Tuesday, December 18, 2012

In Re The Matter Of T.Q.L[1]

Opinion handed down Dec. 18, 2012

The Petitioner, M.M.A., and Respondent, L.L., had a relationship which was thought to have resulted in the birth of a child, T.Q.L.  Over the years, M.M.A. fulfilled the role of T.Q.L.’s father.  Eventually M.M.A. and L.L.’s relationship ended and a paternity test revealed that M.M.A. was not the biological father.  M.M.A. filed a petition alleging unfitness of both L.L. and the child’s biological father, ultimately seeking third-party custody and visitation.  The circuit court dismissed M.M.A’s petition for failure to state a claim.  M.M.A. brought this action for reinstatement of his petition seeking third-party custody and visitation of T.Q.L.  The Supreme Court of Missouri reversed the circuit court’s dismissal and reinstated M.M.A.’s petition. The Court held that M.M.A. could petition the court for third-party custody and visitation.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

American Federation of Teachers v. Ledbetter[1]

Opinion handed down November 20, 2012

At trial, the American Federation of Teachers and its St. Louis affiliate, Local 420, (together “the union”), claimed that the Construction Career Center Charter School District and the individual members of its Board of Education (“the board”) failed to satisfy its duty to bargain collectively under article I, section 29, of the Missouri Constitution.[2]  The trial court granted summary judgment declaring that the board had no duty to “meet and confer” or to bargain collectively in good faith with the union.[3]  On appeal, the Supreme Court of Missouri reversed the trial court, holding that that article I, section 29 guarantees employees’ right to organize and bargain collectively, which includes a duty for the board to meet and confer in good faith.[4]

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

S.J.W. ex rel. Wilson v. Lee’s Summit R-7 School District[1]

Opinion handed down October 17, 2012

On January 11, 2012, the Lee's Summit R-7 School District ("the School District") suspended twin brothers Steven and Sean Wilson ("the Wilsons”) for 180 days because of inappropriate content posted on a website the Wilsons created.[2]  The Wilsons sued the School District alleging the School District violated their rights to free speech.  The Wilsons also filed a Motion for Preliminary Injunction to lift their suspensions.[3]  The District Court granted the injunction, effectively allowing the Wilsons to return to school, but the School District appealed.[4]  A three-judge panel of the Eighth Circuit overturned the District Court’s preliminary injunction.[5]  The brothers had not met two of the four elements of their claim, and the panel held that they likely would not be successful on the merits.[6]  The speech was punishable under the famous Tinker analysis and the harm was purely speculative.[7]

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Phelps-Roper v. City of Manchester, Mo.[1]

Opinion handed down October 16, 2012
The city of Manchester, Missouri, implemented an ordinance that banned protesters from being within 300 feet of a burial site, one hour prior to, during, or after a funeral. Two members of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church brought suit against the City of Manchester claiming that the ordinance violated the First Amendment and was unconstitutional. The Eighth Circuit en banc held that the Phelps-Ropers failed to prove that the ordinance was unconstitutional and reversed the district court’s judgment, vacating the injunction and award of nominal damages.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Doe v. Toelke[1]

Opinion handed down September 25, 2012

The state appealed a circuit court’s judgment that the state’s sex offender registration act is unconstitutional as applied to John Doe.  In a 6-0 decision, the Supreme Court of Missouri reversed the judgment to the extent it holds the circuit court was without authority to address the applicability of a federal registration act, and that the state registration requirements violate the state constitution as applied to Doe. The Court affirmed the judgment in that it does not order the state to destroy the Doe’s registration records.

State v. Stover[1]

Opinion handed down September 25, 2012

Melvin Stover, Jr. appealed his conviction and sentence of twelve years without probation or parole for the class A felony of trafficking drugs in the first degree.  On appeal, Mr. Stover claimed that the trial court erred in: (1) overruling his motion for acquittal on the ground of insufficient evidence to convince a reasonable trier of fact that he knowingly possessed the contraband; (2) overruling his motion to suppress the contraband seized during the search of his vehicle because the detention was conducted without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity and lasted beyond the time reasonably required to complete a traffic ticket; (3) overruling his motion to suppress evidence of incriminating statements made during the detention and prior to the arresting officers issuing a Miranda warning; (4) allowing into evidence his refusal to consent to a search of the vehicle; (5) allowing Corporal Hagerty’s testimony that he received a commendation from the DEA for making the largest PCP seizure in the history of the United States until 2003; and (6) overruling his objection to the verdict-directing instruction because it did not require the jury to find that he knew of the content and character of the PCP or that he was aware of its presence and nature.  The Supreme Court denied five of Stover’s six points on appeal, but reversed and remanded because it held that the verdict-directing instruction the trial court gave the jury resulted in manifest injustice since it failed to require the state to prove one element of the crime—that Stover knew the content or character of the substance found in the briefcase in the trunk of his rented vehicle. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Bob DeGeorge Associates, Inc., et al., v. Hawthorn Bank[1]

