Owen v. Pringle, 90-CA-1296

Decision Date15 July 1993
Docket NumberNo. 90-CA-1296,90-CA-1296
Citation621 So.2d 668
PartiesRichard Dale OWEN v. Woodrow W. PRINGLE, III.
CourtMississippi Supreme Court

Kim T. Chaze, Hattiesburg, for appellant.

Woodrow W. Pringle, III, Gulfport, pro se.

Before DAN M. LEE, P.J., and PITTMAN and ROBERTS, JJ.

DAN M. LEE, Presiding Justice, for the Court:

Richard Dale Owen (Owen) hired Woodrow W. Pringle (Pringle) to represent him in a matter involving a claim against a chiropractor. During the course of this representation, Pringle allegedly became romantically involved with Owen's ex-wife. According to Owen's Amended Complaint, Pringle divulged confidential information to Owen's ex-wife and that information was used against Owen in the custody battle for the couples' children. Owen claims a variety of damages as a result of Pringle's actions.

The judge in the lower court granted Pringle's motion for summary judgment. On appeal, Owen asserts the following assignments of error:

I. IT WAS INAPPROPRIATE FOR THE LOWER COURT TO GRANT APPELLEE'S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS AND MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT BECAUSE THERE WERE NUMEROUS GENUINE ISSUES AS TO MATERIAL FACTS.

II. IT WAS INAPPROPRIATE FOR THE LOWER COURT TO SUSTAIN APPELLEE'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT WHEN APPELLANT HAD DISCOVERY PENDING AS WELL AS A MOTION TO COMPEL RESPONSES TO DISCOVERY THAT HAD BEEN PROPERLY NOTICED AND, IN SPITE OF THIS, THE LOWER COURT GRANTED THE MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND DENIED APPELLANT'S MOTION TO COMPEL AND MOTION FOR SANCTIONS AND OTHER RELIEF.

Upon review of the record we find that the grant of summary judgment below was improper. Without commenting on the merits of Owen's claim, we conclude that his complaint was sufficient to state a cause of action and that material facts related to that action were in dispute at the time judgment was entered against him. Accordingly, the lower court's decision must be reversed and the cause remanded.

STATEMENT OF THE FACTS

As stated above, Owen hired Pringle to act as his attorney in a matter involving a claim against a chiropractor. Pringle had represented Owen in other matters prior to this one. An employment contract was signed by Owen on February 29, 1988.

During the course of the representation, Owen was divorced from his wife, Cynthia, by judgment entered on January 15, 1988. According to Owen, his attorney and his ex-wife became romantically involved shortly after the divorce. Owen further alleges that Pringle did not disclose this information to him until confronted on August 14, 1988.

On August 3, 1989, Owen filed a complaint in the Harrison County Circuit Court averring the above as facts and alluding to various causes of action from both contract and tort law. Owen further alleged that he suffered grievous damages as a proximate result of Pringle's actions. However, the Complaint was also replete with references to the Mississippi Rules of Professional Conduct. It was these references that eventually influenced the lower court to rule favorably on Pringle's 12(b)(6) motion. In so ruling the court stated:

It is further noted that, "Violation of a Rule [of Professional Conduct] should not give rise to a cause of action nor should it create any presumption that a legal duty has been breached. The Rules are designed to provide guidance to lawyers and to provide a structure for regulating conduct through disciplinary agencies. They are not designed to be a basis for civil liability." (emphasis added)

This language clearly demonstrates that the Rules of Conduct are to be used in disciplinary proceedings and the sanctions are to be determined and imposed by the governing body of all lawyers, i.e. the Supreme Court of the State of Mississippi and not a jury.

It therefore follows that the appropriate forum for the complaint is not the Circuit Court but perhaps the State Bar and this pending complaint is dismissed.

Owen was subsequently allowed to file an amended complaint on July, 23, 1990. The amended complaint omitted the references to the Rules of Professional Conduct. The lower court granted Pringle's motion for summary judgment on November 2, 1990, dismissing Owen's claim with prejudice. Owen duly appealed the ruling to this Court.

