Friday, December 16, 2016

United States v. Cook

Opinion handed down November 22, 2016
In United States v. Cook, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals held that defendant Lamar Cook was not seized for Fourth Amendment purposes when police officers pulled up behind the parked car Cook was sitting in and activated their cruiser’s “wig wag” lights, because “a reasonable person seeing the wig wag lights under these circumstances would have thought that he was still ‘at liberty to ignore the police presence and go about his business.’”[1]  This conclusion is strikingly inconsistent with the common understanding of the meaning of police emergency lights.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Piloski v. Division of Employment Security

Opinion handed down October 25, 2016

While Missouri’s unemployment security laws are aimed at protecting employees who have become unemployed through no fault of their own, significant questions remain as to whether these laws are actually interpreted as broadly as they can be by the courts.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Smotherman v. Cass Regional Medical Center

Opinion handed down September 20, 2016

            In Smotherman v. Cass Regional Medical Center, the Supreme Court of Missouri addressed the issue of whether a juror’s testimony regarding the extent to which misconduct affected jury deliberations is sufficient to overcome the presumption of prejudice created by the misconduct.[1]  As discussed below, the court’s decision represents a step back from recent decisions that attempted to clarify the extrinsic evidence exemption to the Mansfield Rule and ignores past decisions regarding the weight that should be assigned to such testimony.  

Friday, September 30, 2016

Boeving v. Kander

Opinion handed down September 20, 2016
            The Supreme Court of Missouri has held that the Missouri statutes governing the procedural requirements for an “official ballot title” cannot be construed as requiring the rejection of signatures in the event the official ballot title is amended through litigation after the petition has been properly approved and circulated for signatures.[1]  However, the court held that the substantives challenges regarding the possible effects of the constitutional amendment, if passed, are necessarily premature and will not be ruled on at this point.[2]

State v. Meeks

Opinion handed down August 23, 2016

In an effort to maximize judicial efficiency at the trial court level, race-neutral explanations for defending a Batson challenge exercised by defense counsel are seemingly becoming mere formalities – issues which are left for appellate courts to flesh out.  While juries are typically notorious (and justifiably so) for wanting trials to be more expeditious, prosecutors and defense counsel should expend all of their efforts in voir dire in order to obtain justice at the trial level for the criminal defendant.

City of DeSoto v. Nixon,

Opinion handed down January 12, 2016

            In City of DeSoto v. Nixon, the Supreme Court of Missouri held that a law excluding cities that meet six narrowly drawn criteria from a generally applicable procedure for making post-annexation payments to a fire protection district violated Missouri’s constitutional prohibition against special laws.[1]

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Pestka v. State

 Opinion handed down July 26, 2016

Timothy S. Pestka and Rudy M. Chavez (“Appellants”) appealed the Cole County Circuit Court’s decision denying their request to enjoin the enforcement of HB 150, which the Missouri General Assembly passed during the veto session in September 2015.[1]  Appellants contend that the senate lacked authority to override the governor’s veto during the session because the general assembly can only take up a bill in the September veto session if the governor returned the bill on or after the fifth day before the end of the regular legislative session.[2]  

Parr v. Breeden

Opinion handed down June 7, 2016

While driving a tractor-trailer during the course of his employment, Kevin Parr was killed after his truck was involved in a single vehicle accident.[1]  After the accident, Mr. Parr’s children and father brought a wrongful death action against three of Mr. Parr’s supervisors.[2]  The plaintiffs alleged that the supervisors breached personal duties they owed to the decedent that were separate and distinct from the employer’s nondelegable duty to provide a safe workplace for all employees.[3]  The circuit court found that the supervisors did not owe a duty beyond the nondelegable duties they owed Mr. Parr as his employer.[4]  The issues on appeal were: (1) whether the existence of a duty imposed by a federal statute creates a duty that is separate and distinct from an employer’s nondelegable duties, and (b) whether an admission of duty by a defendant is binding on a court where no duty would otherwise exist.[5]

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Stahl v. Hank’s Cheesecakes, LLC

Opinion handed down May 10, 2016

            Hank’s Cheesecakes appeals from the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission’s (“Commission”) decision granting unemployment benefits to its terminated employee, Robin Stahl.[1]  Stahl was terminated from her position following an incident in which she slapped the buttocks of a co-worker for making an insensitive comment in front of her and another co-worker. [2]  The Commission found that this conduct did not rise to the level of misconduct that disqualified her from receiving unemployment benefits. [3] On appeal, and as a matter of first impression as to whether striking an employee automatically constitutes misconduct, the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District affirmed.[4]

Nevils v. Group Health Plan, Inc.

