Graves v. Greene Cnty. , 2013 Ark. 493 ( 2013 )


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                     SUPREME COURT OF ARKANSAS
                                         No.   CV-13-552
    
    CLAUDE GRAVES                                  Opinion Delivered   December 5, 2013
                                 APPELLANT
                                                   APPEAL FROM THE GREENE
    V.                                             COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT,
                                                   [NOS. CV-10-661, CV-11-131, CV-11-
                                                   184]
    GREENE COUNTY, ARKANSAS
                       APPELLEES                   HONORABLE DAVID N. LASER,
                                                   JUDGE
    
                                                   AFFIRMED.
    
    
                                   JIM HANNAH, Chief Justice
    
    
           Appellant, Claude Graves, appeals the order of the Greene County Circuit Court
    
    denying his claim for reimbursement of expenses incurred while working as a constable and
    
    rejecting his claim that the Greene County ordinance setting constable salaries at $25 per
    
    month was arbitrary and capricious and therefore unconstitutional. We affirm the circuit
    
    court’s order.
    
           On January 28, 2008, Graves was appointed Constable for the Shady Grove
    
    Township, Greene County, by Governor Mike Beebe. He was elected Constable in
    
    November 2008 and served in that position until he finished his term on December 31,
    
    2012. On February 26, 2010, in CV-2010-66, Graves filed a complaint in circuit court
    
    against Greene County; Greene County Quorum Court; and Jesse Dollars, in his official
    
    capacity as County Judge of Greene County (collectively, “Greene County”), and sought
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    a writ of mandamus to compel the quorum court to reimburse him for his expenses and set
    
    a salary for constables. Graves then filed a motion for summary judgment, and Greene
    
    County filed a response. The circuit court entered an order granting partial summary
    
    judgment in favor of Graves, finding that pursuant to Arkansas Code Annotated section 14-
    
    14-1205(d), the quorum court was required to fix a salary for constables and that the salary
    
    amount was within the quorum court’s discretion. In addition, the circuit court found that
    
    the claim for expenses was not properly before the circuit court; rather, that claim first had
    
    to be presented to Greene County.
    
           In March 2011, the finance committee of the quorum court met to discuss setting a
    
    salary for constables. At the meeting, the committee assessed the work performance of the
    
    constables in light of the role of the Greene County Sheriff’s Office and reviewed the salaries
    
    of constables from other counties in the state. On March 21, 2011, the quorum court passed
    
    Appropriation Ordinance No. 2011-06, which set the constable salaries at $25 per month.
    
           Meanwhile, pursuant to the circuit court’s order, Graves submitted claims for expenses
    
    in the amount of approximately $4,142 to the Greene County Clerk. The Clerk then
    
    transferred the claims to the Greene County Judge, who denied them. A hearing was held
    
    before the quorum court, and on May 10, 2011, an order was entered denying Graves’s
    
    claims for expenses. Graves then filed CV-2011-131 in the circuit court, appealing the order
    
    denying payment of the expenses he incurred while working as a constable.
    
           On July 22, 2011, Graves filed in the circuit court CV-2011-184, a complaint for
    
    declaratory judgment seeking to have the ordinance setting the salaries for constables declared
    
    
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    unconstitutional as being arbitrary and capricious. The circuit court consolidated CV-2010-
    
    66, CV-2011-131, and CV-2011-184, conducted a de novo review and, after a hearing and
    
    consideration of the pleadings filed, proof submitted through testimony and exhibits, briefs
    
    submitted and statements of counsel, denied Graves’s claim for reimbursement of expenses
    
    and found that the ordinance setting the salary for constables was not unconstitutional.
    
    Graves now brings this appeal.
    
           Graves first contends that the circuit court erred in denying his claim for
    
    reimbursement of expenses incurred while working as a constable. He maintains that,
    
    pursuant to Arkansas Code Annotated section 14-14-1207(a), Greene County was required
    
    to reimburse him for his expenses. Greene County responds that Graves’s reliance on section
    
    14-14-1207(a) is misplaced because that statute applies only to county and district officials
    
    and not to constables, who are township officers.
    
