OF JUDGMENT: 02/25/2016
COUNTY CHANCERY COURT, SECOND JUDICIAL DISTRICT HON. FRANKLIN
C. MCKENZIE JR. JUDGE
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANTS: RISHER GRANTHAM CAVES TERRY L.
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEES: P. SHAWN HARRIS
GRIFFIS, P.J., WILSON AND WESTBROOKS, JJ.
The Jones County Chancery Court terminated the parental
rights of the natural mother and adjudicated custody of the
minor child between the natural father and the maternal
grandparents. The natural father was awarded custody. The
maternal grandparents appeal.
At a young age, Tiffany Kay Brown was diagnosed with bipolar
disorder and a learning disability. She was placed into the
special-education program in elementary school. Tiffany was
alleged to have behavioral problems and to be easily
influenced by others. When she was fifteen years old her
behavior became too rebellious for her mother and stepfather,
Linda Kaye and Jerry Ruben Sumrall. In 2006, Tiffany was sent
to live with a relative. She moved from her parents' home
in Sandersville to Carthage, where she resided with her
paternal aunt and her aunt's live-in boyfriend, Timothy
Jerrels. The living arrangement only lasted a short time.
Tiffany returned to her home in Sandersville after she
alleged that Timothy had displayed sexually inappropriate
behavior toward her.
Tiffany remained in Sandersville until 2008, when she
returned to Carthage to live with her biological father. At
the age of seventeen, she dropped out of high school. While
living in her father's home, Tiffany began a sexual
relationship with Timothy. The relationship was kept secret.
Notably, Timothy is twenty-one years older than Tiffany.
Tiffany and Timothy maintained an on-and-off relationship for
three years. In 2011, Tiffany became pregnant. While she was
in the early stages of her pregnancy, Tiffany moved back to
Sandersville to live with her parents.
She remained in the Sumralls' home until after she gave
birth to Trey Brown in August 2012. Throughout the pregnancy
and after Trey's birth, Tiffany refused to divulge the
identity of the child's father. No father was listed on
Trey's birth certificate. When Trey was just a few months
old, Tiffany left him with the Sumralls and moved back to
Carthage with her aunt and Timothy. Eventually, Tiffany and
Timothy moved into a home of their own in Carthage. The
Sumralls became the sole caretakers of Trey, and he remained
exclusively in their home for the first year of his life.
In 2013, the Sumralls filed a petition to adopt Trey. Tiffany
formally appeared for the hearing and joined in the action.
She signed a waiver of process and consented to the adoption.
A summons was issued for the unknown biological father of
Trey. Process by publication ran in a Jones County newspaper.
The adoption hearing was set for August 14, 2013.
On the day of the adoption hearing, Tiffany and Timothy
appeared in court together. Timothy declared himself the
father of Trey and contested the adoption. DNA test results
confirmed that Timothy was Trey's natural father. The
chancellor entered an order joining Timothy to the adoption
action, and he appointed a guardian ad litem (GAL). Timothy
was also granted supervised visitation with the child.
Timothy then filed a petition for custody of Trey on March
17, 2015, and the Sumralls filed a counterclaim for custody
on April 21, 2015.
This case was initially pled as a petition for adoption.
However, it was ultimately litigated as a custody action
between the Sumralls and Timothy. During the trial, several
witnesses and the GAL testified. In his final judgment, the
chancellor ruled that Timothy and the Sumralls would share
joint legal and physical custody of Trey, until the child
reached school age. Timothy and the Sumralls each received
weekly visitation. Once Trey reached compulsory school age,
the joint-custody arrangement would cease. Timothy would then
assume full physical and legal custody of Trey, and the
Sumralls would be awarded visitation every first and third
weekend of each month. The Sumralls appeal the
"The standard of review in child[-]custody cases is
limited." Floyd v. Floyd, 949 So.2d 26, 28
(¶5) (Miss. 2007). "In child-custody cases, this
[C]ourt will only reverse the chancellor's judgment in
two circumstances - (1) [his] factual findings are manifestly
wrong or clearly erroneous, or (2) [he] applied an improper
legal standard." Wilson v. Davis, 111 So.3d
1280, 1282 (¶7) (Miss. Ct. App. 2013) (citation omitted)
(reversed in part on other grounds). "We will examine
the case de novo, however, when it is clear that the chancery
court's decision resulted from a misunderstanding of the
controlling law or was based on a substantially erroneous
view of the law." R.L. v. G.F., 973 So.2d 322,
324 (¶5) (Miss. Ct. App. 2008).
Whether the chancellor erred by omitting a summary of the
GAL's recommendation and the reasons to reject
The Sumralls first argue that the chancellor abused his
discretion by omitting a summary of the GAL's
recommendation and his reasons for rejecting the
recommendation. They assert that because this case initially
began as a termination-of-parental-rights and adoption case,
and because they raised allegations of abuse or neglect
against the natural father, the appointment of a GAL was
mandatory. As such, the Sumralls argue that the chancellor
was required to include the summary and give reasons to
reject the GAL's recommendation, because the ruling was
allegedly contrary to the recommendation. They assert that
the chancellor's deviation from the GAL's
recommendation that they receive custody of Trey was error.
Timothy contends that the GAL's initial recommendation,
in favor of the Sumralls, was later eliminated at trial. He
asserts that the chancellor heard testimony from the GAL and
cross-examined her regarding her recommendation. Timothy
further contends that the Sumralls' argument is not
factually based on the record. He argues that the GAL's
recommendation changed when she and the chancellor agreed
that the parties could share custody of Trey.
Timothy contends that the Sumralls' argument is without
merit because the GAL's recommendation and the
chancellor's ruling were ultimately the same. Therefore,
he argues there was no requirement that the chancellor
explain his reasons for rejecting the recommendation. He
further contends that any allegations of abuse or neglect by
the Sumralls were unfounded and without merit. He asserts
that there was no testimony of improper behavior. Further, he
claims that the GAL did not address any allegations related
to abuse or neglect when she made her recommendations. The
Sumralls argue that the agreement between the chancellor and
the GAL did not relieve the chancellor from his duty to
provide the summary and reasons for rejecting the
This Court has previously held that "Mississippi law
mandates a [GAL] be appointed to protect the interest of
children in termination-of-parental-rights cases."
Farthing v. McGee, 158 So.3d 1223, 1224 (¶1)
(Miss. Ct. App. 2015) (citing Miss. Code Ann. § 93-15-
107) (Rev. 2013)). "[W]hen deciding if termination is
proper, chancellors, in their findings of fact, must
include at least a summary of the GAL's
recommendations." Id. (citation and internal
quotation marks omitted). "Though chancellors are not