CHARLES D. EASLEY APPELLANT
PUBLIC EMPLOYEES' RETIREMENT SYSTEM APPELLEE
OF JUDGMENT: 06/02/2015
COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT HON. WINSTON L.
KIDD TRIAL JUDGE
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: JEFFREY CARTER SMITH COURTNEY
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY:
JANE L. MAPP.
LEE, C.J., BARNES AND ISHEE, JJ.
Charles D. Easley, a former Mississippi Supreme Court
justice, requested Public Employees' Retirement System
(PERS) benefits from 1986 through 2000 for work he performed
as a court-appointed attorney in the Lowndes County Chancery
Court. Following an administrative hearing before
the PERS Board of Trustee's Claims Committee, the Board
denied the request for service credit, finding that Justice
Easley was an independent contractor and no employee-employer
relationship had been established. He filed an appeal with
the Hinds County Circuit Court, First Judicial District,
which affirmed the Board's decision. Finding no abuse of
discretion in the Board's denial of PERS benefits, we
affirm the judgment.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
From 1986 to 2000, Justice Easley served as a court-appointed
attorney in Lowndes County Chancery Court, representing
indigent respondents in commitment proceedings. The chancery
court's order appointing Justice Easley stated that he
was "entitled to a monthly salary of $450.00 . . . for
services rendered to the Court and [his] respective indigent
clients." It was noted in the order that this amount had
been approved by the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors.
This document was the only evidence of his appointment.
Justice Easley maintained a private law practice during this
period, and the chancery clerk assigned him cases on an
After Justice Easley left the Mississippi Supreme Court in
2008, he contacted PERS to inquire whether he was eligible
for benefits during the period he served as a court-appointed
attorney (1986 through 2000). PERS had no record of his
service during that period and was unable to find any
documentation from the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors
that Justice Easley had been hired as a county employee. His
earnings were reported on an Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
Form 1099-MISC for the years 1986-1998. But for unexplained
reasons, in 1999 and 2000, Lowndes County classified Justice
Easley as a part-time employee "not working 80 or more
hours per month, " and his earnings were reported on an
IRS W-2 form for those two years. Although he admittedly
received health-insurance benefits through Lowndes County,
the evidence was inconclusive who paid the premiums. At the
hearing, he testified that he was "not sure" if he
had paid them. Regardless, none of Justice Easley's
Lowndes County earnings were ever reported to PERS, and he
never contributed to the system.
In a letter dated June 17, 2009, the executive director of
PERS informed Justice Easley that he was considered an
independent contractor and, therefore, not eligible for
benefits. Justice Easley appealed the decision to the Board,
and a hearing was held on January 25, 2011. The Board
subsequently determined that Justice Easley was not eligible
for PERS membership related to his appointment by the Lowndes
County Chancery Court, and it denied his request for service
credit for those years. The Hinds County Circuit Court
affirmed the Board's decision, and Justice Easley now
appeals to this Court.
Whether PERS's decision to deny benefits was ...