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Hood urges city to drop Nissan lawsuit

CANTON — The state Attorney General’s Office has asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the City of Canton against Nissan of North America Inc.

The Clarion-Ledger reports that the Attorney General’s Office says in its motion that state law prohibiting Canton from annexing the nearby Nissan plant does not violate the state constitution.

“Roughly 10 years ago, the agreement (between Nissan and Canton) was legal,” said Harold Pizzetta III, special assistant attorney general. “The plaintiffs received the benefit of this deal and now have high legal hurdles to overcome 10 years later.”

No hearing date has been set for the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Jackson.

Canton is asking the court to decide whether a state law can prohibit the municipality from annexing an area. City leaders also want to know if they are bound by an agreement signed by a previous administration.

Nissan pays a fee to the Canton school district and to Madison County in lieu of taxes.

Canton city attorney Barbara Blackmon has argued that the $1.4 billion plant, which has been in operation since May 2003, uses public services and should pay its “fair share” of taxes. The 2000 legislation blocks Canton from annexing the site for the first 30 years without permission from Nissan.

There has been a misunderstanding about the city’s actions, state Rep. Ed Blackmon said.

“Canton is not seeking to annex Nissan. It is seeking a clarification of the law,” said Blackmon, D-Canton, who is the husband and law partner of Barbara Blackmon.

Canton provides Nissan all the services its residents receive, except police protection, Ed Blackmon said. Nissan seems to be in the city but not physically part of it and “you’re not paying your way,” he said.

If the decision comes back that the contract is legal, the city will move on, he said. Even if the ruling is in the city’s favor, action may not be taken any time soon, said Ed Blackmon.

On Nissan’s behalf, Jackson attorney H. Mitchell Cowan asserts the company has not violated the city’s state and U.S. constitutional rights because Nissan is a private entity. In addition, he said a breach of the agreement would violate Nissan’s property rights under the U.S. and state constitutions.

Source: Clarion-Ledger

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