Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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Paula Hathorn appealed a circuit court judgment granting summary judgment in favor of the Louisville Utilities Commission (Commission). Hathorn sued the Commission along with the City of Louisville and the O’Reilly Auto Parts store for injuries she claimed resulted from a fall that occurred after she stepped into a sunken utility box set into a sidewalk in front of O’Reilly’s Auto Parts. Hathorn dismissed O’Reilly Auto Parts and the City from the suit after entering into a settlement agreement with each separately. The Commission thereafter moved for summary judgment, which was granted based on the court’s findings that: (1) the Commission was a subsidiary of the City, and according to the settlement agreement, Hathorn had released all claims against the City and its subsidiaries; (2) the Commission was immune from liability in this instance under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act (MTCA) because it did not have a ministerial duty to maintain the water meter at a level even with the ground; and (3) Hathorn could not maintain a premises liability claim against the Commission because the City owned the Commission’s assets including its water meter boxes. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that Hathorn released her claim against the Commission when she entered into a settlement agreement with the City. Therefore, the Court affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the Commission. This issue being dispositive, the Court limited its decision in this case to that assignment of error. View "Hathorn v. Louisville Utilities Commission" on Justia Law

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The Mayor and the Columbus City Council members held four pairs of prearranged, nonsocial and subquorum gatherings over the course of two months. For each pair of gatherings, the Mayor first met with three Council members, and then later the same day, he met with the remaining three Council members on the same topic. Because all of the gatherings were just shy of a quorum (four Council members would have constituted a quorum), the gatherings were not open to the public. A reporter for The Commercial Dispatch received notice of the meetings, and filed an Open Meetings Act Complaint against the Mayor and the City of Columbus. The Ethics Commission found that the Mayor and the City of Columbus had violated the Open Meetings Act. The Mayor and the City of Columbus appealed to the chancery court. The chancery court affirmed the Commission’s judgment on de novo review. The Mayor and the City of Columbus appealed to this Court. Finding no reversible error in the chancery court's judgment, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed. View "City of Columbus v. Commercial Dispatch" on Justia Law

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The Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Group Self-Insurer Guaranty Association (“Guaranty Association”) was ordered by the Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Commission (“Commission”) to assess former members of the Mississippi Comp Choice Workers’ Compensation Self-Insurers Fund (“Comp Choice”). In 2010, the Commission found that “a careful evaluation of the remaining assets and outstanding claims unfortunately shows an insufficient amount of Comp Choice assets to cover the projected claim payout.” The Commission ordered an assessment of the former members of Comp Choice for the last four years showing losses. The former members did not pay their assessments, and the Guaranty Association sued. The former members of Comp Choice filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the Guaranty Association ignored their right of appeal and that the action was not ripe for consideration, was improper, and/or was premature and should be dismissed. The Circuit Court denied Comp Choice’s motion to dismiss, and ultimately ruled against the former members. Finding no reversible error in the judgment, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed. View "Scott Penn, Inc. v. Mississippi Workers' Compensation Group Self-Insurer Guaranty Association" on Justia Law

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The circuit court ruled Enoch Oliver could proceed to trial with his malicious-prosecution claim against University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) and two of its law-enforcement officers, Syrone McBeath and David Stewart. Oliver was charged with three misdemeanors: disorderly conduct for failure to comply with the commands of a police officer, resisting arrest, and carrying a concealed weapon. A nol-pros order was signed by the trial court and charges were ultimately dropped against Oliver. Oliver sued civilly, and UMMC, McBeath, and Stewart were served with process; several other officers were not. UMMC, McBeath, and Stewart filed a motion to dismiss, which was joined by the unserved defendants, who specially appeared. The served defendants argued Oliver’s claims were governed by the Mississippi Tort Claims Act (MTCA) and its one-year statute of limitations. The lone exception was the malicious prosecution of the felony claim, because the one-year statute of limitations did not begin to run until that charge was nol-prossed. The unserved defendants’ motion was granted, leaving the remaining claim against the served defendants as the malicious-prosecution claim based on the felony charge. Three-and-a-half years later, UMMC, McBeath, and Stewart filed a motion for summary judgment. UMMC argued, as a state agency, it had not waived sovereign immunity for a malice-based claim; McBeath and Stewart argued Oliver lacked proof they maliciously prosecuted him. Alternatively, all defendants cited the MTCA’s police-protection and discretionary-function immunity. The circuit court denied the defendants’ motion. UMMC, McBeath, and Stewart filed this interlocutory appeal, claiming they were entitled to summary judgment. The Mississippi Supreme Court determined as a matter of law, malice-based torts did not fall under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act’s sovereign-immunity waiver. So Oliver had no malicious-prosecution claim against UMMC or its employees in their official capacity. Oliver also brought malicious-prosecution claims against the UMMC officers in their individual capacity, but the record showed Oliver failed to put forth any evidence the officers acted with malice or lacked probable cause. The Court thus reversed the circuit court’s denial of summary judgment and rendered a final judgment in defendants’ favor. View "University of Mississippi Medical Center v. Oliver" on Justia Law

