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Ridgeway v. Ridgeway

Supreme Court of Mississippi

February 15, 2018

PATRICK RIDGEWAY
v.
LOUISE RIDGEWAY HOOKER PATRICK RIDGEWAY
v.
LOUISE RIDGEWAY HOOKER

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 05/05/2016

         CHANCERY COURT OF THE FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT OF HINDS COUNTY, HON. PATRICIA D. WISE

          TRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS: JOHN ROBERT WHITE, JR. ALAN M. PURDIE MARC E. BRAND MARK A. CHINN MICHAEL J. MALOUF DION JEFFERY SHANLEY

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: T. JACKSON LYONS MARC E. BRAND

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: JOHN ROBERT WHITE, JR. PAMELA GUREN BACH

          BEFORE WALLER, C.J., KITCHENS, P.J., AND BEAM, J.

          KITCHENS, PRESIDING JUSTICE

         ¶1. Patrick Ridgeway sought an irreconcilable differences divorce from Louise Ridgeway (now Louise Hooker). The parties entered into a written agreement, which the Chancery Court of the First Judicial District of Hinds County approved and memorialized in its Final Judgment of Divorce - Irreconcilable Differences. But after Hooker had filed a Petition for Citation of Contempt against Ridgeway approximately two years later, Ridgeway filed a Motion for Relief from Final Judgment of Divorce pursuant to Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(4), arguing that the judgment was void because the chancery court had lacked subject-matter and personal jurisdiction. The chancery court found that it had jurisdiction of the subject matter and of the parties and denied Ridgeway's Rule 60(b)(4) motion. Ridgeway appealed, and we affirm the decision of the chancery court.

         ¶2. While this case was pending on appeal, the parties filed various motions in the chancery court. The chancery court stayed "any and all matters pending before the Court in this cause." Ridgeway filed a petition for an interlocutory appeal in this Court, opposing the stay of all proceedings. In her response, Hooker agreed that the stay should be vacated and that interlocutory appeal should be granted. This Court granted interlocutory appeal and consolidated the two cases. Because the issue of the stay is mooted by this Court's affirmance of the chancery court's decision to deny Ridgeway's Rule 60(b)(4) motion, we dismiss the interlocutory appeal.

         STATEMENT OF THE FACTS

         ¶3. Ridgeway filed for divorce against Hooker on the ground of irreconcilable differences in the Chancery Court of the First Judicial District of Hinds County on February 6, 2013.The record does not establish that Hooker was served with process.

         ¶4. Thereafter, Hooker's attorney issued subpoenas duces tecum and caused them to be served on Metropolitan Bank and American Express Centurion Bank. On March 19, 2013, Hooker's attorney filed a notice that Ridgeway had been served with the First Set of Interrogatories and Requests for Production of Documents. Ridgeway's answers were filed on April 2, 2013. That same day, Ridgeway filed a motion to quash the subpoena duces tecum which had been served on American Express Centurion Bank. Hooker responded to the motion on April 23, 2013. An Agreed Order on Motion to Quash, which stated, inter alia, that "[t]his Court has jurisdiction of the parties and subject matter hereto, " reflects that Ridgeway withdrew his motion to quash.

         ¶5. In March 2014, Ridgeway and Hooker certified to the trial court that they had filed requisite financial disclosures in compliance with Uniform Chancery Court Rule 8.05. Ridgeway and Hooker entered a written agreement on March 25, 2014. Each page of the agreement was initialed by both parties, the agreement was signed by both parties, and it was notarized. The court entered a Judgment of Divorce - Irreconcilable Differences on April 8, 2014, approving the agreement and ordering the parties to comply with the terms of the agreement, which was incorporated into the judgment. The judgment was signed by Ridgeway and Hooker.

         ¶6. Hooker filed a Petition for Citation of Contempt on November 24, 2015, arguing that Ridgeway had failed to comply with specific terms of the Judgment of Divorce. Ridgeway noticed depositions and noticed service of discovery on Hooker. On December 9, 2015, the trial court entered a scheduling order which was amended on January 25, 2016. According to the amended scheduling order, trial was set for June 28-29, 2016. Hooker issued and served a First Set of Interrogatories and Requests for Production of Documents on December 22, 2015. On March 7, 2016, the parties signed an agreed order extending the deadline for filing motions to amend the pleadings to March 15, 2016. Hooker filed a Motion to Compel Discovery Responses on March 9, 2016.

         ¶7. Ridgeway then, on March 10, 2016, filed a Motion for Relief from Final Judgment of Divorce pursuant to Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(4). He argued that the "Judgment of Divorce is void because the Court lacked personal jurisdiction over the Defendant." Ridgeway argued that the chancery court had lacked personal jurisdiction because, when he filed his complaint for divorce on the ground of irreconcilable differences, he never served Hooker with process or obtained her waiver of service of process pursuant to Mississippi Code Section 93-5-2(1) (Rev. 2013).

         ¶8. Hooker responded that the Judgment of Divorce was valid because she had waived service of process by signing the Judgment of Divorce, by filing responsive pleadings without raising the issue of insufficiency of service of process, and by failing to object at any point during the litigation. She added that Ridgeway's marriage to another woman the same day of the entry of the Judgment of Divorce estopped his claim that the judgment was invalid.

         ¶9. A hearing was held on April 19, 2016. The chancellor entered an Order and Opinion on Plaintiff's Motion to Set Aside Judgment on May 5, 2016. She denied Ridgeway's motion because "[t]o allow Mr. Ridgeway to proceed improperly and then assert error when the subsequent circumstances benefit him is in direct contradiction with the purpose for which the rules were promulgated." She continued: "The Plaintiff who created the defect cannot now benefit from his errors wherever it suits him. The honorable Court will not endorse such actions and it further admonishes the Plaintiff for attempting to manipulate the rules in order to play 'gotcha' with the Defendant." The chancellor held that Hooker had waived any objection to the court's exercise of personal jurisdiction.

         ¶10. Aggrieved, Ridgeway timely filed a Notice of Appeal on June 2, 2016. On direct appeal, Ridgeway argues that the Judgment of Divorce on the ground of irreconcilable differences is void because the chancery court lacked subject-matter and personal jurisdiction. Hooker responds that the chancellor correctly found that the Judgment of Divorce was valid because Hooker waived her right to challenge jurisdiction by voluntarily appearing and participating in the proceedings. She continues that Ridgeway's jurisdictional argument is barred by the doctrine of judicial estoppel because it is inconsistent with the position he took at the time the parties entered the Judgment of Divorce, namely, that the chancery court had jurisdiction of the subject matter and the parties. Hooker reiterated the argument she made in the chancery court that Ridgeway's marriage to another woman on the day the Judgment of Divorce was entered estopped him from asserting its invalidity.

         ¶11. On June 8, 2016, Ridgeway filed a Motion to Stay Proceedings Pending Appeal in which he asked the chancery court to "stay the proceedings as to the issues set forth in the Petition for Contempt." The chancellor entered an Agreed Order of Continuance on June 20, 2016, which reflected the parties' agreement to continue trial "with the understanding that pending the outcome of an appeal . . . the parties shall comply with the alimony and support provisions contained in the Judgment of Divorce ...


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