Miss. Dep't of Corr. v. Roderick & Solange Macarthur Justice Ctr., 2015–CA–00431–SCT

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
Citation220 So.3d 929
Docket NumberNO. 2015–CA–00431–SCT,2015–CA–00431–SCT
Decision Date13 April 2017

220 So.3d 929


NO. 2015–CA–00431–SCT

Supreme Court of Mississippi.

April 13, 2017





¶1. Adhering to our rule of law, we, the judiciary, should honor and enforce legislatively created exemptions to statutes. "[W]e must presume that the [Mississippi Legislature] meant what it said and said what it meant...."1 It would be "ludicrous for this Court to blindly follow" the Mississippi Public Records Act of 1983 (MPRA) as it existed in 2014 when the documents at issue were requested and act as though we did not know the law, as adopted by the Legislature in 2016 and readopted in 2017.2 See

220 So.3d 931

Beatty v. State , 627 So.2d 355, 358 (Miss. 1993). See also Cellular S., Inc. v. BellSouth Telecomm., LLC , No. 2016-CA-00034-SCT, 214 So.3d 208, 215, 2017 WL 841132, at *6 (Miss. Mar. 2, 2017) ("As a result, absent an applicable saving clause, a final judgment, or a loss to BellSouth of a vested right, we must apply the Public Records Act to the instant case as though it has always read as it reads today."). Accordingly, we vacate the trial court's judgment and render a decision in favor of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC).


¶2. MDOC appeals from the Hinds County Chancery Court's order granting the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center's (Justice Center's) complaint for declaratory judgment, deeming MDOC in violation of the Mississippi Public Records Act (MPRA) and requiring MDOC to produce records sought by the Justice Center. In November 2014, the Justice Center made a request under the MPRA for records pertaining to MDOC's process and protocol for lethal injections, as well as MDOC's acquisition of chemicals it intended or considered for use in lethal-injection executions. MDOC responded to the Justice Center's 2014 request, furnishing documents, some of which were redacted.

¶3. On December 30, 2014, the Justice Center filed its complaint, seeking an order requiring MDOC to respond completely, without redaction, to the November 2014 request. On January 29, 2015, MDOC filed an answer and counterclaim. MDOC requested that the court declare the name(s) and other identifying information concerning the name(s) of the entities that supply the lethal-injection drugs as well as the identities of members of the execution team to be confidential, privileged, or otherwise exempt from the requirements of the MPRA.

¶4. The chancery court heard the case on March 2, 2015. The parties appeared, but neither party offered evidence to support its claims and/or defenses. In its order and opinion, the chancery court concluded that the redacted information neither fell within any of the statutory exemptions provided by the MPRA, nor was it sufficiently sensitive to be sealed and withheld from the public. It ordered the information be disclosed to the Justice Center.

¶5. During the pendency of this appeal, the Mississippi Legislature enacted into law in 2016 Mississippi Code Section 99–19–51(2) (Supp. 2016) and in 2017 Section 99–19–51(6)(c), (2017 Miss. Laws H.B. 638)3 , both of which exempt public bodies from disclosing the "identities of all members of the execution team, a supplier of lethal injection chemicals, and the identities of those witnesses listed in Section 99–19–55(2) who attend as members of the victim's or the condemned person's immediate family ... under the provisions of the Mississippi Public Records Act of 1983." Miss. Code Ann. § 99–19–51(6). The parties were ordered to supplement their briefs as to what effect a change in the law had on the pending case.4

220 So.3d 932


¶6. The Legislature of this state, as the principal exponent of the public policy of this state, has declared that the information sought is to be exempted. During the pendency of this matter on appeal, the Legislature has amended the statute twice. First, Senate Bill 2237 was passed and signed into law, See Miss. Code Ann. § 99–19–51(2), followed by House Bill 638 in 2017. See Miss. Code Ann. § 99–19–51(6)(c), 2017 Miss. Laws H.B. 638. The legislation specifically expanded the exemptions of the MPRA to include information previously redacted and/or not disclosed by MDOC.5

