Justia Mississippi Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Election Law
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After losing their bids for the November 2019 elections for Quitman County Chancery and Circuit Clerk, Shirley Smith Taylor and Tea “Windless” Keeler, respectively, filed election contests. In July 2020, following a two-day trial of the consolidated contests, the court entered its Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, dismissing the election contests with prejudice and finding that six enumerated claims brought by Taylor and Keeler were frivolous.Further, the court denied Brenda Wiggs’s and T.H. “Butch” Scipper’s requests that Taylor and Keeler be sanctioned, and that Wiggs and Scipper be awarded attorneys’ fees under Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 11(b) and the Litigation Accountability Act of 1988 (LAA). The Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed in part the circuit court’s denial of an award of attorneys’ fees under Rule 11(b) since the court’s decision was not an abuse of discretion. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded in part the circuit court’s decision to deny the imposition of sanctions and award of attorneys’ fees under the LAA in light of its finding that six of Taylor’s and Keeler’s claims were frivolous. View "In Re: Contest of the November 5, 2019 General Election for the Chancery Clerk of Quitman, Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Wayne Self lost the election for Leflore County Mississippi District 4 Supervisor on November 5, 2019. He subsequently petitioned the circuit court to contest the election, alleging numerous violations of Mississippi election law relating to absentee ballots and the results of a voting machine in the Rising Sun Precinct. Self contended he received a majority of the legal votes cast, or, in the alternative, that a new election should have been ordered. After a hearing on the matter, a special judge found that Self’s proposed remedy to invalidate the absentee ballots and the results of a voting machine were not supported by the evidence. Aggrieved, Self appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court. After review, the Supreme Court concluded Self failed to prove that: (1) enough illegal votes were cast for Mitchell to change the results or place the results in doubt; or (2) that so many votes are disqualified that the will of the voters cannot be ascertained. "The votes invalidated by the court was 10.8 percent which is less than 30 percent of the total votes cast, so unless fraud, intentional wrongdoing or some other departure from the procedures was present, Self was not entitled to a new election." View "Self v. Mitchell" on Justia Law

Posted in: Election Law
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Richard and Stacy Andreacchio invoked Mississippi Code Section 23-15-951 (Rev. 2018), not to challenge the determination that the Republican candidate, Kassie Coleman, received more legal votes than her Democrat opponent in the November 2019 election for district attorney of the Tenth Circuit District. The Andreacchios conceded Coleman won her election. However, they contended Coleman was not qualified to run in the first place. The Mississippi Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not err in dismissing the Andreacchios complaint: the mechanism to challenge a candidate who was qualified to run for his or her political party’s nomination was provided in Mississippi Code Section 23-15-961 (Rev. 2018). View "Andreacchio v. Coleman" on Justia Law

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Jim Harreld and Karl Banks ran for the position of District 4 Supervisor in Madison County, Mississippi. Banks won the November 5, 2019 election by fifty-seven votes. The Madison County Election Commission certified Banks as the winner of the election. Harreld challenged the election and asked the trial court to order a special election or to declare him the winner of the November election. The Madison County Circuit Court affirmed the election as certified. Harreld appealed. Finding no reversible error in the circuit court's order, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed. View "Harreld v. Banks" on Justia Law

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On November 3, 2020, a strong majority of the voters of Mississippi approved Initiative 65, which established a legal medical-marijuana program. The Petitioners challenged the Secretary of State’s approval of the initiative for inclusion on the ballot, arguing it would have been impossible for the petition seeking to place Initiative 65 on the ballot to be properly certified as meeting Miss. Const. art. 15, section 273 prerequisites by the Secretary of State. As the petition was certified in error, the Petitioners contended that all subsequent actions were void. “Remaining mindful of both the November 3, 2020 election results and the clear language in section 273 seeking to preserve the right of the people to enact changes to their Constitution,” the Mississippi Supreme Court held that the text of section 273 failed to account for the possibility that the State’s representation in the United States House of Representatives and corresponding congressional districts would be reduced. “[T]he intent evidenced by the text was to tie the twenty percent cap to Mississippi’s congressional districts, of which there are now four. In other words, the loss of congressional representation did, indeed, break section 273 so that, absent amendment, it no longer functions.” A majority of the Mississippi Court reversed the Secretary of State’s certification if Initiative 65, and held that any subsequent proceedings on it were void. View "In Re Initiative Measure No. 65" on Justia Law

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Following a narrow loss to David Archie in the Hinds County Mississippi Board of Supervisors for District 2 Primary Election, Darrell McQuirter filed a Petition to Contest Qualifications of Archie as nominee for supervisor, claiming that Archie was not a resident of District 2 at the time of the primary election. The Hinds County circuit court found in favor of Archie. Specifically, the trial court found Archie established he domicile within Hinds County District 2. The record did not indicate that the trial judge acted alone. But the trial judge’s final order did not expressly mention elections commissioners’ concurrences, and there was no evidence of any dissent. McQuirter argued on appeal: (1) the trial judge erred by failing to allow the election commissioners to either concur or dissent on either the record or in the trial judge’s order; and (2) the trial court erred by finding that Archie qualified as a resident of the district. The Mississippi Supreme Court concluded McQuirter bore the burden of supplying the Court with evidence through the record that established his claim of error, but failed to do so. If the requisite number of election commissioners attend and none dissent, per the applicable statute, the “facts shall not be subject to appellate review.” A majority of the Supreme Court found the statute did not require concurrences of commissioner be placed in the record: "Together, Sections 23-15-931 and -933 bar appellate review of the factual findings without evidence of any commissioner’s dissent or lack of attendance, not concurrence. Here, the commissioners were in attendance, and none dissented." If actual dissents existed, the Court held McQuirter had a duty to supply the Court with a record that evidenced a dissent or the inability to provide record of a dissent; the trial judge’s lack of indicating the commissioners’ concurrence does not suggest that one or more had dissented. The Court thus determined review of Archie's residence was precluded. Judgement of the trial court was affirmed. View "McQuirter v. Archie" on Justia Law

