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Doss v. Claiborne County Board of Supervisors

Court of Appeals of Mississippi, En Banc

March 28, 2017

EMMA R. DOSS, CLARENCE E. SCUTTER, HENRY LEE CLAIBORNE, GLORIA EDWARDS, ROBERT EDWARDS, MARGIE H. JANUARY, MARY WALLS, BEATRICE B. MATHIS, ARTHUR LEE CAMPHOR, EDDIE DUFFIN, HELEN DUFFIN, SADIE APPLETON, J. GILBERT BUCK, DR. MILDRED L. HOLLAND, AND ELMO MCBRIDE JR. APPELLANTS
v.
CLAIBORNE COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS: ALLEN BURKS, CHARLIE NORRELLS, EDWIN SMITH, RONALD SHOULDERS, AND DANIEL PORTER; THE MISSISSIPPI STATE TAX COMMISSION; AND JIM HOOD, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI APPELLEES

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 07/21/2014

         CLAIBORNE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. LAMAR PICKARD JUDGE

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANTS: DEBORAH MCDONALD JEFFERY KENDRICK HARNESS

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: WILSON DOUGLAS MINOR BARBARA BLACKMON EDWARD BLACKMON JANESSA EMONTAN BLACKMON BRADFORD JEROME BLACKMON JAMES L. POWELL

          IRVING, P.J.

         ¶1. In 2009, Emma R. Doss and fourteen other Claiborne County property owners[1] sued the Claiborne County Board of Supervisors (the Board), the Mississippi State Tax Commission (MSTC), [2] and the Mississippi Attorney General (AG). Doss claimed that the Board, MSTC, and AG conspired to enact or comply with racially discriminatory legislation that prevents the county from collecting traditional ad valorem taxes from Grand Gulf Nuclear Station. Doss sought a declaratory judgment that the statute is unconstitutional, injunctive relief, and damages. But the Claiborne County Circuit Court dismissed Doss's complaint. Doss appeals. We affirm the circuit court's judgment.

         BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. This appeal stems from the statutory taxation methodology of Grand Gulf - the only nuclear plant in Mississippi. Authorized in 1974, Grand Gulf cost $3.5 billion to build, and it began operation in 1985.[3] In 1986, the Mississippi Legislature enacted Mississippi Code Annotated section 27-35-309(3)(b) (Rev. 2010), which "exempted from county, municipal and district ad valorem taxes any [qualifying] in-state nuclear generating plant owned or operated by a public utility rendering electrical service within the state." Burrell v. Miss. State Tax Comm'n., 536 So.2d 848, 850-51 (Miss. 1988) (overruled in part on other grounds by Commonwealth Brands Inc. v. Morgan, 110 So.3d 752, 763 (¶27) (Miss. 2013)).

[The statute] further provided that any such utility, in lieu of the taxes from which it was thus exempted, would be required to pay annually to the [MSTC] a sum equal to two percent (2%) of the value of the plant as assessed by the [MSTC], but in no event less than $16, 000, 000.00 for any taxable year. In addition, [the statute] provided for distribution of those revenues to the situs county, the most populous incorporated municipality within the situs county, the state's general fund, and the in-state counties and municipalities served by the utility. The distribution plan favored the situs county, particularly in the early years following passage of the act. Under normal ad valorem taxation principles, however, the situs county would receive all of the revenues so generated.

Id. at 851. Traditional ad valorem taxation would have authorized the situs county to impose annual taxes equal to fifteen percent of a nuclear plant's assessed value. See Miss. Const. art. 4, § 112 (providing that real property other than residential and government property may be taxed at "fifteen percent . . . of true value"). Article 4, Section 112 of the Mississippi Constitution was also amended to include the following language:

[T]he Legislature, by general law, may deny or limit a county or other taxing authority the right to levy county and/or special taxes on nuclear-powered electrical generating plants. In addition to or in lieu of any such county and/or special taxes on nuclear . . . plants, the Legislature . . . may provide a special mode of valuation, assessment[, ] and levy upon nuclear . . . plants and provide for the distribution of the revenue derived therefrom.

Burrell, 536 So.2d at 852 n.2.

         ¶3. In August 1986, the Board and four taxpayers sued MSTC in Hinds County Chancery Court. Id. at 852. The Burrell plaintiffs argued that Claiborne County was "entitled to all of the ad valorem tax revenues generated by [Grand Gulf], the same as would be the case for any other assessable and taxable properties within the county." Id. They sought a judgment declaring the statute and the constitutional amendment "null and void" under the Mississippi Constitution, an injunction prohibiting their enforcement, and an injunction requiring MSTC to "issue an assessment roll permitting Claiborne County to tax . . . Grand Gulf . . . as it would any other property within the county . . . ." Id.

         ¶4. The Mississippi Supreme Court upheld the statute and the constitutional amendment. Id. at 859, 860-62. However, the Burrell Court also held that the chancery court erred when it denied the plaintiffs' request to amend their complaint "to invoke 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and assert a claim that [Grand Gulf's taxation methodology] violate[s] the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment." Id. at 862-64. Consequently, the supreme court remanded the case to the chancery court "with instructions that the amendment be allowed . . . ." Id. at 864. The Burrell plaintiffs later dismissed their ...


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