I. IT WAS INAPPROPRIATE FOR THE LOWER COURT TO GRANT APPELLEE'S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS AND MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT BECAUSE THERE WERE NUMEROUS GENUINE ISSUES AS TO MATERIAL FACTS.

On July 25, 1990, Pringle filed a motion to dismiss Owen's Amended Complaint under M.R.C.P. 12(b)(6) and a motion for summary judgment under M.R.C.P. 56. On November 2, 1990, the lower court granted the motion for summary judgment and dismissed the Amended Complaint with prejudice. The order did not specify the court's reason for granting the motion.

This Court employs a de novo standard of review when considering a grant of summary judgment below. Skelton v. Twin County Rural Elec. Ass'n, 611 So.2d 931 (Miss.1992); Brown v. Credit Center, Inc., 444 So.2d 358 (Miss.1983).

Summary judgment is proper only when no genuine issue of material fact exists, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See M.R.C.P. 56; Skelton v. Twin County Rural Elec. Ass'n, 611 So.2d 931 (Miss.1992); Brown v. Credit Center, Inc., 444 So.2d 358 (Miss.1983). As this Court stated in Brown:

The motion for a summary judgment challenges the very existence of legal sufficiency of the claim or defense to which it is addressed; in effect, the moving party takes the position that he is entitled to prevail as a matter of law because his opponent has no valid claim for relief or defense to the action, as the case may be.

Brown v. Credit Center, Inc., 444 So.2d 358, 362 (Miss.1983).

In evaluating the moving party's position, the court reviews "all admissions, answers to interrogatories, depositions, affidavits, and any other evidence, viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the non-movant." Skelton v. Twin County Rural Elec. Ass'n, 611 So.2d 931, 935 (Miss.1992).

In the current case, Owen argues that the lower court erred by departing from the above principles. Specifically, he urges that the Amended Complaint was sufficient to state a cause of action against his former attorney. Owen correctly points out that the judge granted this motion while most of the discovery was still pending. Thus, the judge clearly considered the amended complaint insufficient to state a cause of action; otherwise, some of the obviously disputed facts would have been "material."

Pringle amplifies this position in his brief, essentially arguing that no viable cause of action is stated in the amended complaint. He relies heavily on the language in the Rules of Professional Conduct to the effect that breach of the ethical rules is not actionable. Pringle's argument is succinctly summarized...

To continue reading

Request your trial
41 cases
  • Vallinoto v. DiSandro
    • United States
    • Rhode Island Supreme Court
    • February 11, 1997
    ...loyalty, and (3) the duties embodied in any contract that is created concerning the terms of the attorney's engagement. Owen v. Pringle, 621 So.2d 668, 671 (Miss.1993). Breach of any one of these duties can form the basis of a cause of action for legal malpractice, including an action for d......
  • Hall v. Cagle
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • September 28, 2000
    ...DISCUSSION ¶ 4. We have stated: This Court employs a de novo (without deference) review on grants of summary judgment. Owen v. Pringle, 621 So.2d 668, 670 (Miss.1993). The trial court must review the evidence most favorably to the nonmoving party. Sanford v. Federated Guaranty Ins. Co., 522......
  • Jourdan River Estates, LLC v. Favre
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • September 26, 2019
    ...grants of summary judgment [de novo ]." Wallace v. Town of Raleigh , 815 So. 2d 1203, 1208 (¶ 19) (Miss. 2002) (citing Owen v. Pringle , 621 So. 2d 668, 670 (Miss. 1993) ). Summary judgment is required "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, togeth......
  • Murphy Exploration & Production v. Sun Operating Ltd. Partnership
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • September 23, 1999
    ...a de novo standard in reviewing a grant of summary judgment. Allen v. Mac Tools, Inc., 671 So.2d 636, 640 (Miss.1996); Owen v. Pringle, 621 So.2d 668, 670 (Miss.1993). "A trial court may grant summary judgment if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file,......
  • 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