OF JUDGMENT: 09/29/2017
COUNTY CHANCERY COURT, FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT. HON. DENISE
OWENS TRIAL JUDGE.
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: JOANNE N. SHEPHERD DORIAN E. TURNER
DELLWYN K. SMITH
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: PRESTON DAVIS RIDEOUT JR.
This appeal involves the demotion of former Jim Hill High
School principal Tanyatemeika Mason to the position of
assistant principal. After a four-day due process hearing,
the board of trustees of the Jackson Public School District
(JPSD) upheld Mason's demotion. However, the Hinds County
Chancery Court reversed the board's decision because the
court concluded that the demotion constituted an untimely
non-renewal of Mason's contract. We hold that the
chancery court erred because JPSD validly terminated
Mason's employment as a principal. Therefore, we reverse
and render the judgment of the chancery court and affirm the
decision of JPSD's board of trustees.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Prior to the 2015-2016 school year, Mason was an assistant
principal at Jim Hill High School. She became Jim Hill's
principal for the 2015-2016 school year. However, according
to JPSD, Mason demonstrated poor leadership and poor judgment
and neglected her duties as principal, which adversely
impacted students and the school's academic performance.
On May 12, 2016, JPSD delivered a letter to Mason that stated
This correspondence shall serve as confirmation that you have
agreed to accept [JPSD's] offer of a position as
assistant principal with no loss of salary for the 2016-17
school year as an alternative to nonrenewal of your contract
as principal at Jim Hill High School. Please understand that
this offer is contingent on approval by [JPSD's] board of
trustees. By doing so, you voluntarily and of your own free
will agree to waive any and all of your rights as provided by
the Education Employment Procedures Law, Miss. Code Ann.
[§] 37-9-101 et seq., including but not limited to
notice of nonrenewal and a due process hearing. If you do not
accept this agreement, [JPSD] will proceed with nonrenewal of
your contract for the 2016-17 school year. Your signature
below indicates acceptance of this agreement.
If you do not accept this agreement, [JPSD] will proceed with
nonrenewal of your contract for the 2016-17 year and offer
you the position of assistant principal at the salary
commensurate for that position. . . .
countersigned the letter, indicating that she accepted the
offer. However, the next day, she rescinded her acceptance
and rejected the offer.
On May 27, 2016, JPSD delivered a letter to Mason from the
superintendent that stated as follows:
Pursuant to the provisions of Miss. Code Ann. § 37-9-59,
you are hereby notified that you are being demoted to
assistant principal for the 2016-17 school year due to your
poor leadership, poor academic success of your school, poor
professional judgment, and neglect of your duty as a
principal. . . . Because of your conduct, [JPSD] has no
alternative but to demote you from principal at Jim Hill to
assistant principal at another high school. Your salary for
the 2016-17 school year will decrease from $72, 200 to $71,
450 commensurate with your new position as assistant
Under the above statute, you are entitled to a public hearing
on the charges made against you. You must request a hearing
by delivering a letter to my office within five (5) calendar
days from this date. If no written request is received, you
will be demoted to assistant principal effective June 1,
2016. . . . If you request a hearing, . . . [t]he procedure
for your hearing shall be prescribed in Miss. Code Ann.
§ 37-9-111. . . .
Mason timely requested a hearing. Prior to the hearing, JPSD
provided Mason with a "Notice of the Reasons for
Demotion and Summary of the Factual Basis Thereof,"
which alternately referred to the employment action as both a
"termination" and "demotion." A four-day
due process hearing was held in July 2016, and a total of
seventeen witnesses testified. Following the hearing,
JPSD's board of trustees voted to uphold Mason's
termination/demotion. Mason then filed a notice of appeal in
the chancery court from the decision of the board of trustees
"approving her termination/demotion."
After briefing and oral argument, the chancery court ruled
that Mason's demotion was "a non-renewal" of
her contract and "was untimely and therefore void."
Therefore, the court reversed the decision of the board of
trustees and declared that Mason had "a valid contract
as a . . . principal for the 2016-2017 school year."
Eight days after the chancery court entered its order, Mason
filed a "Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment to Award
Costs" in which she asked the court to "amend"
the judgment to award her costs of $2, 089.78. The court
subsequently granted Mason's motion and awarded costs of
$1, 988.50. JPSD filed a notice of appeal thirty days later.
Mason argues that this Court lacks jurisdiction because
JPSD's notice of appeal was untimely. We disagree. Rule
4(a) of the Mississippi Rules of Appellate Procedure provides
that a notice of appeal must be filed within thirty days of
the entry of the order or judgment appealed from. Rule 4(d)
then provides that if a party files a timely motion to alter
or amend the judgment under Mississippi Rule of Civil
Procedure 59, the time for filing a notice of appeal runs
from the entry of the order disposing of that motion. In this
case, Mason filed a timely motion to alter or amend the
judgment, which the chancery court granted. JPSD then filed
its notice of appeal within thirty days of the chancery
court's order granting Mason's motion. Therefore,
JPSD's notice of appeal was timely under Rule 4.
Mason argues that the Rules of Civil Procedure do not apply
when, as in this case, a chancery court acts as an appellate
court. Thus, she argues that her motion to alter or amend the
judgment was not filed under Rule 59 and did not toll the
time for taking an appeal. However, this Court recently
rejected the same argument. Wirtz v. Adams Cty. Bd. of
Supervisors, No. 2018-CP-00031-COA, 2019 WL 1615655, at
*3-*4 (¶¶14-18) (Miss. Ct. App. Apr. 16, 2019)
(petition for a writ of certiorari filed). In Wirtz,
we held that a party may file a motion to alter or amend the
judgment under Rule 59 in a case in which a circuit court is
acting as an appellate court. Id. Therefore, we held
that a timely motion to alter or amend the judgment tolls the
time for taking an appeal in such a case. Id. The
same reasoning applies in this case. JPSD's notice of
appeal was timely because it was filed within thirty days of
the order granting Mason's motion to alter or amend the
We review the decision of JPSD's board of trustees
applying the same standard of review as the chancery court.
Ekanem v. Greenville Pub. Sch. Dist. Bd. of Trs.,
235 So.3d 1431, 1433 (¶4) (Miss. Ct. App. 2017). Thus,
in substance, this Court ...