Rankin v. Rankin, 2019-CT-00238-SCT

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
Writing for the CourtGRIFFIS, JUSTICE
PartiesKEMILY RANKIN v. KELVIN RANKIN
Docket Number2019-CT-00238-SCT
Decision Date12 August 2021

KEMILY RANKIN
v.

KELVIN RANKIN

No. 2019-CT-00238-SCT

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

August 12, 2021


DATE OF JUDGMENT: 12/19/2018

WARREN COUNTY CHANCERY COURT, HON. VICKI R. BARNES TRIAL JUDGE

TRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS: JEFFERY KENDRICK HARNESS KIMBERLY WALKER NAILOR DAVID M. SESSUMS

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: KIMBERLY WALKER NAILOR JAMI L. CREWS

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: DAVID M. SESSUMS

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI

GRIFFIS, JUSTICE

¶1. This certiorari case considers whether the Court of Appeals' decision is in conflict with a prior published decision of this Court. Because we find that the Court of Appeals' decision conflicts not only with a recently published decision of this Court but also with longstanding principles of appellate review, we reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals, and we reinstate and affirm the judgment of the chancery court.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶2. Kemily and Kelvin Rankin were married in July 2007 and had two children during the course of their marriage. In December 2017, Kemily filed a complaint for divorce on the ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment or, in the alternative, irreconcilable differences.

¶3. At trial,

Kemily testified that the couple's marital problems began as early as their honeymoon when Kelvin got upset with Kemily while talking to her sister on the phone, and the couple had a disagreement about her giving food to a homeless person. Kemily also recalled an instance where she arrived home from work to find her dog tied to a tree and foaming at the mouth because Kelvin had forced feces down its throat after the dog had an accident inside the house Kemily testified that in 2008 or 2009, Kelvin pushed her once during an argument while she was pregnant and that he had kicked a suitcase in 2015 or 2016, which hit her and bruised her leg. On another occasion, after Kemily had locked her herself in the bathroom during a disagreement Kelvin picked the lock on the bathroom door, followed her into the bathroom, and continued to yell at her. Kemily testified that Kelvin had called her a b****, wh***, stupid, [1] and dumb and that he had belittled her in front of his church congregation. She claimed that the "final straw" was when Kelvin wanted to have sex one morning, and she did not; so Kelvin yelled at her and took their children to Brookhaven, telling them, "Momm[y can't] go because she ha[s] issues." Thinking she heard Kelvin's vehicle the next day, Kemily was worried that he had come back to harm her. She testified that Kelvin had also taken the children to a hotel for a few nights and would not tell her where they were, causing her distress over their whereabouts.
Kemily claimed Kelvin's behavior had affected her physical health. She testified that she suffered from intense migraines during the last five years of the marriage.[2] Although she noted that her blood pressure was elevated, Kemily acknowledged she had never been diagnosed with high blood pressure. Kemily said her migraines and blood pressure had not been an issue since she separated from Kelvin in November 2017. She said Kelvin also inflicted emotional, mental, and spiritual harm on her and insisted that reconciliation with Kelvin was not in her best interests.
. . . .
Kelvin acknowledged that he and Kemily had problems throughout their marriage. He also admitted that it had made him "sick" to hear Kemily's sister on the phone, but he testified that he did not want to hinder Kemily's relationship with her family. Kelvin explained that the issue with the homeless man was about security. He denied that he had yelled at Kemily's dog all the time and berated Kemily in front of his church congregation. Kelvin admitted that he bumped into Kemily one time, but he said that it was not intentional. Kelvin also confirmed that he had kicked a suitcase, but he did not recall the suitcase hitting Kemily.[3]
According to Kelvin, Kemily did not "take any personal accountability" for anything and accepted advice from everyone except him. Kelvin admitted he followed Kemily during arguments, but he referred to his yelling as "pastor intense fellowship" and explained that he was just "naturally loud." He also acknowledged calling Kemily a b**** and a wh*** after her ex-boyfriend had emailed her.[4] Kelvin testified that he had probably said Kemily was being stupid and that they have both criticized each other and called each other dumb. Kelvin believed that reconciliation was in everyone's best interests.

Rankin v. Rankin, No. 2019-CA-00238-COA, 2020 WL 5905077, at *1-2 (Miss. Ct. App. Oct. 6, 2020) (footnote omitted).

¶4. At the conclusion of Kemily's case-in-chief, Kelvin moved to dismiss the complaint for divorce and argued that the evidence "wholly, completely, [and] totally fail[ed] to make out a case for habitual cruel and inhuman treatment." The chancellor took that motion under advisement, as well as similar motions advanced following Kelvin's case and Kemily's rebuttal.

