Bryant v. Cameron, 54689

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
Writing for the CourtROBERTSON; PATTERSON
Citation473 So.2d 174
PartiesMichael P. BRYANT and Patricia Bryant v. Mary Francis CAMERON.
Docket NumberNo. 54689,54689
Decision Date17 July 1985

David Oliver, Gulfport, for appellants.

Gerald A. Dickerson, Lucedale, for appellee.


ROBERTSON, Justice, for the Court:


As it did of the chancellor below, this case calls for our exercise of solomonic wisdom without regard to whether we possess it, as a child is contested for by her natural mother and would be adopting parents.

Our law provides a procedure whereby such children may be adopted. Miss.Code Ann. Secs. 93-17-1, et seq (Supp.1984) Persons may employ that procedure with confidence and certainty. We trust that procedure may be found consonant with justice and fairness in this area where there are so many shades of gray. Our problem here is that this procedure for adoption was ignored--indeed our law and its facilities seem to have been wholly irrelevant to the parties until it was too late. Under the circumstances we have no alternative but to affirm the chancellor's determination that custody of the child and the privilege and responsibilities attendant upon her upbringing must vest in the natural mother.



In July of 1980 Mary Francis Cameron was living in Wiggins, Mississippi, and was divorced, more or less broke, and pregnant. She already had responsibility for a then six year old daughter from her defunct marriage. Cameron was the plaintiff below and is the appellee here.

At the same time Michael Lee Bryant and Patricia Bryant were experiencing a childless marriage. The Bryants were defendants below and are appellants here. In July of 1980 and through much of the time relevant here their names were Michael Lee Hart and Patricia Hart. The record reflects that their names were changed from Hart to Bryant by proceedings subsequent to the original decree in this case.

Mary Francis Cameron and the Harts/Bryants learned generally of each other's situation at a time when Cameron was employed as a security guard at the International Paper Plant in Wiggins where Mr. Hart/Bryant was also employed. Cameron approached the Harts/Bryants regarding their childless condition and her pregnancy and out of the nexis of all parties' circumstances an agreement was reached--the exact conditions of which, as well as the legal effect of which, are hotly disputed. Cameron contends that the Harts/Bryants agreed to help her out financially and take care of the child until she was back on her feet again. The Harts/Bryants contend Cameron asked them to help her out financially and agreed that they could adopt the baby. Cameron responds by urging that any such adoption agreement is legally unenforceable.

On April 12, 1981, Cameron gave birth to a female child in Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. The Harts/Bryants had taken Cameron to the hospital and by design had registered her as "Mrs. Patricia Hart". For all intents and purposes, the parties held Cameron out as the wife of Mr. Hart/Bryant. The birth certificate was likewise made out in the name of the Harts with the child's name being recorded as Candice Michelynn Hart.

The Harts/Bryants state that they paid all hospital and medical expenses incident to prenatal care and child birth. Cameron agrees that the Harts/Bryants paid a substantial portion of the expenses, but she contends that she paid $500.00 on the hospital bill.

After the birth Cameron and the baby went to the home of the Harts/Bryants in Wiggins and stayed with them for a couple of days. Following this, Cameron moved to her sister's house and went to work for her brother in Lucedale. The child remained with the Harts/Bryants.

The parties agree that Cameron visited the child thereafter, but differ regarding the extent and frequency of such visits. Cameron states that for the first month she went to visit the child "every day and then after that I'd go in the evenings and on weekends". Mrs. Hart/Bryant testified that Cameron came back to visit the baby during the first month "maybe on a weekly basis, but after that, she quit coming". Cameron contends that she did not visit more often because the Harts/Bryants had become inaccessible--they did not answer the phone when Cameron called and were not at home on weekends when she came to visit.

The Harts/Bryants testified that prior to the birth there was an unequivocal agreement between them and Cameron that they could adopt the child. Cameron denies this. Apparently no one thought to contact a lawyer or otherwise employ the facilities of the law to the end that there would be no doubt regarding the legal parentage of the child.


On November 9, 1981, some 211 days after the birth of Candice Michelynn Hart, Mary Francis Cameron commenced this civil action by filing her complaint in the Chancery Court of George County, Mississippi. In relevant part, she named the Harts/Bryants as defendants and sought an order restoring to her custody of the child to which she had given birth coupled with an amendment to the child's birth certificate to reflect her natural parents. 1 The Harts/Bryants answered and denied the essential allegations of the complaint and cross-claimed for adoption.

The matter was thereafter transferred to the Chancery Court of Stone County and after considerable discovery and other pre-trial proceedings not relevant here, the matter came on for hearing on its merits in chancery court in Wiggins, Mississippi, on August 11, 1982. In due course, on October 21, 1982, the chancery court ordered the child returned to Cameron, the Harts'/Bryants' cross-claim for adoption being denied.

The initial response of the Harts/Bryants was a petition for rehearing, but that was summarily denied on October 26, 1982. The Harts/Bryants then moved for supersedeas pending appeal, the effect of which was a request that they be allowed to keep the child pending appeal to this Court.

