Properly Pleading a Rule 59 Motion

January 10, 2017 § 1 Comment

A party wishes to ask the court for a new trial, and files the following within ten days of entry of the final judgment:

“Comes now the plaintiff, with respect to the court’s judgment rendered December 30, 2016, and moves the court for a new trial, pursuant to MRCP 59(a).”

Is that adequate?

Before we get to a response, I have to say that I have gotten motions almost identical to the language above, and no opposing party has ever raised an objection to its lack of specificity.

To me, it’s unquestionable that the motion is inadequate. That’s because of the specific language of R7(b), which states that “An application to the court for an order shall be by motion which, unless made during a hearing or trial, shall be made in writing, shall state with particularity the grounds therefor, and shall set forth the relief or order sought.” Because R59(a) limits such a motion in chancery to ” … any of the reasons for which rehearings have heretofore been granted in suits in equity in the courts of Mississippi,” at a minimum one or more of those reasons must be pled in order to meet the requirements of R7. Our case law recognizes also that the best practice is to specify all potential assignments of error in a motion for new trial, which indicates to me that the expectation is that some basis for the motion must be pled. See, Kiddy v. Lipscomb, 628 So.2d 1355, 1359 (Miss. 1993).

Rehearings in equity prior to the MRCP were granted for reasons including: matters in the record that were arguably overlooked or not adequately addressed by the court; or the court misapplied or did not follow controlling case law; or there is newly-discovered evidence or “supervening facts” that would render the court’s decree incorrect or inequitable. Griffith, Mississippi Chancery Practice, §632, 2d Ed., 1950. If your motion fits into one of those categories, then you must plead it and support it with enough facts and authority to give the trial judge a basis to rule on it.

An illustration of how the failure to properly plead a R59 motion can open a critical line of attack to the opposing party is the case of Carter v. Carter, decided by the MSSC on December 1, 2016. In that case, the trial court entered its final custody judgment, and a R59 motion was filed by the unsuccessful party 5 days afterward, well within the 10-day time required by the rule. Sixty-two days later the same party filed a “Supplemental Motion” asserting new grounds not included in the original motion. The trial judge overruled the motion. On appeal, the other side claimed that the appeal was untimely, since it was based on the grounds raised in the “Supplemental Motion,” which was filed long after the ten days post-entry of judgment had elapsed. After examining the law on the point for around eight pages, the high court ruled that the objection had been waived because no one raised it at the trial level. Bullet dodged.

The interesting thing about Carter to me is that the entire hoorah over the original motion vis a vis the “Supplemental Motion” is that it presupposes that grounds must be pled in the R59 motion. There would have been no argument about it at all if the language above were all that were required.

In the great majority of reported R59 case that I have looked at, the courts refer to the bases asserted by the movant at the trial level.

My advice:

  1. Raise every claim of error you can think of in your R59 motion (although failure to do so may not be fatal as to some assignments of error, as you will discover when you read the Kiddy case);
  2. Include some of that Griffith language in your motion, as applicable (if nothing else, it may impress someone that you are a scholar); and
  3. If the other side files an inadequately pled motion or attempts to raise unpled issues at hearing, by all means object and preserve your record.

YOU MIGHT WANT TO RECONSIDER YOUR MRCP 59 MOTIONS

February 7, 2013 § 1 Comment

Judge Griffis tells of a time that he filed a “Motion to Reconsider” in federal court after a judgment that he took issue with had been entered. Judge Lee, in his ruling, devoted the first page or two to pointing out that there is no such motion.

When I heard the story, I took exception and pointed out that even under our pre-MRCP practice there was a motion to reconsider, and that the MRCP even continues our pre-rules practice. I added that lawyers even today file motions to “reconsider.” 

Well, I was wrong. Sort of.

MRCP 59 says that a new trial may be granted ” … in an action tried without a jury, for any of the reasons for which rehearings have heretofore been granted in suits in equity in the courts of Mississippi.”

That’s rehearing, not reconsideration.    

To discover the reasons for which rehearings were granted in pre-rules suits in equity, I consulted Griffith, Mississippi Chancery Practice, 2d Ed., 1950, which is the bible of pre-rules practice. Under that ancient practice, all the business of the court was conducted during the terms. All judgments became final on the last day of the term, unless the judge entered an order during the term that set a matter for hearing on a day outside the term (“in vacation”), and orders and decrees could not be altered or amended by the chancellor after the term ended except for some very limited circumstances.

During the term, all decrees and orders issued by the chancellor, even if filed, were considered to be “in the bosom of the court,” and could be changed, altered, withdrawn or vacated by the court at any time up to the close of the term, either on its own motion, or on motion of any party to the suit. The request to the court during the term was a “motion for rehearing,” and some of the bases mentioned by Griffith are: on the court’s on motion to vacate or modify its decree; reargument to point out an overlooked point of law; urging a different result based on something in evidence that the court failed to mention; and newly-discovered evidence (now an MRCP 60 matter).

So “the reasons for which rehearings have heretofore been granted in suits in equity in the courts of Mississippi” include not merely a naked request for a new trial, but also a request for the chancellor to go back and study the evidence and the law again, to see whether perhaps a different result would have been reached. The judge could then, during the term, alter the decree or order, or withdraw it and direct a new trial. 

That smells a lot like both reconsideration on the one hand, and rehearing on the other.  

Even today in chancery court, lawyers may know under the rules that they are asking for rehearing, but they know, too, that they are asking for reconsideration. Out of curiosity, I asked my staff attorney to pull up the R59 motions that had been filed in the preceding year. Of the dozens filed, only a couple were styled or even asked for “rehearing.” Nearly every one was styled “Motion for Reconsideration,” or asked for reconsideration. That’s reconsideration, not rehearing.

Thus, I was sort of right, and sort of wrong in response to Judge Griffis. Right in the sense that the common usage is to call a R59 motion a request for reconsideration, and to ask for reconsideration. Wrong because the rule and pre-rule practice call for rehearing.

It’s not a big deal because the MSSC said many years ago after the MRCP went into effect that judges are to look to the substance of the motion, and not the form, and MRCP 8(f) mandates that pleadings be construed so as to do “substantial justice.” Thus, what you call the motion, and whether you ask for rehearing or reconsideration, is less important than clearly invoking MRCP 59.

Most “Motions for Reconsideration” are just that. They ask the court, “Please, take a look at this one more time and, please, change your mind.” That’s not in keeping with the rehearing language of R59, but it definitely captures what the pre-rules practice was. As the COA said in Brown v. Weatherspoon, which is a R60 case, but the principle is the same, “Finality should yield to fairness.”

Don’t worry too much about getting caught with your proverbial pants down in an appeal because you called your R59 motion one for reconsideration, rather than rehearing. It appears that reconsideration is the vogue word for our appellate judges, too … 

  • Check this out from the COA decision in Estate of Ristroph v. Ristroph, decided in January, 2013: “John then filed a motion to reconsider under Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 59. While awaiting the chancellor’s decision on John’s Rule 59 motion, Paul filed a motion for summary judgment with respect to the other alleged inter vivos gifts, contending these claims were also time-barred under section 15-1-49. The chancellor denied John’s motion to reconsider the timeliness of his petition to set aside the warranty deed, and John appealed the denial to the Mississippi Supreme Court.”
  • And this from the COA in Rodgers v. Moore, et al., decided in November, 2012: “According to the briefs, plaintiffs filed a motion to reconsider the dismissal with the chancery court. The chancery court entered an order on March 8, 2007, denying the motion to reconsider.”

I am sure there are more, but you get the picture.

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