           A brief review of the relevant history of section 14-14-1207(a) is helpful to an
    
    understanding of the parties’ arguments. Before it was amended in 2009, section 14-14-
    
    1207(a) provided as follows:
    
           (a) Reimbursement authorized. All elected county and township officers, and employees
           thereof shall be entitled to receive reimbursement of allowable expenses incurred in
           the conduct of county affairs where the incurrence of expense is not discretionary in
           the conduct of duties assigned by law. Reimbursement of allowable expenses which
           are incurred in the performance of discretionary functions may be permitted where
           provided for by a specific appropriation of the county quorum court.
    
    Ark. Code Ann. § 14-14-1207(a) (Repl. 1998) (emphasis added).
    
           In 2009, section 14-14-1207(a) was amended so that it now reads:
    
           (a) Reimbursement authorized. All county and district officials and authorized deputies
    
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           or employees thereof shall be entitled to receive reimbursement of expenses incurred
           in the conduct of official and nondiscretionary duties under an appropriation for the
           operating expenses of an office, function, or service. Reimbursement of expenses that
           are incurred in the performance of discretionary functions and services may be
           permitted when provided for by a specific appropriation of the quorum court.
    
    Ark. Code Ann. § 14-14-1207(a) (Supp. 2011) (emphasis added); see Act of Apr. 1, 2009,
    
    No. 732, 2009 Ark. Acts 3839. Thus, the current version of the statute authorizes
    
    reimbursement for county and district officials, whereas the prior version of the statute
    
    authorized reimbursement for elected county and township officers.
    
           We begin by determining which version of the statute applies in this case. Graves
    
    asserts that constables are both “elected township officers” and “district officials” for the
    
    purposes of reimbursement; therefore, he appears to contend that both versions of the statute
    
    are applicable. We disagree. Based on the record before us, we conclude that the current
    
    version of the statute applies in this case. Section 14-14-1207(a) was rewritten by Act 732 of
    
    2009, which did not contain an emergency clause or a specified effective date; therefore,
    
    pursuant to amendment 7 of the Arkansas Constitution, the Act became effective ninety days
    
    after the adjournment of the legislative session at which it was enacted. See Tate v. Bennett,
    
    
    341 Ark. 829
    , 833 n.3, 
    20 S.W.3d 370
    , 372 n.3 (2000). The session in which Act 732 was
    
    approved adjourned on May 1, 2009; thus, the Act became effective on July 31, 2009. See
    
    Op. Ark. Att’y Gen. No. 90 (2009). Linda Heritage, Greene County Clerk, testified that in
    
    2011, Graves presented to her invoices and claims for payment of expenses for 2008, 2009,
    
    2010, and “a portion” of 2011. Because Graves sought reimbursement in 2011, after the
    
    statute had been amended, the current version of the statute is applicable in this case.
    
    
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           Having determined that the current version of the statute is applicable, we must now
    
    consider Graves’s argument that, as constable, he is a “district official” for the purposes of
    
    section 14-14-1207(a) (Supp. 2011). The question of the correct application and
    
    interpretation of an Arkansas statute is a question of law, which this court decides de novo.
    
    E.g., Bennett & DeLoney, P.C. v. State ex rel. McDaniel, 
    2012 Ark. 119
    , 
    388 S.W.3d 12
    . The
    
    basic rule of statutory construction is to give effect to the intent of the legislature. E.g., Dachs
    
    v. Hendrix, 
    2009 Ark. 542
    , 
    354 S.W.3d 95
    . Where the language of a statute is plain and
    
    unambiguous, we determine legislative intent from the ordinary meaning of the language
    
    used. Id. In considering the meaning of a statute, we construe it just as it reads, giving the
    
    words their ordinary and usually accepted meaning in common language. Id. We construe
    
    the statute so that no word is left void, superfluous or insignificant, and we give meaning and
    
    effect to every word in the statute, if possible. Id.
    
           Graves offers no authority for his proposition that constables are “district officials.”
    
