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Wirtz v. Adams County Board of Supervisors

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

April 16, 2019

LYNN WIRTZ APPELLANT
v.
ADAMS COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS AND H.W. BARNETT APPELLEES

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 09/14/2017

          ADAMS COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT TRIAL JUDGE: HON. LILLIE BLACKMON SANDERS

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: LYNN WIRTZ (PRO SE)

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES: SCOTT FLETCHER SLOVER BRUCE M. KUEHNLE JR.

         EN BANC.

          TINDELL, J.

         ¶1. At the July 5, 2017 meeting of the Adams County Board of Supervisors (the Board), Lynn Wirtz asked the Board to take certain action against his neighbor, Dr. H.W. Barnett. Specifically, Wirtz asked that the Board request for Dr. Barnett to explain his removal, beginning in 2008, of timber and soil from a right of way on Dr. Barnett's property. Following the Board's refusal to send Dr. Barnett a letter, Wirtz, acting pro se, filed a bill of exceptions in the Adams County Circuit Court on July 14, 2017. Wirtz named both the Board and Dr. Barnett as defendants in the proceeding. The Board and Dr. Barnett filed separate motions to dismiss. After a hearing on the parties' various motions and filings, the circuit court dismissed Dr. Barnett from the proceedings for lack of personal and subject-matter jurisdiction. The circuit court further dismissed Wirtz's appeal against the Board for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.

         ¶2. On appeal to this Court, Wirtz raises various assignments of error, which we restate as follows: (1) the circuit court erred by dismissing Dr. Barnett from the proceedings; (2) the circuit court erred by awarding Dr. Barnett attorney's fees and by holding Wirtz in contempt for failing to pay the fees; and (3) the circuit court erred by dismissing Wirtz's appeal against the Board.

         ¶3. Upon review, we affirm the circuit court's dismissal of Dr. Barnett from the proceedings for lack of personal and subject-matter jurisdiction. We also affirm the dismissal of Wirtz's appeal against the Board, though we do so on the ground that Wirtz's refusal to include the Board's meeting minutes in his bill of exceptions provided an insufficient record upon which the circuit court could not intelligently act. See Stroud v. Progressive Gulf Ins., 239 So.3d 516, 526 (¶31) (Miss. Ct. App. 2017) ("This Court may affirm a circuit court if the correct result is reached, even if the circuit court reached the correct result for the wrong reasons." (internal quotation mark omitted)). We do, however, vacate the circuit court's award of attorney's fees to Dr. Barnett and remand for further consideration consistent with this opinion. As a related matter, we find our disposition on the issue of attorney's fees now renders Wirtz's argument moot regarding the circuit court's order of contempt.

         FACTS

         ¶4. According to Wirtz's bill of exceptions, Dr. Barnett began in 2008 to remove timber and soil from a right of way located on Dr. Barnett's property. Taking issue with Dr. Barnett's actions, Wirtz stated in his bill of exceptions that he first presented the matter to the Board at the Board's June 13, 2008 meeting. Wirtz further stated, however, that the Board failed to take action and thereafter refused his requests to reconsider its decision or to meet to discuss the matter.

         ¶5. Almost nine years later, at the Board's July 5, 2017 meeting, Wirtz asked the Board to send Dr. Barnett a letter that requested an explanation for Dr. Barnett's removal of the soil and timber. After the Board failed to grant his request, Wirtz filed his bill of exceptions, signed by the Board's president, and sought judicial review of the Board's decision. The Board submitted proposed corrections to the bill of exceptions and requested that Wirtz amend it to include certain additional facts and documents, including a copy of the minutes from the Board's July 5, 2017 meeting. Following Wirtz's refusal to amend his bill of exceptions, the Board sought to dismiss Wirtz's appeal for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. According to the Board, Wirtz's omission of pertinent facts and documents created a fatally defective record upon which the circuit court could not intelligently act. The Board argued dismissal under Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and Mississippi Code Annotated section 11-51-75 (Rev. 2012) was therefore proper.

         ¶6. Several days later, Dr. Barnett filed his own motion to dismiss. Although Wirtz sought judicial review of the Board's decision, he had named Dr. Barnett as one of the defendants on appeal. Dr. Barnett contended, however, that though his actions were the subject of Wirtz's complaint before the Board, he was never actually a party to those proceedings. As a result, Dr. Barnett argued Wirtz improperly added him as a party to the appeal of the Board's decision. Dr. Barnett asked the circuit court to dismiss him for lack of personal and subject-matter jurisdiction. Based on the Mississippi Litigation Accountability Act, he also requested attorney's fees for the costs he incurred in defending himself against Wirtz's bill of exceptions.

         ¶7. On September 14, 2017, the circuit court held a hearing on the parties' various motions. The circuit court issued a bench ruling in which it dismissed Dr. Barnett from the proceedings and awarded him $1, 000 in attorney's fees. Turning next to the Board's motions, the circuit court granted both the Board's motion to dismiss and its motion to strike certain allegations Wirtz made in his bill of exceptions.

         ¶8. On the same day as the hearing, the circuit court entered its final judgment on Dr. Barnett's motion to dismiss. In the final judgment, the circuit court reiterated its bench ruling and found it possessed neither personal nor subject-matter jurisdiction over Dr. Barnett. As a result, the circuit court dismissed Dr. Barnett from the proceedings. In addition, the circuit court ordered Wirtz to pay Dr. Barnett $1, 000 for the attorney's fees Dr. Barnett incurred in defending against the proceedings related to Wirtz's bill of exceptions. The circuit court stated that its decision to dismiss Dr. Barnett from the appeal disposed of all claims and issues between Wirtz and Dr. Barnett and that the decision was therefore a final judgment from which Wirtz could appeal.

         ¶9. On September 22, 2017, Wirtz filed a "Request for Findings of Fact and Law" pursuant to Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 52 and a "Motion for Rehearing" pursuant to Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 59 (Rule 52 and Rule 59 motions). Wirtz challenged the circuit court's September 14, 2017 bench rulings to dismiss Dr. Barnett from the proceedings and to dismiss Wirtz's appeal against the Board. Pursuant to Rule 52, Wirtz asked the circuit court to "issue written findings of fact and law for its rulings made in open court on September 14, 2017 . . . ." Further, pursuant to Rule 59, Wirtz asked the circuit court to "vacate its rulings made in open [c]ourt on 9/14/17" and "amend its judgment in conformity with the law and evidence . . . ."

         ¶10. On October 31, 2017, the circuit court entered its order granting the Board's motion to dismiss. As in its prior bench ruling, the circuit court found the minutes from the Board's July 5, 2017 meeting, which Wirtz had refused to include in an amended bill of exceptions, were necessary to reach an intelligent decision on the matter. Based on this finding, the circuit court dismissed Wirtz's appeal against the Board for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.

         ¶11. On November 6, 2017, Dr. Barnett filed a motion for citation of contempt against Wirtz. According to the motion, Wirtz had failed to comply with the circuit court's prior order to pay Dr. Barnett $1, 000 for attorney's fees. Wirtz responded to Dr. Barnett's motion on ...


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