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Graham v. Franks

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

January 10, 2017

ELIZABETH GRAHAM AND MATTHEW GRAHAM APPELLANTS
v.
JAMES R. "JAMIE" FRANKS, JR. AND WHEELER AND FRANKS LAW FIRM, P.C. APPELLEES

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 08/25/2015

         LEE COUNTY CHANCERY COURT HON. MILLS E. BARBEE JUDGE

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANTS: MICHAEL LEE DULANEY D. KIRK THARP

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES: ANDREW J. KILPATRICK JR. ASHLEY NOBILE LANE

         EN BANC.

          FAIR, J.

         ¶1. Elizabeth and Matthew Graham filed a "Complaint for Discovery, Accounting, and Return of Property" against their former attorney and his law firm. The chancellor recognized that the complaint sought information supporting claims of breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, conversion or replevin of property, "and/or additional relief in accord with the facts and circumstances at issue" but dismissed the complaint because "none of those causes of action are [actually] pled."

         ¶2. We conclude that this was in error - the complaint alleged that the Grahams were entitled to discovery and an accounting, both of which are viable causes of action in chancery court under Mississippi law. We reverse and remand for the chancery court to proceed on the complaint.

         FACTS

         ¶3. The complaint alleged that in 2013, the Grahams - Elizabeth and her son Matthew - retained the Wheeler and Franks Law Firm to defend Matthew in a criminal case. A contract for legal services was signed by Matthew, which provided for a fixed attorney's fee of $75, 000. Matthew also executed a power of attorney in favor of his mother, who signed a separate contract agreeing to pay the $75, 000 fee.

         ¶4. The Grahams allege that after executing the flat fee contract, attorney James Franks Jr. used threats of a negative outcome in Matthew's case to manipulate the Grahams into surrendering valuable property and making additional cash payments, in a total far in excess of the contract amount. After Elizabeth balked at Franks's demand that she sell him her business for much less than it was worth, she retained attorney M. Lee Dulaney. Matthew eventually also retained Dulaney as his attorney, but Franks refused Dulaney's various requests for documents and explanations of the services rendered and fees charged, as well as his demands that Franks return payments and property tendered in excess of the contract amount.

         ¶5. The Grahams then filed their "Complaint for Discovery, Accounting, and Return of Property." On Franks's motion, the chancellor dismissed the complaint under Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failing to state a cause of action against Franks. The chancery court found that the Grahams were seeking information to support claims of: (1) breach of contract; (2) breach of fiduciary duty; (3) conversion or replevin of property; and (4) additional relief, but that "none of those causes of action [were actually pleaded] in [the Grahams'] complaint." Rather, the chancellor held the Grahams' claims were "based entirely on alleged violations of the [Mississippi] Rules of Professional Conduct." And "such claims, standing alone, are insufficient to support the . . . requests for relief." The Grahams appeal.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶6. "Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) 'tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint, and provides that dismissal shall be granted to the moving party where the plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.'" Satterfield v. State, 158 So.3d 380, 382 (ΒΆ3) (Miss. Ct. App. 2015) (citation omitted). ...


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