Opinion handed down September 11, 2012

In June 2008, Blue Springs Xtreme Powersports purchased property using loan funds obtained from Hawthorn Bank; as security for the loan, Hawthorn Bank took a purchase-money deed of trust on the property, but failed to record it until November 2008.[2]  Prior to recording the deed, Xtreme Powersports hired two contractors, DeGeorge and KSD Christian, to make improvements on the property.  After Xtreme failed to pay the contractors several months later, the contractors filed a mechanic’s lien against Xtreme’s property.[3]  Although Hawthorn Bank’s deed of trust was not recorded at the time the contractor’s began making improvements on the property, Hawthorn Bank claimed its deed had priority over the contractors’ mechanic’s liens.  The Supreme Court of Missouri looked to well-established statutory and case law regarding priority interests between mechanic’s liens and deeds of trust on the same property.[4]  Ultimately, the Court held that the contractors’ mechanic’s liens had superior priority because Hawthorn’s deed of trust was unrecorded at the time the contractors’ liens “attached” to the property, which was consistent with traditional Missouri law on the subject.[5] 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Whelan Security Co. v. Charles Kennebrew, Sr., and W. Landon Morgan[1]

Opinion handed down August 14, 2012

Whelan Security Company (Whelan) appealed a trial court’s conclusion that its non-compete agreements with two employees was overbroad and unreasonable in time and space. The Supreme Court of Missouri held that the non-compete agreements were unreasonable, but modified the agreement to fit the intent of the parties.

Hervey v. Missouri Department of Corrections[1]

Opinion handed down August 14, 2012

Plaintiff Deborah Hervey sued her employer, the Missouri Department of Corrections, under the Missouri Human Rights Act for discriminating against her because of her disability.[2]  The department contested whether Ms. Hervey had a disability at all and defended its decision to terminate her for poor performance.[3]  Despite the department’s objection, the trial court submitted Ms. Hervey’s verdict-directing instruction to the jury instead of the department’s alternate verdict director, which included a separate paragraph requiring the jury to specifically find that Ms. Hervey was indeed disabled in order to find for her.[4]  The jury returned a verdict in Ms. Hervey’s favor for both the discrimination and the retaliation claims.[5]  Ms. Hervey was awarded actual and punitive damages for the disability discrimination claim.[6]  The department appealed and claimed the trial court erred in (1) overruling its objection to Ms. Hervey’s verdict director that did not require the jury to specifically find Ms. Hervey was disabled, as required by the MHRA, and (2) awarding excessive punitive damages as a result of failing to calculate the total in accordance with Section 510.265, RSMO 2011.[7]  On appeal, a majority of the Supreme Court of Missouri agreed with the department, and reversed and remanded the judgment of the trial court since Ms. Hervey’s proffered instruction did not require the jury to find an element that was essential to her MHRA claim.[8]

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

State ex rel. Missouri Public Defenders Commisison v. Waters[1]

Opinion handed down July 31, 2012
The state’s public defender office opposed its assignment to represent a criminal defendant when it had exceeded its caseload capacity for three consecutive months, eventually seeking a writ of prohibition to have the Supreme Court of Missouri order the trial judge to set aside the appointment. The Court held that the trial judge exceeded its authority by appointing the representation in contravention of administrative regulations governing the public defender office.

Mendenhall v. Property and Casualty Insurance Company of Hartford[1]

Opinion handed down July 31, 2012

Len Mendenhall worked for Jay Walker on his cattle farm.[2]  While at work one day, Mr. Mendenhall was killed in an accident when the truck he was unloading overturned.[3]  The truck was owned by the Family Center[4] and covered by business liability insurance.[5]  Ruth Mendenhall, his wife, filed a wrongful death suit against the Walkers and the Family Center, seeking indemnification of her judgment against Jay Walker from the liability insurance.[6]  The insurance company contended that Mr. Mendenhall was excluded by the insurance coverage because he was considered an “employee” under the insurance policy.[7]  The Supreme Court of Missouri held that because of an ambiguity in the exclusionary language and various definitions for an “employee,” the policy must be interpreted in favor of Mrs. Mendenhall.[8]

Watts v. Cox Medical Centers[1]

