What are the rights of individuals and businesses that are on the receiving end of a damaging decision by one of Mississippi’s many state agencies? For a long time, pretty limited. Under the agency “deference” doctrines, the courts would usually let the agencies interpret and define their own laws, rules, and regulations. This usually meant that in a challenge to an agency decision, the agency was presumed to be right, and the individual or business was presumed to be wrong.
A few years ago, Mississippi courts did away with “deference” for purposes of the statutes (passed by the legislature) that governed state agencies. This was certainly a shift, but oftentimes the “guts” of what an agency does are not through statutes but through the internal rules and regulations that the agency has passed. And on those types of questions, the courts continued to defer to the agencies.
This changed last Thursday, when the Mississippi Supreme Court “overrule[d] past precedent” and decided that it would no longer give agencies the benefit of the doubt on questions about the meaning of agency rules and regulations. This doesn’t mean the aggrieved individual business will necessarily win; in last week’s case (linked below), the Division of Medicaid prevailed. But it does mean that going forward Mississippi citizens will be on more equal footing going forward in challenges to agency decisions. Click to view the opinion.