Wangler v. Wangler, NO. 2018-CA-01632-SCT

CourtMississippi Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtGRIFFIS, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT
Citation294 So.3d 1138
Parties Karrah T. WANGLER v. Richard C. WANGLER
Decision Date12 March 2020
Docket NumberNO. 2018-CA-01632-SCT

294 So.3d 1138

Karrah T. WANGLER
v.
Richard C. WANGLER

NO. 2018-CA-01632-SCT

Supreme Court of Mississippi.

March 12, 2020


ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: DAVID M. SESSUMS, VICKSBURG

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: CHASE FORD MORGAN, HATTIESBURG

EN BANC.

GRIFFIS, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:

294 So.3d 1140

¶1. Karrah Wangler appeals the chancellor's dismissal of her complaint for divorce on the ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment. Because Karrah failed to show sufficient evidence of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment, we affirm.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶2. Karrah and Richard Wangler were married September 30, 2016. They have one child, Elizabeth,1 born July 5, 2017. Karrah and Richard separated on December 26, 2017.

¶3. On January 3, 2018, Karrah filed a complaint for divorce on the ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment or, alternatively, irreconcilable differences. Richard later filed an answer and a counterclaim for divorce on the ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment or, alternatively, irreconcilable differences. The chancellor temporarily ordered joint legal custody of Elizabeth to the parties, with Karrah having temporary physical custody, subject to Richard's visitation. The chancellor set the matter for trial.

¶4. On October 16, 2018, one day before trial, Richard moved to withdraw his counterclaim for divorce. That same day, Karrah moved to amend her complaint for divorce to allege spousal domestic abuse. The chancellor granted Richard's motion and allowed him to withdraw his counterclaim for divorce. The chancellor denied Karrah's motion to amend her complaint.

¶5. At the conclusion of her case-in-chief, Karrah moved ore tenus to amend her complaint to conform to the evidence under Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 15(b). The motion was granted, and Karrah's complaint for divorce was amended to conform to the evidence presented during her case-in-chief. Richard then moved to dismiss Karrah's complaint for divorce due to her failure to prove habitual cruel and inhuman treatment. The chancellor found that Karrah "ha[d] failed to present adequate proof of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment" and therefore granted Richard's motion and dismissed Karrah's complaint for divorce. Karrah timely appealed. On appeal, Karrah argues that the chancellor erred by (1) denying her motion to amend the complaint and (2) dismissing her complaint for divorce.

DISCUSSION

I. Whether the chancellor erred by denying Karrah's motion to amend the complaint.

¶6. "[M]otions for leave to amend are left to the sound discretion of the trial court. This Court reviews such determinations under an abuse of discretion standard and unless convinced that the trial judge abused his discretion, we are without authority to reverse." Church v. Massey , 697 So. 2d 407, 413 (Miss. 1997) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting McCarty v. Kellum , 667 So. 2d 1277, 1283 (Miss. 1995) ).

¶7. [Mississippi] Rule [of Civil Procedure] 15(a) declares that leave to amend "shall be freely given when justice so requires"; this mandate is to be heeded ... if the underlying facts or circumstances relied upon by a plaintiff may be a proper subject of relief, he ought to be afforded an opportunity to test his claim on the merits. In the absence of any apparent or declared reason—such as undue delay, bad

294 So.3d 1141

faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, futility of the amendment, etc.—the leave sought should, as the rules require, be "freely given."

Webb v. Braswell , 930 So. 2d 387, 393 (Miss. 2006) (quoting Moeller v. Am. Guar. and Liab. Ins. Co. , 812 So. 2d 953, 962 (Miss. 2002) ).

¶8. Karrah argues that the chancellor should have granted her motion to amend the complaint because under Rule 15(a), "leave shall be freely given when justice so requires." Miss. R. Civ. P. 15(a). This Court disagrees and finds that the amendment was futile. Alternatively, any error by the chancellor was harmless.

