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Wheeler v. Williams

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Greenville Division

November 27, 2018

ELLIOT WHEELER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ROBERT WILIAMS, OSCAR GRIFFIN, REV. MORRIS ALLEN, DOSHIA REDMOND, DR. DORIS BARNES WARE, in their official and individual capacities, and HUMPHREYS COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          SHARION AYCOCK, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         On May 21, 2018, Elliot Wheeler, former Superintendent of Humphreys County School District, filed his Second Amended Complaint [28] with this Court against the Humphreys County School District and members of the Board of Trustees for the Humphreys County School District in both their individual and official capacities. Now before the Court is Defendants' Third Motion to Dismiss [29] pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure filed by Defendants Humphreys County School District, Robert Williams, Oscar Griffin, Rev. Morris Allen, Doshia Redmond, and Dr. Doris Barnes Ware.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         On January 10, 2017, the Board of Trustees for the Humphreys County School District voted to set the Plaintiff's salary at $106, 964, as authorized by Mississippi Code Section 37-9-69. On January 31, 2017, the Board of Trustees met in a special meeting and voted to set the Plaintiff's salary at $90, 000. In his Second Amended Complaint [28], the Plaintiff seeks a Writ of Mandamus compelling the Defendants to execute and implement the $106, 964 salary approved by the Board of Trustees on January 10, 2017. In the alternative, the Plaintiff seeks to impose liability on Humphreys County under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act for breach of duty for failing to carry out the ministerial act of paying the Plaintiff the $106, 964 salary approved on January 10, 2017. The Plaintiff also asserts claims under the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process clause and Fifth Amendment takings clause.

         The Plaintiff alleges that when the Board voted on January 10, 2017, to set his salary at $106, 964, his right to receive this salary ripened into a property interest protected by the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause and Article III, Section 14 of the Mississippi Constitution. The Plaintiff argues that because the Board of Trustees did not have the authority under Mississippi Code Section 37-9-37 to reduce his salary on January 31, 2017, the salary reduction constitutes a breach of contract and a violation of the Fifth Amendment's takings clause and Article III, Section 17 of the Mississippi Constitution. The Plaintiff seeks a writ of mandamus compelling the school district to pay his original salary or damages in the amount of $16, 964 from the Defendants individually, or in the alternative, against the School District under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act.

         On May 23, 2018, the Defendants filed their Third Motion to Dismiss [29] pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Defendants argue that this Court does not have jurisdiction over the matter because the Plaintiff failed to avail himself of the statutory appeal process for judicial review applicable to an employee aggrieved by a final decision of the School Board under Mississippi Code Section 37-9-113(2). This statute indicates that an employee must file an appeal of a school board's final decision within twenty days from the date of the decision. Breland v. Harrison County School Board, 96 So.3d 61, 65 (Miss. App. 2012). The Defendants argue that because the Plaintiff failed to file within the statutory limit, and instead filed a Writ of Mandamus with this Court four months later, this Court has no jurisdiction over the matter.

         Jurisdiction

         “When a Rule 12(b)(1) motion is filed in conjunction with a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, . . . courts must consider the jurisdictional challenge first.” McCasland v. City of Castroville, Tex., 478 Fed.Appx. 860 (5th Cir. 2012) (per curiam) (citing Wolcott v. Sebelius, 635 F.3d 757, 762 (5th Cir. 2011); Morgan v. Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, 27 F.3d 169, 172 (5th Cir. 1994)). This “‘prevents a court without jurisdiction from prematurely dismissing a case with prejudice.'” Id. at 860-61 (quoting Ramming v. United States, 281 F.3d 158, 161 (5th Cir. 2001) (per curiam)); Hitt v. City of Pasadena, Tex., 561 F.2d 606, 608 (5th Cir. 1977) (per curiam). Accordingly, the Court first addresses the jurisdictional issues.

         A Rule 12(b)(1) motion allows a party to challenge the Court's subject matter jurisdiction. “‘[A] factual attack under Rule 12(b)(1) may occur at any stage of the proceedings, and plaintiff bears the burden of proof that jurisdiction does in fact exist.'” Arena v. Graybar Elec. Co., 669 F.3d 214, 223 (5th Cir. 2012) (quoting Menchaca v. Chrysler Credit. Corp., 613 F.2d 507, 511 (5th Cir. 1980) (citations omitted)). In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss, the Court can consider: “(1) the complaint alone; (2) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record; or (3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts.” Tsolmon v. United States, 841 F.3d 378, 382 (5th Cir. 2016) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), the Defendants argue that the Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction of the case because the Plaintiff did not comply with Mississippi Code Section 37-9- 113 due to his failure to file a petition for appeal in chancery court within twenty days after receipt of the final decision of the school board. Instead of filing a petition with the chancery court as required by statute, the Plaintiff opted to file his Writ of Mandamus in this Court challenging the decrease in his salary as wrongful and unlawful. The Plaintiff argues that Section 37-9-113 is inapplicable in the instant case because the statute is limited to the nonrenewal of an educator's contract and disciplinary suspension or discharge of a licensed professional educator.

         The statute provides in pertinent part:

(1) Any employee aggrieved by a final decision of the school board is entitled to judicial review thereof, as hereinafter provided.
(2) An appeal may be taken by such employee to the chancery court of the judicial district in which the school district is located, by filing a petition with the clerk of that court and executing and filing bond payable to the school board with sufficient sureties, in the penalty of not less than Two Hundred Dollars ($200.00), conditioned upon the payment of all of the costs of appeal, within twenty (20) days of the receipt of the final decision of the board.

Miss. Code. Ann. § 37-9-113.

         While the Plaintiff argues that Section 37-9-113 is inapplicable to this matter, he has provided no authority or argument supporting his contention to overcome his burden under 12(b)(6). Given the bare assertions contained in his Complaint, the Plaintiff has wholly failed to meet his burden of proof that jurisdiction does in fact exist. Ramming v. U.S., 281 F.3d 158 (5th Cir. 2001). With no contrary authority presented, the Court finds that the Plaintiff is subject to the judicial procedures provided in Section 37-9-113 because a reduction in salary is a final decision by the school board and judicial review lies firmly with the chancery court.[1] See LaCour v. Claiborne Cty. Sch. Dist., 119 So.3d 1128, 1133 (Miss. Ct. App. 2013) (“The Legislature has provided, in [S]ection 37-9-113, the procedure for appealing a final decision of a school board.”); “As used in Sections 37-9-101 through 37-9-113, the word ‘employee' shall include (a) [a]ny teacher, principal, superintendent[, ] or other professional personnel employed by the local school district.” Miss. Code Ann. § 37-9-11.

         It is undisputed that the Plaintiff failed to timely file an appeal of the Board of Trustees' final salary decision with the chancery court. The Mississippi Supreme Court has “repeatedly held that the timely filing of an appeal is jurisdictional.” Breland v. Harrison County School Board, 96 So.3d 61, 65 (Miss. App. 2012); (In re Estate of Ware, 573 So.2d 773, 774 (Miss. 1990) (recognizing that the time for perfecting an appeal is mandatory and jurisdictional).[2] Therefore, because of the Plaintiff's failure to comply with the judicial procedures in Section 37-9-113, this Court has no jurisdiction over this matter, and this case is dismissed without prejudice.

         Rule 12(b)(6) ...


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