Opinion handed down July 31, 2012

Deborah Watts filed a medical malpractice suit against Cox Medical Centers after her son, Naython Watts, was born with disabling brain injuries.  After the jury returned a verdict in favor of Watts for $1.45 million in non-economic damages and $3.371 million in future medical damages, the trial court entered a judgment reducing Watts’ non-economic damages to $350,000 as required by RSMo 538.210.  The court also established a periodic payment schedule requiring immediate payment of half of all net future medical damages with the other half paid in equal annual installments over the next 50 years with an interest rate of 0.26 percent pursuant to RSMo 538.220.  Watts appealed to the Supreme Court of Missouri alleging that RSMo 538.220 violates, among others, the right to trial by jury provision of the Missouri Constitution and that the periodic payment schedule established by the court did not assure full compensation due to the low interest rate and 50-year payment.  Cox filed a cross-appeal asserting that the trial court erred in its immediate award of half of future medical damages.  The Missouri Supreme Court reversed and remanded, holding that section 538.210 is unconstitutional, that the trial court abused its discretion when entering the periodic payment schedule, and that section 538.220 gives the judge the authority to determine the manner in which future damages shall be paid.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Planned Parenthood of Minn., N.D., S.D., v. Rounds[1]

Opinion handed down July 24, 2012

Abortion providers brought an action in federal court challenging the constitutionality of South Dakota’s amended abortion statute, contending that several of the statute’s provisions constituted an undue burden on abortion rights and facially violated patients’ and physicians’ free speech rights.[2]  The case has been the subject of litigation for years.[3]  This appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit focused on whether the statute’s suicide advisory provision was constitutional.  The Eighth Circuit, sitting en banc, concluded that the suicide advisory provision of the South Dakota abortion statue presented neither an undue burden on abortion rights nor violated a physician’s free speech rights.[4]

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Cluck v. Union Pacific R.R. Co.[1]

Opinion handed down May 1, 2012

Eddie Cluck sued his employer, Union Pacific Railroad Company, under the Federal Employer’s Liability Act (FELA), 45 U.S.C. section 51, for an injury caused by a co-worker. Cluck was injured when the co-worker’s personal pistol, which was packed in the co-worker’s luggage, accidentally discharged while Cluck was unloading the luggage from a company van. The court was faced with determining whether the doctrine of respondeat superior applies to FELA actions, and if so, whether the court should apply the test to the co-worker’s act of packing a loaded pistol in his luggage or simply his failure to warn anyone about it. The plaintiff argued that respondeat superior does not apply to FELA actions, or in the alternative, should be applied more liberally. The trial court ruled differently, however, finding that traditional common law respondeat superior principles are fully applicable to FELA actions. Because Cluck never asserted that the injury-causing act was in furtherance of the employer’s interests, the trial court ruled that his proposed jury instructions failed to accurately state the applicable law. As a result, Union Pacific prevailed. On appeal, the Supreme Court of Missouri affirmed the trial court’s rejection of Cluck’s proposed jury instructions by a vote of 5-2.

State v. Clark[1]

Opinion handed down May 1, 2012
Link to Mo. Sup. Ct. Opinion

Jermane Clark was convicted of first-degree murder and armed criminal action in connection with the shooting death of Morris Thompson. The trial court ruled that Clark’s attorney could not cross-examine one of the State’s key witnesses about bias. The witness had expressed a desire to testify against Clark with the hope it would result in leniency in his own potential sentencing for unrelated charges. The Supreme Court of Missouri held that the circuit court abused its discretion by not allowing cross-examination of the witness’s bias.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

First Bank v. Fischer & Frichtel, Inc.[1]

Opinion handed down April 12, 2012

Fischer & Frichtel elected to default on their loan with First Bank.  After First Bank purchased the property at a foreclosure sale, it filed suit against Fischer & Frichtel to recover the unpaid principal and interest on the loan.  Over First Bank’s objection, the trial court instructed the jury to determine any deficiency owed by Fischer & Frichtel by using the fair market value of the property at the time of the foreclosure sale in its calculation.  After a jury verdict, First Bank filed a motion for a new trial, arguing that Missouri law requires the damage instruction to be based on the amount obtained at the foreclosure sale instead of the fair market value.  The trial court agreed and granted a new trial.  On appeal, the Supreme Court of Missouri held the damage instruction shall be based on the amount obtained at the foreclosure sale, affirming the trial court’s judgment granting a new trial.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Sanders v. Ahmed[1]

Opinion handed down April 3, 2012

Ronald Sanders recovered judgments against Dr. Itekahlm Ahmed for the wrongful death of his wife.  After the jury returned a verdict awarding $9.2 million in non-economic damages, the trial court reduced the original verdict to about $1.25 million in accordance with a state statute that caps non-economic damages.  Sanders subsequently challenged the constitutionality of the damages award cap.  The Supreme Court of Missouri upheld the trial court’s ruling and concluded that the non-economic damages cap that applies to wrongful death cases does not violate the Missouri Constitution. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Aquila Foreign Qualifications Corp. v. Director of Revenue[1]

Opinion handed down March 6, 2012

The Supreme Court of Missouri held that the Administrative Hearing Commission (AHC) erred in finding that Casey’s General Stores were exempt from sales and use tax for the electricity it purchases and uses for its food preparation activities.  The court found that the legislature did not intend the term “processing” to include retail food preparation in Revised Statutes of Missouri § 144.054.2.

