Wells by Wells v. Panola County Bd. of Educ., No. 91-CA-00101

CourtMississippi Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtJAMES L. ROBERTS, Jr.; HAWKINS; BANKS; McRAE, J., dissents with separate written opinion joined by SULLIVAN; BANKS; McRAE; SULLIVAN
Citation645 So.2d 883
Parties95 Ed. Law Rep. 1161 Samuel Irvin WELLS, a Minor, by Teddy Franklin WELLS, His Natural Father and Guardian v. PANOLA COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION.
Docket NumberNo. 91-CA-00101
Decision Date13 October 1994

Page 883

645 So.2d 883
95 Ed. Law Rep. 1161
Samuel Irvin WELLS, a Minor, by Teddy Franklin WELLS, His
Natural Father and Guardian
v.
PANOLA COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION.
No. 91-CA-00101.
Supreme Court of Mississippi.
Oct. 13, 1994.
Rehearing Denied Dec. 21, 1994.

Page 885

Benjamin E. Griffith, Griffith & Griffith, Cleveland, for appellant.

D. Ronald Musgrove, Smith & Musgrove, Batesville, for appellee.

Before DAN M. LEE, P.J., and PITTMAN and JAMES L. ROBERTS, Jr., JJ.

JAMES L. ROBERTS, Jr., Justice, for the Court:

In the early morning of May 12, 1989, a school bus accident on Highway 6 near Batesville injured Sammy Wells and several other students. The Accident Contingent Fund statutes, Miss.Code Ann. 1972 Secs. 37-41-39 and 37-41-41 (Supp.1992), limited recovery for injuries arising from school bus accidents to $10,000 per person, $50,000 aggregate. 1 Wells, whose expenses exceeded $600,000, filed a claim against the Panola County School Board for five million dollars in compensatory damages and five million dollars in punitive damages. Wells' claim was dismissed on the Board's 12(b)(6) motion, and he appealed to this Court, raising the following constitutional challenges to the Mississippi Accident Contingency Fund's $10,000 limitation:

I. DOES THE MISSISSIPPI ACCIDENT CONTINGENT FUND STATUTE VIOLATE SECTION 1, ARTICLE I AND SECTION 144, ARTICLE VI OF THE MISSISSIPPI CONSTITUTION OF 1890, BY LEGISLATIVELY USURPING CORE JUDICIAL POWER AND ARBITRARILY IMPOSING DAMAGE LIMITATIONS UPON SUITS ON BEHALF OF MINOR SCHOOL CHILDREN?

II. DOES THE MISSISSIPPI ACCIDENT CONTINGENT FUND STATUTE VIOLATE SECTION 24, ARTICLE III OF THE MISSISSIPPI CONSTITUTION OF 1890, BY DESTROYING THE CONSTITUTIONAL

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GUARANTEE THAT ALL COURTS IN THIS STATE SHALL BE OPEN AND THAT EVERY PERSON FOR INJURY DONE HIM "SHALL HAVE REMEDY BY DUE COURSE OF LAW?"

III. DOES THE MISSISSIPPI ACCIDENT CONTINGENT FUND STATUTE VIOLATE SECTION 14, ARTICLE III OF THE MISSISSIPPI CONSTITUTION OF 1890, AND THE DUE PROCESS CLAUSE OF THE FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT TO THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION, BY DEPRIVING SAMMY WELLS OF HIS FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT TO REDRESS, IMPOSING AN ARBITRARY AND CAPRICIOUS LIMITATION ON RECOVERY BY A FORESEEABLE CLASS OF MINOR SCHOOL CHILDREN INJURED AND DAMAGED AS IN THE INSTANT CASE, AND BY CREATING A LEGISLATIVE CLASSIFICATION TO THE DETRIMENT OF SAMMY WELLS AND THOSE SIMILARLY SITUATED WHICH LACKS A RATIONAL BASIS AND A REASONABLE RELATIONSHIP TO ANY LEGITIMATE OBJECTIVE?