Posted in: Election Law
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Luther Gene Folson, Jr., contested the 2019 general election for sheriff of Yalobusha County, Mississippi. Mark Fulco was declared the winner by a margin of two votes. The trial court ordered that a special election be held because the commingling of four illegal absentee votes with legal absentee votes had made it impossible to discern the will of the voters. Folson appeals the trial court’s order. This case was under expedited review. The Mississippi Supreme Court concluded the issue on direct appeal was not whether there were illegal votes; rather the issue was whether a special election was the appropriate remedy. On cross-appeal, the issue was whether newly registered voters who had not voted in the general election should have been allowed to vote in the court-ordered special election. The Supreme Court found the trial court appropriately ordered a special election after determining that the will of the voters could not be ascertained. Fulco’s cross-appeal was without merit because Mississippi law allowed an elector to vote in any election as long as the elector satisfied the necessary voting requirements. Thus, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s decision. View "Folson v. Fulco" on Justia Law

Posted in: Election Law
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Six plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment regarding the meaning of the absentee-ballot provision under Mississippi law and its most recent addition in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their claims dealt exclusively with Mississippi Code Section 23-15-713(d). In partially granting plaintiffs' request, the chancery court ruled: "as it pertains to the issue of . . . whether [Section] 23-15-713(d) permits any voter with pre-existing conditions that cause COVID-19 to present a greater risk of severe illness or death to vote by absentee ballot during the COVID-19 pandemic – is well taken and the relief sought is hereby GRANTED to the extent that such pre-existing 'physical . . . condition impairs, interferes with, or limits a person’s ability to engage in certain tasks or actions or participate in typical daily activities and interactions' or in an 'impaired function or ability' that interferes thereof." The chancery court denied the Plaintiffs’ second request, finding that Section 24-15- 713(d) did not permit any voter to vote absentee if he or she wanted to avoid voting in-person at a polling place due to guidance from the MDH, the CDC, or public-health authorities to avoid unnecessary public gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic. The chancery court declared, however, that “a voter will be allowed to vote absentee if he or she or any dependent has consulted with a physician who recommends, because of that individual’s physical disability or that of their dependent, not attending any public gathering because of the possibility of contracting COVID-19[.]” The chancery court denied the Plaintiffs’ third request for injunctive relief. Secretary of State Michael Watson, Jr. appealed the chancery court’s order, arguing the plain terms of Section 24-15-713(d), a voter must have a “physical disability,” and “because of” that disability, voting in-person “could reasonably cause danger” to the voter or others. The Secretary of State maintained a preexisting condition that was not itself a “physical disability” cannot satisfy the statute, whether or not the voter believed that COVID-19 might make voting in person dangerous. The Secretary of State contended the chancery court erred to the extent its order suggested that Section 23-15-713(d) applied to voters otherwise. The Mississippi Supreme Court concluded the chancery court erred to the extent its order declared Section 25-15-713(d) permitted any voter with preexisting conditions that cause COVID-19 to present a greater risk of severe illness or death to vote by absentee ballot during the COVID-19 pandemic. Further, the chancery court erred to the extent that its order allowed a “recommended” quarantine to qualify as a “physician-imposed quarantine.” The court's order was affirmed in all other respects. View "Watson v. Oppenheim" on Justia Law

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In 2019, Margaret Parks and Veda Horton were candidates in the Democratic Primary runoff election for Humphreys County, Mississippi Tax Assessor and Collector. Horton received the most votes, and Parks contested the election. The circuit judge ruled that the primary should have been nullified and ordered a special election (a ruling not contested in this appeal). The circuit judge’s order was entered seven days after Horton was sworn. Parks moved the circuit court to declare her, the incumbent, the holdover officeholder, or, in the alternative, to declare the office vacant pending a special election. The circuit judge ruled that Horton was the lawful officeholder and denied the motion. This appeal challenged the circuit judge’s ruling, and the Mississippi Supreme Court had to consider whether the office should have been declared vacant or, if it was not, who the proper officeholder should have been until the new election is completed. The Supreme Court held that because Horton entered the term of office before the final adjudication of the election contest, under Mississippi Code Section 23-15-937, Horton was the lawful holder of the office until the special election. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the circuit judge’s decision to deny Parks’s motion to declare her the holdover officeholder or to declare the office vacant. View "In Re: Democratic Primary for Humphreys County Tax Assessor and Collector: Parks v. Horton" on Justia Law

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Former Court of Appeals Judge Ceola James lost the 2016 election for the Court of Appeals by nearly twenty-two thousand votes. James filed an election contest against the winner, Judge Latrice Westbrooks, alleging Westbrooks improperly affiliated with the Democratic Party and improperly aligned herself with a political candidate, Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi’s Second United States Congressional District. James argued that she received all of the “legal” votes due to Westbrooks’s alleged violations of election law and pleaded that she is entitled to hold the judicial post won by Westbrooks. Westbrooks moved for summary judgment, and at the hearing on the motion, the trial court found James failed to submit proof that Westbrooks had improperly aligned her campaign with a political candidate or political party and granted summary judgment in favor of Westbrooks. View "James v. Westbrooks" on Justia Law