Seals v. Stanton

Citation350 So.3d 1051
Decision Date22 September 2022
Docket Number2020-CA-00741-SCT
Parties Kimberlyn SEALS, Felecia Perkins, Esq., Jessica Ayers, Esq., and Derek D. Hopson, Sr., Esq. v. Ernest B. STANTON, II
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Mississippi





¶1. Kimberlyn Seals and her counsels of record, Felecia Perkins, Jessica Ayers, and Derek D. Hopson, Sr., appeal the Coahoma County Chancery Court's Contempt Order entered on April 8, 2020, the Temporary Order entered on April 28, 2020, the Jurisdictional Final Judgment entered on June 16, 2020, the Final Judgment on Motion for Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law entered on June 18, 2020, and the Amended Final Judgment entered on June 18, 2020, arguing the chancellor lacked jurisdiction and erroneously found them to be in contempt of court.

¶2. First, we find that the Coahoma County Chancery Court had jurisdiction. Second, we affirm the chancellor's finding that Perkins and Ayers were in direct criminal contempt for their failure to appear at a scheduled April 7 hearing. But we vacate the $3,000 sanction because it exceeds the penalties prescribed by statute. See Miss. Code § 9-1-17 (Rev. 2019). We remand for entry of judgment consistent with the statute. We also affirm the award of attorneys’ fees to opposing counsel.

¶3. Next, we find the chancellor erred by finding Hopson to be in direct criminal contempt for his failure to appear. Hopson did not provide notice to the chancery court before the hearing that he would not attend the hearing. Thus, his failure to appear was an act of constructive criminal contempt. Constructive criminal contempt charges require procedural safeguards of notice and a hearing. Thus, we vacate that judgment and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

¶4. Finally, we find that the chancellor erroneously found the attorneys to be in direct criminal contempt for violation of the September 2019 Temporary Order. If proved, such acts are civil contempt. We remand this matter for a determination of whether an indirect civil contempt proceeding should be commenced.


¶5. On May 12, 2017, Kimberlyn Seals gave birth to a child. Ernest B. Stanton, II, the father, filed a complaint with the Coahoma County Chancery Court, requesting that the court enter a judgment of filiation, make a determination of child support, award joint legal custody with a set standard visitation schedule, and require Kimberlyn to pay all court costs and attorneys’ fees. A Rule 81 summons was issued on January 16, 2018, providing notice to Kimberlyn that she was summoned to appear and defend Ernest's complaint on March 1, 2018. See Miss. R. Civ. P. 81. Kimberlyn was served with process on January 22, 2018.

¶6. On February 16, 2018, Kimberlyn, through counsel Richard B. Lewis, filed an answer and various counterclaims, requesting child support; requesting sole physical and legal custody of their child, with Ernest having limited visitation; and requesting that Ernest be required to pay his own attorneys’ fees and all final court costs. That same day, Kimberlyn filed a motion for continuance of the scheduled March 1, 2018 hearing. Ernest's counsel agreed to continue the case to a later date and subsequently answered Kimberlyn's counterclaims.

¶7. After months of inactivity, Larry Lewis filed a notice of entry of appearance as additional counsel for Kimberlyn on November 11, 2018. Subsequently, Richard Lewis filed a motion for leave to withdraw as counsel for Kimberlyn on March 6, 2019, on behalf of Larry Lewis and him. Lewis attached a letter to the motion from Kimberlyn, requesting a change in legal representation. The chancellor entered an order granting the motion on March 8, 2019. On April 9, 2019, Derek Hopson entered an appearance as attorney for Kimberlyn.

¶8. After another four months of inactivity, counsel for all parties met with the chancellor for an in-chambers conference. After the conference, the chancellor made an on-the-record ruling, directing the attorneys to prepare a temporary order to establish custody, visitation, and support. Subsequently, the chancellor entered a Temporary Order Establishing Custody, Visitation & Support (nunc pro tunc to August 18, 2019) on September 12, 2019. The order reads, "[i]f the parties are unable to agree [to a permanent schedule], then they shall contact the Court for a final hearing to take place in and about March 2020."

¶9. Kimberlyn filed a motion for reconsideration of the temporary visitation order entered on September 12, 2019, contending the order was unreasonable and unduly burdensome. Ernest filed a response in opposition. Kimberlyn then requested a trial setting to establish permanent visitation and support. The parties sought agreed hearing dates from the court administrator via email. On January 24, 2020, the court administrator offered Hopson multiple dates and times beginning with April 7 at 10:30 a.m. or April 9, 16, 20, 30 at 10:00 a.m. On January 28, 2020, Hopson's legal assistant emailed the court administrator, agreeing to April 7, 2020, at 10:30 a.m. The very same day, Ernest's counsel also agreed to April 7 at 10:30 a.m. The court administrator subsequently confirmed with counsel via email that the agreed hearing date on permanent visitation and support was set for April 7, 2020.

