Robinson v. Stewart, No. 91-CA-00454-SCT

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
Writing for the CourtPRATHER; HAWKINS; SULLIVAN; HAWKINS; SULLIVAN
Citation655 So.2d 866
Docket NumberNo. 91-CA-00454-SCT
Decision Date20 April 1995
Parties100 Ed. Law Rep. 1243 Lucinda ROBINSON v. J.C. STEWART and Jackson State University.

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655 So.2d 866
100 Ed. Law Rep. 1243
Lucinda ROBINSON
v.
J.C. STEWART and Jackson State University.
No. 91-CA-00454-SCT.
Supreme Court of Mississippi.
April 20, 1995.
Rehearing Denied June 22, 1995.

G. Joseph Diaz, Jr., John D. Giddens, Cherry Givens Peters Lockett & Diaz, Jackson, Allen G. Woodard, Andalusia, AL, for appellant.

Michael C. Moore, Atty. Gen., Carole Brand Edds, Sp. Asst. Atty. Gen., Richard A. Compere, Sp. Asst. Atty. Gen., Jackson, for appellee.

En Banc.

PRATHER, Presiding Justice, for the Court:

I. STATEMENT OF THE CASE

In this case, this Court addresses the question--is Presley v. Mississippi State Highway Com., 608 So.2d 1288 (Miss.1992) to be retroactively applied? The answer is no.

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This case is a constitutionality challenge to the post-Pruett series of sovereign immunity statutes, Miss.Code Ann. Sec. 11-46-1, et seq., where the injury occurred before our decision in Presley. Lucinda Robinson appeals from a dismissal granting the defendant's motion under Miss.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Robinson sued Jackson State University [hereinafter JSU] and one of its employees, J.C. Stewart, for personal injuries she received in an accident involving her vehicle and a van owned by JSU and driven by Stewart. The defendants invoked the doctrine of sovereign immunity under Miss.Code Ann. Sec. 11-46-1, et seq.

Robinson contends that the circuit judge erred in granting defendant's motion to dismiss, under these assertions of error:

1) DOES THE PRINCIPLE OF SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY, AS ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE, VIOLATE THE REMEDY CLAUSE OF THE MISSISSIPPI STATE CONSTITUTION?

2) DOES THE PRINCIPLE OF SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY, AS ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE, VIOLATE THE DUE PROCESS CLAUSE OF THE MISSISSIPPI STATE CONSTITUTION?

3) DOES THE PRINCIPLE OF SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY, AS ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE, VIOLATE THE DUE PROCESS CLAUSE OF THE FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT OF THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION?

4) DID THE COURT ERR IN DISMISSING J.C. STEWART FROM THE SUIT?

II. STATEMENT OF FACTS

On February 4, 1989, Lucinda Robinson, while driving her vehicle on Interstate 55 near Gallman in Copiah County, was injured when she collided with an automobile driven by J.C. Stewart, then an employee of Jackson State University.

On January 25, 1991, Robinson filed a complaint against Stewart and JSU. She alleged that Stewart acted in the scope and course of his employment with JSU during the accident, and that JSU was liable for his negligence under respondeat superior.

On March 18, 1991, JSU moved to dismiss the action, claiming that it was an agency of the State of Mississippi and immune from suit under sovereign immunity. Robinson filed a response to the motion to dismiss. Robinson responded by stating among other things that (1) the doctrine of sovereign immunity was abolished in Pruett v. City of Rosedale, 421 So.2d 1046 (Miss.1982); and (2) Sec. 11-46-6 is unconstitutional because it violates the Remedy Clause of the Mississippi Constitution and the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

On April 10, 1991, the Circuit Court of Hinds County, First Judicial District, entered an order dismissing the action with prejudice under Miss.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Feeling aggrieved, Robinson has appealed this dismissal to this Court.

III. DISCUSSION

This case is before us on a dismissal under Miss.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). We affirm, under de novo review, only if "beyond doubt," the plaintiff can show no "set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Tucker v. Hinds County, 558 So.2d 869, 872 (Miss.1990).

It seems implicit from the short record before us that sovereign immunity was the basis for dismissal of this action. Without so stating, the trial court agreed that Robinson could prove no set of facts to support her claim of negligence because Jackson State University, as an agency of the State of Mississippi, is immune from suit under sovereign immunity. If the statutes assailed here are constitutional, JSU was entitled to dismissal as a matter of law.

