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Clarksdale Municipal School District v. State

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

October 19, 2017

CLARKSDALE MUNICIPAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, CLAY COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT, GREENE COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT, GREENVILLE PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT, HATTIESBURG PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT, HUMPHREYS COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT, JACKSON PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT, LEAKE COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT, LELAND SCHOOL DISTRICT, NORTH BOLIVAR CONSOLIDATED SCHOOL DISTRICT, OKOLONA MUNICIPAL SEPARATE SCHOOL DISTRICT, PRENTISS COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT, RICHTON SCHOOL DISTRICT, SIMPSON COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT, SMITH COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT, SUNFLOWER COUNTY CONSOLIDATED SCHOOL DISTRICT, TATE COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT, WAYNE COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT, WEST TALLAHATCHIE SCHOOL DISTRICT, WEST BOLIVAR CONSOLIDATED DISTRICT AND WILKINSON COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 07/14/2015

         HINDS COUNTY CHANCERY COURT HON. WILLIAM H. SINGLETARY TRIAL JUDGE.

          TRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS: D. RONALD MUSGROVE MICHAEL SHELTON SMITH, II BLAKE DAMON SMITH JEFFREY MATTHEW GRAVES DORIAN E. TURNER HAROLD EDWARD PIZZETTA, III JUSTIN L. MATHENY JESSE MITCHELL, III

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANTS: D. RONALD MUSGROVE MICHAEL SHELTON SMITH, II MICHAEL V. RATLIFF DORIAN E. TURNER CASEY LANGSTON LOTT DUSTIN COLT CHILDERS JOE-COLBY RAY LANGSTON JESSE MITCHELL, III JEFFREY MATTHEW GRAVES BLAKE DAMON SMITH

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: JUSTIN L. MATHENY HAROLD EDWARD PIZZETTA, III

          KING, JUSTICE.

         ¶1. The appellants in this case are twenty-one public school districts. They claim the Legislature's appropriations for public education during fiscal years 2010-2015 were statutorily inadequate. According to them, Mississippi Code Section 37-151-6 mandated the Legislature fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP), but the Legislature failed to follow this mandate. They sought judicial enforcement of this statute in Hinds County Chancery Court, requesting more than $235 million in State funds-the difference between what they received and what they claim they should have received had the Legislature fully funded MAEP.

         ¶2. The chancellor found the school districts were not entitled to relief because he determined that Section 37-151-6 is not a binding mandate. The chancellor therefore dismissed the school districts' claim. Because we find that Section 37-151-6 is not mandatory, we affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶3. Mississippi Code Section 37-151-6 provides that "[e]ffective with fiscal year 2007, the Legislature shall fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program." Miss. Code Ann. § 37-151-6 (Rev. 2014). The Mississippi Adequate Education Program is the statutory scheme that the Legislature uses to distribute funding to public schools.[1]

         ¶4. During fiscal years 2010-2015, the Legislature did not fully fund the MAEP in its annual appropriations. Consequently, on August 24, 2014, fourteen public school districts filed suit against the State of Mississippi in the Chancery Court of Hinds County, First District. The complaint was later amended to add seven more school districts, for a total of twenty-one plaintiffs, plus "XYZ School Districts 1-17" (collectively, "the Districts"). The Districts' complaint alleged that the State failed to fully fund MAEP for the fiscal years 2010-2015 as required by Section 37-151-6. It alleged that the Districts had been injured by this failure because it deprived the Districts of the resources necessary to educate the children of Mississippi.

         ¶5. The Districts requested declaratory, monetary, and injunctive relief. First, the Districts requested a declaratory judgment that the State is obligated to fully fund the public schools according to the MAEP. Second, the Districts asked the court to enter a money judgment in their favor "[i]n accordance with the State's legal duty and obligation to fund Plaintiffs for fiscal years 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015[.]" Each district requested a money judgment in a specific amount, for a total request of $235, 979, 247.49.[2] Third, the Districts sought a permanent injunction enjoining the State from further violating the MAEP.

