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Clark v. Bryant

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

September 13, 2018

REPRESENTATIVE BRYANT W. CLARK AND SENATOR JOHN HORHN
v.
GOVERNOR PHIL BRYANT, STATE FISCAL OFFICER LAURA JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION AND STATE TREASURER LYNN FITCH

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 06/02/2017

          HINDS COUNTY CHANCERY COURT HON. PATRICIA D. WISE TRIAL JUDGE.

          TRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS: WILLIAM B. BARDWELL LYDIA WRIGHT KRISSY C. NOBILE JUSTIN L. MATHENY

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANTS: WILLIAM B. BARDWELL CHRISTINE C. BISCHOFF JODY E. OWENS, II

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: KRISSY C. NOBILE JUSTIN L. MATHENY

          CHAMBERLIN, JUSTICE.

         ¶1. During Fiscal Year 2017, Governor Phil Bryant directed State Fiscal Officer Laura Jackson to reduce the budgets of various state agencies. In response, State Representative Bryant W. Clark and State Senator John Horhn brought a declaratory-judgment action against the Governor in Hinds County Chancery Court. They sought preliminary and permanent injunctive relief, a writ of mandamus ordering the Governor to reverse the reductions, and a declaration that Mississippi Code Section 27-104-13 (Rev. 2017) was facially unconstitutional. After an expedited hearing, the chancellor denied the motions for injunctive relief and dismissed the complaint with prejudice. Representative Clark and Senator Horhn now appeal.

         ¶2. Under our Constitution, the executive has the core power to control the budget of state agencies. Here, the Legislators' arguments that Section 27-104-13 violates the separation-of-powers doctrine miss the mark, as the budget reductions were an exercise of the executive's core constitutional power. Therefore, we affirm the chancellor's final order because Representative Clark and Senator Horhn have failed to overcome the strong presumption that Section 27-104-13 is constitutional.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶3. Pursuant to Section 27-104-13, Governor Phil Bryant directed State Fiscal Officer Laura Jackson to reduce the budgets of various state agencies in September 2016, January 2017, February 2017 and March 2017. In September 2016, Governor Bryant and Jackson reduced the budgets of state agencies by a total of $56.8 million. Governor Bryant and Jackson also reduced state agencies' budgets by a total of $51 million in January 2017. In February 2017 and March 2017, among other reductions, Governor Bryant and Jackson reduced the budget of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP)[1] by $19.8 million.

         ¶4. On May 17, 2017, State Representative Bryant W. Clark and State Senator John Horhn (collectively, the "Legislators") sued Governor Bryant, Jackson, the Mississippi Department of Education and State Treasurer Lynn Fitch (collectively, the "Executive"). The Legislators sought a declaration that Section 27-104-13 was facially unconstitutional (or, in the alternative, unconstitutional as applied), a permanent injunction against the Executive's mid-year budget cuts, and a writ of mandamus ordering the Executive to reverse the February 2017 and March 2017 budget reductions to MAEP. The same day, the Legislators also moved for a preliminary injunction against the Executive. On May 30, 2017, the Executive filed its response in opposition to the Legislators' motion for a preliminary injunction.

         ¶5. The chancellor held a hearing on the merits of the motion for a preliminary injunction on May 31, 2017. The Legislators and the Executive both argued the merits of the motion. At the close of their arguments, the chancellor convened a conference in chambers. After the conference, the Legislators made an ore tenus motion pursuant to Rule 65(a)(2) of the Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure for the chancellor "to consolidate today's hearing with trial on the merits and to issue a decision and a final judgment." The chancellor then denied the Legislators' request both for a preliminary and a permanent injunction.

         ¶6. In its written order, filed on June 2, 2017, the chancellor denied the motion for a preliminary injunction. It then granted the Legislators' motion to consolidate the hearing on the preliminary injunction with the trial on the merits. Next, the trial court denied the Legislators' request for permanent injunctive relief and dismissed the complaint.

         ¶7. The Legislators now appeal. For the Legislators, the issue on appeal is whether a statute allowing the Executive Branch to make appropriations decisions violates the separation-of-powers doctrine under the Mississippi Constitution. The Executive maintains that Section 27-104-13 does not violate the separation-of-powers doctrine where "[t]he executive branch does not improperly perform a function 'at the core' of the power belonging to the Legislature, and [t]he statute fits comfortably within the boundaries of the nondelegation doctrine because it provides adequate standards for the [E]xecutive to follow." While we agree with the Executive that Section 27-104-13 is constitutional, we clarify that this case does not implicate separation of powers because the Executive was exercising its own core power under the Constitution. As the Legislators have failed to overcome the presumption that Section 27-104-13 is constitutional, we affirm the chancellor's dismissal of the complaint.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶8. "When addressing a statute's constitutionality, we apply a de novo standard of review, bearing in mind (1) the strong presumption of constitutionality; (2) the challenging party's burden to prove the statute is unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt; and (3) all doubts are resolved in favor of a statute's validity." Johnson v. Sysco Food Servs., 86 So.3d 242, 243-44 (Miss. 2012) (citations omitted). "The statutes must be shown to be in direct conflict with 'the clear language of the constitution.'" 5K Farms, Inc. v. Miss. Dep't of Revenue, 94 So.3d 221, 227 (Miss. 2012) (quoting PHE, Inc. v. State, 877 So.2d 1244, 1247 (Miss. 2004)). "'[T]he courts are without the right to substitute their judgment for that of the Legislature as to the wisdom and policy of the act and must enforce it, unless it appears beyond all reasonable doubt to violate the Constitution.'" Id. (quoting Pathfinder Coach Div. of Superior Coach Corp. v. Cottrell, 62 So.2d 383, 385 (Miss. 1953)). "'When a party invokes our power of judicial review, it behooves us to recall that the challenged act has been passed by legislators and approved by a governor sworn to uphold the selfsame constitution as are we.'" Id. (quoting State v. Roderick, 704 So.2d 49, 52 (Miss.1997)).

         ¶9. "This Court 'will not disturb the factual findings of a chancellor when supported by substantial evidence unless . . . the chancellor abused his discretion, was manifestly wrong, clearly erroneous or applied an erroneous legal standard.'" Sec'y of State v. Gunn, 75 So.3d 1015, 1020 (Miss. 2011) (quoting A-1 Pallet Co. v. City of Jackson, 40 So.3d 563, 567 (Miss. ...


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