Affidavits in Chancery

October 10, 2018 § 4 Comments

An affidavit is a sworn statement. It must include an oath. You can read about the distinction between an oath and an acknowledgment at this link. A document purporting to do the work of an affidavit that bears an authentication instead of an affidavit is void for that purpose.

There are several affidavits that we use routinely in chancery:

  • Affidavit of known creditors. This affidavit is required by MCA § 93-7-145(2) to be filed before publication of notice to creditors. The statute reads, “The executor or administrator shall file with the clerk of court an affidavit stating that such executor or administrator has made reasonably diligent efforts to identify persons having claims against the estate and has given notice by mail as required in subsection (1) of this section to all persons so identified. Upon filing such affidavit … ” it is the duty of the fiduciary to publish notice [My emphasis]. Our courts have held that an affidavit filed after publication is a nullity.
  • Affidavit of unknown heirs. Before publishing process for unknown heirs in an action to determine heirship, one must file an affidavit that “the names of such heirs are unknown,” per MRCP 4(c)(4)(D), and it must also state per MRCP 4(c)(4)(A) that the post office address is unknown to the petitioner “after diligent inquiry.” These are key ingredients, and failure to follow the rules will mean that you don’t have good process. The affidavit must be made by the petitioner unless certain specific language is used as spelled out in the rule.
  • Affidavit of diligent inquiry for publication process. Before you can publish process for a non-resident or a person not to be found in the state per MRCP 4(c)(4)(A), there must be an affidavit filed with the clerk stating either that the person or persons are non-residents or are not to be found in the state after diligent inquiry. If the post office address is unknown, publication proceeds. If a post office address is known, you must include it in your publication and take the additional step of having the clerk mail a copy of the summons and pleading to that address by regular first-class mail, and the clerk must make a notation on the docket to that effect. The affidavit must be made by the petitioner unless the specific language required in the rule is applied.
  • Affidavits in support of and in opposition to summary judgment. Rule 56 says that, “When a motion for summary judgment is made and supported [by affidavits] as provided in this rule, an adverse party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleadings, but his response, by affidavits or otherwise as provided in this rule. must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. If he does not so respond, summary judgment, if appropriate, shall be entered against him.”
  • Affidavit of non-collusion. MCA § 93-5-7, states that “(7) in all cases, except complaints seeking a divorce on the ground of irreconcilable differences, the complaint must be accompanied with an affidavit of the plaintiff that it is not filed by collusion with the defendant for the purpose of obtaining a divorce, but that the cause or causes for divorce stated in the complaint are true as stated.”
  • UCCJEA affidavit. In any case involving custody, each party is required to file an affidavit spelling out the information required in MCA § 93-27-209, and the duty to provide the information to the court is a continuing one, meaning that the affidavit must be updated as circumstances change or as newly discovered information becomes known.
  • Affidavits on motions. MRCP 43(e) states that, “When a motion is based on facts not appearing of record the court may hear the matter on affidavits presented by the respective parties, but the court may direct that the matter be heard wholly or partly on oral testimony or depositions.” Note that the rule applies only to motions, and not to hearings on pleadings that are on the merits seeking a final judgment. Rule 7 describes the difference between a pleading and a motion.
  • Sworn pleadings in probate and fiduciary matters. Uniform Chancery Court Rule 6.13 specifically states in part that, “Every pleading, including accounts and reports, filed by a fiduciary shall be personally signed and sworn to by him.” I take that to mean that every document filed by your fiduciary shall be sworn, thus making it the equivalent of an affidavit. MCA § 93-13-38(1) reads, “All the provisions of the law on the subject of executors and administrators, relating to settlement or disposition of property limitations, notice to creditors, probate and registration of claims, proceedings to insolvency and distribution of assets of insolvent estates, shall, as far as applicable and not otherwise provided, be observed and enforced in a guardianship of the person and estate.” MCA § 93-13-259 says that, ” … all laws relative to the guardianship of a minor shall be applicable to a conservator.”

Some Ancient Publication Guidance that is Still Good Law

March 31, 2014 § 1 Comment

Process by publication bedevils attorneys perhaps more frequently and thoroughly than any other aspect of the law. It’s a subject we’ve touched on in numerous previous posts.

Before the advent of the MRCP, lawyers consulted the venerable Griffith on Mississippi Chancery Practice (1925), and Bunkley and Morse’s Amis, Divorce and Separation in Mississippi (1957), for guidance.