In the case at bar, the matter of law presented for appellate review is whether Sec. 11-46-1 et seq. violated Robinson's constitutional rights. This Court will strike down a statute as unconstitutional only if it appears so beyond a reasonable doubt. Anderson v. Fred Wagner and Roy Anderson, Jr., Incorporated, 402 So.2d 320, 321 (Miss.1981).

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1) DOES THE PRINCIPLE OF SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY VIOLATE THE REMEDY CLAUSE OF THE MISSISSIPPI STATE CONSTITUTION?

The Mississippi Constitution provides that a remedy shall be available in the courts for every injury. Miss. Const. art. III, Sec. 24. Robinson argues that the principle of sovereign immunity, as codified in Miss.Code Ann. Sec. 11-46-1 et seq., violates this provision of our state's constitution.

This Court declared the codified principle of sovereign immunity unconstitutional in 1992, as violating two separate sections of the Mississippi Constitution. Presley v. Mississippi State Highway Com., 608 So.2d 1288, 1290-96 (Miss.1992) (applying Miss. Const. arts. IV, Sec. 61, art. VI, Sec. 144). Robinson attacks those statutes under the Remedy Clause, which this Court did not address in Presley. 1

This Court did not clearly address in Presley the question of its application being retroactive or prospective. This Court has indirectly answered this question several times. Justice McRae, writing for an en banc Court, stated that only a plurality of the Court supported Part II of Presley, holding for a retroactive application, which led to the conclusion that Presley gave no precedential value for a retroactive application. Churchill v. Pearl River Basin Dev. Dist., 619 So.2d 900, 904 (Miss.1993).

This Court again held later that Presley had no retroactive application. Morgan v. City of Ruleville, 627 So.2d 275, 278 (Miss.1993). The Court remanded this case with instructions to follow pre-Pruett law. Morgan, 627 So.2d at 278-79. This Court later used Part II of Presley in Coplin v. Francis, 631 So.2d 752, 755 (Miss.1994). The Coplin Court reached the same conclusion as Morgan, by denying the retroactive application of Presley. Coplin, 631 So.2d at 755. This Court reached its result through the different means of applying, instead of refusing to apply, Part II of Presley. Id.

What observers should note is our consistency in refusing to apply Presley retroactively, as opposed to the means in which we achieved our end. What we have stated indirectly we now say directly. Presley has no retroactive application. Having answered how Presley applies, it is now time to address why Presley applies only prospectively in light of the Remedy Clause.

This Court has recently held that limitations upon suits against governmental entities are proper. Wells v. Panola County Bd. of Educ., 645 So.2d 883, 890-92 (Miss.1994). The Wells Court focused on damage limitations as being unconstitutional under the Remedy Clause. Wells, 645 So.2d at 889-90. The Wells Court did state that since the plaintiff had no right of recovery at common law, the legislature infringed on no remedy or property right. Id. at 890. The Wells Court did not focus on the absolute bar which is sovereign immunity. However, this case is the first occasion in which this Court has reviewed a Remedy Clause attack against any part of the post-Pruett sovereign immunity plan.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has done this analysis. In Grimes v. Pearl River Valley Water Supply Dist., the Fifth Circuit held that the post-Pruett legislative enactments of Miss.Code Ann. Sec. 11-46-6 survive Remedy Clause scrutiny. Grimes v. Pearl River Valley Water Supply Dist., 930 F.2d 441, 443-44 (5th Cir.1991). The Grimes Court found no conflict between these enactments and the Mississippi

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Constitution's Remedy Clause. Grimes, 930 F.2d at 443. 2 The court reasoned that our state's constitution erects no barriers against legislation. Id. The court reasoned that even Pruett stated that the proper forum for sovereign immunity's resolution was with the legislature. Id. The court recognized that Mississippi had enacted sovereign immunity with its actions. Id. The Remedy Clause did not expressly conflict with sovereign immunity or require exceptions to sovereign immunity. Id. at 443-44. As the ultimate interpreter of the Mississippi Constitution, this Court holds that it is the legislative branch's prerogative to address limitations upon suits against government entities. Wells, 645 So.2d at 889.

Furthermore, this Court has upheld other complete statutory bars to recovery, under the remedy clause. Anderson v. Fred Wagner and Roy Anderson, Jr., Inc., 402 So.2d 320, 321-24 (Miss.1981). In light of Anderson, Robinson cannot state that the remedy clause provides an absolute guarantee for a trial.

2) DOES THE PRINCIPLE OF SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY, AS ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE, VIOLATE THE DUE PROCESS CLAUSE OF THE MISSISSIPPI STATE CONSTITUTION?

