter. The COA dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction because no chancellor ever adopted the special master’s findings in a court order. As the COA’s opinion by Judge Fair concludes:

¶5. “The court may appoint one or more persons in each county to be masters of the court, and the court in which any action is pending may appoint a special master therein.” M.R.C.P. 53. “[A] master’s report has no effect until it is either accepted or rejected by the chancellor.” Davison v. Miss. Dep’t of Human Servs., 938 So. 2d 912, 915 (¶5) (Miss. Ct. App. 2006) (citing Evans v. Davis, 401 So. 2d 1096, 1099 (Miss. 1981)). Here, there is no order by the chancellor accepting the special master’s report, and there has been no ruling on J.W.’s motion to reconsider. Because there is no final, appealable judgment, we lack jurisdiction and must dismiss. See Newson [v. Newson], 138 So. 3d [275], at 278 (¶11) [(Miss. Ct. App. 2014)].

The big deal here is that many districts around the state employ special masters routinely to handle child support and contempt cases per MCA 9-5-255. It’s an effective tool to free up courtroom time for more complex litigation, and to reduce waiting time for all kinds of hearings. When you get your findings and even a so-called “order” from your special master, however, it’s my opinion that you do not have either an enforceable judgment or a final, appealable judgment unless and until the chancellor has accepted the master’s report. That’s because of the language of MCA 9-5-255(8), which essentially tracks R53.

Another thing you need to keep in mind is that R53(g)(2) specifically directs that:

“The court shall accept the master’s findings of fact unless manifestly wrong. Within ten days after being served with notice of the filing of the report any party may serve written objections thereto on the other parties. Application to the court for action upon the report and upon objections thereto shall be by motion and upon notice as provided by Rule 6(d). The court after hearing may adopt the report or modify it or may adopt the report in whole or in part or may receive further evidence or may recommit it with instructions.”

In Sims, et al. v. Mathis, handed down May 24, 2016, the COA held that it is the duty of the objecting party under R53 not only to file timely, specific objections, but also to set them for hearing and bring them before the court. In those special-master child-support cases, then, any objection needs to be filed within ten days of notice of the master’s findings, and the lawyer or party filing the objections needs to set the objections for hearing and bring the matter on for hearing. If that is not done, the court “shall accept the master’s findings of fact unless manifestly wrong.”

All of the foregoing applies not only to mental commitments and child-support proceedings, but also in every case in which a special master is appointed by the court. Mathis was a partition suit. Special masters are appointed in a wide range of chancery matters.