Opinion handed down May 3, 2016
In Nevils v. Group Health Plan, Inc., the Supreme Court of Missouri held for the second time in two years that § 8902(m)(1) of the Federal Employee Health Benefits Act (“FEHBA”) does “not preempt Missouri law prohibiting subrogation of personal injury claims.”[1]  After the court found no preemption in 2014, the Office of Personnel Management (“OPM”) promulgated a regulation providing that FEHBA does preempt state subrogation law, and the Supreme Court of the United States vacated Nevils and remanded the case to the Supreme Court of Missouri for reconsideration in light of the new regulation.[2]  On remand, the court gave minimal deference to the OPM’s guidance, holding that the new regulation did not alter its original conclusion that FEHBA does not preempt Missouri law prohibiting subrogation of personal injury claims.[3]

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Peters v. Johns

Opinion handed down May 20, 2016 
            In Peters v. Johns, the Supreme Court of Missouri resolved the constitutionality of requiring a state representative candidate to register in Missouri for at least two years to be eligible for election.[1] The court ruled with a 4-3 margin that the refusal to register is not an act of “symbolic speech,” and that the requirement does not violate either the First or Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.[2]

McGraw v. State

Opinion handed down May 24, 2016

Holding the title of “Honorable,” “Justice,” or “Judge,” might enable one to believe that an elected judge is paid commensurate with the noble title.  In reality, however, this is not the case.  Members of the Supreme Court of Missouri, the highest court in the state, are only paid a fraction more than some first year associates at large law firms.[1]  However, in a decision handed down by the Supreme Court of Missouri in May 2016, the court matter-of-factly denied elected judges their extra retirement compensation as prescribed to them by means of the Missouri Constitution.[2]  Lacking any type of policy argument, the court struck down the plaintiff-judges’ claims because their arguments relied on an incorrect interpretation of an amendment to the Missouri Constitution.[3]

Friday, May 13, 2016

Kittle-Aikeley v. Claycomb

Opinion handed down December 7, 2015; corrected December 9, 2015; vacated February 18, 2016.
In 2011, Linn State Technical College enacted a mandatory drug test policy.[1]  The purpose of the policy was to ensure a safe and healthy environment for students and faculty frequently engaged in the handling and operation of heavy machinery, as well as deterring drug use of students preparing to enter highly regulated, safety-sensitive fields.[2]  After surviving a facial Fourth Amendment challenge, the drug test policy was challenged on an as-applied basis.[3]  The trial court held the policy constitutional, but only as applied to educational programs involving a particularly high safety risk, which then required the trial court to determine which technical programs fell into such a category.[4]
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed the trial court, determining that a program-by-program analysis was unnecessary, and held that the drug-test policy is constitutional as applied to all Linn State students.[5]  Ruling under the premise that drug use and the operation of any machinery is a recipe for harm, the court determined that Linn State’s interests in providing a safe atmosphere trumped the students’ privacy interests against being tested for drugs.[6]
Recently, the Eighth Circuit granted a motion for rehearing en banc, vacating this opinion, and momentarily leaving this issue of the law in limbo.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Harris v. Mortgage Professionals

Opinion handed down March 23, 2015
        The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri granted summary judgment to Hartford Insurance and Mortgage Professionals, Inc. (“MPI”), rejecting a ten-year statute of limitations in favor of a three-year statute of limitations in a suit to collect on mortgage broker bonds.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed the district court’s decision and remanded.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Greater Missouri Medical Pro-Care Providers, Inc. v. Perez

Opinion handed down December 14, 2015
        In 2005, Alena Gay Arat, a therapist from the Philippines, was hired by Greater Missouri Medical Pro-Care Providers, Inc. (“GMM”) to work as a therapist in the United States via the H-1B program for temporary workers.[1]  In 2006, Arat filed a complaint alleging GMM violated H-1B program statutory and regulatory requirements.[2]  An investigator for the Department of Labor (“DOL”) investigated the allegations set forth in the complaint, as well as GMM, to determine whether it had generally complied with the H-1B statutory and regulatory requirements.[3]
        Based on evidence from the DOL’s investigation, the Secretary of Labor held that GMM violated H-1B statutory and regulatory requirements and ordered that GMM pay back wages to a number of employees.[4]  GMM requested and was granted a hearing before a DOL administrative law judge (“ALJ”).[5]  The ALJ upheld the Secretary’s finding and GMM appealed.[6]  The Secretary’s finding was affirmed by the DOL administrative review board (“ARB”) and the district court and subsequently appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.[7]  The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court’s decision, finding that the Secretary did not have the authority to investigate whether GMM had generally complied with the H-1B statutory and regulatory requirements based on the allegations made in a single “aggrieved party” complaint.[8] 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

