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Little v. Richey

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

November 7, 2017

ANTHONY LITTLE APPELLANT
v.
DONALD RICHEY AND NANCY L. RICHEY APPELLEES

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 09/01/2016

         MONROE COUNTY CHANCERY COURT HON. JACQUELINE ESTES MASK

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: SARAH CLINE STEVENS

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES: L. BRADLEY DILLARD JOHN M. CREEKMORE

          BEFORE GRIFFIS, P.J., CARLTON AND GREENLEE, JJ.

          CARLTON, J.

         ¶1. After a trial held on June 30, 2016, the Monroe County Chancery Court granted Donald and Nancy Richey's complaint seeking to quiet and confirm title and asserting a claim of adverse possession against Anthony Little.

         ¶2. Anthony now appeals, asserting the following assignments of error: (1) the trial court abused its discretion in denying his motion for additional time to conduct discovery; (2) the Richeys failed to prove each element of their adverse-possession claim by clear and convincing evidence; and (3) the trial court abused its discretion in admitting the deposition of witness Sherry Bortz into evidence.

         ¶3. Finding no error, we affirm the trial court's judgment.

         FACTS

         ¶4. On January 26, 2011, Donald and Nancy filed a complaint in the Monroe County Chancery Court asserting a claim of adverse possession and seeking to quiet and confirm title to real property. The Richeys initially filed the complaint against Tim Little and any unknown persons having any legal or equitable interest in the real property located in Monroe County, Mississippi. The chancellor later granted the Richeys' motion to join Tim's son, Anthony Little, as a defendant. The agreed order granting the Richeys' motion to join Anthony as a defendant was executed by Bradley Dillard, counsel for the Richeys, and Timothy Ervin, counsel for Tim. The record shows that Timothy Ervin also signed the order as counsel for Anthony.

         ¶5. The chancellor held a trial on the matter on April 21, 2016. The chancellor dismissed Tim as a defendant due to the fact that he no longer owned the property in question. At that time, Anthony informed the chancellor that Ervin did not, and never had, represented him in the matter at issue. Anthony requested a continuance in order to retain additional counsel.

         ¶6. The chancellor granted the request and continued the case until June 30, 2016, so that Anthony could retain additional counsel. After moving the trial date to June 30, 2016, the chancellor cautioned Anthony:

[U]nless there is an emergency of some kind, there will not be a continuance, so you need to advise your attorney, if you hire one, of the court date so they will be available because we are going to get this case finalized within the next hopefully few weeks as soon as I check my schedule.

         ¶7. On June 16, 2016, two weeks before trial, Sarah Cline Stevens entered an appearance in the matter on behalf of Anthony and filed a motion for additional time to conduct discovery. The chancellor denied the motion.

         ¶8. After the trial, the chancellor entered her opinion and judgment on September 1, 2016, finding in favor of the Richeys as to their claim of adverse possession. Anthony now appeals.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶9. "This Court employs a limited standard of review when reviewing the decisions of a chancellor." Powell v. Meyer, 203 So. 3d 648, 652 (¶16) (Miss. Ct. App. 2016). We will only reverse a chancellor's determinations if "they were manifestly wrong, clearly erroneous, or . . . the chancellor applied an incorrect legal standard." Id.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Denial of Discovery

         ¶10. Anthony argues that the Richeys failed to properly and timely join him as a defendant in the present case. Anthony asserts that, as a result, the chancellor abused her discretion by allowing the case to proceed to trial without adequate time for him to conduct discovery. Anthony also alleges that the chancellor and counsel for the Richeys "coerced" Anthony into waiving his rights to discovery and time to prepare for a trial by soliciting a verbal waiver stipulating his submission to the jurisdiction of the court and waiving all rights to a continuance. Anthony argues that the inability to conduct discovery left him unable to defend himself against the Richeys' claim of adverse possession.

         ¶11. The Mississippi Supreme Court has held that "[t]he trial court has considerable discretion in matters relating to discovery and its order will not be disturbed unless there has been an abuse of that discretion." Strickland v. Estate of Broome, 179 So. 3d 1088');">179 So. 3d 1088, 1094 (¶19) (Miss. 2015); see also Blossom v. Blossom, 66 So. 3d 124, 126 (¶9) (Miss. 2011).

         ¶12. The record reflects that during Tim and Anthony's depositions, the Richeys discovered that Anthony, and not Tim, now constituted the record owner of the property at issue. As a result, the Richeys filed a motion to join Anthony in the action "so that a full adjudication in this cause would be binding on him as well as the other parties." On January 18, 2013, the chancellor granted the Richeys' motion to join Anthony as a defendant. The order granting the motion reflects that Anthony had no objection to the motion. The order also states that Anthony waived service of a summons and complaint on him in the matter. The order provides, in full:

Before the court is a Motion for Joinder of Party filed by [the Richeys], and after having duly considered said Motion and having been advised that attorney Tim Ervin has no objection, nor does proposed Defendant Anthony Little have any objection to same, the court hereby finds that said Motion for Joinder of Party is hereby well taken and should be granted. It is, therefore,
ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that Anthony Little is hereby joined as a party Defendant in this cause, waiving service of a Summons and ...

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