Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Mississippi Department of Public Safety v. Smith

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

August 1, 2017

MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY AND ALBERT SANTA CRUZ, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS COMMISSIONER OF THE MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY APPELLANTS
v.
STACY SMITH, GREG NESTER, AND KRISTOPHER WINGERT APPELLEES

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 01/06/2016

         HINDS 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.

         En Banc

          CARLTON, J.

         ¶1. 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.

         ¶2. 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.

         ¶3. 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.

         ¶4. 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 "intra-agency transfer."

         ¶5. 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 experience.

Aggrieved by the trial court's judgment granting the Appellees summary judgment and their other requested relief, MDPS timely appeals.

         ¶6. 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.

         ¶7. Upon review, we affirm the trial court's judgment granting the Appellees summary judgment and their other requested relief.

         FACTS

         ¶8. 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.[1] 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.

         ¶10. 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.

         ¶11. 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 available.

         ¶12. 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.

         ¶13. 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.

         ¶14. 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 Appellees.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶15. 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 ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.