In re Hardy

Opinion handed down June 2, 2015
When filing Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, Pepper Hardy sought exemption of her tax refund from the Additional Child Tax Credit (“ACTC”) as a public assistance benefit.[1]  The bankruptcy trustee objected to Hardy’s requested exception, arguing that the ACTC was not a public assistance benefit because the legislative purpose behind the credit and the credit for households of up to $110,000 modified gross income contradicted Hardy’s characterization of the benefit.[2]  The bankruptcy court sustained the trustee’s objection and denied the exception of the ACTC from Hardy’s bankruptcy estate, noting the ACTC did not benefit only “needy” families and did not qualify as a public assistance benefit.[3]  Hardy appealed the bankruptcy court’s decision, but the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel (“BAP”) affirmed the court’s decision.  Hardy appealed the BAP’s decision, and the Eighth Circuit reversed the bankruptcy court’s decision, concluding that amendments to ACTC exhibited a legislative intent to provide public assistance to low-income families and should thus be exempted.[4]
I.  Facts and Holding
In 2012, Pepper Hardy filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy and stated on her Schedule B that she planned on receiving a 2012 tax refund.[5]  On her Schedule C, Hardy claimed most of this tax refund was exempted from her bankruptcy estate.[6]  Specifically, Hardy noted that $2000 of the refund was attributed to her Child Tax Credit (“CTC”).[7]  Hardy contended that a portion of the CTC contained a refundable ACTC, which was exempted as a “public assistance benefit” because the credit only benefitted low-income families.[8]  However, the BAP rejected this argument, citing Hardy’s failure to present evidence demonstrating this exclusively low-income benefit.[9]  Further, the BAP noted that it was feasible for a “relatively affluent family” to benefit from the ACTC, and the minimum income threshold prevented many needy families from benefitting at all from the credit.[10]  Hardy appealed the BAP’s decision to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that the existence of any public assistance benefit in the ACTC should qualify the credit for a public assistance benefit exemption.[11]  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed the bankruptcy court’s decision and held that the credit qualified for exemption because several amendments to the ACTC suggested a legislative intent to benefit low-income families.[12] 

Monday, May 9, 2016

United States v. Haire

Opinion handed down November 23, 2015
        Government agents overheard George Lee on a wiretapped phone arranging for the shipment of cocaine and marijuana from Houston to St. Louis.[1]  Lee was later heard communicating with a drug supplier regarding the transportation of large sums of money from St. Louis to Houston.[2]  Subsequently, Carmen Haire was spotted boarding a train in St. Louis with a destination of Houston.[3]  He was stopped by a Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”) agent and subsequently arrested.[4]  Large sums of money were found on him; he was transporting this money for Lee.[5]  Lee was convicted of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and marijuana, conspiracy to launder the proceeds of drug trafficking, and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.[6]  Haire was convicted of conspiracy to launder the proceeds of drug trafficking.[7]  Both men appealed.[8]  One of Lee’s arguments presented on appeal was that insufficient foundation was laid for the wiretap recordings, such that they were inadmissible.[9]  This summary will focus on that issue.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Smith v. ConocoPhillips Pipe Line Co.

Opinion handed down September 15, 2015
        Smith, the named plaintiff in a putative class action, sued ConocoPhillips Pipe Line Co. (“Conoco”) for a petroleum leak seeking injunctive relief and damages resulting therefrom.[1]  Conoco removed to federal court, and the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri denied Conoco’s motion to disqualify the class’s experts, granting Smith’s motion to certify the class.  Conoco appealed both decisions.[2]  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ultimately ruled the class did not meet the commonality requirement under Missouri law.[3]

Thursday, April 14, 2016

State v. Randle

Opinion handed down August 4, 2015
        After a conviction of second-degree assault, Anwar Randle appealed on the grounds that it was error not to instruct the jury on the lesser-included offense of third-degree assault.[1]  The Supreme Court of Missouri held that the circuit court erred in this respect and vacated the judgment.[2]

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

State v. Walter

Opinion handed down January 26, 2016
After shopping at multiple locations for items that could be used in making methamphetamine, Chadwick Leland Walter was arrested and charged with attempted manufacture of a controlled substance.[1]  In the closing argument of Walter's trial, the prosecuting attorney included in a slideshow, shown to the jury, a picture of Walter wearing orange with the word “GUILTY” placed over Walter's face in large red lettering.[2]  Walter appealed the trial court's denial of his motion for a new trial on the basis that the use of this altered photograph prevented a fair trial.[3]   On appeal, the Supreme Court of Missouri, finding prejudicial error, vacated the trial court's judgment and remanded for a new trial.[4]

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

United States v. Lemons

Opinion handed down June 16, 2015
Brandy Lemons was convicted of theft of government funds and making a false statement to the government in connection with the receipt of social security disability benefits for several years.[1]  Lemons was initially denied benefits but then eventually was granted social security disability benefits.[2]  After a few years of receiving these benefits, someone sent evidence to the Social Security Administration (“Administration”) that Lemons was capable of engaging, and in fact did engage, in activities that were inconsistent with the disability permitting Lemons to receive social security disability benefits.[3]  After an investigation by the Administration, Lemons was charged with two counts of making a false statement in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001 and three counts of theft of government funds in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 641.[4]  Lemons was convicted of all three counts of theft of government funds and one count of making a false statement.[5]  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the conviction.[6]

Monday, April 11, 2016

Taylor v. Cottrell

Opinion handed down July 29, 2015
At the trial level, the testimony of Plaintiffs’ expert witness was excluded and summary judgment was entered in favor of Defendants on claims dependent upon the excluded testimony; the remaining claims were stayed.[1]  On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit held the exclusion of Plaintiffs’ expert was error.[2]  The errors were reversed and the district court’s order granting summary judgment was vacated.  

