MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY AND ALBERT SANTA CRUZ, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS COMMISSIONER OF THE MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY APPELLANTS
STACY SMITH, GREG NESTER, AND KRISTOPHER WINGERT APPELLEES
OF JUDGMENT: 01/06/2016
COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICTHON. WILLIAM A.
GOWAN JR. TRIAL JUDGE
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANTS: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY:
PETER W. CLEVELAND WILSON DOUGLAS MINOR.
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES: DENNIS L. HORN SHIRLEY PAYNE.
Forensic scientists Stacy Smith, Greg Nester, and Kristopher
Wingert (collectively, the Appellees), after proceeding
through four levels of administrative review for grievances
related to their transfer from the Mississippi Crime
Laboratory (Crime Lab) to the Mississippi Bureau of
Investigation (MBI) and the subsequent loss of their Crime
Lab "position identification numbers" (PINs), filed
a petition for a writ of mandamus on July 9, 2013, in the
Hinds County Circuit Court, First Judicial District. The
Mississippi Department of Public Safety (MDPS) failed to
notify the Appellees, who were state civil-service employees,
about the loss of their Crime Lab PINs until well after the
event occurred. In their mandamus petition, the Appellees
requested the following relief:
(1) placement in the forensic[-]scientist step appropriate
with their experience and performance, (2) all back pay due
along with all fringe benefits, including contributions to
the Mississippi State Retirement System [(PERS)], (3) on[-]
call pay, (4) prospective placement in steps earned by
experience, and (5) placement in supervisory positions if
such become available.
The trial court initially ruled on the Appellees'
petition in a May 5, 2015 remand order. The trial court found
that the Appellees failed to exhaust their administrative
remedies when they neglected to appeal to the Employee
Appeals Board (EAB) following the fourth level of
administrative review. As a result, the trial court found it
lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to consider the
Appellees' grievances. The trial court therefore remanded
the case to the EAB for consideration of the remaining
questions of fact.
On remand, the EAB treated the matter as a
"grievable" matter, and in its June 26, 2015 order,
the EAB dismissed the Appellees' grievances for lack of
jurisdiction. The EAB cited Mississippi Department of
Public Safety v. McKnight, 623 So.2d 249 (Miss. 1993),
for the principle that the Appellees' failure to exhaust
their administrative remedies before pursuing judicial review
in the trial court deprived the EAB of jurisdiction.
The Appellees appealed the EAB's dismissal of their
mandamus petition to the trial court and subsequently moved
for summary judgment. In their summary-judgment motion, the
Appellees relied on Mississippi Employment Security
Commission v. Culbertson, 832 So.2d 519 (Miss. 2002),
for their position that the trial court possessed
jurisdiction because the failure to exhaust their
administrative remedies was based on "substantial
evidence" that MDPS failed to follow the Mississippi
State Personnel Board's (MSPB) rules regarding
On January 7, 2016, the trial court granted the
Appellees' motion for summary judgment. In its
summary-judgment order, the trial court ordered MDPS to take
the following actions:
(1) . . . reinstate [the Appellees' MDPS] Crime Lab PINs
with the appropriate job description; (2) place [the
Appellees] in the forensic[-]scientist step appropriate with
their experience and performance; (3) pay [the Appellees] all
back pay due along with fringe benefits, including
contributions to PERS and on[-]call pay; and (4) give [the
Appellees] prospective placements and steps earned by
Aggrieved by the trial court's judgment granting the
Appellees summary judgment and their other requested relief,
MDPS timely appeals.
On appeal, MDPS raises the following issues: (1) whether the
trial court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to consider
the Appellees' grievances and to grant them relief when
they failed to exhaust their administrative remedies; (2)
whether the trial court erred in finding the exhaustion
requirement inapplicable because the Appellees' position
reclassifications were "nongrievable" under MSPB
rules; (3) whether the EAB properly dismissed the
Appellees' grievances on remand for lack of jurisdiction
because they failed to exhaust their administrative remedies
before seeking judicial review; and (4) whether the trial
court's grant of summary judgment to the Appellees
exceeded the court's authority.