¶7. Succinctly stated, our review is limited to the actual controversy remaining—what documents, if any, MDOC is required to disclose pursuant to our law.6 See Miss. Ass'n of Educators v. Trustees of Jackson Mun. Separate Sch. Dist. , 510 So.2d 123, 124 (Miss. 1987). As early as on May 3, 2016, there was no obligation for MDOC to disclose documents which would reveal the information first exempted by Section 99–19–51(2) and then by Section 99–19–51(6)(c).7

¶8. Section 99–19–51(6)(c) addresses exemptions from disclosures . The Legislature has plenary authority to amend the law. See Musgrove v. Vicksburg & N.R. Co. , 50 Miss. 677, 682–83 (1874). The adoption date of the amendment established the effective date for disclosure. Disclosure duties before passage of Section 99–19–51(6)(c) are of no consequence. Thus, retroactivity is not at issue. It follows that Section 99–19–51(6)(c) applies prospectively to disclosure of information not deemed as exempt after passage.

[I]t is not for the courts to decide whether a law is needed and advisable in the general government of the people. That is solely a matter for the wisdom of the Legislature. But, it is our duty to construe the law and apply it to the case presented....

City of Belmont v. Miss. State Tax Comm'n , 860 So.2d 289, 307 (Miss. 2003) (quoting Moore v. Grillis , 205 Miss. 865, 888, 39 So.2d 505, 509 (1949) ).

¶9. This Court held in 1874 that:

if there has been a change or alteration, or repeal of the law applicable to the rights of the parties, after rendition of the original judgment, and pending the appeal, the case must be heard and decided in the appellate court, according to the then existing law.

Musgrove , 50 Miss. at 682. In Crow v. Cartledge , 99 Miss. 281, 54 So. 947 (1911), we addressed the necessity of "finality of judgment" with regard to new law:

The effect of a repealing statute of this character is to abrogate the repealed statute as completely as if it had never been passed. It is considered as a law which never existed, except for suits
220 So.3d 933
which were commenced and concluded while the repealed law was in force.

Crow , 54 So. at 948 (emphasis added). Therefore, it is well-settled:

by the decisions of our Court, and in most every other jurisdiction, that when proceedings are in process under a statute and have not been completed, and have not reached the stage of final judgment, and a new act is passed, modifying the statute under which the proceedings were begun, the new statute becomes integrated into and a part of the old statute as fully as if written therein from the very time the old statute was enacted....

Oliphant v. The Carthage Bank , 224 Miss. 386, 410, 80 So.2d 63, 72 (1955).

¶10. When the Legislature chooses to amend or modify any law related to a pending action, this Court applies the Legislature's most recent pronouncement. USPCI of Mississippi, Inc. v. State ex rel. McGowan , 688 So.2d 783, 787 (Miss. 1997). We treat the new pronouncement as if it always had been in the Code, unless the Legislature chooses to include a saving clause:8

An amended act is ordinarily construed as if the original statute had been repealed, and as far as any action after the adoption of the amendment is concerned, as if the statute had been originally enacted in its amended form. Beatty v. State , 627 So.2d 355, 357 (Miss. 1993) ; Stone v. Independent Linen Service Co. , 212 Miss. 580, 55 So.2d 165 (1951) ; McCullen v. Sinclair Refining Co. , 207 Miss. 71, 41 So.2d 382 (1949). This Court in Stone reiterated the law set forth in Deposit Guaranty Bank & Trust Co. v. Williams , 193 Miss. 432, 9 So.2d 638 (1942) :

Many decisions in this state have affirmed the rule, which generally prevails, ... that a statute modifying previous statute has the same effect as though the statute had all the while previously existed in the same language as that contained in the modified statute, unless the ... modifying statute contains a saving clause.

Stone , 212 Miss. 580, 586–8, 55 So.2d 165, 168 (quoting Deposit Guaranty , 193 Miss. 432, 438, 9 So.2d 638, 639 ) [Citations omitted.].

USPCI , 688 So.2d at 786–87 (emphasis added).

The result of this rule is that every right or remedy created solely by the ... modified statute disappears or falls with the ... modified statute, unless carried to final judgment before the ... modification,—save that no such ... modification shall be permitted to impair the obligation of a contract or to abrogate a vested right.9

Deposit Guar. , 9 So.2d at 639. There is no basis to depart from these well-reasoned decisions. Such holdings are not unique to this state, for the same principle is...

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