Thursday, July 19, 2007

Trout v. State[1]

Opinion handed down July 19, 2007

The Missouri Supreme Court held amended RSMo §§ 115.342 and 115.350, candidate disqualification, did not violate Art. III, § 21 Original Purpose requirement or Art. III, § 23 Clear Title and Single Purpose requirements. Amended RSMo § 132.032, campaign contribution reform, was entirely invalid and a Supplemental Opinion reenacted the pre-amended version to apply prospectively to former candidates as of July 19, 2007, and the Missouri Ethics Commission was to determine the application of the ruling to current candidates.

I. Facts and Holdings

House Bill 1900 (H.B. 1900), “Relating to Ethics”,[2] imposed new qualifications for state elected officials and repealed campaign contribution limits by imposing a moratorium on campaign contributions during the legislative session, among other provisions concerning ethics.[3] Plaintiff-Appellant James Trout[4] challenged H.B. 1900 as unconstitutional. He argued that the candidate disqualification laws, amended §§ 115.342 and 115.350,[5] violated Missouri Constitution Art. III, § 21 Clear Title requirement and § 23 Original and Single Purpose requirements, and the campaign contribution law, amended § 130.032,[6] violated the First Amendment Right to free speech. The trial court held H.B. 1900 violated the Original and Single Purpose requirements and the First Amendment, but did not violate the Clear Title requirement. As a result, the trial court severed the three sections at issue and upheld the remaining portions of H.B. 1900.

The Supreme Court held H.B. 1900 did not violate the Clear Title, Original Purpose or Single Subject requirements. The title of “Ethics” identified the contents of H.B. 1900 and the candidate disqualification sections were germane to ethics, the Bill’s single purpose. The Court invalidated amended § 130.032 in its entirety and reenacted the prior version because the repeal of contribution limits in amended § 130.032.1 was dependent on enacting the moratorium on fundraising during the legislative session in amended § 130.032.2.[7]

In the Supplemental Opinion, the Court considered the retroactive or prospective application of reenacting § 130.032 by applying a balancing test of the hardships incurred. Accordingly, reenacted § 130.032 applied retrospectively to Trout because he did not experience a hardship by not accepting contribution over the previously imposed limits. Prospective application is appropriate for candidates who concluded their campaigns when the opinion was issued, because of the hardship of complying with the amended law after the contributions had been spent. The Court did not decide how reenacted § 130.032 applied to current candidates because the record did not show the hardships each candidate would experience. Thus, the Missouri Ethics Commission is to determine if reenacted § 130.032 is prospective or retrospective based on a candidate’s reliance on the amended law and hardships that will result. Two Judges dissented in part from the supplemental opinion on the grounds the ruling should be prospective to all candidates as of July 19, 2007 the date of the original decision.[8]

II. Legal Background

The General Purpose requirement is in Art. III, § 21 and provides that the bill’s general purpose is considered to be the “overarching purpose” of the bill.[9] As long as the bill’s content is germane or relevant to the original purpose, the content is within the bill’s general purpose and is constitutional.[10]

Art. III, § 23 sets forth the Clear Title and Single Purpose requirements for legislation. The Clear Title requirement is met when the title references all the topics included the legislation.[11] The title can be a “broad umbrella category,” but cannot be “underinclusive” or “too broad and amorphous.”[12] The Single Purpose requirement is satisfied when the challenged portion of the bill relates to the bill’s title, maintains a “natural connection to the subject,” or it is “a means to accomplish the law’s purpose.”[13]

While an unconstitutional statute is generally retroactive, the statute can be prospective when the retroactive application “causes injustice to persons who have acted in good faith and reasonable reliance.”[14] A balancing test considers the hardship or injustice to those who relied on the previous statute and those did not benefit from the change to determine if a prospective application of the statute is appropriate. [15] Extraordinary relief should also be considered when deciding if the statute applies prospectively.[16]

III. Commentary

The prospective or retroactive application of reenacted § 130.032 to current candidates is difficult since it must be determined if a candidate experienced a hardship. There is the potential for reenacted § 130.032 to be inconsistently applied as a hardship has not been defined and the case by case analysis of a candidate’s hardship does not provide for uniform application of the ruling.