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The Madison County Board of Supervisors (the Board) found Arlin George Hatfield, III (who raised “chickens, guinea fowl, and ducks”) violated a Madison County Zoning Ordinance (the Ordinance) section, which did not expressly permit raising and keeping fowl in residential neighborhoods. The Board’s decision was consistent with an earlier interpretation and application of the Ordinance section. Hatfield was sued in October 2013 a little over a year after purchasing a lot in the Deer Haven Subdivision, by the Deer Haven Owners Association (DHOA). The claim stemmed from his supposed violation of subdivision covenants that prohibited keeping or raising fowl4 and constructing structures—such as pens and coops—without DHOA approval. Hatfield alleges that while this lawsuit was pending, DHOA contacted and involved Scott Weeks, an administrator with the Madison County Planning and Zoning Department. Weeks inspected Hatfield’s property on February 18, 2015, and found Hatfield was violating the “R-1 Residential District” section of the Madison County Zoning Ordinance. Hatfield filed a Notice of Appeal and Intent to File Bill of Exceptions, arguing the Board’s decision was arbitrary and capricious, not supported by substantial evidence, and was based on an unconstitutionally vague Ordinance section. After review, based on the Board’s prior treatment of a similar matter and its construction of the applicable zoning law, the Mississippi Supreme Court found the Board’s decision was neither arbitrary nor capricious. The Court also found that, in light of the entire Ordinance, Hatfield had sufficient notice that keeping or raising fowl on residential property was prohibited. View "Hatfield v. Board of Supervisors of Madison County" on Justia Law

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Craig Jones filed a petition for judicial review of the Tunica County Democratic Executive Committee’s (TCDEC) decision that he was not qualified to run in its primary for Tunica County Board of Supervisors, Beat Five position. The trial court found that Jones’ name should be on the primary ballot. TCDEC appealed, but failed to prosecute the appeal and kept Jones’ name off the primary ballot. The trial court then vacated the primary election one day before the general election, which took place and which was won by an independent candidate. Jones then petitioned under Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 60 for relief from the judgment vacating the primary election, which the trial court granted. Because the trial court lacked authority to enter the second and third orders, as no election contest was ever filed, the Mississippi Supreme Court vacated those orders and held the uncontested election results currently stand. View "Tunica County Democratic Executive Committee v. Jones" on Justia Law

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The Mississippi Public Service Commission (MPSC) adopted a rule requiring utilities to waive utility deposits for certified domestic violence victims for a period of sixty days. The rule also required the utilities to keep the information regarding the domestic violence victims confidential and established penalties for violating that confidentiality. The Mississippi Rural Water Association, Inc. (“Water Association”) appealed, objecting to the promulgation of the new rule, but the chancery court affirmed the MPSC’s decision. The Mississippi Supreme Court found the MPSC lacked statutory authority to adopt any rule regulating the rates of nonprofit water utility associations and corporations. Accordingly, the Court reversed the order adopting the new rule and remanded this case to the MPSC for further proceedings. View "Mississippi Rural Water Association, Inc. v. Mississippi Public Service Comm'n" on Justia Law

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Rita McIntosh appealed a circuit court’s judgment affirming the Mississippi Real Estate Commission’s disciplinary order against her, finding that McIntosh had engaged in “improper dealing.” According to the order, McIntosh, as exclusive agent of the seller, interjected herself into the lender’s appraiser selection process and then tried to keep the selected appraiser from completing the appraisal assignment. The Commission imposed a ninety-day suspension, plus a thirty-day suspension held in abeyance, along with eight months’ probation and continuing education courses. Because the Mississippi Supreme Court found McIntosh’s alleged conduct did not constitute improper dealing as contemplated by the Mississippi Real Estate Brokers License Act, it reversed rendered judgment in favor of McIntosh. View "McIntosh v. Mississippi Real Estate Comm'n" on Justia Law

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Dr. Andy Barlow was disciplined by the Mississippi State Board of Chiropractic Examiners for advertising in violation of the statutes governing chiropractors. The complaint alleged that Dr. Barlow advertised using professional designations other than “chiropractor,” “doctor of chiropractic,” “D.C.,” or “chiropractic physician”; Dr. Barlow advertised as D.C., and also as DACNB, FACFN, and as a “Chiropractic Neurologist.” The Board levied a monetary penalty plus the costs of his prosecution. The circuit court affirmed the Board, and Dr. Barlow appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court, alleging that the statute governing chiropractic advertising had been implicitly amended or repealed, that the statute governing chiropractic advertising violated his First Amendment rights, and that the Board was without authority to assess the costs of the investigation to him. Furthermore, he argued the circuit court erred by failing to afford him a “de novo appeal.” Because Dr. Barlow’s arguments on whether he should be disciplined lack merit, the Court affirmed the judgments of the Board and circuit court on those issues. However, because the Board lacked authority to directly assess Dr. Barlow the costs of its investigation, the Court reversed on the issue of costs. View "Barlow v. Miss.State Bd. of Chiropractic Examiners" on Justia Law

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The Mississippi Supreme Court found that Tunica County failed to meet its burden of proof that Chapter Number 920, Local and Private Laws of 2004 (“House Bill 1002”) unconstitutional or otherwise unlawful. Tunica County sought review of a Circuit Court’s summary-judgment ruling that the law, which required the County to distribute portions of a revenue based gaming fee to the Town of Tunica and the Tunica County School District, was constitutional. Specifically, the County argued: House Bill 1002 deprived it of its property interest in the casino fees without due process of law; the distributions required by House Bill 1002 constituted an unlawful donation of public funds; House Bill 1002 impermissibly suspended certain general statutes and provided improper support for a common school; alternatively, the County alleged that House Bill 1002 violated Mississippi common law and that the current Board of Supervisors could not be bound by the decisions of prior Boards to comply with the law. The County asked the circuit court to declare House Bill 1002 unconstitutional and issue an injunction against the continued enforcement of the statute. The Supreme Court concluded the County lacked standing to challenge House Bill 1002 on due process grounds; notwithstanding, the County’s argument was without merit because its authority to impose the 3.2 percent gaming fee came from the Legislature, not the constitution. The Court concluded the arguments made with respect to the other issues the County raised on appeal were without merit. The Court affirmed the grant of summary judgment, but vacated on the award of attorney’s fees. The case was remanded for a determination of whether there was a legal basis for the award of fees, and if so, whether the requested amounts were reasonable. View "Tunica County v. Town of Tunica" on Justia Law