Robinson complains that the legislature's deferral of her right to sue the state is a violation of due process. See Miss. Const., art. III, Sec. 14. However, this Court has noted that the Immunity Act, Miss.Code Ann. Sec. 11-46-1 et seq., as enacted by the post-Pruett legislature, has continually protected the state against suit. Richardson v. Rankin County Sch. Dist., 540 So.2d 5, 8 (Miss.1989) (not ruling on constitutional grounds). Prior to Pruett, common law allowed no right to sue against the government. Wells v. Panola County Bd. of Educ., 645 So.2d at 891.

A due process violation requires the infringement of a liberty or property right. Tucker v. Hinds County, 558 So.2d 869, 873 (Miss.1990) (holding possession of property interest protected by Mississippi Due Process Clause necessary to pierce sovereign immunity). As the legislature has withheld that right through its statutes, there is no property right to sue the state. No due...

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28 practice notes
  • Hodgson v. Mississippi Dept. of Corrections, No. 93-C-819.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court of Eastern District of Wisconsin
    • April 30, 1997
    ...However, the Mississippi Supreme Court subsequently held that Presley should only be applied prospectively. Robinson v. Stewart, 655 So.2d 866, 868 (Miss.1995) (en banc) ("Presley has no retroactive application."). Since Presley is not retroactive, the Sovereign Immunity Act of 1984 as subs......
  • Price v. Clark, No. 2007-CA-01671-SCT.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • July 23, 2009
    ...(overruled on other grounds by Jenkins v. Pensacola Health Trust, Inc., 933 So.2d 923, 926 (Miss. 2006))); see also Robinson v. Stewart, 655 So.2d 866 (Miss.1995). ¶ 49. Accordingly, this assignment of error is without merit.3 [21 So.3d 528 X. WHETHER THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN GRANTING SUMMA......
  • Arceo v. Tolliver, No. 2005-IA-00652-SCT.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • November 16, 2006
    ...Mississippi case law, Justice Michael Sullivan of this Court offered similar reasoning in his dissenting opinion in Robinson v. Stewart, 655 So.2d 866 (Miss.1995), when discussing sovereign The majority incorrectly holds that sovereign immunity does not violate the "remedy clause" of the Mi......
  • Brown v. Houston School Dist., No. 95-CA-00268-SCT
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • December 18, 1997
    ...our "prospective only" application of Presley v. Mississippi State Highway Comm'n, 608 So.2d 1288 (Miss.1992). In Robinson v. Stewart, 655 So.2d 866 (Miss.1995), we held that Presley was to be applied prospectively only, announcing that "[w]hat we have stated indirectly we now say directly.......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
28 cases
  • Hodgson v. Mississippi Dept. of Corrections, No. 93-C-819.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court of Eastern District of Wisconsin
    • April 30, 1997
    ...However, the Mississippi Supreme Court subsequently held that Presley should only be applied prospectively. Robinson v. Stewart, 655 So.2d 866, 868 (Miss.1995) (en banc) ("Presley has no retroactive application."). Since Presley is not retroactive, the Sovereign Immunity Act of 1984 as subs......
  • Price v. Clark, No. 2007-CA-01671-SCT.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • July 23, 2009
    ...(overruled on other grounds by Jenkins v. Pensacola Health Trust, Inc., 933 So.2d 923, 926 (Miss. 2006))); see also Robinson v. Stewart, 655 So.2d 866 (Miss.1995). ¶ 49. Accordingly, this assignment of error is without merit.3 [21 So.3d 528 X. WHETHER THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN GRANTING SUMMA......
  • Arceo v. Tolliver, No. 2005-IA-00652-SCT.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • November 16, 2006
    ...Mississippi case law, Justice Michael Sullivan of this Court offered similar reasoning in his dissenting opinion in Robinson v. Stewart, 655 So.2d 866 (Miss.1995), when discussing sovereign The majority incorrectly holds that sovereign immunity does not violate the "remedy clause" of the Mi......
  • Brown v. Houston School Dist., No. 95-CA-00268-SCT
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • December 18, 1997
    ...our "prospective only" application of Presley v. Mississippi State Highway Comm'n, 608 So.2d 1288 (Miss.1992). In Robinson v. Stewart, 655 So.2d 866 (Miss.1995), we held that Presley was to be applied prospectively only, announcing that "[w]hat we have stated indirectly we now say directly.......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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