Meanwhile, on a date not made clear in the record, the Harts/Bryants, allowing the power of their feelings for the child to subsume their respect for the law, took the child and moved to Chester, South Carolina, and, as indicated above, had their last names legally changed to Bryant. This was without notice to or permission of the Chancery Court of Stone County and was in contravention of the judgment of that court that the child be delivered to her natural mother. Following habeas corpus proceedings in South Carolina, the details of which are not important here, the parties returned to Mississippi and a hearing was held in the chancery court regarding the Harts'/Bryants' application for supersedeas. By order entered January 25, 1983, the chancery court denied the Harts'/Bryants' application for supersedeas and directed them to deliver the child to Cameron forthwith. We assume they have complied. In any event the matter is now ripe for our review.


The adoption of children is a matter carefully regulated by rules of law statutory in origin. Of particular relevance here is Miss.Code Ann. Sec. 93-17-7 (Supp.1984) which provides

No infant shall be adopted to any person if either parent ... shall appear and object thereto before the making of a decree for adoption, unless it shall be made to appear to the court ... that the parent so objecting had abandoned or deserted such infant....

Here Mary Francis Cameron, the mother of the child, objected to the adoption and under Section 93-17-7 that would seem to end the matter unless it be shown that she had "abandoned or deserted" the child.

The advance assurances said to have been given by Cameron--taking as true the Harts'/Bryants' version of the agreement--are of no legal force and effect. By law valid and enforceable consent to adoption may be given by the natural parent only after three days have elapsed following the birth of the child. Miss.Code Ann. Sec. 93-17-5 (1972). Any consent to adoption, verbal or otherwise, given prior to that time is legally ineffective. Where our law requires a written agreement or acquiescence regarding a matter before a party may become bound and sets forth the manner, form or timing within which such agreement must be made to be valid, any agreement not conforming to that facility is unenforceable. This is so whether an individual is seeking to make a will, to bind himself to an agreement covered by the statute of frauds, or to agree to the adoption of his or her child.

The thrust of the appeal of the Harts/Bryants is a claim that Mary Francis Cameron had indeed abandoned or deserted the child. In considering this question, we do not write upon a clean slate.

The Harts/Bryants are seeking to sever the rights of a natural parent in and to her child. In this context, we have repeatedly stated that

the burden is upon the petitioner to show by clear and convincing evidence [citation omitted] that the objecting parent has either abandoned or deserted the child or is mentally or morally or otherwise unfit to rear or train the child. Once that has been established, the best interests of the child is to be considered [citation omitted]. Petit v. Holifield, 443 So.2d 874, 878 (Miss.1984); see also Miller v. Arrington, 412 So.2d 1175, 1178 (Miss.1982); Yarber v. Dearman, 341 So.2d 108, 109-10 (Miss.1977); Simpson v. Rast, 258 So.2d 233, 236 (Miss.1972); Ford v. Litton, 211 So.2d 871, 873 (Miss.1968); Newman v. Sample, 205 So.2d 650, 652 (Miss.1968).

This foregoing rule works in tandem with Miss.Code Ann. Sec. 93-17-7 (Supp.1984) concerning the criterion for determination of unfit parents' rights, and with Miss.Code Ann. Sec. 93-15-103(3) (Supp.1984) concerning the grounds for determination of parental rights. Petit, 443 So.2d at 877.

Our cases suggest a...

To continue reading

Request your trial
66 cases
  • Smith v. Dorsey, 07-CA-59273
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • 16 Abril 1992
    ...fails to make findings on issues of fact, this Court assumes that the issues were resolved in favor of the appellee. Bryant v. Cameron, 473 So.2d 174, 179 (Miss.1985). In this appeal, the Court is also passing on a chancellor's conclusions of law as applied to several unrelated factual sett......
  • ROYER HOMES OF MS., INC. v. Chandeleur Homes, Inc., 2001-CA-01574-SCT.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • 23 Octubre 2003
    ...Ins. Co., 725 So.2d 779, 781 (Miss.1998); Lamb Constr. Co. v. Town of Renova, 573 So.2d 1378, 1383 (Miss.1990) (citing Bryant v. Cameron, 473 So.2d 174, 179 (Miss.1985)). If the terms of a contract are subject to more than one reasonable interpretation, it is a question properly submitted t......
  • Southern v. Glenn, 07-CA-59364
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • 3 Octubre 1990 make findings of fact on issues of fact, this Court assumes that the issues were resolved in favor of the Appellee. Bryant v. Cameron, 473 So.2d 174, 179 (Miss.1985). See also Wing v. Wing, 549 So.2d 944, 948-49 (Miss.1989); Cotton v. McConnell, 435 So.2d 683, 685 The Chancery Court of S......
  • Mississippi Employment Sec. Com'n v. McGlothin, 07-59080
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • 10 Enero 1990
    ...of fact, we will assume that those issues were resolved in favor of the Appellee, MESC, at the circuit court level, Bryant v. Cameron, 473 So.2d 174, 179 (Miss.1985), I do not believe we are faced with a failure to make a finding in this case; rather, we are faced with ambiguous On review, ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT