The opinion of the court was delivered by: Smith, Justice,
DATE OF JUDGMENT: 11/14/97
TRIAL JUDGE: HON. JOHN C. ROSS, JR.
COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: ALCORN COUNTYCHANCERY COURT
NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - STATE BOARDS AND AGENCIES
DISPOSITION: REVERSED AND RENDERED - 2/4/1999
¶1. From May of 1981 to the present, Roger Voyles has worked for various law enforcement agencies. From May of 1981 through February of 1982, he was employed with the City of Savannah, Tennessee, as a patrolman. Following February of 1982 and until September of 1993, Mr. Voyles worked for either the City of Corinth police department or the Alcorn County Sheriff's Office for brief periods of time not exceeding one year. However, in September of 1993, Mr. Voyles again was employed with the Alcorn County Sheriff's Department and has served in that capacity until recently.
¶2. Because of an injury to his knee while in the line of duty, Voyles has been unable to attend the law enforcement officer's training academy. His physician recently decided his injury would not progress and was physically unable to complete the physical requirements of the academy. In April of 1997, Mr. Voyles made an application to the Board on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Training (the "Board") to certify him under the grandfather clause and ratify his past four years at the sheriff's department.
¶3. He based his application for certification on two primary grounds. First, Voyles based his application on the "grandfather clause" of Miss. Code Ann. § 45-6-11(1). Second, he argued that he had been properly employed without attending the academy, because of illness or other events beyond his control in accord with Miss. Code Ann. § 45-6-11(3)(a). On May 12, 1997, Voyles appeared before the Board in Starkville, Mississippi, and presented his application. On July 1, 1997, the Board denied his certification on the basis that the Board had no statutory authority to "grandfather" an officer who was serving in another state on July 1, 1981.
¶4. Aggrieved by the Board's decision, Voyles timely appealed to the Alcorn County Chancery Court on July 17, 1997. Following a hearing in October of 1997, the court issued an opinion and order on November 17, 1997. The chancellor reversed in holding the Board went beyond its scope of statutory authority by misinterpreting the statutory mandate. The chancellor held: (1) that his continuous employment from September of 1993 to July of 1997 is ratified and approved, because Voyles is unable to complete the requirements due to illness or other events beyond his control, as provided in Section 45-6-11(3)(a), and he is entitled to be "grandfathered" under Section 45-6-11(1); and (2) the Board must certify Voyles under the grandfather provisions of Section 45-6-11, but did not limit the Board's authority to require him to complete an academic course generally required of officers out of service for over two years.
¶5. Aggrieved by the Chancellor's reversal, the Board appeals to this Court and raises the following two issues:
I. DOES THE BOARD ON LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER STANDARDS AND TRAINING HAVE THE AUTHORITY TO GRANDFATHER INTO CERTIFICATION AN EMPLOYEE OF A LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCY WHO WAS SERVING IN AN OUT-OF-STATE JURISDICTION ON JULY 1, 1981?
II. DOES MISS. CODE ANN. SECTION 45-6-11(3)(a) MANDATE CERTIFICATION FOR A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER WITH A DEGENERATIVE MEDICAL CONDITION WHO IS UNABLE TO ATTEND AND COMPLETE THE REQUIREMENTS OF THE LAW ENFORCEMENT ACADEMY?
¶6. The decision of an administrative agency is not to be disturbed unless the agency order was unsupported by substantial evidence; was arbitrary or capricious; was beyond the agency's scope or powers; or violated the constitutional or statutory rights of the aggrieved party. Sprouse v. Mississippi Employment Security Commission, 639 So.2d 901, 902 (Miss.1994); Mississippi Commission on Environmental Quality v. Chickasaw County Board of Supervisors, 621 So.2d 1211, 1215 (Miss.1993); Melody Manor Convalescent Center v. Mississippi State Department of Health, 546 So.2d 972, 974 (Miss.1989). There is a rebuttable presumption in favor of the agency's decisions; the burden of proving to the contrary is on the challenging party. Sprouse, 639 So.2d at 902; Chickasaw County, 621 So.2d at 1216.
¶7. Appellate review of an agency decision is limited to the record and the agency's findings. Chickasaw County, 621 So.2d at 1216; Mississippi Employment Security Commission v. PDN, Inc., 586 So.2d 838, 840 (Miss.1991). The reviewing court cannot substitute its judgment for that of the agency or reweigh the facts of the case. Sprouse, 639 So.2d at 902; Chickasaw County, 621 So.2d at 1216; Mississippi Public Service Commission v. Merchants Truck Line, Inc., 598 So.2d 778, 782 (Miss.1992). Chancery and circuit courts are held to the same standard as this Court when reviewing agency decisions. Chickasaw County, 621 So.2d at 1215. When this Court finds that the lower court has exceeded ...