In re Enlargement of Mun. Bound. of Clinton

Decision Date03 May 2007
Docket NumberNo. 2004-AN-01436-SCT.,No. 2006-AN-00409-SCT.,2006-AN-00409-SCT.,2004-AN-01436-SCT.
Citation955 So.2d 307
PartiesIn the Matter of the ENLARGEMENT AND EXTENSION OF the MUNICIPAL BOUNDARIES OF the CITY OF CLINTON, Mississippi: Myra Jane Hale, Lucas L. Hale, R. Mitchell Hale and Suzyn B. Hale d/b/a Hale Fireworks, L.L.C., and David Weeks v. City of Clinton, Mississippi.
CourtMississippi Supreme Court

T. Jackson Lyons, Jackson, John R. Reeves, attorneys for appellants.

Jerry L. Mills, Kenneth R. Dreher, Ridgeland, attorneys for appellee.

EN BANC.

EASLEY, Justice, for the Court.

STATEMENT OF THE CASE

¶ 1. This case is an appeal from a chancery court ruling which approved the City of Clinton's annexation of certain parts of land located in Hinds County. On January 29, 2002, the City of Clinton (the City) filed a petition in the Second Judicial District of the Chancery Court of Hinds County, Mississippi, to approve, ratify, and confirm the enlargement and extension of its municipal boundaries. The petition proposed three areas to be added to the City. The extension included property owned by David E. Weeks and the Hale family. Weeks filed an answer of objectors, pro se, on April 11, 2003. The Hales also filed an answer of objectors. The case was heard before the Honorable Stuart Robinson, Jr., on June 7, 2004.

¶ 2. The chancellor filed his opinion on June 16, 2004, approving the enlargement and extension of the boundaries of the City of Clinton. Following the final judgment, Weeks filed a timely appeal to this Court. The Hales filed a separate appeal.

¶ 3. On January 26, 2006, this Court vacated and remanded the annexation, instructing the chancellor to provide detailed reasoning concerning the twelve indicia of reasonableness and enter a new judgment in accordance with the findings. This Court stated that "we vacate the chancellor's judgment and remand this case with instructions to the chancellor to provide more detailed reasoning on the record as to each indicium of reasonableness and to enter a new judgment in accordance with those findings and conclusions." See Weeks v. City of Clinton (In re City of Clinton), 920 So.2d 452, 458 (Miss.2006). On February 17, 2006, the chancellor entered his findings and conclusions of law, as well as the final judgment approving the annexation to the City.

¶ 4. Thereafter, Weeks filed a motion for new trial or to reopen the case to take new testimony. The chancellor denied the motion, and Weeks filed this appeal with the Court. The Hales also filed an appeal on March 14, 2006. The two appeals were consolidated.

STATEMENT OF THE FACTS

¶ 5. The City filed a petition for the annexation of three areas in Hinds County into the City of Clinton, located in Hinds County, Mississippi. These three areas that the City petitioned to annex are known as: (1) the North Area, (2) the Southwest Area, and (3) the Southeast Area. Weeks owns property located in the North Area. The Hales own property located in the Southeastern Area.

¶ 6. Mayor Rosemary G. Aultman (the Mayor), and Chris Watson, an expert in urban and city planning, testified on behalf of the City in the annexation hearing. The Hales did not attend the hearing. Weeks and fourteen other witnesses attended and testified at the hearing. Weeks cross-examined Watson on whether Watson thought that the proposed annexation area (PAA) residents paid their fair share of taxes and whether the PAA residents' preference to remain outside the City were considered prior to the annexation proceedings. The Mayor was not cross-examined by anyone present at the hearing. No expert testified on behalf of the objectors.

¶ 7. The chancellor approved the annexation of all the areas within the PAA and followed his findings of fact and conclusions of law with a final judgment, ruling that the approval of the enlargement and extension of the boundaries of the City of Clinton was reasonable. Weeks and the Hales filed their appeals objecting to the annexation. In their appeals, Weeks and the Hales raise the following issues for review by this Court:

I. Whether the chancellor erred by finding that the City's annexation was reasonable.

II. Whether the chancellor erred by failing to support his findings of fact and conclusions of law on the twelve indicia of reasonableness applicable to annexation.

III. Whether the chancellor erred by denying Weeks's motion for a new trial.

IV. Whether the chancellor erred by approving the annexation since the City cannot acquire the right to consumer water services previously granted to the North Hinds Water Association.