         ¶6. The State answered, asserting that the amended complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted and should therefore be dismissed. See M.R.C.P. 12(b)(6). The State subsequently filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings. See M.R.C.P. 12(c). In this motion, the State asserted the Districts' amended complaint failed on its face for four reasons: (1) Section 37-151-6 "did not, and does not, require future Legislatures to appropriate and allocate the school districts any specific amount of state funds for any future fiscal years[;]" (2) the "2006 Legislature could not override the discretionary appropriations decision of future Legislatures[;]" (3) the Districts' "requested multi-million dollar money damages award is barred by sovereign immunity[;]" and (4) the relief sought "is barred by the Mississippi Constitution[, ] which mandates a separation of powers between Mississippi's three branches of government."

         ¶7. While the State's Rule 12(c) motion was pending, the Districts filed a Rule 56(a) motion for summary judgment on December 19, 2014. See M.R.C.P. 56(a). The Districts argued that no material facts were in dispute, because during the fiscal years 2010-2015, the State did not fully fund MAEP. And the Districts maintained that, as a matter of law, the State was required to fully fund MAEP, based on the "shall" language in Section 37-151-6.

         ¶8. On January 14, 2015, the chancellor heard both the State's motion for judgment on the pleadings and the Districts' motion for summary judgment. On July 15, 2015, the chancellor entered an order granting the State's motion for judgment on the pleadings and denying the Districts' motion for summary judgment.

         ¶9. In interpreting Section 37-151-6, the chancellor found "the entirety of the Mississippi Accountability and Adequate Education Program Act of 1997 must be considered to determine the legislative intent thereof." And "[w]hile § 37-151-6 provides the general provision that the MAEP shall be fully funded beginning fiscal year 2007, § 37-15-7 describes the specific annual allocation of funds for MAEP, including an alternative for years in which MAEP is not fully funded." (Emphasis in original.) Thus, the chancellor concluded the Districts' interpretation of Section 37-15-6 as "a mandatory annual duty upon the Legislature to automatically vote to appropriate and allocate to each Mississippi public school district 100% of the funds calculated under MAEP's budget estimation formula for every fiscal year after 2009" was too "limited, " because it "fail[ed] to take into consideration the later provision of [Section] 37-151-7(1)(f) providing for alternative procedures to 'fully funding' the MAEP." Instead, the chancellor found he "must interpret the statutes in total as instructing the Legislature to fund the MAEP as fully as possible and providing an alternative when full funding is not had."

         ¶10. The Districts appeal the final judgment dismissing their complaint.[3] The Districts have raised four issues on appeal: 1) whether the chancellor erred by failing to convert the State's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings to one for summary judgment; 2) whether the chancellor erred by failing to find that Section 37-151-1, et seq., is the general law mandate of Mississippi Constitution, Article 8, Section 201, and not an alternative form of funding; 3) whether the chancellor erred by not first making a determination that Section 37-151-6 was unambiguous and, in turn, giving the statute its plain meaning and, alternatively, whether the chancellor erred in his ultimate interpretation of Section 37-151-6; and 4) whether the chancellor erred by denying the School Districts' Motion for Summary Judgment.

         ANALYSIS

         1. Standard of Review

         ¶11. The Districts appeal both the grant of the State's motion for judgment on the pleadings and the denial of the Districts' motion for summary judgment. Both require de novo review. Booneville Collision Repair, Inc. v. City of Booneville, 152 So.3d 265, 269 (Miss. 2014) (motion to dismiss); Copiah Cty. v. Oliver, 51 So.3d 205, 207 (Miss. 2011) (motion for summary judgment). In reviewing a motion to dismiss, this Court "take[s] the allegations in the plaintiff's complaint as true, and the motion should be denied 'unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff will be unable to prove any set of facts in support of his claim.'" Booneville Collision Repair, 142 So.3d at 269 (quoting Scaggs v. GPCH-GP, Inc., 931 So.2d 1274, 1275 (Miss. 2006)). For a motion for summary judgment, this Court "examines all the evidentiary matters before it-admissions in pleadings, answers to interrogatories, depositions, affidavits, etc."-"in the light most favorable to the ...


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