Decision – Miss.S.Ct. – July 24, 2015

I missed this one thinking the Court was still in recess.  But last Friday the Court decided an election primary challenge to a candidate’s residency in Steve Hale v. Mississippi Democratic Executive Committee v. Bill Stone. 

This is an election contest wherein Steve Hale filed a challenge with the Mississippi State Democratic Executive Party claiming that Bill Stone did not live in State Senate District 10.   Since 2008, Stone had been the senator for District 2 (Benton and Marshall Counties). At that time, he resided in Ashland, Mississippi  which is in Benton County.  The state was redistricted in 2012 and Ashland ended up in Senate District 3 (Benton, Pontotoc and Union Counties).  In October 2013, Stone moved to Holly Springs (Marshall County) and qualified to run for senate in District 10 (Marshall and Tate Counties).

After Stone qualified to run in Senate District 10,  Steve Hale, the present senator for District 10,  challenged Stone’s residency claiming that Stone did not in fact move to Holly Springs.  The Mississippi Democratic Party Executive Committee rejected the challenge and on March 16, 2015, Hale filed a petition in the Hinds County Circuit Court.  The Mississippi Supreme Court appointed Frank Vollor to preside over a trial of the matter.   Judge Vollor presided over a hearing on June 18, 2015.  Hale attempted to prove through utility bills that when Stone claimed that he first moved to Marshall County and rented a home from his brother, he was not really living there (Stone did buy a house in Marshall County later).   Judge Vollor denied Hale’s petition writing that while Stone still owns property in Ashland, Mississippi, “he does not have to sell his property or quit using the property to establish residency in Marshall County.”  CP. 99.   Stone appealed.

The Mississippi Supreme Court affirms.

       Although canceling one’s homestead exemption does not give rise to a rebuttable presumption regarding his or her domicile, it can provide relevant circumstantial evidence of a person’s intention to establish a new domicile, which should be considered along with the other relevant facts and circumstances of the case. Here, the fact that Stone did not claim homestead exemption in 2014 should be considered in conjunction with his having rented the house on Peel Lane in Holly Springs, which, as a rental property, was ineligible for homestead exemption. When he purchased the home at 200 Johnson Park in Holly Springs, Marshall County, Stone filed for homestead exemption in Marshall County. From the point in time at which he filed for homestead exemption in Marshall County, Stone enjoyed a 10 rebuttable presumption that his domicile was in Marshall County. Brinston, 671 So. 2d at 699.

Also, we cannot ignore the well established law of this State concerning the importance of one’s intent in establishing his or her domicile. This Court has held: “The foundation of domicile is intent.” Stubbs v. Stubbs, 211 So. 2d 821, 825 (Miss. 1968). Stated differently, “[a]s a domicil[e] may be acquired by a longer or shorter residence, depending upon the circumstances of the case, its true basis and foundation must be the intention, the quo animo of evidence. The apparent or avowed intention of residence, not the manner of it, constitutes domicil[e].” Hairston v. Hairston, 27 Miss. 704, 719 (1854). Moreover, “even where a party has two residences at different seasons of the year, that will be esteemed his domicil[e] which he himself selects, or describes, or deems to be his home, or which appears to be the centre of his affairs, or where he votes or exercises the rights and duties of a citizen.” Id. (citation omitted). This Court has held that “intention may be established by physical presence, declaration of intent, and all relevant facts and circumstances, and in this connection it has been held that the declarations of the party himself are most important.” Stubbs, 211 So. 2d at 825 (emphasis added). Our precedent dictates that Stone’s statements of intention regarding his domicile are critical to our analysis, and thus we are bound to consider that Stone testified under oath that he intended to abandon his home in Ashland for the purpose of establishing a residence in HollySprings and remaining there indefinitely. See Young, 968 So. 2d at 1262.

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