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In re Estate of Elmore

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

November 6, 2014

IN THE MATTER OF THE ESTATE OF BOYCE ELMORE, DECEASED:
v.
CEDRIC WILLIAMS KATHLEEN ELMORE JAMISON, ADMINISTRATOR

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 07/06/2012.

COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: MARSHALL COUNTY CHANCERY COURT. TRIAL JUDGE: HON. EDWIN H. ROBERTS, JR.

FOR APPELLANT: R. BRADLEY BEST, EDWARD RUSSELL McNEES.

FOR APPELLEE: WILLIAM F. SCHNELLER, JR.

DICKINSON, PRESIDING JUSTICE. WALLER, C.J., LAMAR, KITCHENS, CHANDLER, PIERCE, KING AND COLEMAN,JJ., CONCUR. RANDOLPH, P.J., CONCURS IN RESULT ONLY WITHOUT SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION.

OPINION

Page 701

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI

NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - WILLS, TRUSTS, AND ESTATES

DICKINSON, PRESIDING JUSTICE

¶1. Boyce Elmore died on November 5, 2000. More than ten years later, Cedric Williams--claiming to be Boyce's son--filed a paternity action in an effort to recover under Boyce's estate. After the chancellor held that Cedric's action was timely, Boyce's estate appealed and the Court of Appeals reversed. We agree with the Court of Appeals that the chancellor's decision must be reversed, but for a different reason.

ANALYSIS

¶2. In Mississippi, a nonmarital child may file an action to establish paternity " within one (1) year after the death of the intestate or within ninety (90) days after the first publication of notice to creditors to present their claims, whichever is less . . . ." [1] Boyce's estate was not opened during the year following his death, so the statute's provision related to the publication of notice to creditors is not applicable.

¶3. Two years after Boyce's death, his wife Kathleen filed a petition for letters of administration in the Marshall County Chancery Court and was named administrator of Boyce's estate. Because she failed to provide Cedric notice of the estate, the chancellor held that Cedric's paternity

Page 702

action was timely filed because the estate's failure to provide him notice tolled the ninety-day limitation period.

¶4. The Court of Appeals stated it was " inclined to find that the one-year statute of limitations applie[d]," and that " Cedric is barred from seeking relief because he filed out-side of this time period . . . ." [2] But because the estate did not argue to the chancellor that the oneyear statute of limitations applied, the Court of Appeals refused to apply it. The Court cited the familiar rule that " 'a trial court will not be put in error on appeal for a matter not presented to it for decision.'" [3] However, the " matter" the estate raised was the running of the statute of limitations under Section 91-1-15. Thus, the matter was presented squarely for the chancellor's decision.

¶5. It is true that the estate's trial counsel mistakenly told the chancellor during oral arguments that he believed the ninety-day provision, rather than the one-year provision, applied. But how a statute of limitations applies is a legal question.[4] An attorney's opinion of the law expressed during an oral argument does not absolve the chancellor from his duty to apply the correct law and the plain language of the statute.[5]

CONCLUSION

¶6. Cedric's paternity action brought nearly eleven years after Boyce's death is time-barred. The chancery court erred in not granting Kathleen's motion to dismiss. The Court of Appeals correctly reversed the chancellor's judgment but failed to apply Section 91-1-15(3)(c)'s one-year period of limitations. Under Mississippi law, failure to bring a timely paternity claim bars the nonmarital child's right to inherit as an heir under our statute.

¶7. We affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals, although for different reasons, and likewise reverse and render the judgment of the Chancery Court of Marshall County.

¶8. THE JUDGMENT OF THE COURT OF APPEALS IS AFFIRMED. THE JUDGMENT OF THE CHANCERY COURT OF MARSHALL COUNTY IS REVERSED AND RENDERED.

WALLER, C.J., LAMAR, KITCHENS, CHANDLER, PIERCE, KING AND COLEMAN, JJ., CONCUR. RANDOLPH, P.J., CONCURS IN RESULT ONLY WITHOUT SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION.


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