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Price v. Lisenby-Grundy

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

April 16, 2019

JESSIE LOU PRICE APPELLANT
v.
JOANTIONETTE "TONI" LISENBY-GRUNDY APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 05/18/2017

          MARION COUNTY CHANCERY COURT TRIAL JUDGE: HON. JOHNNY LEE WILLIAMS

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: CHARLES E. MILLER

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: DANIEL MYERS WAIDE, STEVEN JOEL JOHNSON

         EN BANC.

          CARLTON, P.J.

         ¶1. On April 3, 2015, the Marion County Chancery Court awarded grandparent visitation to Toni Lisenby-Grundy, the paternal grandmother of the minor child. Slightly more than a year later, on April 20, 2016, the chancery court found the minor child's maternal grandmother, Jessie Price, in contempt for failing to abide by the visitation awarded under the April 2015 visitation order. Four months after that, Toni filed a second motion for contempt. On May 18, 2017, the chancery court found Jessie in contempt of its April 2016 contempt order based on the court's determination that Jessie willfully and obstinately failed to comply with the visitation directives in that order.

         ¶2. On appeal, Jessie asserts that: (1) the May 18, 2017 contempt order is void because the chancery court did not have jurisdiction over Toni's original action seeking visitation; and (2) the chancery court erred in finding her in contempt of its April 2016 contempt order. For the reasons addressed below, we find no merit in Jessie's first assignment of error, but we find that the chancery court's May 18, 2017 contempt order was manifestly erroneous because the court's previously entered April 2016 contempt order was not sufficiently specific or clear enough to sustain a finding of contempt. We therefore reverse and render the May 18, 2017 contempt order, including all costs, fees, reimbursements, and attorney's fees awarded under that order.

         I. STATEMENT OF FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶3. Terry Lisenby, Jr. and Theresa[1] Price are the parents of John, [2] born in 2004. The appellant, Jessie Lou Price, and her husband, Roy Price, are John's maternal grandparents. Jessie and Roy live in Mississippi. The appellee, Joantionette "Toni" Lisenby-Grundy, is John's paternal grandmother and lives in Indiana.

         ¶4. On March 16, 2010, Jessie and Roy Price filed a complaint for custody and for emergency relief in Marion County Chancery Court, cause number 2010-0099-GW, against Terry Lisenby Jr. and Theresa Price. In their sworn complaint seeking custody of John and his younger brother, the Prices aver that the children have lived with their mother, Theresa, since birth; that Theresa and her children have lived in many different apartments; and that they have also stayed, off and on, in the Prices' home. The Prices also averred that Terry Lisenby Jr. had not been in contact with Theresa, John, or the Prices since June 2009 and that his whereabouts were unknown. Additionally, the Prices averred that their daughter, Theresa, had "done drugs and drinks excessively."

         ¶5. The chancery court granted emergency custody of the minor children to their maternal grandparents, the Prices, on March 23, 2010. After having been served with summons by publication, Theresa filed her response to the complaint for custody and a motion for dissolution of the ex parte order on July 27, 2010. No other action was taken by the parties until the Prices filed a motion for a trial setting in February 2012.

         ¶6. On July 8, 2013, Toni, John's paternal grandmother, filed a complaint to establish third-party visitation in Marion County Chancery Court, cause number 2013-0983, naming John's maternal grandmother, Jessie Price, as the defendant. In her sworn complaint, Toni averred that she was John's paternal grandmother, that John was in Jessie's legal custody, and that Toni was entitled to reasonable and defined visitation with John.[3]

         ¶7. Theresa Price, John's mother, moved to consolidate the Prices' custody action with Toni's visitation action on the grounds that the matters concern both the welfare of the same minor children and the rights of the parties to these minor children; that similar circumstances and facts are at issue; and that consolidation would promote judicial efficiency. The record reflects that the chancery court ordered a joint hearing in both actions that took place on October 21, 2013. On January 17, 2014, the chancery court entered its order granting consolidation of the two actions and also appointing a guardian ad litem (GAL) for the children. At no point did Theresa Price, or her mother, Jessie Price, raise any argument that the chancery court lacked jurisdiction over Toni's visitation action.

         ¶8. On April 3, 2015, the chancery court entered its final order granting visitation (the visitation order) in the consolidated proceeding. The visitation order was "agreed as to form" by the lawyers for Toni and Jessie and provided that the "[c]ourt has complete and plenary jurisdiction over the subject matter and the parties involved herein." The visitation order specifically provided for two visits to take place in Mississippi on April 3-10, 2015 and May 22-25, 2015, for a reasonable number of hours each day.

         ¶9. The order also provided for a visit at Christmas-time each year, one week in the summer, and "such other and additional visitation," with the times and dates to be coordinated between Toni and Jessie, and that the times should "occur under such circumstances as may be harmonious and proper and for the best interest of the child." In several other paragraphs in the visitation order the chancery court generally directed Toni and Jessie "to cooperate and work with each other for their mutual benefit and harmony" and "to communicate with each other in good faith, work with each other in good faith, and [do] all things as may be necessary and proper to effectuate [Toni's] visitation in a way and manner that is in the best interest of the minor child and [to] foster a heathy and beneficial relationship between the child and his family." Finally, the visitation order provided that "[i]n the event the parties cannot come to any agreement, this Court will intervene at the request of either party." No party appealed the April 2015 visitation order.

         ¶10. On November 17, 2015, Toni filed a complaint for contempt against Jessie. In her contempt complaint, Toni acknowledged that she had "gotten to visit with her grandson [John] in April and May 20l5, which went very well," but that Jessie had not cooperated with her for the summer visitation, in violation of the visitation order. Jessie's response also provided that Toni had visited John in Mississippi on two occasions and further provided that Jessie had "welcomed [Toni]" and cooked her meals. Jessie denied that she failed to cooperate with Toni about summer visitation.

         ¶11. At the contempt hearing held on April 20, 2016, Toni again acknowledged that the April and May 2015 visits "went real well," but then she described the difficulties she had with scheduling the summer visitation, which ultimately did not take place. Toni also testified that she did not pursue Christmas visitation because she did not want to get into a disagreement with Jessie. Toni acknowledged that she did not contact the GAL about these difficulties.

         ¶12. Jessie also testified at the hearing, and, like Toni, she testified that the April and May visits went well. She further testified that she tried to encourage John to go with Toni and her family during those visits, but he did not want to go with them because he did not know them. Regarding the summer visitation, Jessie testified that she thought Toni was coming for the visit and that she never told Toni not to come for the summer visitation.

         ¶13. The GAL testified at the hearing and expressed the concern that due to the length of time Toni and John had been separated, [4] it was too soon for John to go to Indiana for visitation; that there needed to be a reunification of ...


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