¶10. Then, on March 18, 2020, Hopson emailed Ernest's counsel requesting that the April 7 hearing be rescheduled. Ernest's counsel objected to continuing the hearing due to ongoing visitation issues. As a result, Ernest requested and was granted a telephonic hearing to discuss visitation issues. During the March 20, 2020, telephonic hearing, Kimberlyn requested a temporary suspension of Ernest's visitation set forth in the September 2019 order to minimize possible exposure to COVID-19. The chancellor denied Kimberlyn's motion and ruled that the parties should continue to abide by the September 12, 2019 order.

¶11. On that same day, Hopson filed a petition for interlocutory appeal in this Court on behalf of Kimberlyn, seeking to appeal the chancellor's order regarding visitation. On March 25, 2020, this Court denied that petition. Subsequently, Perkins and Ayers filed an entry of appearance on behalf of Kimberlyn on April 2, 2020. On April 6, 2020, Perkins and Ayers sought a continuance of the April 7 hearing. After filing their motion, Ayers emailed the court administrator asking if their motion could be heard. Ayers further informed the court administrator that she and Perkins would not appear at the April 7 hearing. The court administrator informed Ayers that the chancellor found their motion to be untimely and explicitly confirmed that the court expected all parties and counsel to appear on April 7 at 10:30 a.m.

¶12. On April 7, 2020, the chancellor, Ernest, and Ernest's attorneys appeared for the scheduled final hearing. First, the court made a public call for Kimberlyn and her counsel of record. Next, the court attempted to contact all by phone. The court then attempted contact via email. The court received no response from Kimberlyn, Perkins, or Ayers. Hopson did send a text message, asserting that he had been fired and that Perkins was Kimberlyn's new attorney. He also asserted that he was at that time in DeSoto County preparing for a case in Tupelo. Hopson, however, had not filed a motion seeking withdrawal, and no permission for Hopson to withdraw as Kimberlyn's counsel had been granted.

¶13. After Kimberlyn and her three attorneys of record failed to appear at the hearing, the chancellor entered an Order for Contempt of Court against Kimberlyn, Hopson, Perkins, and Ayers on April 8, 2020. Kimberlyn and the attorneys were held in contempt for failure to appear at the final hearing and separately for violation of the September 12, 2019 Temporary Order. The chancellor "assess[ed] a fine in the amount of $250.00 per day against Kimberlyn and each of her attorneys, Derek D. Hopson, Sr., Felecia Perkins and Jessica Ayers, for every day these individuals do not avail themselves to the Court, effective April 7, 2020." The chancellor awarded attorneys’ fees to Ernest for preparation and attendance at the final hearing.

¶14. In response, Kimberlyn and the attorneys filed a Motion to Set Aside Order for Contempt of Court as Void Ab Initio on April 17, 2020. They set forth that the chancellor did not have personal jurisdiction to conduct the final hearing, that they were not given proper notice of the final hearing, that they were not afforded the proper safeguards of notice and a hearing for the contempt order, and that the court should have recused from the contempt hearing.

¶15. A status conference was held on April 23, 2020, via Zoom. The chancellor asked Kimberlyn's attorneys to explain why Kimberlyn and her attorneys failed to appear at the final hearing. Hopson conceded that although he was still Kimberlyn's attorney of record, Perkins had taken over as lead counsel and was handling the case. Perkins informed the chancellor that she and Ayers had "no knowledge that any trial was set." The chancellor responded by stating,

I'm not required to enter an Order setting. Once a date is agreed upon by the attorneys, I set it on my docket, and it is put out there in the system. ... But we are not required to go out and create Orders and sign them and do whatever. So that was a validly set court date.

The attorneys of the parties offered oral arguments, submitted voluminous emails, and attached documents for the chancellor to review.

¶16. Following the status conference, the chancellor entered a Temporary Order on April 28, 2020. The chancellor entered a Jurisdictional Final Judgment on June 16, 2020, based on its consideration of the April 23, 2020 proceeding and the documents and emails presented by both parties....

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1 cases
  • In re Shamsiddeen
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • 9 Marzo 2023
    ...notice and a separate hearing, the Court vacated the contempt order and remanded the case to the trial court. Id. ¶30. Most recently, in Seals v. Stanton, this Court affirmed the trial court's finding of direct criminal contempt against two attorneys for their failure to appear. Seals v. St......

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