Knight v. Knight

Decision Date19 January 2012
Docket Numbers. 2010–CA–01084–SCT,2010–CA–01086–SCT.
Citation85 So.3d 832
Parties David Earl KNIGHT v. Benny R. KNIGHT. Brian K. Knight v. Benny R. Knight.
CourtMississippi Supreme Court

Marcie Fyke Baria, St. Louis, and David Wayne Baria, attorneys for appellant.

H. Wesley Williams, III, James Henderson Hall and James H. Colmer, Jr., Pascaqoula, attorneys for appellee.

Before CARLSON, P.J., RANDOLPH and KITCHENS, JJ.

CARLSON, Presiding Justice, for the Court:

¶ 1. The issue before us today is whether the statute of limitations is tolled while a case is pending, where that case is dismissed without prejudice for want of prosecution. We also are called upon to determine the validity of a local court rule which has never been published or approved by this Court. The trial court dismissed the refiling of this case due to failure to comply with the local rule, and when it was refiled found the statute of limitations to have been tolled. We find the local rule to be error, but also find that the statute of limitations was not tolled, since the case was dismissed without prejudice for want of prosecution. We thus affirm the judgment of the trial court on alternate grounds.

FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS IN THE TRIAL COURT

¶ 2. In the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Brian Knight and David Knight each filed separate complaints against Benny Knight, their uncle, alleging assault and battery occurring on August 31, 1999. The trial court dismissed these consolidated cases without prejudice for want of prosecution nearly ten years later. Neither plaintiff appealed this order of dismissal. On March 19, 2010, Brian Knight and David Knight refiled separate actions, but the trial court granted Benny's motions to dismiss both cases, finding that the one-year statute of limitations had run for both actions.

¶ 3. The consolidated appeals before this Court concern the trial court's order that dismissed the 2010 litigation; however, the issue presented on appeal requires a discussion of the proceedings relating to the 1999 litigation, which the trial court dismissed without prejudice for failure to prosecute on March 11, 2009.

¶ 4. On August 31, 1999, an altercation occurred among Brian, David, and Benny. On September 10, 1999, David filed his complaint against Benny, and on September 13, 1999, Brian filed his complaint against Benny. Thereafter, the circuit clerk filed several motions for want of prosecution in both cases. On November 3, 2006, Brian's and David's cases were consolidated. On January 12, 2009, the circuit clerk moved to dismiss the consolidated cases for want of prosecution, reciting that the last action taken was on October 3, 2007. On March 11, 2009, the trial court entered an order dismissing both cases without prejudice for want of prosecution.

¶ 5. Brian and David did not appeal the dismissal of these cases without prejudice for want of prosecution. However, on July 30, 2009, the plaintiffs' counsel filed a motion to reinstate and for trial setting. The trial court heard arguments on these motions, and on October 12, 2009, entered an order denying the plaintiffs' motion to reinstate and for trial setting. The plaintiffs both submitted affidavits that they were not even aware of the March 11, 2009, dismissal until their attorney informed them in October, 2009. Nor were they aware of the motion to reinstate and for trial setting filed by their counsel.

¶ 6. At this point, the plaintiffs retained new counsel, David Baria and Marcie Fyke Baria. Mr. Baria later conceded that "prior counsel may not have done everything in his power to get the case tried." On October 19, 2009, according to the affidavits of both plaintiffs, David and Brian learned from their new counsel, the Barias, that the motion to reinstate and for trial setting had been denied on October 12, 2009, as their prior counsel had neglected to advise them of that fact. The plaintiffs then filed a motion to reconsider the order dismissing the case on October 19, 2009, which the trial court denied on December 16, 2009.

¶ 7. On or about February 24, 2010, counsel for both Brian and David forwarded by U.S. Mail a complaint on behalf of both Brian and David to the circuit clerk. On March 11, 2010, this complaint was returned to counsel for Brian and David, and at this time, the clerk's office notified counsel for the plaintiffs that, per local rule, "[b]y [1993] Order of the Court separate complaints must be filed for each plaintiff in all civil actions with exception of husband and wife."

¶ 8. On March 19, 2010, separately, Brian refiled his complaint, and David refiled his complaint. On April 22, 2010, Benny filed motions to dismiss, asserting the statute of limitations as an affirmative defense to both Brian's and David's complaints.

