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Monaghan v. Autry

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

March 21, 2017

BROOKS MONAGHAN, M.D. APPELLANT
v.
ROBERT AUTRY JR. A/K/A ROBERT AUTRY APPELLEE

          Date of Judgment: 10/27/2015

         COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: ATTALA COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. JOSEPH H. LOPER JR. TRIAL JUDGE.

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: MICHAEL ALFRED JACOB II.

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: JOHN E. SHAW.

         EN BANC.

          CARLTON, J.

         ¶1. Dr. Brooks Monaghan appeals the judgment of the Attala County Circuit Court awarding Robert Autry Jr. (Autry Jr.) attorney's fees and expenses against Dr. Monaghan. Dr. Monaghan claims that the trial court erred in finding that Autry Jr. possessed standing to seek attorney's fees and expenses pursuant to Mississippi Code Annotated section 11-55-5 (Rev. 2012). Finding no error in the trial court's judgment, we affirm.

         FACTS

         ¶2. On March 10, 2015, Dr. Monaghan filed a complaint against "Robert Autry" (Autry) seeking payment for medical services provided to Autry by Dr. Monaghan, plus legal fees and court costs incurred as a result of Autry's failure to pay. The complaint listed a Kosciusko, Mississippi street address for Autry.

         ¶3. The record contains the affidavit of a process server, which reflects that, on April 23, 2015, the process server served Autry Jr. with a summons and complaint filed by Dr. Monaghan. The record reflects that process was personally served to a "Robert Autry" at the Kosciusko address listed in the complaint. The process server described the person served as a white male in his late fifties or sixties.

         ¶4. On April 25, 2015, Autry Jr.'s counsel sent a letter to Dr. Monaghan's counsel explaining that a mistake occurred. In the letter, Autry Jr.'s counsel provided that, in the course of conversations with collection agents, Autry Jr. was advised that the debtor Robert Autry lives in Walls, Mississippi, and not Kosciusko. Autry Jr.'s counsel also explained that the last four digits of the debtor Autry's Social Security number are different than the last four digits of Autry Jr.'s Social Security number. Finally, Autry Jr.'s counsel stated that the debtor Autry was born in 1968, more than twenty years after Autry Jr. was born.

         ¶5. On May 7, 2015, Autry Jr. filed an answer to Dr. Monaghan's complaint denying that he is the "Robert Autry" named as a defendant in the case. On August 21, 2015, Dr. Monaghan filed a motion to dismiss the case without prejudice.

         ¶6. On September 22, 2015, Autry Jr. filed a motion for attorney's fees and expenses incurred as a result of defending the matter. In his motion, Autry Jr. provided that, in January or February 2015, he received a letter from the law office of Michael Jacob II concerning the debt of a Robert Autry. Autry Jr. called the number provided in the letter and spoke to a woman at the law office. Autry Jr. stated he explained that he was not the Robert Autry who owed the debt and that he had never received medical services from Dr. Monaghan. Autry Jr. stated that the woman on the phone assured him that she would take care of the matter. Autry Jr. claims that he ultimately incurred $810 in attorney's fees as a result of defending the matter. As a result, Autry Jr. maintains that he is entitled to attorney's fees and costs under section 11-55-5, since Dr. Monaghan knew or should have known that Autry Jr. was not one of his patients.

         ¶7. Dr. Monaghan's attorney filed a response to Autry Jr.'s motion for attorney's fees and expenses, arguing that the subject lawsuit was filed against Autry, not Autry Jr., and since Autry Jr. was not a party to the lawsuit, he possessed no obligation or standing to file any pleadings with the court in relation to the lawsuit. Dr. Monaghan's attorney also asserted that, after discovering that the summons was served upon a nonparty, the lawsuit was dismissed.

         ¶8. The trial court heard arguments on the matter. After the hearing, the trial court stated:

My name is Joseph Loper[] Jr. But if I got a summons issued and delivered to me along with a complaint telling me I had to answer as Joseph Loper, I assure you, I would ...

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