Before Prather, C.j., Smith And Waller, JJ.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Prather, Chief Jusice
DATE OF JUDGMENT: 08/20/96
TRIAL JUDGE: HON. PAT WISE
COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: HINDS COUNTY CHANCERY COURT
NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - OTHER
DISPOSITION REVERSED AND RENDERED - 7/2/98
MOTION FOR REHEARING FILED:
¶1. This suit arises from the interpretation of Miss. Code Ann. § 37-7-307, the statute pertaining, in part, to lump-sum payment of accrued leave for retiring public school teachers. Prior to 1994, there was no statutory provision for such payment. However, in 1994, the Legislature amended § 37-7-307 to provide for the payment of accumulated leave exceeding the maximum amount that may be credited for retirement purposes to retiring certificated *fn1 teachers at the rate paid to substitute teachers by the last school district in which the teacher was employed.
¶2. In 1995, the Legislature again amended Miss. Code Ann. § 37-7-307 to allow the retiring teacher to opt to receive payment for all unused accumulated leave at the substitute-teacher rate. In 1996, Miss. Code Ann. § 37-7-307 was amended to allow retiring certificated teachers to receive payment for a maximum of thirty days of unused leave at the substitute-teacher rate. The amendment also restricted payment to leave accumulated in the last school district in which the certificated teacher was employed. The 1996 amendment was scheduled to become effective July 1, 1996.
¶3. The appellees (a group of public school teachers) sought declaratory judgment in the First Judicial District of the Hinds County Chancery Court. Specifically, the teachers requested that the 1995 and 1996 amendments to the statute be declared unconstitutional, and that the State be enjoined from acting under these amendments. The teachers also sought a declaration that they were entitled to payment at the regular rate for all accumulated leave, regardless of the School District in which the leave accumulated.
¶4. After hearing the parties' arguments, the chancellor ruled that the statutory amendments lacked a rational basis and were unconstitutional, insofar as they applied to teachers who were hired prior to July 1, 1996. She ordered the State to pay retired teachers at their regular rate of pay for all days of accrued leave, regardless of the School District in which the leave accumulated. The State appealed, and this Court stayed the order of the trial Judge, pending the appeal.
¶5. The State raises the following issues for consideration by this Court:
A. Whether the chancellor erred in holding that the statute violates the Constitution?
B. Whether the chancellor erred in rewriting the statute?
¶6. On cross-appeal, the teachers raise the following issue:
C. Whether the chancellor erred in not fashioning the complete relief to which the appellees are entitled?
¶7. This Court finds that the appellees have failed to meet their heavy burden of proving that the statutory enactments were not rationally related to a legitimate government interest. Furthermore, the Legislature is the appropriate entity to determine the question of lump-sum payment for leave accumulated by retiring teachers. For this reason, the ...