BEFORE WALKER, SULLIVAN AND ANDERSON
ANDERSON, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:
This is an appeal from a decree of the Chancery Court of Benton County removing the appellant, Matthew Harris, from the office of conservator of the estate of his aunt, Susie Alice Harris.
Susie Alice Harris (known as "Miss Susie") is an elderly woman believed to be about ninety years of age, who lives alone at her home in rural Benton County. She never married and has neither children nor living siblings. On September 3, 1982, her nephew Matthew Harris and three of his brothers filed a petition in the Chancery Court of Benton County. Harris lives in Memphis, as do his brothers (except for one who lives in Millington, TN). The petition alleged that Miss Susie was incapable of managing her estate by reason of advanced age and mental weakness.
The court appointed Jackie Tatum, an attorney in Ripley, as guardian ad litem for Miss Susie. A hearing on the petition was held on February 8, 1983. The chancellor found that Miss Susie was incapable of administering her estate and that a conservator was necessary. He appointed Matthew Harris to that position.
Soon afterwards, trouble began. Miss Susie complained to visitors and county officials that Matthew Harris seldom visited her, that her bills were remaining unpaid and that she had little money. Visitors also reported that Miss Susie had little food in the house, that the house and yard were generally in a run-down condition, and that the house was infested with mice. On October 13, 1983, a petition was filed in the Chancery Court of Benton County by Jackie Tatum and Bonnie King, a nurse employed by the Benton County Board of Health. It enumerated the complaints mentioned above, and also charged that Harris had failed to file his inventory as required, and his attorney Lee Calvin Buckley had refused to talk with the petitioners about the needs of Miss Susie. The petition prayed that Matthew Harris be removed as conservator and Bonnie King be appointed in his stead. Harris answered, contending that the petitioners lacked standing and insisting that he had diligently attempted to perform his duties, and that his shortcoming were due to the opposition of Miss Susie and others who had not been in favor of his appointment.
The cause was heard on January 5, 1984. The chancellor issued an opinion finding it in the best interest of Miss Susie to have Matthew Harris removed as conservator. Bonnie King was appointed to succeed him. The court granted Harris leave to appeal, but without supersedeas. Harris filed and presented his final accounting, and the chancellor issued a decree discharging him as conservator on March 9, 1984. Harris' appeal of his removal is now before this Court. On appeal Harris contends that Bonnie King and Jackie Tatum had no standing to petition for his removal. As both parties recognize, Barney v. Barney, 203 Miss. 228, 33 So.
2d 823 (1948), controls as to this issue. Appellant relies on language in Barney stating that:
we take it as a proposition which can scarcely be disputed that the person who in his own name would petition to have a guardian in an estate removed must be a person who has a legitimate interest present or prospective in that estate, or who has some personal responsibility as regards the estate or the care or welfare of the ward. (203 Miss. at 230, 33 So.2d at 824).
However, it is evident that the Court is here speaking of a petition as of right. The sentence just quoted is immediately followed by another referring to the receipt of such petitions as a matter of the chancellor's discretion.
And while it may be true that the chancellor, as superior guardian, might take notice of petitions by strangers in such cases as a matter of information to him openly tendered, they [the petitioners] would have no privilege of appeal if he should refuse to do so. (203 Miss. at 230, 33 So.2d at 824).
Thus, it seems clear that under Mississippi law the receipt of such petitions is within the chancellor's discretion. The record before this Court contains nothing that would justify a finding that the chancellor abused his discretion in this regard. On the contrary, the substantial involvement of both Jackie Tatum and Bonnie King with Miss Susie is clear from the record.
Harris also argues that there was no sufficient cause for removing him as conservator, and that the chancellor abused his discretion by doing so. This argument need not detain us. In Mississippi, the decision as to the removal of a conservator is within the chancellor's sound discretion, and his decision will not be disturbed on appeal unless it is manifest that he abused that discretion. Conner v. Polk, 161 Miss. 34, 133 So.2d 604 (1931). In the present case, it is undisputed that the conservator failed to file an inventory as required. There was also ample evidence that the financial and material needs of the ward were being imperfectly served. The record before us furnishes no basis for saying that the chancellor abused his discretion. We affirm his decree as to the removal of the conservator.
Finally, Harris argues that the chancellor erred
in denying him an appeal with supersedeas. Because we are ruling against Harris on the merits, we could dispose of this case without discussing the supersedeas issue. But since the situation in the present case has the potential for recurring, we consider it expedient to address the issue in order to provide guidance for trial judges and chancellors in future cases in ...