Robinson v. Title Lenders, Inc.[1]

Opinion handed down March 6, 2012
Link to Mo. Sup. Ct. Opinion

The Supreme Court of Missouri held that a borrower’s claim of unconscionability must be interpreted in light of the United States Supreme Court’s holding in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion.  Thus, the trial court, instead of limiting its unconscionability considerations to the class arbitration waiver, should have assessed whether the arbitration agreement was enforceable in light of ordinary state law principles that govern contracts but that do not single out or disfavor arbitration. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Street v. Director of Revenue[1]

Opinion handed down January 31, 2012
Link to Mo. Sup. Ct. Opinion

Craig Street purchased a boat, outboard motor, and trailer in Maryland. Upon returning to Missouri, he registered the items with the Missouri Department of Revenue, at which time he paid local sales tax under protest. The Director of Revenue denied his refund request, and he appealed to the Administrative Hearing Commission (AHC). The AHC determined Street was not entitled to a refund. The Supreme Court of Missouri reversed this decision. The court reasoned that the purchase was not subject to local sales tax because such taxes may only be imposed to the same extent as the state sales tax, which only apply to in-state purchases. Further, although a local use tax could potentially be imposed on the purchase, the county in which Street resided had not adopted a local use tax.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

State ex rel. Teichman v. Carnahan[1]

Opinion handed down January 17, 2012  
Link to Mo. Sup. Ct. Opinion 

The primary issue before the court in this case was whether the constitutionally-mandated commission set up to draw new state senate districts could withdraw and resubmit a plan after finding their initial plan constitutionally problematic. The Supreme Court of Missouri held that the commission lost authority once its initial plan was handed in. As the initial plan was indeed constitutionally infirm, the court determined an entirely new reapportionment process must take place. 

State v. McNeely[1]

Opinion handed down January 17, 2012

Defendant McNeely was arrested for driving under the influence, and blood was drawn without consent or a warrant.  The trial court sustained the defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence and the state filed an interlocutory appeal to the Supreme Court of Missouri.  On appeal, the state argued that the dissipating nature of alcohol in the bloodstream creates an exigent circumstance that evidence will be destroyed, and therefore a warrant is not required.  The court disagreed, holding that an exigent circumstance exists only if certain other “special facts” are also present that create an emergency situation that would delay the patrolman’s ability to procure a warrant, resulting in the destruction of evidence.

State ex rel. Collector of Winchester v. Jamison[1]

Opinion handed down January 17, 2012

The city of Winchester and its collector (Winchester) filed a class action against Charter Communications, Inc.; Charter Communications, LLC; and Charter Fiberlink – Missouri, LLC (Charter) to enforce the collection of certain telecommunications business taxes.  The circuit court dismissed Winchester’s claims based on Revised Statutes of Missouri § 71.675, which prohibited cities from participating as class representatives in such suits.  Winchester then sought a writ of mandamus from the Supreme Court of Missouri in order to compel the circuit court to vacate its order.  Winchester argued that it met the requirements for serving as a class representative under Missouri Supreme Court Rule 52.08, and that the legislature impermissibly changed the requirements set out in that rule by enacting § 71.675.  The court found that because the Missouri Constitution mandates that the legislature can only amend a procedural rule of the court when a statute is limited to that purpose and mentions the procedural rule by name, and because § 71.675 did not do either, the statute was void.

CACH, LLC v. Askew[1]

Opinion handed down January 17, 2012.

CACH, LLC acquired an outstanding credit card debt owed by Jon Askew and sued in St. Louis County Circuit Court to recover it.  The circuit court granted judgment to CACH.  On appeal, Askew argued that certain documents CACH used to prove the assignment should not have been admitted under the business records exception to the hearsay rule.  Without these documents, Askew claimed CACH could not establish standing to sue.  The Supreme Court of Missouri agreed with Askew and held that CACH had not satisfied the business records exception to the hearsay rule and, therefore, did not have standing to sue.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Weitz Co. LLC v. MacKenzie House LLC[1]

Opinion handed down January 5, 2012
Link to Eighth Circuit Opinion

In Weitz Company LLC v. Mackenzie House, LLC, the appellant challenged the trial court’s award of liquidated damages on the basis that it had failed to apply Missouri law limiting liquidated damages for construction delay to the time before the owner removes the contractor from the project. The Eighth Circuit denied this claim on the basis that the original holding was flawed and the Supreme Court of Missouri would therefore not uphold their previous decision.