Poole v. City of Pearl

Decision Date11 August 2005
Docket NumberNo. 2002-AN-02139-SCT.,2002-AN-02139-SCT.
Citation908 So.2d 728
PartiesIn the Matter of the Extension of the Boundaries of the City of Pearl, Mississippi: Carol POOLE, Robert Pitts, et al. v. CITY OF PEARL, Mississippi.
CourtMississippi Supreme Court

James H. Herring, attorney for appellants.

Jerry L. Mills, Ridgeland, James A. Bobo, Brandon, attorneys for appellee.

EN BANC.

DICKINSON, Justice, for the Court:

¶ 1. Today, we review yet another vigorously contested annexation effort by one of our municipalities. Perhaps no area of the law generates more emotional participation by members of the public. The idea of having one's home, property and family forced into a city, subjecting the land to city taxes and the family to city ordinances, is quite distasteful to many, particularly those who feel they have no say in the matter under our current law.

¶ 2. In this case, both Rankin County chancellors recused. The Honorable James L. Roberts, Jr., was appointed as a special chancellor to hear the case. Finding the requirements of law had been met, Special Chancellor Roberts approved the annexation. The Objectors have appealed.

INTRODUCTION

¶ 3. In the case before us, counsel for the City of Pearl reminds us that the chancery court, following this Court's precedent, found the annexation to be reasonable. Counsel for some of the Objectors urges this Court to "change the course" of annexation by adding the requirement of an affirmative vote by a majority of the citizens living in the proposed annexation area. This, according to the Objectors, would more closely level the playing field where cities spend large sums of taxpayer dollars to hire lawyers and experts to establish the "reasonableness" of a proposed annexation, while objectors are frequently relegated to bake sales and car washes to raise funds to battle annexation.

¶ 4. Annexation is an exercise of legislative not judicial power.1 This Court stated almost eighty years ago:

Municipal corporations are now, as they have always been in this state, purely creatures of legislative will; governed, and the extent of their powers limited, by express grants; invested, for purposes of public convenience, with certain expressed delegations of governmental power; their granted powers subject at all times to be enlarged or diminished;. . . their powers, their rights, their corporate existence, dependent entirely upon legislative discretion, . . . Unless expressly limited by constitutional provision, the legislative department has absolute power over municipalities.

Gully v. Williams Bros., Inc., 182 Miss. 119, 180 So. 400, 405-06 (Miss.1938).

¶ 5. There is no uniform method of annexation recognized in the various states. In some states, direct legislative action is required to enlarge or reduce a municipality's boundary lines. In other states, the legislature statutorily mandates certain conditions for annexation, leaving the final decision to the local governing boards. In many of these circumstances, the process of annexation is begun by a "petition of voters, taxable inhabitants, residents, or the like, and to be submitted to a vote of designated electors." 2 McQuillin Mun. Corp. § 7.14 (3rd ed.). Still another method of annexation allows for a petition to the courts to instigate annexation. Ultimately, granting to municipalities the substantive right to annex unincorporated areas is a power reserved exclusively to the state legislatures.

Annexation in Mississippi

¶ 6. Since 1892, the Mississippi Legislature has provided that our courts must determine the reasonableness of a municipality's desire to expand or reduce its boundaries. 1892 Miss. Laws ch. 66, § 3. Annexation statutes in Mississippi have been fairly consistent since 1892. Our current statute, adopted on April 18, 1950, provides that a chancellor, rather than a jury, must determine that "reasonable public and municipal services will be rendered in the annexed territory within a reasonable time," and that the proposed annexation is "reasonable and is required by the public convenience and necessity." Miss.Code Ann. § 21-1-33.

¶ 7. The chancery courts (hearing annexation cases) and this Court (reviewing the appeals of many of those cases) encounter the recurring thunderous objection of many living in a proposed annexation area who believe they should be allowed to vote before being taken into a city. A frequent argument presented is that persons who purchased property out in the county to escape "city living" should not have their decision rendered null and void without a vote.

