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Williams v. City of Belzoni

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

March 7, 2017

WALTER WILLIAMS APPELLANT
v.
CITY OF BELZONI AND ALDERMAN GARY FARMER, INDIVIDUALLY APPELLEES

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 06/15/2015

         HUMPHREYS COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. JANNIE M. LEWIS TRIAL JUDGE

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: KENNETH TREY O'CAIN

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES: DANIEL JUDSON GRIFFITH JAMIE FERGUSON JACKS MICHAEL STEPHEN CARR

          COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: HUMPHREYS COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: KENNETH TREY O'CAIN

          BEFORE IRVING, P.J., FAIR AND WILSON, JJ.

          WILSON, J.

         ¶1. Walter Williams was the public works director for the City of Belzoni until the board of aldermen voted not to renew his employment. Williams did not exercise his statutory right to appeal the board's decision to circuit court. Instead, more than a year later, he filed an independent lawsuit against the city and one alderman (Gary Farmer) in circuit court, asserting claims for defamation and "wrongful termination." Williams purported to proceed under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act (MTCA), Mississippi Code Annotated sections 11-46-1 to -23 (Rev. 2012 & Supp. 2016). The circuit court dismissed the entire action without prejudice, reasoning that it was without jurisdiction because Williams failed to file a timely appeal from the board's decision not to renew his employment.

         ¶2. The circuit court properly dismissed Williams's wrongful termination claim because he failed to file a timely appeal, which is the exclusive remedy for a party aggrieved by such a decision of a municipal authority. In addition, Williams's defamation claim against the city is barred by sovereign immunity, and his defamation claim against Farmer is barred by the statute of limitations. Accordingly, we affirm the circuit court's dismissal of the complaint; however, as we explain infra, the dismissal should be with prejudice. Therefore, we modify and render the judgment as a dismissal with prejudice.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶3. On August 6, 2013, the city's board of aldermen divided 2-2, with one member indicated "not present, " on a motion to renew Williams's employment as public works director for the city. The mayor voted against the motion, thereby breaking the tie and effectively terminating Williams's employment.

         ¶4. On August 29, 2013, Williams wrote a letter to the mayor and board requesting a hearing on his termination. The city did not respond and no hearing was held.

         ¶5. On July 14, 2014, Williams served the city with a notice of claim pursuant to the MTCA. Miss. Code Ann.§ 11-46-11 (Rev. 2012). Williams alleged that he was terminated because Farmer, who had voted against the motion to renew his employment, made a false and defamatory accusation that he had stolen one of the city's lawnmowers. Williams also alleged that his termination was procedurally improper and that Farmer was not qualified to be an alderman because he lived outside of the Belzoni city limits. On October 29, 2014, Williams filed suit in Humphreys County Circuit Court against Farmer and the city. Williams asserted claims for defamation, slander, and slander per se (Count I) and "wrongful termination" (Count II).

         ¶6. The city and Farmer answered the complaint and subsequently filed a joint motion to dismiss or for summary judgment. They argued that Williams's claims against the city were barred by sovereign immunity. They also argued that Williams's claims were barred because he failed to appeal the city's decision not to renew his employment within ten days, as required by Mississippi Code Annotated section 11-51-75 (Rev. 2012). Finally, they argued that any claims against Farmer in ...


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