DISCUSSION

¶ 8. This Court set out the standard of review in annexation matters in In re Extension of Boundaries of City of Hattiesburg, 840 So.2d 69, 81 (Miss.2003). Our Court has limited power in annexation matters, reversing a chancellor's findings as to reasonableness of the annexation only when a "chancellor's decision is manifestly wrong and is not supported by substantial and credible evidence." Id. (citing In re Enlargement and Extension of Mun. Boundaries of City of Madison v. City of Madison, 650 So.2d 490, 494 (Miss.1995)). See also Bassett v. Town of Taylorsville, 542 So.2d 918, 921 (Miss.1989). In Bassett, we held that:

Where there is conflicting, credible evidence, we defer to the findings below. Findings of fact made in the context of conflicting, credible evidence may not be disturbed unless this Court can say that from all the evidence that such findings are manifestly wrong, given the weight of the evidence. We may only reverse where the Chancery Court has employed erroneous legal standards or where we are left with a firm and definite conviction that a mistake has been made.

Bassett, 542 So.2d at 921. The party seeking the annexation has the burden of proving the reasonableness of the annexation. Id.

¶ 9. In the case of In re Extension of the Boundaries of City of Ridgeland v. City of Ridgeland, 651 So.2d 548, 551 (Miss.1995) this Court reiterated our long-standing twelve indicia of reasonableness in annexation cases:

In a series of cases beginning with Dodd v. City of Jackson, 238 Miss. 372, 396-97, 118 So.2d 319, 330 (1960) down through most recently McElhaney v. City of Horn Lake, 501 So.2d 401, 403-04, (Miss.1987) and City of Greenville v. Farmers, Inc., 513 So.2d 932, 941 (Miss. 1987), we have recognized at least eight indicia of reasonableness. These include (1) the municipality's need for expansion, (2) whether the area sought to be annexed is reasonably within a path of growth of the city, (3) the potential health hazards from sewage and waste disposal in the annexed areas, (4) the municipality's financial ability to make the improvements and furnish municipal services promised, (5) the need for zoning and overall planning in the area, (6) the need for municipal services in the area sought to be annexed, (7) whether there are natural barriers between the city and the proposed annexation area, and (8) the past performance and time element involved in the city's provision of services to its present residents.

Other judicially recognized indicia of reasonableness include (9) the impact (economic or otherwise) of the annexation upon those who live in or own property in the area proposed for annexation; Western Line [Consol. v. City of Greenville, 465 So.2d 1057, 1059 (1985)]; (10) the impact of the annexation upon the voting strength of protected minority groups, Enlargement of Boundaries of Yazoo City [v. Yazoo City, 452 So.2d 837 at 842-43 (1984)]; (11) whether the property owners and other inhabitants of the areas sought to be annexed have in the past, and for the foreseeable future unless annexed will, because of their reasonable proximity to the corporate limits of the municipality, enjoy the (economic and social) benefits of proximity to the municipality without paying their fair share of the taxes, Texas Gas Transmission Corp. v. City of Greenville, 242 So.2d 686, 689 (Miss.1971); Forbes v. Mayor & Board of Alderman of City of Meridian, 86 Miss. 243, 38 So. 676 (1905); and (12) any other factors that may suggest reasonableness vel non. Bassett v. Town of Taylorsville, 542 So.2d 918, 921 (Miss.1989). In the Matter of the Enlargement and Extension of the Municipal Boundaries of the City of Madison, Mississippi: The City of Jackson, Mississippi v. City of Madison, 650 So.2d 490 (Miss.1995) (hereinafter, "City of Jackson v. City of Madison")[;] In the Matter of the Extension of the Boundaries of the City of Columbus, Mississippi: Kenneth R. Robinson, Walter J. Cunningham, Ralph Edward Hall, J.B. Wilkins, Arnette Neil Beard, and Ed Markham v. City of Columbus Mississippi, 644 So.2d 1168 (hereinafter, "City of Columbus"); City of Jackson, 551 So.2d at 864; See also, Bassett v. Town of Taylorsville, 542 So.2d 918, 921-22 (Miss.1989).

City of Ridgeland, 651 So.2d at 551 (emphasis added). This Court has held that the twelve factors "are only indicia of reasonableness, not separate and distinct tests in and of themselves." In re Enlargement and Extension of Mun. Boundaries of City of Biloxi, 744 So.2d 270 at 276 (Miss.1999). In addition, "[t]he chancellor must consider all [twelve] of these factors and determine whether under the totality of the circumstances the annexation is reasonable." Id.

I. Whether the chancellor erred by finding that the City's annexation was reasonable.

The (12) twelve indicia of reasonableness

1. Need to Expand.

¶ 10. The objectors argue: (1) that population growth was insignificant and the Mayor relied on figures for the increase in population from 1970; (2) that the Mayor stated that the annexation was to protect the City of Clinton, which is not an indicium of reasonableness; (3) that the Mayor stated that only one tract of land was available for development (however, she did not specify which tract of land was available for development), and the City has enough vacant land within its borders available for development; (4) that Watson stated that the City needed a "cushio...

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