IV. DOES THE MISSISSIPPI ACCIDENT CONTINGENT FUND STATUTE VIOLATE SECTION 17, ARTICLE II OF THE MISSISSIPPI CONSTITUTION OF 1890, BY TAKING PRIVATE PROPERTY WITHOUT DUE COMPENSATION, NAMELY, A CHOSE IN ACTION WHICH HAS INURED TO THE BENEFIT OF SAMMY WELLS?

V. DOES THE MISSISSIPPI ACCIDENT CONTINGENT FUND STATUTE VIOLATE THE EQUAL PROTECTION CLAUSE OF THE FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT TO THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION, BY CONSTITUTING INVIDIOUS DISCRIMINATION BETWEEN A FORESEEABLE AND IDENTIFIABLE CLASS OF SCHOOL AGE CHILDREN WHO OF NECESSITY MUST PLACE THEIR LIVES AND SAFETY IN THE HANDS OF BUS DRIVERS EMPLOYED BY ELECTED SCHOOL BOARDS TO TRANSPORT STUDENTS TO AND FROM SCHOOL, AND ALL OTHER VICTIMS OF VEHICULAR ACCIDENTS WHO HAVE A TORT REMEDY UNDER COMMON LAW?

VI. DOES THE MISSISSIPPI ACCIDENT CONTINGENT FUND STATUTE VIOLATE SECTION 31, ARTICLE III OF THE MISSISSIPPI CONSTITUTION OF 1890, AND THE SEVENTH AMENDMENT TO THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION, BY PLACING AN ARBITRARY LIMIT ON THE AMOUNT THAT THE TRIER OF FACT CAN AWARD AS COMPENSATORY DAMAGES AND DEPRIVING SAMMY WELLS AND OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED OF THEIR CONSTITUTIONALLY GUARANTEED RIGHT OF TRIAL BY JURY?

VII. DID THE LOWER COURT ERR IN DISMISSING THE COUNTERCLAIM OF SAMUEL IRWIN WELLS PURSUANT TO RULE 12(b)(6) OF THE MISSISSIPPI RULES OF CIVIL PROCEDURE AND IN DENYING WELLS' MOTION TO TRANSFER TO THE CIRCUIT COURT?

We find that the Accident Contingent Fund statutes, repealed as of October 1, 1993, violated neither the state nor the federal constitutions, and hold that the Chancellor properly granted the Board's motion to dismiss, and denied Wells' motion to remove to the circuit court.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

At around 7:15 a.m. on May 12, 1989, Samuel Irvin Wells and his younger brother Jeffrey Allen Wells began to cross Highway 6 in front of their home to board a Panola County school bus, which had stopped to pick

Page 887

them up. As Sammy Wells was walking in front of this bus, it was struck from behind by a second Panola County school bus. The force of this collision caused the first bus to hit Sammy Wells. His injuries were extensive, and his expenses for hospitalization, surgery, and physical therapy exceeded $600,000.

On June 9th, 1989, the Panola County Board of Education filed a Petition to Settle Claims in the Panola County Chancery Court, Second District. The Board's liability for the accident was governed by Miss.Code Ann. Sec. 37-41-37 (Supp.1992), providing a cause of action for injuries arising from school bus accidents 2; Miss.Code Ann. Sec. 37-41-39 (Supp.1992), establishing the state-wide Accident Contingent Fund; and Miss.Code Ann. Sec. 37-41-41 (Supp.1992), limiting recovery by parties injured in school bus accidents to $10,000 per person, $50,000 aggregate. Section 37-41-41 also provides for proration of claims by the chancellor where total claims exceeded $50,000. 3

On September 1, 1989, Wells filed a counterclaim charging the driver of the second school bus with "grossly negligent and reckless driving," and alleging that the Panola County Board of Supervisors was liable to him under the doctrine of respondeat superior. Wells sought a declaratory judgment that by limiting recovery, the Accident Contingent Fund statutes violated the state and federal constitutions. He demanded compensatory damages of five million dollars and punitive damages of five million dollars. Additionally, Wells filed a motion to transfer his claim to the Panola County Circuit Court for a jury trial.

