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Carpenter v. Conway

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

November 19, 2019

GUY CARPENTER, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS ADULT PARENT AND NEXT FRIEND OF COLE CARPENTER, A MINOR APPELLANT
v.
KENNETH MARVIN CONWAY APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 08/10/2018

          PERRY COUNTY CHANCERY COURT HON. SUSAN RHEA SHELDON TRIAL JUDGE

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: DANIEL MYERS WAIDE

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: DANIEL MYERS WAIDE

         EN BANC

          TINDELL, J.

         ¶1. Individually and on behalf of his minor son, Guy Carpenter filed a complaint in the Perry County Chancery Court against his brother-in-law, Kenneth Conway. After finding that Guy's claims were barred by both judicial and collateral estoppel and that the complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, the chancellor dismissed Guy's complaint with prejudice under Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). On appeal, Guy argues that the chancellor erroneously found that judicial and collateral estoppel barred his claims. Finding no error, we affirm the chancellor's judgment.

         FACTS

         ¶2. On November 24, 2002, Guy married Terry Ruth Conway. The couple welcomed a son in 2006. Terry died intestate on April 22, 2011. Prior to her marriage, Terry had received by conveyance three parcels of land. On May 4, 2001, Terry's parents, J.M. and Addie Mae Conway, conveyed to Terry a 56.6-acre parcel (Parcel 1) with a life estate reserved for themselves. Three days later, on May 7, 2001, Terry's brother, Kenneth, deeded her another 40-acre parcel (Parcel 2) with a life estate again reserved for his and Terry's parents. Finally, shortly before Terry's marriage, her parents conveyed to her in fee simple a 7.1-acre parcel (Parcel 3) that adjoined the other two properties. After their marriage, Terry and Guy mortgaged Parcel 3 and used the loan to build their marital home on the property. Each year during the marriage, Terry filed a homestead declaration only on Parcel 3.

         ¶3. Consistent with their life-estate interests in Parcels 1 and 2, J.M. and Addie Mae used the property for cattle grazing and leased it to a local farmer. In his affidavit, J.M. stated that he paid the annual real estate taxes on Parcels 1 and 2. He further stated that neither Terry nor Guy ever used the parcels.

         ¶4. At some point during her marriage, Terry received a terminal cancer diagnosis, and her relationship with Guy began to deteriorate. According to multiple affidavits contained in the record, Terry sought an attorney's advice on filing for divorce. Prior to her death, Terry decided to convey back to her parents Parcels 1 and 2. She executed the deeds for the conveyances on March 3, 2011. Following Terry's death on April 22, 2011, her parents recorded the deeds on May 9, 2011. In November 2011, the chancellor appointed Guy as the administrator of Terry's estate. As administrator, Guy never identified Parcels 1 and 2 as part of the real property that Terry owned at the time of her death, and he never pursued a cause of action on her estate's behalf related to the two parcels. Guy instead identified only Parcel 3, the 7.1-acre parcel upon which the marital home was situated, as the only real property that Terry held an ownership interest in when she died.

         ¶5. On June 29, 2016, around four years after the chancellor entered the final order to close Terry's estate, Guy filed a complaint individually and on his minor son's behalf against Terry's brother, Kenneth, and sought to have the chancellor declare Terry's conveyances of Parcels 1 and 2 void. Although Terry had deeded the parcels to her parents, the parties agree that Kenneth then became the owner of the properties. Guy asserted that Terry had conveyed Parcels 1 and 2 without his knowledge or agreement and that the conveyances were void as a matter of law for the following reasons: (1) the deeds also required his signature because the parcels were part of the marital homestead; and (2) at the time Terry executed the deeds just a few weeks before her death, she lacked the necessary mental capacity to make the conveyances. Guy therefore asked that the chancellor void Terry's March 3, 2011 conveyances to her parents and recognize Guy and his son as tenants in common and rightful owners of all the real property that Terry owned when she died.

         ¶6. Guy later moved for a judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(b)(6). Kenneth responded and argued that judicial estoppel and res judicata barred Guy's claims. In her August 10, 2018 order, the chancellor found that Guy's claims were barred by both judicial and collateral estoppel.[1] In addition, the chancellor determined that Guy's pleadings failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. As a result, the chancellor dismissed Guy's complaint with prejudice under Rule 12(b)(6). Aggrieved, Guy appeals.

         DISCUSSION

         ¶7. In appealing the dismissal of his complaint, Guy asserts the chancellor erroneously found that judicial estoppel barred his claims. Although we review de novo a trial court's grant or denial of a motion to dismiss, Trigg v. Farese, 266 So.3d 611, 617 (¶9) (Miss. 2018), we review the application of judicial estoppel for abuse of discretion. Adams v. Graceland Care Ctr. of Oxford LLC, 208 So.3d 575, 580 (¶13) (Miss. 2017). Thus, we must first determine whether the chancellor abused her discretion by finding that judicial estoppel barred Guy's claims, and then we must review de novo whether the chancellor properly dismissed Guy's complaint under Rule 12(b)(6). See id. at 579-80 (¶12); Rogers v. Gulfside Casino P'ship, 206 So.3d 1274, 1279 (¶9) (Miss. Ct. App. 2016).

         ¶8. As the Mississippi Supreme Court has explained:

Judicial estoppel precludes a party from asserting a position, benefitting from that position, and then, when it becomes more convenient or profitable, retreating from that position later in the litigation. Judicial estoppel has three elements: A party will be judicially estopped from taking a subsequent position if (1) the position is inconsistent with one previously taken during litigation, (2) a court accepted the previous position, and (3) the party did not inadvertently take the inconsistent positions.

Hinton v. Pekin Ins. Co., 268 So.3d 543, 558-59 (¶62) (Miss. 2019) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

         ¶9. Regarding the first prong of judicial estoppel, Guy asserts that he has never been involved in a prior adverse proceeding with Kenneth. In Clark v. Neese, 131 So.3d 556, 561-62 (ΒΆ21) (Miss. 2013), the supreme court "took the opportunity to clarify" its elimination of "the adverse-party requirement and overruled [its] prior judicial-estoppel ...


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