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Baggett v. Baggett

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

November 7, 2017

SONJA RENEE BAGGETT APPELLANT
v.
JAMES DARRELL BAGGETT APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 03/08/2016

         COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: WAYNE COUNTY CHANCERY COURT HON. FRANKLIN C. MCKENZIE JR. TRIAL JUDGE

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: CAROL ANN ESTES BUSTIN.

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: RISHER GRANTHAM CAVES TERRY L. CAVES.

         EN BANC.

          IRVING, P.J.

         ¶1. Renee Baggett filed a complaint for divorce from her husband James Baggett on the bases of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment and habitual drunkenness, or, alternatively, irreconcilable differences. The Chancery Court of Wayne County dismissed her complaint after a short trial. Renee appeals, asserting that the chancery court erred in (1) dismissing her complaint in light of the overwhelming weight of the evidence proving her alleged grounds for divorce, (2) failing to make findings of fact and conclusions of law, and (3) excluding the proffered testimony of Dr. Bharat Patel. We affirm.

         FACTS

         ¶2. James and Renee married on August 27, 1998. The couple raised Renee's two children. At the time that Renee filed her complaint, the couple had recently adopted Renee's grandchild and were raising him.

         ¶3. For fourteen years prior to trial, James worked as an oil-rig manager, which required him to work away from home for two weeks, then stay home for two weeks. Both Renee and James testified that he drank alcohol when he was home. When asked at trial if James "got drunk every[ ]day," Renee replied, "I guess with him there's stages of drunkenness . . . . He can drink a lot of alcohol[,] and some people wouldn't even think he's drunk." Renee also testified that James's behavior would change depending on how much he had had to drink. Renee stated that she "begged [James] to quit drinking over twenty years," and that while he might sometimes quit for months, he would always begin drinking again. James testified that Renee knew before they married that he drank alcohol-as the couple had dated for several years and lived together prior to marrying-and she married him anyway. Renee responded that she and James had discussed his drinking prior to their marriage, and that she had relied on James's assertions that he hoped to stop drinking once he settled down and had a family.

         ¶4. Both Renee and James testified that they had separated on multiple occasions throughout the marriage. However, until their most recent separation, they had always reconciled, even after James was arrested and pleaded guilty to domestic violence in August 2006. At trial, Renee and James presented differing versions of the events leading to James's arrest: Renee asserted that James punched her in the face and beat her until the police came, while James testified that he merely grabbed Renee. Renee stated that, in addition to this particular incident, James would often push or grab her by her arms or clothes. Renee also testified that James was emotionally abusive, in that he would scream at her, call her names, and make derogatory comments.

         ¶5. Renee filed her complaint for divorce on June 25, 2015, on the grounds previously stated. James initially filed a counterclaim, in which he asserted his own grounds for divorce; however, he later withdrew his counterclaim. Trial was conducted before the chancery court, during which James, Renee, and six other witnesses-Patsy Harper (Renee's mother), Benton Harper (Renee's stepfather), Brittany Welborn (Renee's daughter), and three of Renee's friends: Michelle Collins, Felicia Sellers, and Sandy Toombs-testified.

         ¶6. Patsy and Benton both testified that they had lived with James and Renee for about a year in 2014; however, they presented differing accounts of James and Renee's marriage: Patsy testified that, while she lived at the home, she observed that James was easily angered and that he was drunk once or twice in the two-week spans that he lived at home; however, Benton testified that he did not see anything unusual with James and Renee's marriage. Brittany, who lived in a mobile home on James and Renee's property, corroborated Patsy's statement that James was easily angered, testifying that he "would be normal for a minute and then you never knew when . . . he was gonna wig out on you. . . . [Y]ou may be having a normal conversation and the next thing you know, he - - one of us has said something wrong or it was taken the wrong way." Brittany further testified that she had observed James drink and get drunk a "[c]ouple nights a week." Brittany also testified that while she had never personally observed physical violence between James and Renee, on the date of the August 2006 domestic-violence incident, she had personally observed that "the whole left side of [Renee's] face was bruised."

         ¶7. Michelle lived with Renee and James from about 2003 to 2005; she testified that, at the time of trial, she lived next door to Renee and saw her nearly every day. However, she had not been inside Renee and James's home on a regular basis "in the last few years." While she had never seen James hit Renee, she had "seen him push her and be in her face, [and] cuss her in front of several people." Michelle also testified that she had seen Renee with a "horrific black eye."[1] Michelle maintained that James drank "[a]s much as he could hold" every day, and that he would begin drinking at least by lunch. Michelle testified that she had seen him leave the house and come home drunk "[m]any times." Felicia and Sandy testified that Renee and James argued, and that Renee had expressed concern about James's drinking. Felicia further testified that Renee had told her about James inflicting physical violence on her, but that she had never witnessed Renee with any injuries. Several witnesses-including Patsy, Michelle, and Renee-testified that James's conduct had negatively impacted Renee's mental health.

         ¶8. At the end of the trial, Renee's counsel sought to introduce the deposition of Dr. Patel.[2] James objected on the basis that Renee had only given notice of the deposition to opposing counsel on January 25, 2016, when the deposition itself was to take place on January 26, 2016. Due to such short notice, James's counsel had been unable to attend the deposition. The chancellor denied Renee's ...


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