¶5. Later, the chancellor entered a fifteen-page memorandum opinion and final judgment that denied Kemily's complaint for divorce on the ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment. After recounting the evidence presented at trial and the applicable legal standards for a divorce on the ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment, including a 2017 amendment to Mississippi Code Section 93-5-1 (Rev. 2018), [5] the chancellor found "that the evidence presented [wa]s insufficient to grant [Kemily] a divorce on the ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment." Kemily timely appealed.

¶6. On appeal, the Court of Appeals found that "there was sufficient evidence to support granting the divorce on the ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment" and therefore reversed the chancellor's judgment and remanded the case "for further findings in accordance with [its] opinion." Rankin, 2020 WL 5905077, at *1.

¶7. Kelvin filed a petition for writ of certiorari and argued that the Court of Appeals' decision was (1) in direct conflict with well-established law regarding appellate review and (2) in direct conflict with a prior decision of this Court. We granted the petition.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶8. "When reviewing a decision of a chancellor, this Court applies a limited abuse of discretion standard of review." Mabus v. Mabus, 890 So.2d 806, 810 (Miss. 2003) (citing McNeil v. Hester, 753 So.2d 1057, 1063 (Miss. 2000)). "This Court will not disturb the chancellor's opinion when supported by substantial evidence unless the chancellor abused his discretion, was manifestly wrong, clearly erroneous or an erroneous legal standard was applied." Holloman v. Holloman, 691 So.2d 897, 898 (Miss. 1996) (citing Mount v. Mount, 624 So.2d 1001, 1004 (Miss. 1993)). "A chancellor's conclusions of law are reviewed de novo." Lowrey v. Lowrey, 25 So.3d 274, 285 (Miss. 2009) (citing Chesney v. Chesney, 910 So.2d 1057, 1060 (Miss. 2005)).

ANALYSIS

¶9. A divorce on the ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment requires the following to be shown by a preponderance of the evidence:

[C]onduct that either (1) endangers life, limb, or health, or creates a reasonable apprehension of such danger, rendering the relationship unsafe for the party seeking relief, or (2) is so unnatural and infamous as to make the marriage revolting to the nonoffending spouse and render it impossible for that spouse to discharge the duties of marriage, thus destroying the basis for its continuance.

Wangler v. Wangler, 294 So.3d 1138, 1143 (Miss. 2020) (alteration in original) (quoting Osborne v. Osborne, 202 So.3d 639, 641 (Miss. Ct. App. 2016)). "Divorces based upon habitual cruel and inhuman treatment are necessarily fact-intensive and require a case-by-case analysis." Littlefield v. Littlefield, 282 So.3d 820, 827 (Miss. Ct. App. 2019) (citing James Shelson, Mississippi Chancery Practice § 38.5 (2019)). "The offending spouse's conduct . . . 'must be shown to have been systematic and continuous.'" Wangler, 294 So.3d at 1143 (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Baggett v. Baggett, 246 So.3d 887, 892 (Miss. Ct. App. 2017)). "The conduct must consist of something more than unkindness or rudeness or mere incompatibility or want of affection." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Osborne, 202 So.3d at 641). Additionally, "the offended spouse must show a causal connection between the offending spouse's conduct and the impact on the offended spouse." Id. (internal quotation mark omitted) (quoting Baggett, 246 So.3d at 892).

¶10. The Court of Appeals found that the chancellor "erred in summarily concluding there was insufficient evidence of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment . . . ." Rankin, 2020 WL 5905077, at *4 (emphasis added). According to the court, "Kemily presented sufficient evidence, which if believed, established that Kelvin's behavior negatively affected her overall demeanor and caused her physical harm (e.g., migraines and elevated blood pressure)." Id. (emphasis added). In reaching that conclusion, the Court of Appeals noted that

[h]ad the chancery court found that Kemily's testimony lacked credibility, we would agree with the dissent and defer to the [chancery] court's discretion in such matters. But the chancery court's order made no such determination, and we cannot conclude that the court's determination of insufficient evidence is supported by the record.

Id. at *4 n.3 (emphasis added).

¶11. Kelvin asserts that the Court of Appeals' decision "ignores clear, well-established and longstanding principles of [appellate] review and [is] in direct conflict with . . . the presumption required on review." He further asserts that the Court of Appeals' decision conflicts with this Court's prior decision in Wangler, 294 So.3d 1138. We agree.

¶12. The Court of Appeals' decision is...

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