Saturday, March 19, 2016

State ex rel. Richardson v. Green

Opinion handed down July 21, 2015
Welch, a man who pled guilty to two counts of involuntary manslaughter for killing two people while driving in an intoxicated condition applied for a sentence reduction pursuant to Missouri Revised Statutes Section 558.046.[1]  That statute permits judges to reduce the length of sentence for persons convicted of alcohol- or drug-related crimes, provided that those crimes do not involve violence.[2]  The trial court granted Welch a reduced sentence, and the prosecution filed a writ of prohibition in the Supreme Court of Missouri.[3]
The Supreme Court of Missouri made the writ of prohibition absolute, holding that the crime of involuntary manslaughter by driving while intoxicated and killing another person with criminal negligence is one that certainly “involves violence.”[4]  The court specifically found that there need not be a mens rea element in order for a crime to qualify as “involving violence” pursuant to Section 558.046.[5]

Friday, March 18, 2016

State v. Merritt

Opinion handed down August 18, 2015
        Marcus Merritt was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm pursuant to Missouri Revised Statutes Section 571.070.1.[1]  Merritt claimed the law violated the protection in the Missouri Constitution of the right to bear arms.[2]  The trial court sustained Merritt’s motion to dismiss, and the State appealed.[3]  The Supreme Court of Missouri reversed this decision.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Hood v. Gilster-Mary Lee Corp.

Opinion handed down May 1, 2015
Employees of Gilster-Mary Lee Corporation (“Gilster”) filed a class action lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Jasper County against their employer alleging that workplace exposure to butter flavoring products caused lung impairment.[1]  Gilster removed the case to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act (“CAFA”).[2]  However, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri ordered a remand to the state trial court, noting CAFA’s local controversy exception applied.[3]  The exception requires the district court to decline jurisdiction when more than two-thirds of the members of the plaintiff class are citizens of the state where the action was originally filed.[4]  Gilster appealed the district court’s decision, contending that the plaintiff’s class did not sufficiently establish two-third Missouri citizenship because the district court’s calculation included potentially unreliable last known addresses of unresponsive members.[5]  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed the district court’s holding and remanded the case to reevaluate the number of Missouri citizens in the class, noting that the last-known address evidence was insufficient in establishing the local controversy exception.[6] 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

McNeal v. McNeal-Syndor

Opinion handed down September 8, 2015
While incarcerated at the Jefferson City correctional facility, John McNeal filed a notice of appeal directly to the Supreme Court of Missouri following the circuit court’s dismissal of his petition for dissolution of marriage.[1]  McNeal’s petition for dissolution of marriage was dismissed because he failed to appear in court because of his imprisonment.[2]   McNeal sought direct appeal to the Supreme Court of Missouri, asserting that two Missouri statutes prohibiting prisoners from attending civil proceedings were unconstitutional because they did not grant prisoners an unconditional right to litigate civil actions of which a prisoner was a party.[3]  McNeal argued that the statutes were simply implemented to deny prisoners access to the courts and violated the Missouri Constitution.[4]  The Supreme Court of Missouri denied direct transfer, noting the circuit court’s potential misinterpretation and misapplication of the statute did not raise a “real and substantial constitutional challenge” to the validity of the statute required for exclusive appellate jurisdiction.[5]  McNeal’s appeal was transferred to the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District for further proceedings.[6]

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

State v. Meacham

Opinion handed down October 13, 2015
        Dennis Meacham was charged with criminal nonsupport under Missouri Revised Statutes Section 568.040 for failing to make child support payments.[1]  He filed a motion to dismiss the information and sought a declaration that Section 568.040 was unconstitutional as violative of due process.[2]  Specifically, Meacham argued that the 2011 amendment to the statute, which expressed “without good cause” as an affirmative defense rather than an element of the offense, impermissibly shifted the burden of proof as to an element of the crime onto the defendant.[3]  The trial court agreed, dismissed the information, and held that portions of Section 568.040 were unconstitutional.[4]  Subsequently, the state appealed.[5]  In the instant case, the Supreme Court of Missouri reversed, holding that Section 568.040 was fully compliant with due process under the U.S. and Missouri Constitutions.[6]