The Court’s attempted to fairly apply reenacted § 130.032 to current candidates by recognizing that a bright line test would be inappropriate since the Court had limited knowledge of the hardships that may result to an individual candidate; but, the Ethics Commission is in a better position to make this determination as a candidate can demonstrate any hardships that will result. This appears to be an appropriate resolution since the Commission can consider if a candidate experienced a hardship on a case by case basis.

The dissenting opinions recognize and address this situation by having reenacted § 130.032 apply prospectively to all candidates as of July 19. This would subject all candidates to the same rule. Judge Price suggests an exception to allow a candidate to match his opponent’s funds that exceeded the previously imposed limitations from January 1 to July 19, 2007. [17] This would eliminate any hardship evaluation as the Court or Commission will not be required to determine if a campaign experienced a hardship nor decide if contributions should be returned. As a result, candidates in each race will have the opportunity to raise the same amount of contributions as their competitor raised and avoids the problems of establishing a hardship and returning funds.

[1] No. SC88476 (Mo. July 19, 2007) (en banc), available at  The West reporter citation is 231 S.W.3d 140 (Mo. 2007) (en banc) (Supplemental Opinion Aug. 27, 2007).
[2] House Bill 1900 is commonly referred to as the “Campaign Finance Reform Bill.”
[3] H.B. 1900, 93rd Gen. Assem., 2nd Reg. Sess. (Mo. 2006);
[4] Trout is a Missouri resident who ran for the Missouri General Assembly in 2006 and plans on running in 2008, and he made political contributions during 2007.
[5] Candidates are disqualified from seeking state office if they have a delinquent state tax or felony conviction. H.B. 1900; See also Mo. Rev. Stat. § 115.342, .350 (Supp. 2006).
[6] Section 130.032.1 which imposed campaign contribution limits was repealed by H.B. 1900, and amended Section 130.032.2 which prohibited campaign contributions during the legislative session was enacted. See H.B. 1900; See also Mo. Rev. Stat. § 130.032 (Supp. 2006).
[7] When a provision of a statute is found to be unconstitutional, the remaining provisions are deemed valid except when valid provisions are “essentially and inseparably connected with, and so dependent upon, the void provision” that the valid and invalid provisions were both necessary for the statute to be passed. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 1.140 (2000).
[8] Judges William Ray Price, Jr. and Stephen N. Limbaugh, Jr. concurred in part and dissented in part from the supplemental opinion.
[9] Jackson County Sports Complex Auth. v. State, 226 S.W.3d 156, 160 (Mo. 2007) (en banc).
[10] Id..
[11] Id. at 161.
[12] Id..
[13] City of St. Charles v. State, 165 S.W.3d 149, 151 (Mo. 2005) (en banc).
[14]State ex rel. Cardinal Glennon Mem’l Hosp. for Children v. Gaertner, 583 S.W.2d 107, 118 (Mo. 1979) (en banc).
[15] Sumners v. Sumners, 701 S.W.2d 720, 723-24 (Mo. 1985) (en banc)).
[16] Trout, 231 S.W.3d at 149 (supplemental opinion).
[17] See Id. at 153-54 (supplemental opinion) (Price, J. concurring in part and dissenting in part).

Research Sources on Topic:

Jan G. Laitos, Legislative Retroactivity, 52 Wash. U. J. Urb. & Contemp. L. 81 (1997).

Paul J. Passanante & Dawn M. Mefford, Anticipated Constitutional Challenges to Tort Reform, 62 J. Mo. B. 206 (2006).

Craig A. Sullivan, Statutory Construction in Missouri, 59 J. Mo. B. 120 (2003).