On October 12, 1989, the Board filed a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, asserting that the Accident Contingent Fund statutes provided the sole remedy for injury arising from school bus accidents, and requesting the Court to uphold the constitutionality of these statutes.

On January 2, 1991, the chancellor filed his Findings of Fact and Law. He noted that pursuant to Sec. 37-41-41, the Court had prorated the claims of all children who had sustained injuries in the accident. Of the $50,000 maximum available under the statute, $10,000 had been allotted to Sammy Wells; the remaining $40,000 had been divided

Page 888

among the other children. The chancellor also noted that the Board had no liability insurance on the buses or any other applicable insurance coverage.

On January 15, 1991, the chancellor granted the Board's 12(b)(6) motion, dismissing with prejudice Wells' Counterclaim and Motion to Transfer to Circuit Court. Wells appealed to this Court on January 24, 1991.

DISCUSSION OF ISSUES

A.

Introduction

Before proceeding to Wells' assignments of error, we briefly discuss the statutes challenged by this appeal.

The Accident Contingent Fund Statutes

The Accident Contingency Fund Act, passed by the Mississippi Legislature in 1953, established the Accident Contingent Fund and authorized claims by students injured as a result of negligence by school employees operating buses. 4 Maximum available coverage was $5000 per child. In 1964, the legislature extended coverage to any person or damage to property resulting from such negligence, and set a limit of $50,000 per accident. In 1982, the maximum limit of recovery was raised to $10,000 per person, $1,000 for property damage, and $1,000 for medical expenses. The $50,000 limit per accident remained unchanged. These limits were reflected in the 1992 Supplement to the 1972 Miss.Code Ann. 5

As noted above, the three Accident Contingent Fund statutes (Sec. 37-41-37, Sec. 37-41-39, and Sec. 37-41-41), all carried a repeal date of October 1, 1993. Miss.Code Ann. Sec. 11-46-21 (Supp.1992) provided that on October 1, 1993, all money in the Accident Contingent Fund would be transferred to the Tort Claims Fund created by Sec. 11-46-17, and that the Accident Contingent Fund would cease to exist.

We note that Wells' claim was dismissed on a 12(b)(6) motion. This Court conducts de novo review of questions of law raised by 12(b)(6) motions. Tucker v. Hinds County, 558 So.2d 869, 872 (Miss.1990); UHS-Qualicare, Inc. v. Gulf Coast Community Hospital, Inc., 525 So.2d 746, 754 (Miss.1987). In the case at bar, the question of law is whether the challenged statutes violate provisions of the state or federal constitution. This Court will strike down a statute on constitutional grounds only where it appears beyond all reasonable doubt that such statute violates the constitution. Anderson v. Fred Wagner, Etc., 402 So.2d 320, 321 (Miss.1981); Albritton v. City of Winona, 181 Miss. 75, 178 So. 799, 803 (1938). In short, if the statutes challenged in this case are not unconstitutional, the Board was entitled to dismissal as a matter of law.

We now proceed to Wells' assignments of error.

I. DOES THE MISSISSIPPI ACCIDENT CONTINGENT FUND STATUTE VIOLATE SECTION 1, ARTICLE I AND SECTION 144, ARTICLE VI OF THE MISSISSIPPI CONSTITUTION OF 1890, BY LEGISLATIVELY USURPING CORE JUDICIAL POWER AND ARBITRARILY IMPOSING DAMAGE LIMITATIONS UPON SUITS ON BEHALF OF MINOR SCHOOL CHILDREN?

Section 1, Article I of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890 provides:

The powers of the government of the state of Mississippi shall be divided into three distinct departments, and each of them confided to a separate magistracy, to-wit: those which are legislative to one, those which are judicial to another, and those which are executive to another.

