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Mississippi Division of Sons of Confederate Veterans v. University of Mississippi

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

September 4, 2018

MISSISSIPPI DIVISION OF SONS OF CONFEDERATE VETERANS APPELLANT
v.
UNIVERSITY OF MISSISSIPPI APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 03/22/2017

          LAFAYETTE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. JOHN KELLY LUTHER JUDGE

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: MICHAEL CLAYTON BAREFIELD

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: J. CAL MAYO JR. SARAH KATHERINE EMBRY

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

          IRVING, P.J.

         ¶1. Mississippi Division of Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV)[1] appeals the judgment of the Lafayette County Circuit Court. SCV makes the following arguments: the chancery court erred in transferring the case to the circuit court for lack of subject matter jurisdiction; the circuit court erred in assuming subject matter jurisdiction over the case; the circuit court erred in dismissing the case; and the circuit court erred in ruling that this case is a mandamus action. Finding no error, we affirm.

         FACTS

         ¶2. SCV filed its original petition on September 18, 2014, in the Lafayette County Chancery Court, requesting an injunction against the University of Mississippi (UM), in response to UM's diversity plan that set out to move, rename, or recontexualize confederate monuments, street names, and building names on its Oxford, Mississippi, campus. The petition requested that UM be prevented from altering, desecrating, attacking, removing, or renaming any of the confederate monuments or insignia on campus. A Rule 81 Summons was issued for UM, but the record does not show if it was served. Nevertheless, on October 17, 2014, two lawyers entered their appearances on behalf of UM. After almost two years of inactivity, on April 29, 2016, the chancery court entered an order removing the case from its trial docket and dismissing it without prejudice. On May 9, 2016, SCV filed an amended petition for injunction and other relief. By that time, UM had begun moving forward with its diversity plan and had renamed Confederate Drive. It had also placed a placard near a confederate monument on campus to recontexulaize its presence. In its amended petition, SCV requested that those actions be reversed, in addition to requesting that no further changes be made.

         ¶3. UM responded to the amended complaint and filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. After responses to the motion to dismiss had been filed and the case had been set for hearing, SCV filed a motion to have the case reinstated. The motion stated that neither party was aware of the dismissal, and with the court's approval, the case was reinstated by agreement between the parties.

         ¶4. According to SCV, at an informal hearing in the judge's chambers, the chancery court found that SCV sought mandamus relief and that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to hear the case, as that jurisdiction resides with the circuit court. Rather than dismiss the action, the chancery court entered an order denying dismissal and transferring the action to the circuit court. SCV did not file a motion for reconsideration or any other motions stemming from that order.

         ¶5. After the transfer to the circuit court, UM filed a motion to dismiss for lack of standing. SCV filed a motion to determine jurisdiction and to transfer back to chancery court. After responses and rebuttals to both motions, a hearing was held before the circuit court on March 7, 2017. The circuit court ruled that the case was a mandamus action and not simply a case for injunctive relief, denied SCV's motion, and granted UM's motion to dismiss for lack of standing to bring a mandamus action. SCV appealed.

         DISCUSSION

         ¶6. This Court "reviews errors of law, which include summary judgments and motions to dismiss, de novo." Aldridge v. West, 929 So.2d 298, 300 (¶6) (Miss. 2006). "Jurisdiction is a question of law that is reviewed de novo. When considering the ruling on a motion to transfer from chancery court to circuit court, our review is de novo." Big River Oilfield Servs. LLC v. Wilcox Drilling Co., 109 So.3d 123, 125 (¶5) (Miss. Ct. App. 2012).

         ¶7. The nature of this controversy is the alleged violation of Mississippi Code Annotated section 55-15-81 (Rev. ...


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