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REGION VII, MENTAL HEALTH-MENTAL RETARDATION CENTER: H. H. BAGWELL, BEN ROSENKRANS, DR. JOE N. ROBINSON, MRS. MARION COLE, JAMES LANDRUM, SANDRA CUMMINGS, LAURLINE TABOR, COMMISSIONERS OF REGIONAL MENTAL HEALTH-MENTAL RETARDATION COMMISSION, REGION VII, and GEORGE RENAKER v. MARY LAURA ISAAC

APRIL 13, 1988

REGION VII, MENTAL HEALTH-MENTAL RETARDATION CENTER: H. H. BAGWELL, BEN ROSENKRANS, DR. JOE N. ROBINSON, MRS. MARION COLE, JAMES LANDRUM, SANDRA CUMMINGS, LAURLINE TABOR, COMMISSIONERS OF REGIONAL MENTAL HEALTH-MENTAL RETARDATION COMMISSION, REGION VII, and GEORGE RENAKER
v.
MARY LAURA ISAAC, DENNIS ISAAC, TANNIE ISAAC, and BILLIE ISAAC, a Minor, and ANNETTE ISAAC, a Minor, by and through their Next Friend, MARY LAURA ISAAC



BEFORE DAN LEE, P.J., ANDERSON and GRIFFIN, JJ.

GRIFFIN, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:

Region VII, Mental Health-Mental Retardation Center,

et al., were granted interlocutory appeal by the Oktibbeha County Circuit Court, from that court's order denying their motions for summary judgment. As error, appellants and defendants below allege that denial of said motions, based upon sovereign and public official immunity, was contrary to the controlling principles of Mississippi law. We agree, and will address the claims of the individual parties in turn.

 THE FACTS

 The instant litigation is a wrongful death action by the family of John Isaac, seeking to recover $1,000,000 actual and $1,000,000 punitive damages for the death of Isaac, who was stabbed to death by one James Bishop, on March 5, 1981. Isaac and Bishop were roommates in the Supervised Apartment Program established by the Region VII Mental Health-Mental Retardation Commission (" Region VII "), wherein commercially available apartment units in Starkville, Oktibbeha County, Mississippi, were provided for lease to certain disabled adults enrolled in the program. Apparently, a minimum of supervision was exercised over the" clients "in the program, entailing a daily half-hour meeting period between the program's staff members and their" clients ". The" clients "would set goals for themselves - such as finding a job, etc. - which the parties would meet to discuss.

 Following Bishop's indictment for murder on March 5, 1981 (a wholly separate cause of action from the case at bar), Isaac's mother and siblings (his heirs) filed a complaint against Region VII, its individual commissioners, and George Renaker, an employee of Region VII in the Supervised Apartment Program, alleging among other things that defendants owed a duty of reasonable care with regard to protection of John Isaac, had negligently breached this duty in the scope and course of their employment, and as such were jointly and severally liable for damages for the wrongful death of John Isaac.

 After extensive discovery had been conducted, defendants filed motions for summary judgment, based upon the defense of sovereign immunity, and qualified public official immunity, to the charges filed by plaintiffs against them. Memorandum briefs in support of these motions for summary judgment were filed as well.

 Oral argument was heard on the motions and, upon the request of the court, submitted on the aforementioned written briefs.

 On June 1, 1986, the lower court denied the motions for summary judgment as to all defendants.

 Upon petition of the defendants, the lower court granted their motion for interlocutory appeal, allowing appeal of the denial of the motions for summary judgment to come before this Court.

 I.

 Was there no genuine issue of material fact that Region VII Mental Health-Mental Retardation Center is entitled to summary dismissal on the basis of sovereign immunity?

 The sole basis for Region VII's motion for summary judgment rests in a defense of protection from liability for damages sought via the doctrine of sovereign immunity. As such, Region VII claims that there is no issue of genuine fact material to any element in plaintiffs' claim, and its motion for summary judgment was thus improperly denied.

 This is an area of the law which has received a great deal of attention, and as recently as this past week this Court handed down three decisions regarding the immunity of the state and its agencies and subdivisions from suit as well as the qualified immunity owing to the public officials employed therein. *fn1

 The seminal decision of Pruett v. City of Rosedale, 421 So. 2d 1246 (Miss. 1982) set the stage: that opinion provided that sovereignty would be abolished only for causes accruing after July 1, 1984, and anything accruing prior to that date was to be governed by the traditional common law immunities. *fn2

 The Isaacs' claim arose on March 5, 1981, and thus is controlled by pre-Pruett case law and statutory law in effect prior to July 1, 1984. Under this law, the State and its subdivisions are not subject to suit in absence of express statutory authority, and such authority cannot merely be implied unless the implication is made clear and unambiguous by the enabling statute. Strait, supra. See also, Lowndes County District 5 v. Miss. State Hwy. Comm'n., 220 So. 2d 349 (Miss. 1969); French v. Pearl ...


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