Decisions – Miss.S.Ct. – Nov. 16, 2017

Mississippi Department of Audit, Stacey Pickering, Jim Hood, Chris Lott, David Huggins, Melissa C. Patterson, Joseph A. Runnels, Jr., Sandra R. Chestnut and Harold E. Pizzetta, III v. Gulf Publishing Company, Inc.public records –  After the state and feds began investigating the Miss. Department of Marine Resources,   the Sun Herald filed a chancery court lawsuit  against the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources over the agency’s refusal to provide financial records under the state’s Public Records Act.   DMR refused to comply.  The chancellor held DMR and the Dep’t of Audit  in contempt.   It also fined some individuals working for the Dep’t of Audit and Jim Hood $100 in their individual capacities. The Dep’t of Audit argued that the records were subpoenaed by the grand jury which never relinquished control of them.  The COA reversed and rendered finding that the “records sought by GP were investigative reports that fall within the enumerated examples listed in section 25-61-3(f).” “Accordingly, the chancellor erred in finding DMR violated the MPRA when it denied GP’s requests and when it found the investigative-report exemption did not apply. Therefore, we reverse and render the judgment against DMR for violation of the MPRA.”  Gulf Publishing filed a cert petition which was granted.  The Miss.S.Ct. reverses in part and affirms in part.  It finds that the COA should not have reached the issue of whether the investigative-report exemption under the MPRA applied because the Dept of Audit waived that claim.

For these reasons, we reverse and vacate that portion of the Court of Appeals’
judgment holding that the records sought by GP in the Department of Audit’s possession constituted investigative reports exempted by the MPRA. We reverse that portion of the Court of Appeals’ judgment that reversed and rendered the chancerycourt’s judgment against the Department of Audit for violation of the MPRA. We reverse that portion of the Court of Appeals’ judgment finding that Huggins was not liable for the $100 penalty provision under Section 25-61-15. We affirm the chancery court’s ruling that the Department of Audit is liable for $36,783.50 in attorney’s fees and $1,249.95 in expenses. We reverse and render the chancery court’s ruling that DMR is joint and severally liable for the same. We reverse and vacate that portion of the chancery court’s judgment assessing, pursuant to the MPRA, a $100 fine to Pickering, Hood, Lott, Patterson, Runnels, Chestnut, and Pizzetta.


Barry Bryant v. Gloria Dickersonelection contest –  In a primary election for the Sunflower County Board of Supervisors,  Barry Bryant narrowly lost to  Gloria Dickerson.  He then filed a challenge arguing that she  was not a resident of Sunflower County.  The trial court found for Dickerson and  Bryant appealed.  The Miss.S.Ct. affirms.

The Court grants cert in Susan Harris v. Thomas L. Harris – (the kink is to the COA opinion) –  social security credit toward alimony – Susan and Leon were married in  1979 and divorced in 2011.  Thomas agreed to pay Susan  $2,755 per month to Susan as periodic alimony. The Agreement did not address any contingency with respect to the alimony other than that it would end at Susan’s remarriage or death. Later, Susan obtained derivative Social Security retirement benefits in the amount of $1,035 per month based on Leon’s earnings record with the Social Security Administration.  In 2015,  Susan filed a complaint to review the health provision of the Agreement and Leon moved to reduce or terminate his alimony payments in light of the SS benefits.  Leon maintained that he should be required to pay Susan only an additional $1,720 per month, since she was already drawing $1,035 per month from Social Security as a result of his earnings record. The chancellor agreed.  Susan appealed.  The COA affirms. In her cert petition, Susan argues that “The law is clear that Social Security benefits that a payee receives which is based upon the payor’s employment history may be used as an offset to the payor’s alimony obligation but only when the payor has a substantial and material negative change in his financial circumstances.”


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