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Cummins v. Goolsby

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

October 18, 2018

CHRISTOPHER JOSEPH CUMMINS
v.
LEAH JORDAN GOOLSBY

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 05/26/2017

          PRENTISS COUNTY CHANCERY COURT TRIAL JUDGE: HON. JACQUELINE ESTES MASK

          TRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS: JOHN A. FERRELLWALTER ALAN DAVIS COURT

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: WALTER ALAN DAVIS

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: JOHN A. FERRELL

          MAXWELL, JUSTICE,

         ¶1. Dr. Christopher Cummins-a married man who was separated but not divorced from his wife-began a romantic relationship with one of his employees, Leah Jordan Goolsby (Jordan). The two began living together, had a child, and became engaged to one another. But Dr. Cummins never divorced his wife. And he and Jordan never married. Jordan eventually ended their relationship and kept the engagement ring and wedding ring he gave her. When Jordan filed a paternity suit for child-support payments for their child, Dr. Cummins counterclaimed for the rings, which together were worth $11, 435. Alternatively, he argued that if Jordan was awarded the rings, their value should be deducted from any child-support obligation.

         ¶2. The chancellor found Dr. Cummins had made a completed inter vivos gift. So she awarded the rings to Jordan. The chancellor found that the rings were not a conditional gift, because the condition of marriage was not met, since Dr. Cummins had remained married to his wife. The chancellor certified the ruling on the ring issue as a final judgment, and Dr. Cummins appealed.

         ¶3. After review, we agree the fatal fact to Dr. Cummins's claim was his marriage to another woman. Because Dr. Cummins could not legally marry at the time he gave the engagement rings, he cannot argue to a court of equity that he is entitled to get the rings back, since the condition of marriage never took place. Because Dr. Cummins has no right to recover the rings due to his unclean hands, we affirm.

         Background Facts and Procedural History

         ¶4. Jordan started working at Dr. Cummins's medical practice in July 2013. In August, although he was married but separated from his wife, he and Jordan became romantically involved and moved in together. The couple then had a child on June 29, 2015. All during this time, Dr. Cummins's divorce was supposedly pending but never was finalized. [1] Still, he had given Jordan an engagement ring and a wedding ring allegedly worth $11, 435. ¶5. But Dr. Cummins remained married to his wife and failed to get a divorce. So Jordan broke off the engagement in September 2016. Jordan also claimed that she no longer wished to marry Dr. Cummins "based upon his erratic and abusive conduct and the decision to break off the engagement was mutual."

         ¶6. On March 1, 2017, Jordan filed a petition to establish paternity, among other relief, for her and Dr. Cummins's child. On April 21, 2017, Dr. Cummins responded and filed a counterclaim for return of the rings. Alternatively, he asserted he was entitled to a credit for the rings' value against any financial obligation he might be ordered to pay. The Prentiss County Chancery Court heard arguments on Dr. Cummins's counterclaim on May 15, 2017. Dr. Cummins argued that, under Cooley v. Tucker, the rings were a conditional gift, and the condition-marriage-was never met. See Cooley v. Tucker, 200 So.3d 474 (Miss. Ct. App. 2016). Thus, Dr. Cummins argued the gift was incomplete and the rings should be returned to him. Jordan countered that when Dr. Cummins gave her the rings, the condition could not be met because he was still married to his wife. In fact, he was still married at the May 15, 2017 hearing.

         ¶7. The chancellor ruled that when Dr. Cummins gave the rings to Jordan, the condition to marry could not be completed because he remained married to his wife. Therefore, Jordan was awarded the rings as a completed inter vivos gift. The trial court entered its Rule 54(b) Final Judgment on Limited Issue the next day. Dr. Cummins filed his Notice of Appeal on June ...


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