Equity Delayed is Equity Denied

August 26, 2015 § 2 Comments

If your trial judge in a bench trial takes a case under advisement and fails to render a decision within a reasonable time, MRAP 15 provides the remedy:

(a) When a trial judge in a civil case takes under advisement a motion or request for relief which would be dispositive of any substantive issues and has held such motion or request under advisement for sixty (60) days, the plaintiffs and the defendants shall each within fourteen (14) days thereafter submit a proposed order or judgment to the trial judge and shall forward to the Administrative Office of Courts, the trial court clerk and the opposing parties true copies thereof with a statement setting forth the style and number of the case, the names and addresses of the judge and of all parties and the date on which such motion or request was taken under advisement. On receipt of such proposed orders and notices, the Administrative Office of Courts shall calendar them and notify the trial judge and the trial court clerk of the filing. At any time thereafter that an order or judgment is entered on the motion or request for relief, the plaintiffs and the defendants shall, in writing, promptly notify the Administrative Office of Courts and the opposing parties of the date of entry of the decision; copies of such notification shall be sent to the judge and the trial court clerk. If no written notice of a decision is received by the Administrative Office of Courts within six(6) months from the date the case was taken under advisement, the Administrative Office of Courts shall confirm with the trial court clerk that no order or judgment has been entered and notify the Supreme Court. The Administrative Office of Courts will forward copies of its notification to the trial judge and parties and shall advise the judge and counsel that they are to respond to the notice within a specified period. The Supreme Court shall treat such notification as the filing of an application for a writ of mandamus by all the parties to the action and shall proceed accordingly. The notice of the Administrative Office of Courts of the time within which to respond shall satisfy the requirements of M.R.A.P. 21(d).

(b) The trial judge, not later than thirty (30) days prior to the expiration of the six (6) months from the date the case was taken under advisement, for just cause shown, may apply in writing to the Supreme Court for additional time beyond said six (6) months in which to enter a decision. Concurrently, the judge shall provide a copy of such application to each of the parties.

No one wants to tick off a chancellor who holds the fate of the client in his or her hands, but sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do.

I mention this with the COA’s decision in Chipley v. Chipley, decided August 11, 2015, in mind. In that case, the Special Chancellor granted a divorce between Wanda and Kenneth Chipley on January 25, 2011, and directed the attorneys to provide, in effect, proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law on Ferguson factors within ten days. Thereafter, the case sat dead in the water for two years, until the MSSC ordered the chancellor to adjudicate the property division, which he did on February 15, 2013. After some post-trial-motion maneuvering that ate up the remainder of the year, Wanda filed an appeal on December 17, 2013, which the COA determined to be timely.

In its August 11, 2015, opinion (that’s four years and nearly eight months after the divorce), the case was reversed and remanded because the Special Chancellor failed to include a Ferguson analysis in his final ruling. It’s axiomatic that the judge’s decision must be supported by findings of fact and conclusions of law on Ferguson. Dickerson v. Dickerson, 34 So.3d 637, 644 (¶24) (Miss. App. 2010). It’s not enough merely to mention the factors. Lee v. Lee, 78 So.3d 326, 329 (¶10) (Miss. 2012). No analysis = reversal and remand. Reed v. Reed, 141 So.3d 450, 455 (¶18) (Miss. App. 2014).

Still to be dealt with are a motion for rehearing and possible cert petition before a mandate is issued, chewing up some more time in the Chipleys’ lives. After all that, they will return to where they started, still without a determination of their property interests. It will take some time to appoint a replacement Special Chancellor, since the original one has died, and the remand hearing will need to be scheduled to accommodate the lawyers, judge, and the parties, which likely will mean more delay and a trial either in the first quarter of 2016, if no further appellate proceedings are had, or much later if the case tarries in the higher courts. I wonder whether those assets that they are fighting over will still even exist after all that time.

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