¶9. Mississippi Code Section 93-5-1 (Rev. 2018) provides twelve causes for divorce. Among those causes is habitual cruel and inhuman treatment. Miss. Code Ann. § 93-5-1. Effective July 1, 2017, the Legislature amended Section 93-5-1 to include "spousal domestic abuse" as a form of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment. S.B. 2680, Reg. Sess., 2017 Miss. Laws ch. 427, § 6 (codified as amended at Miss. Code Ann. § 93-5-1 (Rev. 2018)).

¶10. Karrah filed her complaint for divorce on January 3, 2018, and alleged that Richard was "guilty of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment." More than nine months later, on October 16, 2018, Karrah moved to amend her complaint to allege spousal domestic abuse, specifically,

that Richard ... ha[d] engaged in a pattern of behavior against [her] of threats of intimidation, emotional or verbal abuse, forced isolation, and false accusations of marital infidelity, coupled with episodes of abandoning [her] at all times of the day or the night on the sides of public highways and in public places which pattern of behavior rises above the level of unkindness or rudeness or incompatibility or want of affection.

According to Karrah, "[o]ut of an abundance of caution and so as to avoid any ‘surprises’ or misunderstandings, [she] ... filed her motion to amend to explicitly and almost verbatim track the language of amended section 93-5-1...." Karrah explained that she moved to amend her complaint in order "to spell out the new ... standard for habitual cruel and inhuman treatment ...."

¶11. But as previously noted, the legislative amendment to Section 93-5-1 was effective July 1, 2017, approximately six months before Karrah and Richard separated and Karrah filed her complaint for divorce. Thus, Karrah had ample time to include in her complaint any allegation of spousal domestic abuse. Notwithstanding her failure to do so, the 2017 amendment to Section 93-5-1 was still applicable to Karrah's complaint alleging habitual cruel and inhuman treatment. In other words, because Karrah filed for divorce on the ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment after July 1, 2017, the effective date of the amendment, the amended language of Section 93-5-1 applied to her complaint. Additionally, the record shows that the parties participated in discovery and exchanged documentation regarding Karrah's allegations of spousal domestic abuse. Thus, Karrah's last-minute motion to amend the complaint to "track the language of amended section 93-5-1" and to "spell out" the new standard was futile. Accordingly, the chancellor did not err by denying the motion.

¶12. Alternatively, even if the chancellor's denial of Karrah's motion to amend the complaint was erroneous, such error was harmless. The record shows, and Karrah admits, that "Karrah had already spelled out her evidence in her responses

294 So.3d 1142

to discovery." Moreover, the record shows that Karrah testified at trial regarding her allegations of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment, including spousal domestic abuse. At the conclusion of Karrah's case-in-chief, the chancellor granted her motion to amend the pleadings to conform to the evidence under Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 15(b). As a result, the chancellor considered all of the testimony and evidence offered by Karrah in support of her claim for divorce on the ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment, including spousal domestic abuse. Therefore, as acknowledged by Karrah, any error by the chancellor in denying the motion to amend the complaint was harmless.

II. Whether the chancellor erred by dismissing Karrah's complaint for divorce.

¶13. At the conclusion of Karrah's case-in-chief, Richard moved to dismiss her complaint. In granting Richard's motion and dismissing Karrah's complaint for divorce, the chancellor found as follows:

[H]aving reviewed the pleadings, I've looked through all 13 exhibits that were admitted into evidence by stipulation, looking at the notes that I took during testimony, the [c]ourt finds that [Karrah] has failed to present adequate proof of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment[,] and after reviewing the standard set by the case law in the State of Mississippi, the [c]ourt is of the opinion that [Karrah] is not entitled to a divorce on the grounds of [habitual] cruel and inhuman treatment. So the [c]ourt would grant the motion to dismiss by [Richard].

¶14. Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b) states, in pertinent part,

After the plaintiff, in an action tried by the court without a jury, has completed the presentation of his evidence, the defendant, without waiving his right to offer evidence in the event the motion is not granted, may move for a dismissal on the ground that upon the facts and the law the plaintiff has shown no right to relief. The court may then render judgment against the plaintiff or may decline to render any judgment until the close of all the evidence.

