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Whippet v. Allen

February 06, 1998

MATTYE WHIPPET, APPELLANT
v.
BENNIE C. ALLEN, APPELLEE



DATE OF JUDGMENT: 3/20/95 TRIAL JUDGE: HON. ISADORE W. PATRICK JR. COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: SHARKEY COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT

NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - CIVIL PROCEDURE TRIAL COURT DISPOSITION: CIRCUIT COURT EVICTED APPELLANT FROM HOME SHE UNLAWFULLY OCCUPIED. DISPOSITION REVERSED AND DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE - 1/27/98 MOTION FOR REHEARING FILED: CERTIORARI FILED: MANDATE ISSUED:

Before Thomas, P.j., Herring, And Hinkebein, JJ.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hinkebein, J., For The Court:

Mattye Whippet [hereinafter Mrs. Whippet] appeals from the Sharkey County Circuit Court's affirmance of the Sharkey County Justice Court's judgment of ejection, whereby she was ordered to remove herself and her personal property from the real property in which Bennie C. Allen [hereinafter Mrs. Allen] held a life estate. Aggrieved by the judgment of the circuit court Mrs. Whippet makes the following assignments of error:

I. WHETHER THE LOWER COURT ERRED IN ITS FINDINGS EJECTING MATTYE WHIPPET FROM HER HOME?

II. WHETHER APPELLANT MATTYE WHIPPET PROVED ADVERSE POSSESSION AS A VALID DEFENSE TO THE EJECTMENT ACTION FILED AGAINST HER?

III. WHETHER APPELLANT MATTYE WHIPPET PROVED BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT THAT SHE GAVE ACTUAL NOTICE TO APPELLEE BENNIE C. ALLEN'S LATE HUSBAND, BENNIE LEE ALLEN, OF CLAIM OF OWNERSHIP TO THE HOUSE AND HOUSE SITE WHICH IS PART OF THE PARCEL MRS. WHIPPET DEEDED TO MR. ALLEN ON SEPTEMBER 23, 1980?

IV. WHETHER THE LOWER COURT ERRED PROCEDURALLY IN MAKING AN AGREEMENT OF AN OUTSIDER, NOT A PARTY TO THE ACTION, PART OF ITS RULING AND ORDER WITHOUT PROOF NOR NOTIFICATION TO THE, APPELLANT AND ERRED FURTHER IN ITS FINDING AND RULING AFTER A RULE 52 AND 59 MOTION AND HEARING?

Mrs. Allen makes the following assignments of error on cross-appeal:

V. WHETHER THE CIRCUIT COURT ERRED IN FAILING TO DISMISS THE APPEAL FILED BY MATTYE WHIPPET ON FEBRUARY 8, 1993?

VI. WHETHER THE COURT SHOULD HAVE ASSESSED COSTS OF IMPROVEMENTS AGAINST APPELLEE WHEN SHE WAS NEITHER CONSULTED NOR REQUESTED SAID IMPROVEMENTS?

Because the circuit court was without subject matter jurisdiction to address this matter, we reverse its judgment and dismiss this proceeding without prejudice.

FACTS

To effectuate a division of her parent's farm among herself and five other siblings, in 1980 Mrs. Whippet conveyed her interest in certain real property located in Sharkey County, Mississippi to her brother, Bennie Lee Allen [hereinafter Mr. Allen]. Mrs. Whippet had occupied the family home located on this property continuously since 1953. Mrs. Whippet continued to live in the home after her 1980 conveyance of the property. In exchange for conveying her interest in this property to Mr. Allen, Mrs. Whippet's siblings (including Mr. Allen) deeded her a different portion of the family farm. After the 1980 conveyance Mr. Allen and his wife also lived on the property at issue in a house trailer located immediately behind the home in which Mrs. Whippet continued to reside.

Mr. Allen died on March 15, 1992. Mr. Allen's will, accepted by the Sharkey County Chancery Court as a muniment of title, devised a life estate in the property to Mrs. Allen with the remainder interest passing to Mrs. Allen's son, Charlie Lee Scott. At some point after Mr. Allen's will was probated relations between Mrs. Whippet and Mrs. Allen became strained. Mrs. Allen subsequently instituted an ejectment action in the Sharkey County Justice Court to compel Mrs. Whippet to vacate the property at issue. Mrs. Whippet raised adverse possession as an affirmative defense to the ejectment action. The Justice court, however, rejected Mrs. Whippet's claim of adverse possession and issued a judgment of ejection giving her sixty days to vacate the property. Mrs. Whippet appealed this decision to the Sharkey County Circuit Court, which also rejected her claim of adverse possession and affirmed the justice court's decision. It is from the circuit court's judgment that the instant appeal is taken.

