DATE OF JUDGMENT: 01/17/96 TRIAL JUDGE: HON. WILLIAM HALE SINGLETARY COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: HINDS COUNTY CHANCERY COURT
Before: McMILLIN, P.j., King, And Payne, JJ.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: McMILLIN, P.j.
NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - OTHER
TRIAL COURT DISPOSITION: JUDGMENT IN THE AMOUNT OF $3,869.96 AND RULE 11 SANCTIONS
MOTION FOR REHEARING FILED:
¶1. This case arises out of a dispute between two factions of a church located in Hinds County known as the Seven Star M. B. Church. The factions are in a struggle for the right to control the assets and the operation of the church. For purposes of clarity, the two factions will be identified by the name of the apparent leader of each group, i.e., the McGriggs Faction and the Montgomery Faction.
¶2. This suit was commenced by the McGriggs Faction as a complaint seeking certain injunctive relief against the Montgomery Faction that would, if granted, have placed the McGriggs Faction in control of the church. The chancellor entered an ex parte temporary restraining order against the Montgomery Faction, the exact terms of which do not appear in the record now before us, and scheduled a hearing on the issue of whether to convert the restraining order into a preliminary injunction. No formal hearing was conducted on the date set by the chancellor. Instead, the parties appeared before the chancellor and entered into informal negotiations aimed at resolving their differences. The negotiations were not concluded at that time. The Montgomery Faction later claimed, and the chancellor apparently agreed with the assertion, that the parties had recessed their efforts only after the competing sides had agreed to certain temporary protocols in regard to church matters. It is alleged that, among other things, the competing factions agreed that no church funds would be disbursed by either faction except for the ordinary operating expenses of the church. These agreements were not memorialized in the court record by written order or otherwise.
¶3. Shortly thereafter, the McGriggs Faction, as plaintiffs, filed a notice of voluntary dismissal of the suit under Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(1)(i). That rule permits a plaintiff to unilaterally dismiss his suit "at any time before service by the adverse party of an answer or of a motion for summary judgment . . . ." Miss. R. Civ. P. 41(a)(1)(i). At the time the notice of dismissal was filed, the Montgomery Faction had filed neither an answer nor a motion for summary judgment. Nevertheless, the Montgomery Faction immediately filed a motion to reinstate the case, claiming that the McGriggs Faction's attempt to unilaterally dismiss the proceeding was an attempt to perpetrate a fraud upon them and the court and that the McGriggs Faction had violated the terms of the interim agreement by using church funds in the amount of $3,869.96 to pay their attorney's fees. The chancellor found that, in the posture of the case at the time the McGriggs Faction filed the notice of dismissal, it would be unfairly prejudicial to allow the McGriggs Faction to drop the suit. The chancellor therefore ordered the case reinstated and directed the McGriggs Faction and their attorney to restore the previously-disbursed funds to the church accounts. The McGriggs Faction filed a motion asking the chancellor to reconsider his ruling or, in the alternative, to stay its enforcement pending an appeal. The chancellor denied relief on this motion and the McGriggs Faction then filed a notice of appeal raising as the sole issue the chancellor's authority to reinstate a case voluntarily dismissed under Rule 41(a)(1)(i).
I. The Interlocutory Nature of this Appeal
¶4. We note, at the outset of our consideration of this matter, that the McGriggs Faction could not take an appeal from the chancellor's reinstatement order as a matter of right. Assuming the order was within the power of the chancellor, it represented a new beginning of this litigation at the trial level rather than its Conclusion. This raises a serious question of our authority to reach the merits of this appeal.
¶5. This Court acknowledges the proposition that, in the normal case, only final judgments at the trial court level may be the subject of an appeal. Donald v. Reeves Transp. Co., 538 So. 2d 1191, 1194 (Miss. 1989). Nevertheless, the Mississippi Supreme Court has established a procedure whereby a litigant may petition for appellate review of a trial court's interlocutory ruling. See Miss. R. App. P. 5. The supreme court has also, on one occasion, dealt with a situation where a litigant, apparently misconstruing the finality of the trial court's ruling, attempted to appeal the order without first obtaining the supreme court's permission under Rule 5. See Keyes v. State, 1998 WL 45208 at *3 (Miss. Feb. 5, 1998). In the Keyes case, the court concluded that it would advance the ends of Justice to reach the merits of the appeal and exercised its authority under Mississippi Rule of Appellate Procedure 2 to suspend the appellate rules and decide the case.
¶6. We find ourselves in a somewhat different position because of the statutory scheme under which this Court operates. We do not entertain appeals directly from the trial courts. Rather, our jurisdiction is limited to those cases that are assigned to us for decision by the supreme court. Miss. Code Ann. § 9-4-3 (Supp. 1997). Therefore, Rule 5 does not-and ...