Before Sullivan, P.j., Banks And Roberts, JJ.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Roberts, Justice,
DATE OF JUDGMENT: 10/16/96 TRIAL JUDGE: HON. LILLIE BLACKMON SANDERS COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: WILKINSON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT
NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - STATE BOARDS AND AGENCIES
DISPOSITION: REVERSED AND RENDERED - 01/14/99
¶1. This case comes before this Court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Wilkinson County, Mississippi, Judge Lillie Blackmon Sanders presiding. The Circuit Court was sitting as a court of appellate review regarding an administrative hearing held before the Mississippi Real Estate Appraiser Licensing and Certification Board (hereinafter "the Board"). The Board alleged that Ms. Wevlyn Inetta James' (hereinafter "James"), passing score on the July 10, 1995, certified General Real 0Estate Appraisal Examination was procured dishonestly. As a result, the Board entered a Board Order on February 15, 1996, declaring the exam null and void and denied James a Certified General License to practice real estate appraising in the State of Mississippi.
¶2. In response to the Board's Order, James filed a Notice of Appeal, Application for Review and Complaint for Other Relief with the Circuit Court of Wilkinson County on February 28, 1996. Briefs were filed and oral arguments were presented to the court on June 17, 1996. On October 16, 1996, the Circuit Court entered an order and ruling which reversed the Board's decision and issued an Order of Mandamus directing the Board to award the Certified General real estate appraiser license to James. ¶3. On November 14, 1996, the Board filed a Notice of Appeal to challenge the Circuit Court's ruling. Thereafter, the Board sought to stay that Order on December 6, 1996. The court below denied the Board's request for a stay on January 9, 1997 and a formal order reflecting the denial was entered on January 30, 1997. The Board likewise applied for a stay from this Court on January 10, 1997, but this application for a stay was also denied on March 18, 1997. Aggrieved by the proceedings below, the Board now appeals the October 16, 1996, Order and ruling of the Circuit Court raising the following issues:
I. THE FINDING THAT JAMES WAS DENIED DUE PROCESS OF LAW BASED ON INSUFFICIENCY OF NOTICE IS ERROR.
II. THE FINDING THAT JAMES WAS DENIED A FAIR AND IMPARTIAL TRIBUNAL WAS ERRONEOUS AND CONTRARY TO WELL ESTABLISHED PRINCIPLES OF ADMINISTRATIVE LAW.
III. THE INVESTIGATIVE FILE COMPILED BY THE AGENCY STAFF WAS A PART OF THE RECORD OF THE PROCEEDINGS, OR THE PROCEDURAL FAILURE TO INCLUDE SAME AS A PART OF THE RECORD WAS NOT A SUFFICIENT BASIS TO OVERTURN THE BOARD'S DECISION.
IV. AN ORDER OF MANDAMUS WAS NOT THE APPROPRIATE REMEDY IN THIS CAUSE AND THE CIRCUIT COURT EXCEEDED THE SCOPE OF ITS AUTHORITY IN ISSUING SAME.
¶4. The Board conducted a lawful investigation and hearing which determined that Wevlyn Inetta James should be denied an appraisal license because she had cheated on the examination. On review, we find that Judge Sanders erroneously reviewed the administrative decision and substituted her own judgment for that of the Board. Therefore, the Circuit Court's decision is reversed and the refusal of James' license by the Board is affirmed.
¶5. This matter originated when Elizabeth Cox (hereinafter "Cox"), a member of the Board's staff, was grading the July 10, 1995 real estate appraisal examination. Cox noticed that James' answer sheet and the answer sheet of one of James' friends, who sat next to her during the examination, were practically identical. Cox brought this matter to the attention of her supervisor, James Alfred "Al" Waits (hereinafter "Waits"). Waits further examined the sheets and determined that the two answer sheets were identical save for one question.
¶6. Waits testified that both James and her counterpart missed 21 out of 125 questions. Out of the 21 questions, 20 of those were the same question with the identical missed answer marked. Also, several of the same questions had been answered incorrectly and then erased and replaced with the correct response. Further, the examinees were issued scratch paper to use for mathematical calculations. All of the examinees' scratch papers, except James', were fully used with scratch marks and calculations all over them. However, James' scratch paper only had one listing of numbers on the entire page. ¶7. Cox and Waits then sought guidance from one of the members of the Board, Mr. Newell W. "Chris" Brigham, III (hereinafter "Brigham"). After looking at the examination and interviewing James and the other applicant in question, a decision was made to present the matter to the Board.
¶8. An administrative hearing was scheduled before the Board for November 16, in order to present the Board with evidence surrounding James' examination. James and her attorney were both notified of the scheduled hearing by letter, dated October 25, 1995. This letter advised them of the date and time of the hearing, the nature and purpose of the hearing and the rights to which James would be entitled, including the right to present evidence, to call and cross-examine witnesses and to be represented by counsel. The letter was mailed to the address provided by James to the Board when she took her examination.
¶9. On November 16, 1995, James failed to appear at the scheduled hearing and upon Conclusion, thereof, the Board declined to issue James a Certified Real Estate Appraisal License. The Board entered an order on February 15, 1996, finding that James' score on the July 10, 1995 appraisal examination was null and void as it was procured dishonestly.
¶10. On February 28, 1996, in response to the Board's order, James filed an appeal with the Circuit Court of Wilkinson County. James claimed that she had not been properly notified of the hearing and was therefore denied due process of the law. James also alleged that Brigham's participation in her investigation was improper as he was a member of the Board. James finally asserted that her passing grade on the examination was properly obtained and thereby qualified her to receive her appraisal license.
¶11. After receiving briefs and listening to oral arguments from both parties, the Circuit Court found for James and entered an Order of Mandamus directing the Board to issue a real estate appraisal license to James. After unsuccessfully seeking a stay to the Order of ...