ANALYSIS

I. THE CIRCUIT COURT'S LACK OF SUBJECT MATTER JURISDICTION TO ENTERTAIN THIS MATTER ON APPEAL FROM THE JUSTICE COURT.

Whether raised by the parties or not, this Court is required to note its own lack of jurisdiction. Michael v. Michael, 650 So. 2d 469, 471 (Miss. 1995). Under Mississippi's system of courts, "the jurisdiction to make a conclusive and final adjudication of title to land rests alone with the circuit and chancery courts, and now to a limited extent with the county courts." McCoy v. McRae, 37 So. 2d 353, 356 (Miss. 1948) (citing Vansant v. Dodds, 145 So. 613, 614 (Miss. 1933)). Furthermore, Section 9-11-9 of the Mississippi Code (which details the jurisdiction of Justice courts) states only that Justice courts have jurisdiction for "the recovery of debts or damages or personal property . . . ." Miss. Code Ann. § 9-11-9 (Rev. 1991). Neither this nor any other section of the Mississippi Code gives Justice courts subject matter jurisdiction over ejectment actions. Because the justice court had no subject matter jurisdiction to entertain the ejectment action, the circuit court was likewise without jurisdiction. See Standard Fin. Corp. v. Breland, 163 So. 2d 232, 236 (Miss. 1964) (holding that where Justice court had no jurisdiction over matter circuit court had no jurisdiction on appeal); Jordan v. City of West Point, 75 So. 2d 465,465 (Miss. 1954) (stating that "f Justice of the peace has no jurisdiction, the circuit court acquires none on appeal."). Accordingly, we must reverse and dismiss this case without prejudice.

Regarding actions for the possession of real property, the Mississippi Supreme Court has held that: when the right to possession is dependent upon title or ownership and title or ownership is the issue upon which the right to possession has actually turned, then the judgment for the landlord is as fully conclusive upon the issue of title or ownership as would be the same determination in any other court of competent jurisdiction.

Vansant v. Dodds, 145 So. at 356 (citing Fair v. Dickerson, 144 So. 238, 239 (Miss. 1932)). In McCoy v. McRae, 37 So. 2d 353, 355 (Miss. 1948) our supreme court reiterated its decisions in Vansant and Fair, again holding that only circuit, chancery, and county courts have the power to adjudicate title to land, and then only when exercising original jurisdiction over such matters. McCoy, 37 So. 2d at 356. In McCoy the court reversed and dismissed without prejudice a possessory action in which the Justice court had attempted to adjudicate title to real property. Id. at 357. The court concluded that the circuit court was without jurisdiction to hear such an appeal because it "would have only such jurisdiction as was vested in the . . . court from which the appeal was taken." Id. at 356. Because the Justice court was without subject matter jurisdiction to make a conclusive and final adjudication of title to land, the circuit court was also without jurisdiction to rule upon this issue. See Standard Fin. Corp. v. Breland, 163 So. 2d 232, 236 (Miss. 1964) (holding that where Justice court had no jurisdiction over matter circuit court had no jurisdiction on appeal); Jordan v. City of West Point, 75 So. 2d 465,465 (Miss. 1954) (stating that "f Justice of the peace has no jurisdiction, the circuit court acquires none on appeal.").

As in the McCoy case, under the facts at bar the circuit court should have dismissed the appeal from Justice court due to a lack of subject matter jurisdiction. While it is true that the Justice court had subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate which party was entitled to immediate possession of the disputed property (i.e. an unlawful entry and detainer claim), this was not the issue pled to or considered by the justice court. Rather than merely determining who was entitled to immediate possession of the property, we interpret the Justice court's consideration and ultimate Disposition of Mrs. Whippet's adverse possession claim to be an attempt at a final adjudication of title to real property - - an undertaking which it had no subject matter jurisdiction to entertain. Despite our agreement with the circuit court's Disposition of the merits of Mrs. Whippet's claim of adverse possession, because the circuit court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to address this matter we must reverse its judgment and dismiss without prejudice.

THE JUDGMENT OF THE SHARKEY COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT IS REVERSED AND DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE. COSTS OF THIS APPEAL ARE ASSESSED EQUALLY AGAINST THE APPELLANT AND THE APPELLEE.

THOMAS, P.J., COLEMAN, DIAZ, HERRING, AND KING, JJ., CONCUR.

HERRING, J., CONCURS WITH SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION JOINED BY THOMAS, P.J., HINKEBEIN, AND PAYNE, JJ. McMILLIN, P.J., DISSENTS WITH SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION ...


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