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DeSoto County v. Dennis

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

April 16, 2015

DESOTO COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI
v.
T.D. AND AARON DENNIS

COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: DESOTO COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. DATE OF JUDGMENT: 11/06/2013. TRIAL JUDGE: HON. ROBERT P. CHAMBERLIN. TRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS: DANIEL J. GRIFFITH, JOSEPH D. NEYMAN, JR., RONALD W. LEWIS.

REVERSED AND RENDERED.

FOR APPELLANT: DANIEL J. GRIFFITH, JOSEPH D. NEYMAN, JR.

FOR APPELLEES: RONALD W. LEWIS.

DICKINSON, PRESIDING JUSTICE. WALLER, C.J., LAMAR, PIERCE AND COLEMAN, JJ., CONCUR. CHANDLER, J., DISSENTS WITH SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION JOINED BY RANDOLPH, P.J., KITCHENS AND KING, JJ.

OPINION

Page 1155

NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - TORTS-OTHER THAN PERSONAL INJURY & PROPERTY DAMAGE

EN BANC.

DICKINSON, PRESIDING JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:

¶1. The sole question presented in this interlocutory appeal is whether a DeSoto County justice court clerk's negligence in failing to cancel an arrest warrant subjects the county to a tort lawsuit. We hold that, for the negligent act complained of in this case, the county has immunity under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act. So we reverse the trial court's failure to grant summary judgment, and we render a judgment in DeSoto County's favor.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶2. The facts necessary to decide this case are undisputed. A domestic dispute led a justice court judge to issue an arrest warrant for T.D., and then cancel the warrant after she complied with the judge's order to attend an anger-management course. However, because the justice court clerk failed to send a cancellation notice to the local sheriff's office, DeSoto County deputies later arrested T.D. and held her in jail until they discovered the mistake.

¶3. The plaintiffs sued DeSoto County for the clerk's negligence. DeSoto County moved for summary judgment, claiming immunity under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act. The circuit judge denied that motion. DeSoto County appealed.

ANALYSIS

¶4. " Sovereign immunity" --which refers to a " government's immunity from being sued in its own courts without its consent" [1]--originated in the common law of England,[2] and was carried over as the law in most states following the American Revolution.[3] Some states have retained common-law

Page 1156

sovereign immunity.[4] Others, including Mississippi, have supplanted the common law with statutes that have established the legislative branch's views of the appropriate limits and protections of sovereign immunity.[5]

¶5. In 1984, the Mississippi Legislature enacted the Mississippi Tort Claims Act[6] which, after declaring that the State and its political subdivisions enjoy common-law immunity, waives its immunity.[7] Then, having generally waived common-law sovereign immunity, the Tort Claims Act grants statutory immunity to governmental entities and their employees for specifically defined conduct.[8] One of those specific grants of statutory immunity states:

A governmental entity and its employees acting within the course and scope of their employment or duties shall not be liable for any claim:
(a) Arising out of a . . . judicial action or inaction, or administrative action or inaction of a . . . judicial nature . . . .[9]

The circuit judge found that, under the undisputed facts of this case, DeSoto County did not enjoy immunity. We disagree.

¶6. We review matters of statutory interpretation de novo,[10] and our function " is not to decide what a statute should provide, but to determine what it does provide." [11] Our constitutional duty is to " interpret statutes according to their clear meaning," [12] and we must " apply ...


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