Page 889

Section 144, Article VI of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890 provides:

The judicial power of the state shall be vested in a Supreme Court...

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52 practice notes
  • Zauflik v. Pennsbury Sch. Dist.
    • United States
    • Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
    • July 3, 2013
    ...v. Brookhaven, Mississippi School District, 794 F.Supp. 620 (S.D.Miss.1992); Wells by Wells v. Panola County Board of Education, 645 So.2d 883 (Miss.1994); Richardson v. State Highway and Transportation Commission, 863 S.W.2d 876 (Mo.1993); State v. Silva, 86 Nev. 911, 478 P.2d 591 (1970); ......
  • City of Tupelo v. Patterson, NO. 2015–IA–01409–SCT
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • January 19, 2017
    ...such an action may be quashed entirely either by the court or through Legislative action. Wells by Wells v. Panola Cty. Bd. of Educ ., 645 So. 2d 883 (Miss. 1994) ). While this Court previously has held that a creation of the Legislature cannot serve to bar Constitutional claims (see McLemo......
  • Zauflik v. Pennsbury Sch. Dist., No. 1219 C.D. 2012
    • United States
    • Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
    • July 3, 2013
    ...v. Brookhaven, Mississippi School District, 794 F.Supp 620 (S.D. Miss. 1992); Wells by Wells v. Panola County Board of Education, 645 So.2d 883 (Miss. 1994); Richardson v. State Highway and Transportation Commission, 863 S.W.2d 876 (Mo. 1993); State v. Silva, 478 P.2d 591 (Nev. 1970); Estat......
  • Pascagoula Sch. Dist. v. Tucker, No. 2010–CA–00955–SCT.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • July 19, 2012
    ...applies de novo review to questions of law, including the constitutionality of a statute. Wells by Wells v. Panola County Bd. of Educ., 645 So.2d 883, 888 (Miss.1994). ¶ 9. A party seeking to have a statute declared unconstitutional in Mississippi has a heavy burden: he must prove that the ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
52 cases
  • Zauflik v. Pennsbury Sch. Dist.
    • United States
    • Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
    • July 3, 2013
    ...v. Brookhaven, Mississippi School District, 794 F.Supp. 620 (S.D.Miss.1992); Wells by Wells v. Panola County Board of Education, 645 So.2d 883 (Miss.1994); Richardson v. State Highway and Transportation Commission, 863 S.W.2d 876 (Mo.1993); State v. Silva, 86 Nev. 911, 478 P.2d 591 (1970); ......
  • City of Tupelo v. Patterson, NO. 2015–IA–01409–SCT
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • January 19, 2017
    ...such an action may be quashed entirely either by the court or through Legislative action. Wells by Wells v. Panola Cty. Bd. of Educ ., 645 So. 2d 883 (Miss. 1994) ). While this Court previously has held that a creation of the Legislature cannot serve to bar Constitutional claims (see McLemo......
  • Zauflik v. Pennsbury Sch. Dist., No. 1219 C.D. 2012
    • United States
    • Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
    • July 3, 2013
    ...v. Brookhaven, Mississippi School District, 794 F.Supp 620 (S.D. Miss. 1992); Wells by Wells v. Panola County Board of Education, 645 So.2d 883 (Miss. 1994); Richardson v. State Highway and Transportation Commission, 863 S.W.2d 876 (Mo. 1993); State v. Silva, 478 P.2d 591 (Nev. 1970); Estat......
  • Pascagoula Sch. Dist. v. Tucker, No. 2010–CA–00955–SCT.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • July 19, 2012
    ...applies de novo review to questions of law, including the constitutionality of a statute. Wells by Wells v. Panola County Bd. of Educ., 645 So.2d 883, 888 (Miss.1994). ¶ 9. A party seeking to have a statute declared unconstitutional in Mississippi has a heavy burden: he must prove that the ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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