Upon review, we affirm the trial court's judgment
granting the Appellees summary judgment and their other
On December 1, 2005, the MDPS assistant commissioner informed
the Appellees, who were at all relevant times permanent state
civil-service employees, that they would be transferred from
the Crime Lab to MBI but that they would retain their
positions, salaries, and PINs. The Appellees allege that
their transfer violated MSPB's rules on intra-agency
transfer because MDPS failed to request or receive MSPB
approval for the transfer. ¶9. In 2008, without their
knowledge, the Appellees lost their Crime Lab PINs when MDPS
assigned them MDPS PINs. In January 2011, after the discovery of
the prior loss of their Crime Lab PINs, the Appellees each
requested that the MBI director laterally transfer them back
to their Crime Lab PINs. However, in his January 24, 2011
replies to the Appellees, the MBI director stated that a
transfer back to the Crime Lab would be impossible because
the Crime Lab director had provided that no Crime Lab PINs
were currently available. The MBI director also indicated
that the Appellees' "job qualifications" for
the newly assigned MDPS PINs were still awaiting approval
from MSPB. On appeal, the Appellees allege that MSPB has not
recognized "job descriptions" for their newly
assigned MDPS PINs. They further assert that these newly
assigned MDPS PINs, which lack job descriptions, deprive them
of "career paths" for advancement.
In February 2011, the Appellees each filed grievances with
MBI, claiming that the loss of their Crime Lab PINs limited
their opportunities for promotions and pay increases and that
other forensic scientists were allowed to retain their Crime
Lab PINs and corresponding career paths. The Appellees sought
transfers back to the Crime Lab, reassignment of their
original state civil-service employee Crime Lab PINs, and
advancements they allegedly would be owed had they retained
their original Crime Lab PINs and career paths.
Alternatively, the Appellees sought the following: placement
on the same career paths they had begun when hired by the
Crime Lab with their original PINs; advancements they
allegedly would be owed had they retained their original
career paths; and back pay from the dates on which they
allegedly became eligible for those advancements.
All the Appellees' grievances were denied at the initial
three levels of administrative review, with each level
stating it lacked the authority to grant the Appellees'
requested relief. At the fourth level of administrative
review, known as the "agency decision, " all the
Appellees' grievances were denied because the reviewing
authority for MDPS determined that no Crime Lab PINs were
After proceeding through the four levels of administrative
review, and after being informed that the agency lacked the
authority to grant them relief, the Appellees filed a
petition for a writ of mandamus in the trial court and asked
the court to order MDPS to provide their requested relief.
The trial court found it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction
to consider the Appellees' grievances because the
Appellees did not exhaust their administrative remedies by
appealing to the EAB following the fourth level of
administrative review. The trial court therefore remanded the
mandamus petition to the EAB.
On remand, the EAB dismissed the Appellees' grievances
for lack of jurisdiction. The EAB held that the
Appellees' failure to exhaust their administrative
remedies before pursuing judicial review deprived the EAB of
jurisdiction. The Appellees appealed the EAB's dismissal
of their mandamus petition to the trial court and
subsequently moved for summary judgment.
The trial court found the Appellees did not exhaust their
administrative remedies because of "substantial
evidence" that MDPS failed to follow MSPB's rules
regarding "intra-agency transfer." The trial court
therefore determined that it possessed jurisdiction, and it
granted summary judgment to the Appellees. Aggrieved by the
trial court's grant of summary judgment and other
requested relief to the Appellees, MDPS appeals. As set forth
below, we find the matters raised by the Appellees'
petition do not constitute grievable matters and that no
other remedy was reasonably available to the Appellees. Thus,
the trial court possessed jurisdiction, and we affirm the
trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the
The issuance of a writ of mandamus rests in the sound
discretion of the court, subject to well-settled principles.
Overstreet v. Lord, 160 Miss. 444, 450, 134 So. 169,
170 (1931). Thus, we review the trial court's decision to
grant or deny relief requested by a writ of mandamus for
abuse of discretion. See Barbour v. State ex rel.
Hood, 974 So.2d 232, 238 (¶10) (Miss. 2008). The
Mississippi Supreme Court has recognized that our courts
possess the power to hear claims that public officials have
violated their mandatory, nondiscretionary duties of office.
See Fordice v. Thomas, 649 So.2d 835, 840 (Miss.
1995) (superseded by statute on other grounds); Poyner v.
Gilmore, 171 Miss. 859, 864, 158 So. 922, 923 (1935). In
Poyner, the court stated:
While no inflexible rule can be laid down for determining in
every case whether or not an act of a public officer is
ministerial or judicial, [t]he most important criterion,
perhaps, is that . . . the duty is one which has been
positively imposed by law and its performance required at a
time and in a manner or upon conditions which are
specifically designated, the duty to perform under the
conditions specified not being dependent upon the
officer's judgment or discretion[.]
Poyner, 171 Miss. at 864, 158 So. at 923 (internal
quotation marks ...