    But constitutional and statutory law make clear that constables are “township officers” rather
    
    than “district officials.” The office of constable was created by article 7, section 47 of the
    
    Arkansas Constitution, which states, in relevant part, that “[t]he qualified electors of each
    
    township shall elect the Constable for the term of two years.” (Emphasis added.) Arkansas
    
    Code Annotated section 14-14-1301(b) (Supp. 2011), which is titled “Quorum Court
    
    District and Township Officers,” states in relevant part as follows:
    
           (1) There shall be elected in each of the quorum court districts of the counties of this
           state one (1) justice of the peace . . . who shall serve as a member of the quorum court
           of the county in which elected . . . . Each justice shall be a qualified elector and a
           resident of the district for which he or she is elected.
    
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           (2) There shall be elected in each township, as preserved and continued in § 14-14-
           401, one (1) constable who shall have the qualifications and perform such duties as may
           be provided by law.
    
    (Emphasis added.) Thus, justices of the peace are generally “quorum court district officers,”
    
    and constables are generally “township officers.” In addition, Arkansas Code Annotated
    
    section 14-14-604 (Repl. 1998), which involves alternative organizations of county
    
    government, states that constables “are deemed township offices.” Id. § 14-14-604(3)
    
    (emphasis added).
    
           In sum, the plain language of section 14-14-1207(a) (Supp. 2011) authorizes
    
    reimbursement for district officials.1 A constable is not a district official, but a township
    
    officer. Accordingly, section 14-14-1207(a) (Supp. 2011) does not authorize the
    
    reimbursement of expenses for constables. The circuit court did not err in denying Graves’s
    
    claim for expenses.
    
           Graves next contends that the Greene County ordinance setting constable salaries at
    
    $25 per month was arbitrary and capricious and therefore unconstitutional. He contends that
    
    
    
           1
             The statute also authorizes reimbursement for county officials. See Ark. Code Ann.
    § 14-14-1207(a) (Supp. 2011). In his opening brief, Graves argued that he was both a
    “district official” and a “township officer” for the purposes of the reimbursement statute, but
    he did not argue that he was a “county official” under the statute. In his reply brief, however,
    Graves contended that constables were both township officials and county officials under the
    statute. Although Graves’s reply argument may be considered a response to Greene County’s
    assertion that section 14-14-1207(a) (Supp. 2011) applies only to county and district officials,
    Graves essentially raised for the first time in his reply brief the argument that a constable is
    a county official under the reimbursement statute. This court will not consider arguments
    raised for the first time in an appellant’s reply brief because the appellee is not given a chance
    to rebut the argument. See, e.g., Coleman v. Regions Bank, 
    364 Ark. 59
    , 
    216 S.W.3d 569
    (2005).
    
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    the ordinance causes constables to be treated differently than other individuals working for
    
    Greene County because no other individual working for Greene County is paid $300 per
    
    year or less.2 On this claim, no fundamental right or suspect classification is at issue; therefore,
    
    we agree with the parties that the correct test to apply is the rational-basis test.
    
           The Equal Protection Clause permits classifications that have a rational basis and are
    
    reasonably related to a legitimate government purpose. Bakalekos v. Furlow, 
    2011 Ark. 505
    ,
    
    at 13, 
    410 S.W.3d 564
    , 573. Equal protection does not require that persons be dealt with
    
    identically; it only requires that classification rest on real and not feigned differences, that the
    
    distinctions have some relevance to the purpose for which the classification is made, and that
    
    their treatment be not so disparate as to be arbitrary. Id. at 13–14, 410 S.W.3d at 573. When
    
    reviewing an equal-protection challenge, it is not this court’s role to discover the actual basis
    
    for the legislation. Id. at 14, 410 S.W.3d at 573. Rather, we consider whether there is any
    
    rational basis that demonstrates the possibility of a deliberate nexus with state objectives so
    
    that legislation is not the product of arbitrary and capricious government purposes. Id. at 14,
    
    410 S.W.3d at 573. If a rational basis exists, the statute, or, in this case, the ordinance, will
    
    withstand constitutional challenge. See id., 410 S.W.3d at 573.
    
