OF JUDGMENT: 07/20/2015
RIVER COUNTY CHANCERY COURT, HON. DAWN H. BEAM.
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANTS: JOHN R. REEVES JOHN JUSTIN KING.
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES: SAMUEL STEVEN MCHARD MARCUS ALAN
This appeal involves a long-running boundary dispute between
neighbors in Pearl River County. In 2010, this Court
unanimously affirmed the judgment of the chancery court
establishing the boundary between the property of Roy and
Donna McDonald and Donna's mother, Ruth Belton
(collectively, "the McDonalds"), and the property
of Kenneth and Carolyn Moore. Moore v. McDonald, 47
So.3d 1186, 1190 (¶17) (Miss. Ct. App. 2010). The
judgment also enjoined the Moores from disturbing the
McDonalds' peaceful and quiet enjoyment of their
property. In 2013, the Moores willfully violated that
injunction by ignoring the boundary established by the
judgment; using a tractor and auger to put fenceposts in the
McDonalds' driveway, which rendered the driveway
impassable and forced the McDonalds to install a new gate to
access their land from another road; tearing down the
McDonalds' fence; uprooting or cutting down numerous
large crepe myrtle trees on the McDonalds' property;
littering the McDonalds' property with debris; and
threatening, intimidating, and bullying Donna McDonald. The
McDonalds filed a petition for contempt and other relief, and
the chancellor found that the Moores were in contempt and
awarded the McDonalds compensatory damages, attorneys'
fees and expenses, and $10, 000 in punitive damages.
On appeal, the Moores do not dispute any of the
chancellor's findings. Nor do they dispute that their
conduct was malicious and outrageous such that it was
appropriate for the court to assess punitive damages and
attorneys' fees. They argue that the chancellor erred by
awarding the McDonalds attorneys' fees incurred in
connection with the Moores' bankruptcy case and
attorneys' fees for the work of more than one lawyer.
They also argue that the punitive award exceeds two percent
of their net worth, in violation of Mississippi Code
Annotated section 11-1-65(3) (Rev. 2014). As we explain
below, the chancellor's award of attorneys' fees was
proper, and the Moores are not entitled to the benefit of the
statutory cap on punitive damages because they waived the
issue and failed to present any credible evidence of their
net worth. Therefore, we affirm.
The Moores do not challenge any of the chancellor's
factual findings, and their brief includes virtually no
discussion of the facts or procedural history of the case;
accordingly, we discuss the facts and proceedings below only
to the extent necessary to address the Moores' three
issues on appeal.
Attorneys' Fees Related to the Moores'
On May 16, 2014, the McDonalds filed a motion for summary
judgment supported by exhibits and affidavits. Eleven days
later, the Moores filed for bankruptcy. As a result, all
proceedings in the chancery court were stayed and the
impending trial was cancelled. Counsel for the McDonalds
entered an appearance in the bankruptcy case and filed an
adversary complaint to preserve the McDonalds' claim
against the Moores. See 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(6)
(2012) (providing that a debt for "willful and malicious
injury" to the person or property of another is not
dischargeable in bankruptcy). The McDonalds' counsel also
attended the meeting of creditors and filed a motion for
sanctions based on the Moores' alleged misrepresentations
in the bankruptcy case. In response to hearing notices in the
McDonalds' adversary proceeding, the Moores appeared
before the bankruptcy court and asked that their bankruptcy
petition be dismissed. The court granted their request, which
permitted the chancery case to proceed.
The chancellor found "that the Moores intentionally
stalled [the chancery] action by filing [a petition for]
bankruptcy which was dismissed after considerable time and
effort by [counsel for the McDonalds]." The chancellor
therefore found that "attorney time and expenses
expended . . . in the Moore bankruptcy case were properly
incurred on behalf of the McDonalds and should be awarded as
part of the fees and costs awarded in this case." On
appeal, the Moores do not challenge the chancellor's
factual basis for awarding attorneys' fees incurred in
connection with the bankruptcy case. The Moores' only
argument is that "[t]he Pearl River County Chancery
Court was not the appropriate forum to request attorneys'
fees for work related to the bankruptcy." They argue
that approximately $3, 975 in fees that the McDonalds
incurred related to the bankruptcy proceeding could only be
recovered in the bankruptcy court.
The Moores' argument is without merit. The Moores do not
dispute that the McDonalds were entitled to an award of
attorneys' fees, and they cite no authority for their
argument that such fees are not recoverable simply because
they were incurred in a related bankruptcy proceeding.
Although not directly on point, our Supreme Court recently
held that a state court can award fees incurred in federal
court in connection with a motion to remand the case to state
court. See O.D. v. Dillard, 177 So.3d 175, 189
(¶44) (Miss. 2015). In addition, other courts have held
that a state court may award attorneys' fees incurred in
connection with a related bankruptcy proceeding. See
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