In re Extension of Boundaries of City of Winona

Decision Date24 June 2004
Docket NumberNo. 2002-AN-01580-SCT.,2002-AN-01580-SCT.
Citation879 So.2d 966
PartiesIn the Matter of the EXTENSION OF THE BOUNDARIES OF THE CITY OF WINONA, Montgomery County, Mississippi. Harry Neal, Donna Neal, Scott Neal, Harriet Neal and Winona Elevator Co. Inc. v. City of Winona, Mississippi.
CourtMississippi Supreme Court

James H. Herring, attorney for appellants.

Jerry L. Mills, Ridgeland, Raymond M. Baum, Winona, attorneys for Appellee.

EN BANC.

EASLEY, Justice, for the Court.

STATEMENT OF THE CASE

¶ 1. This case involves an appeal from a chancery court ruling which approved the City of Winona's annexation of certain parts of land located in Montgomery County and land known as the "Winona Elevator Property." On May 22, 2002, the City of Winona ("the City") filed a petition to ratify and confirm the extension of its boundaries in the Chancery Court of Montgomery County, Mississippi. The petition proposed four areas to be added to the City, included in the petition to extend the boundaries was property owned by the Neal family. An answer of objectors was field on December 22, 2000 by Harry Neal, Donna Neal, Scott Neal, and Harriet Neal (collectively referred to as "the Neals") and Winona Elevator Co., Inc. (Winona Elevator).1 The case was heard before the Honorable Percy L. Lynchard, Jr., presiding, on February 11-15, 2002. At trial, only members of the Neal family, both individually and as representatives of Winona Elevator, appeared to oppose the annexation.

¶ 2. The chancellor filed his opinion on May 13, 2002. In his opinion the chancellor determined that there was no objection to the annexation of three parcels of land, identified as Parcel One, Two and Three, respectively. Parcel Four contained land owned by the Neal family and Winona Elevator. For purposes of identification, the chancellor further divided Parcel Four into two sections described as the developed "Winona Elevator Property" and the "Undeveloped Neal Property." The opinion reflects that the chancery court found that under a totality of the circumstances the annexation of all the territory for which the City offered proof was reasonable with the exception of what the chancery court described as the "Undeveloped Neal Parcel." On August 28, 2002, the chancellor signed a final judgment approving the enlargement and extension of the boundaries of the City of Winona with the exception of the "Undeveloped Neal property." Following the final judgement and these proceedings, the Neals filed a timely appeal to this Court on September 13, 2002. The appeal only concerns the fourth section of land containing the "Winona Elevator Property," the other three sections of land annexed by the City are not at issue before this Court.

STATEMENT OF THE FACTS

¶ 3. The City filed a petition for the annexation of four areas of Montgomery County into the City of Winona, which is also located in Montgomery County, Mississippi. Of these four areas that the City petitioned to annex, only the ruling as to a portion of the property identified as "Parcel Four" is on appeal today. The chancery court, in its opinion, described the area at issue as follows:

Parcel Four—This parcel is located North of Highway 82 and West of Highway 51. This property is referred to as the Neal Property. For the purposes of this opinion and based on the proof presented this parcel is further divided into the developed Winona Elevator Property [FN 1] and the Undeveloped Neal Property.

(emphasis added). The footnote to the description stated the following:

1. The Property referred to herein as the Winona Elevator Property includes includes (sic) property owned by others bordering U.S. Highway 51 and is referred to as Winona Elevator Property only for convenience of identification. The Undeveloped Neal Property includes the property owned by Mr. and Mrs. Scott Neal which lies North of U.S. Highway 82 and west of the Winona Elevator property. In addition it includes property of others to the west of the Neal property line.

Thus, the chancellor divided Parcel Four into what he described as the developed "Winona Elevator Property" and the "Undeveloped Neal Property." The chancellor approved the annexation of all the areas with the exception of the property described as the "Undeveloped Neal Property." In his opinion, the chancellor ruled:

The indicia of reasonableness are not separate and independent tests. Reasonableness is to be considered under the totality of the circumstances. Citations having done so, the Court is of the opinion and finds that under the totality of the circumstances the annexation of the territory on which the City of Winona offered proof is reasonable with the exception of the Undeveloped Neal Parcel....

The chancellor followed his opinion with a final judgment ruling that the approval of the enlargement and extension of the boundaries of the City of Winona to be reasonable with the exception of the "Undeveloped Neal property." The Neals filed their appeal objecting to the annexation of the "Winona Elevator Property." In their appeal the Neals raise the following issues for review by this Court:

I. Whether the decision of the chancellor that granted annexation of the City of Winona of that property known as the Winona Elevator Company property, was manifestly erroneous or unsupported by substantial credible evidence?
II. Whether the Court should be left with a firm and definite conviction that a mistake was made by the trial court in ruling that the annexation of the Winona Elevator Company property by the City of Winona was reasonable?

DISCUSSION

¶ 4. This Court has very recently set out the standard of review in annexation matters in In re Extension of Boundaries of City of Hattiesburg, 840 So.2d 69 (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. at 81 (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 (citations omitted). "The judicial function is limited to the question of whether the annexation is reasonable." In re Enlargement and Extension of Municipal Boundaries of City of Biloxi, 744 So.2d 270, 276 (Miss.1999). The party seeking the annexation has the burden of proving the reasonableness of the annexation. Id.

¶ 5. In the case of In re Extension of the Boundaries of City of Ridgeland v. City of Ridgeland, 651 So.2d 548, 550 (Miss.1995) this Court reiterated our long standing twelve indica 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;
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