¶ 8. Every year since 1997, approximately twelve bills or resolutions have been proposed in the Legislature on the subject of annexation. In the 2005 regular session of the Mississippi Legislature, eleven separate bills, including a proposed constitutional amendment, were introduced to radically change annexation procedures. See House Bills 187, 216, 292, 483, 643, 761, 783, 796, 1169; House Concurrent Resolution 32; and Senate Bill 2889. Most of the bills sought to abolish the current method of annexation (having a chancellor approve an annexation's reasonableness) and replace it with an election to determine the reasonableness of an annexation. Several bills required an approval vote in the territory the municipality sought to annex. Some of the bills required a simple majority vote of the qualified electors residing in the proposed annexation area. One bill required a majority vote in both the city and the proposed annexation area, while still another bill required approval of 60% of the qualified electors residing in the proposed annexation area. One member of the House of Representatives proposed a constitutional amendment which would have required a majority vote in a special election. All eleven bills died in committee, leaving intact and unchanged the statute enacted in 1950.

¶ 9. Thus, accepting as we must the Legislature's exclusive authority to make and change the law; and accepting as we must our limitation to interpret and apply the laws passed by the Legislature, we now proceed to decide this case, not unmindful of the substantial public dissent to our current law; but ever mindful that such dissent is more properly communicated to members of the Legislature than to the chancellors and Justices on this Court.

BACKGROUND FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

¶ 10. On July 19, 2000, the City of Pearl filed its petition in the Rankin County Chancery Court, seeking to annex approximately 2.2 square miles. The proposed annexation area ("PAA") is bounded on the west by Jackson Municipal Airport, on the east by the City of Brandon, on the north by City of Flowood, and on the south by the City of Pearl. Because the PAA included property within the jurisdiction of the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority ("Airport Authority"), an objection was filed by both the Airport Authority and the City of Jackson. This objection culminated in a joint motion for summary judgment, seeking exclusion from the annexation approximately 40 acres. The chancellor granted the motion and the Airport Authority and the City of Jackson ceased their efforts as Objectors. Objections to the annexation were also filed by two groups of private citizens, one known as the Poole Objectors and the other as the Pitts Objectors.

¶ 11. During the course of the twenty-five day trial which began on August 13, 2001, the special chancellor, counsel, and representatives of the parties toured the proposed annexation area and parts of the City of Pearl. At the conclusion of the trial, Special Chancellor Roberts found that, under the totality of the circumstances, the annexation was reasonable.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶ 12. When a chancellor finds an annexation to be reasonable, this Court will reverse only when the "chancellor's decision is manifestly wrong and is not supported by substantial and credible evidence." In re Extension of Boundaries of City of Winona, 879 So.2d 966, 971 (Miss.2004). Further,

[w]here 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. "The judicial function is limited to the question of whether the annexation is reasonable."

Id. See also In re Enlargement and Extension of Municipal Boundaries of City of Biloxi, 744 So.2d 270, 277 (Miss.1999); McElhaney v. City of Horn Lake, 501 So.2d 401, 403 (Miss.1987); Extension of Boundaries of City of Moss Point v. Sherman, 492 So.2d 289, 290 (Miss.1986); Enlargement of Boundaries of Yazoo City v. City of Yazoo City, 452 So.2d 837, 838 (Miss.1984); Extension of Boundaries of City of Clinton, 450 So.2d 85, 89 (Miss.1984).

ANALYSIS

¶ 13. Although the constitutional portion of the statute which controls annexation litigation requires only that the chancellor find the proposed annexation to be reasonable, this Court's historical affection for tests, lists, and factors has led to the extra-statutory development of twelve "indicia" of reasonableness, which are: (1) need for expansion, (2) path of growth, (3) potential health hazards from sewage and waste disposal in the annexed areas, (4) financial ability to make improvements and furnish services promised, (5) need for zoning and overall planning, (6) need for municipal services, (7) presence of natural barriers between municipality and proposed annexation area, (8) past performance, (9) impact on residents and property owners, (10) impact on the voting strength of protected minority groups, (11) benefits enjoyed by the PAA because of its proximity to the municipality without paying its share of the taxes, and (12) other factors. In re Extension of Boundaries of City...

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