So what do those ancient treatises have to tell us about modern-day publication process? Here’s what the MSSC had to say about it in Caldwell v. Caldwell, 533 So.2d 413, 415-417 (Miss. 1988):

[MRCP 4(c)(4)(A)] is substantially the same as the formerly followed statute Miss.Code Ann. § 13-3-19 (Supp.1972). Therefore, the former judicial decisions and treatises interpreting what constitutes diligent search and inquiry to ascertain addresses of non-residents of Mississippi may be relied upon to analyze the instant case.

Among this jurisdiction’s oldest equity treatises is Griffith, Mississippi Chancery Practice, Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc. (1925) analyzing Mississippi’s requirements for summons by publication. Its applicability to this point of law is still apropos and is as follows:

§ 236 Requirements of publication statutes must be strictly observed.-It is the uniform and unbroken course of decision in this state that where notice by publication is resorted to, as a basis for the jurisdiction of the court, in lieu of personal summons all the requirements of the statute as to such notice must be strictly complied with, and it being a jurisdictional matter it cannot be cured by a recital in the decree as against a direct proceeding attaching it; … and it is not enough merely to give the residence of defendant, it must give his postoffice address, if known, and if not known it must be stated that it is not *416 known after diligent inquiry. An affidavit to support process by publication must strictly comply with the statute and if it omit averment of diligent inquiry it is insufficient. The affidavit for publication when made by an agent must cover the knowledge of the principal as well as of the affiant, as for instance, if an attorney makes the oath for his client the oath should show whether the knowledge or information is that of the attorney or the client, and an oath to a bill upon which a publication to non-residents was predicated which recited that “the matters and things stated in the bill on his own knowledge are true and those stated on information he believes to be true” will not support the publication.

Mississippi Chancery Practice at 225-227. See also, Amis, Divorce and Separation in Mississippi, § 244 (1935); Bunkley and Morse’s Amis, Divorce and Separation in Mississippi, § 15.01(3) (1957). Bunkley’s work states also:

It seldom happens that the published notice is defective, but the usual trouble is that the averments of the affidavit, or sworn bill [i.e., pleadding], are insufficient to authorize any publication to be made at all. This arises out of a misconception of the purpose of the statute, or else a misunderstanding of its provisions. Publication for a non-resident, or absent defendant, is not a mere formal or perfunctory matter; but the purpose is to give the defendant actual as well as constructive notice of the suit and an opportunity to make defense thereto, if it be reasonably possible to do so. Due process of the law requires notice and an opportunity to be heard, and this applies to residents and non-residents alike when sued in the courts of this state. …

If he cannot be found in this state, and any fact in regard to his whereabouts and/or post office and street address be unknown to the complainant, then he or she must make an honest and diligent effort, or inquiry, to ascertain the same, so that when publication is made the clerk may send him a copy of the notice. Good faith to the court, as well as the statute, requires this to be done before any affidavit for publication is made. And if, at any stage of the proceedings, it should appear that such duty was not performed, and that the affidavit was not made in good faith after diligent inquiry under the facts of the particular case, the process should be quashed by the court, of its own motion, as a fraud on its jurisdiction; for courts sit to protect the rights of defendants as well as to enforce those of complainants.

Divorce and Separation in Mississippi at 283.

Judicial interpretations have given rise to these treatises by such cases as Ponder v. Martin, 119 Miss. 156, 80 So. 388 (1919); Diggs v. Ingersoll, 28 So. 825 (1900). In Mercantile Acceptance Corp. v. Hedgepeth, 147 Miss. 717, 112 So. 872 (1927), this Court stated regarding the requisite oath, as follows:

We are of opinion that the changes made in the statute with reference to the oath required to bring in by publication a nonresident defendant, are material changes; that they are vital and that they were intended to answer a wholesome purpose and will have the effect of doing so. If the complainant makes the oath that the post office address of the defendant is unknown to him, he ought to be required, as the statute does require, to go further and make oath that he has made diligent inquiry to ascertain his post office address; and if the oath is made by the complainant’s attorney that the post office address of the defendant is unknown, he ought to be required, as the statute does require, to state that he had made diligent inquiry to ascertain his post office address, that he believes it is unknown to the complainant, and that the latter has made diligent inquiry to ascertain the same.

Mercantile Acceptance Corp., 112 So. at 874.

Remember that the affidavit must be filed before any publication is undertaken, and it must include the required information. Publication before filing of the affidavit is a nullity. Process by publication that does not meet every technical requirement of the rule is a nullity that deprives the trial court of jurisdiction, unless the defendant enters a voluntary appearance.

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