           An ordinance is entitled to the same presumption of validity that legislative enactments
    
    receive. E.g., Morningstar v. Bush, 
    2011 Ark. 350
    , at 7, 
    383 S.W.3d 840
    , 845. Under the
    
    rational-basis test, the ordinance is presumed constitutional and rationally related to achieving
    
    
           2
           By way of comparison, Graves states that the maximum salary for Greene County
    quorum court members is $8734 and that the Greene County Sheriff’s salary can range from
    $33,000 to $79,005 per year.
    
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    any legitimate governmental objective under any reasonably conceivable fact situation. See
    
    Bakalekos, 
    2011 Ark. 505
    , at 14, 410 S.W.3d at 573. Thus, similar to a statute, an ordinance
    
    is presumed constitutional, and the burden of proving otherwise is on the challenging party.
    
    Morningstar, 
    2011 Ark. 350
    , at 7, 383 S.W.3d at 845.
    
           When Graves filed his February 26, 2010 complaint to compel the quorum court to
    
    set a salary for constables, the law provided that “[t]he compensation of all constables serving
    
    in an official capacity established by law shall be fixed by ordinance of the quorum court in
    
    each county.” Ark. Code Ann. § 14-14-1205(d) (Supp. 2009).3 The quorum court fixed the
    
    salary for constables at $25 per month, and Graves asserts that this amount is unreasonable.
    
    In support of this claim, Graves cites Arkansas Code Annotated section 16-19-301 (Repl.
    
    1999), which outlines the responsibilities of constables. Duties of constables include
    
    suppressing all riots, affrays, fights, and unlawful assemblies; keeping the peace; and arresting
    
    offenders. Id. § 16-19-301(a). Constables have the authority to serve warrants, summonses,
    
    writs, and other process as provided by law. Id. § 16-19-301(c). A constable who fails to
    
    perform the duties imposed upon him or her by statute may be subject to criminal liability.
    
    Id. § 16-19-301(f).
    
           In further support of his claim that the salary is unreasonable, Graves points to his
    
    testimony at the hearing before the circuit court. Graves testified that he dedicated between
    
    
    
           3
            In 2011, the statute was amended; it now states that “[t]he compensation of all
    constables serving in any official capacity established by law may be fixed by ordinance of the
    quorum court in each county.” Ark. Code Ann. § 14-14-1205(d) (Supp. 2011) (emphasis
    added).
    
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    two and sixteen hours a day to his duties as constable and that during his term as constable,
    
    he regularly patrolled his township and received calls from citizens “about someone
    
    trespassing or various things.” He further testified that he was on call twenty-four hours a
    
    day.
    
           Graves avers that based on the statutory duties imposed on constables and the time and
    
    effort they devote to their office and the people they serve, a reasonable salary for constables
    
    is $30,000 per year. He contends that there is nothing in the record from which the circuit
    
    court could have properly found a rational basis for a salary of $25 per month. We disagree.
    
           The record reflects that, at the hearing before the circuit court, Graves was asked
    
    whether he had performed any of the statutory duties of constables delineated in Arkansas
    
    Code Annotated section 16-19-301. He testified that during 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and
    
    2012, he never had to suppress riots, fights, or unlawful assemblies within his township. He
    
    further testified that, during those years, he did not issue any traffic or misdemeanor citations,
    
    and he did not present any summons to a jury. Graves testified that on two occasions during
    
    those years, he received calls from county officials “informing [him] of what was going on
    
    in [his] area,” but not requesting any assistance from him. In addition, as Greene County
    
    points out, when setting the salary for constables, the quorum court considered the duties
    
    performed by constables at county request and reviewed the salaries of constables from other
    
    counties in the state.4 The evidence and testimony before the circuit court demonstrates that
    
    
    
           4
          Many of the counties paid no salary for constables. For those counties paying salaries,
    amounts ranged from $1 to $300 per year.
    
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    the quorum court had a rational basis for setting the $25-per-month salary for constables.
    
           Affirmed.
    
           Womack, Phelps & McNeill, P.A., by: Mark Mayfield and Ryan M. Wilson; and Dover &
    
    Zolper, by: Dennis Zolper, for appellant.
    
    
    
           Branch, Thompson, Warmath & Dale, P.A., by: Kimberly B. Dale, for appellee.
    
    
    
    
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