¶ 9. The trial court heard arguments on Benny's motions to dismiss these cases on June 10, 2010, and June 15, 2010. Brian and David argued that the filing of the complaints in 1999 tolled the running of the statute of limitations and, therefore, they were entitled to file suit within the time remaining under the statute of limitations. However, Brian and David contended that the 1993 order of the Circuit Court of Jackson County, requiring that the plaintiffs file separate complaints, was unenforceable because this Court had not recognized its legitimacy pursuant to Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 83(b).

¶ 10. In response, counsel for Benny argued that the statute of limitations should not toll for ten years and permit a plaintiff to refile a lawsuit after its dismissal for failure to prosecute, even if dismissed without prejudice. In other words, Benny contended that the trial court should carve out an exception to the extent that the statute of limitations tolls and allows a plaintiff to refile his or her case after it has been dismissed for failure to prosecute. Benny also noted that he had been prejudiced by the plaintiffs' failure to diligently pursue their case, and by the deaths of several witnesses.

¶ 11. Having considered these arguments, the trial court avoided the tolling issue and reasoned that the 1993 order was legitimate and thus barred the plaintiffs' suits.

¶ 12. The trial court subsequently entered an order dismissing Brian's case with prejudice on June 15, 2010, and an order dismissing David's case with prejudice on June 16, 2010. Aggrieved, on July 2, 2010, David and Brian filed separate notice of appeals to this Court, and these cases have been consolidated upon appeal.

DISCUSSION

¶ 13. On appeal, Brian and David argue that the trial court erred by relying on the 1993 order when dismissing their complaints as time-barred by the statute of limitations. In making this argument, Brian and David also contend that the statute of limitations had been tolled for ten years since the filing of their original complaints for the 1999 litigation, which the trial court dismissed without prejudice for failure to prosecute.

¶ 14. For clarity's sake, we restate the two issues before this Court: (1) whether the trial court erred by relying on a local rule not approved by this Court and (2) whether the filing of the complaint for the 1999 litigation tolled the statute of limitations, permitting David and Brian to refile their complaints after having been dismissed without prejudice for want of prosecution.

¶ 15. Assuming that the limitations period was tolled during the pendency of the 1999 litigation, as the plaintiffs contend, February 26, 2010, represents the expiration of the one-year statute of limitations on the Brian Knight claim. The statute of limitations on the David Knight claim would have expired on March 1, 2010.

¶ 16. "[A]pplication of a statute of limitation is a question of law to which a de novo standard also applies." Sarris v. Smith, 782 So.2d 721, 723 (Miss.2001). "We approach this question with a clean slate, for our standard of review is de novo in passing on questions of law." Watts v. Pennington, 598 So.2d 1308, 1311 (Miss.1992) (citing Harrison County v. City of Gulfport, 557 So.2d 780, 784 (Miss.1990) ).

I. WHETHER THE TRIAL COURT ERRED BY RELYING ON A 1993 LOCAL COURT ORDER NOT APPROVED BY THIS COURT.

¶ 17. Brian and David contend that the 1993 order—requiring plaintiffs to file separate complaints—is unenforceable under Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 83(b) : "All such local rules and uniform rules adopted before being effective must be filed in the Supreme Court of Mississippi for approval." Miss. R. Civ. P. 83(b). "No uniform rules or local rules of any circuit ... court ... shall be effective unless approved by the Supreme Court." Miss. R. Civ. P. 83 cmt. See also Koerner v. Crittenden, 635 So.2d 833, 834–36 (Miss.1994).

¶ 18. Brian and David argue further that the 1993 order contravenes Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 20, allowing the filing of a single complaint on behalf of parties whose claims arise out of the same transaction or occurrence and have common questions of law or fact.

¶ 19. In response, Benny concedes that the clerk improperly refused to accept Brian's and David's initial filing of a single complaint if the 1993 order had not been submitted to this Court.

¶ 20. The trial court erred by dismissing Brian's and David's single complaint listing both of them as plaintiffs. It would be unjust to hold that a local order which was never published was binding on the plaintiffs. Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 83 clearly requires that local court rules "must" be submitted to this Court for approval. The trial court reasoned that the 1993 order had "gone all the way to [the] Supreme Court. Now as I understand it, Mr. Baria, they've not approved it, but nor have they rejected it." However, in Koerner, this Court reversed a trial court's grant of a defendant's motion for summary judgment because the motion was based in part upon a local rule that this Court had not approved. Koerner, 635 So.2d at 836. This Court also noted that "there [was] no evidence that the local rule was even...

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