¶15. "The standard of...

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11 practice notes
  • Roley v. Roley, 2019-CP-01863-COA
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Mississippi
    • 18 Mayo 2021
    ...ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment must be established by a preponderance of the evidence. See, e.g., Wangler v. Wangler , 294 So. 3d 1138, 1142-43 (¶16) (Miss. 2020), reh'g denied (May 7, 2020); Smith v. Smith , 614 So. 2d 394, 396 (Miss. 1993) ; Wires v. Wires , 297 So. 2d 900......
  • Roley v. Roley, NO. 2019-CP-01863-COA
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Mississippi
    • 18 Mayo 2021
    ...ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment must be established by a preponderance of the evidence. See, e.g., Wangler v. Wangler, 294 So. 3d 1138, 1142-43 (¶16) (Miss. 2020), reh'g denied (May 7, 2020); Smith v. Smith, 614 So. 2d 394, 396 (Miss. 1993); Wires v. Wires, 297 So. 2d 900, 90......
  • Warnock & Assocs., LLC v. City of Canton, 2020-CA-00611-COA
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Mississippi
    • 28 Septiembre 2021
    ...unless 328 So.3d 1266 convinced that the trial judge abused his discretion, we are without authority to reverse." Wangler v. Wangler , 294 So. 3d 1138, 1140 (¶6) (Miss. 2020) (brackets omitted) (quoting Church v. Massey , 697 So. 2d 407, 413 (Miss. 1997) ). Leave to amend a complaint "shall......
  • Rankin v. Rankin, 2019-CT-00238-SCT
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • 12 Agosto 2021
    ...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 ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
11 cases
  • Roley v. Roley, 2019-CP-01863-COA
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Mississippi
    • 18 Mayo 2021
    ...ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment must be established by a preponderance of the evidence. See, e.g., Wangler v. Wangler , 294 So. 3d 1138, 1142-43 (¶16) (Miss. 2020), reh'g denied (May 7, 2020); Smith v. Smith , 614 So. 2d 394, 396 (Miss. 1993) ; Wires v. Wires , 297 So. 2d 900......
  • Roley v. Roley, NO. 2019-CP-01863-COA
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Mississippi
    • 18 Mayo 2021
    ...ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment must be established by a preponderance of the evidence. See, e.g., Wangler v. Wangler, 294 So. 3d 1138, 1142-43 (¶16) (Miss. 2020), reh'g denied (May 7, 2020); Smith v. Smith, 614 So. 2d 394, 396 (Miss. 1993); Wires v. Wires, 297 So. 2d 900, 90......
  • Warnock & Assocs., LLC v. City of Canton, 2020-CA-00611-COA
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Mississippi
    • 28 Septiembre 2021
    ...unless 328 So.3d 1266 convinced that the trial judge abused his discretion, we are without authority to reverse." Wangler v. Wangler , 294 So. 3d 1138, 1140 (¶6) (Miss. 2020) (brackets omitted) (quoting Church v. Massey , 697 So. 2d 407, 413 (Miss. 1997) ). Leave to amend a complaint "shall......
  • Rankin v. Rankin, 2019-CT-00238-SCT
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • 12 Agosto 2021
    ...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 ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • Review of the Year 2020 in Family Law: COVID-19, Zoom, and Family Law in a Pandemic
    • United States
    • Family Law Quarterly Nbr. 54-4, January 2021
    • 1 Enero 2021
    ...949 N.W.2d 357, 364–67 (Neb. 2020). 309. Garrison v. Courtney, 304 So. 3d 1129, 1145 (Miss. Ct. App. 2020). 310. Wangler v. Wangler, 294 So. 3d 1138, 1141 (Miss. 2020). 311. Id. at 1143, 1147. Published in Family Law Quarterly , Volume 54, Number 4, 2021. © 2021 American Bar Association. Re......

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