Thursday, January 19, 2017

City of Kansas City v. Kansas City Board of Election Commissioners

Opinion handed down January 17, 2017

            In an effort to raise Kansas City’s minimum wage from $7.70 an hour to $13 an hour by 2023, a committee in support of such attempted to bring the issue up for a vote on the November 3, 2015, ballot.  On appeal from a trial court’s decision denying the measure to be brought on the ballot, the Supreme Court of Missouri held that any challenge to the ordinance was premature and reversed.

I.  Facts and Holding
            Prior to the November 3, 2015, election ballot, Reverend Samuel Mann and other individuals (collectively, the “Committee”) had proposed an ordinance establishing a new minimum wage for Kansas City, Missouri.[1]  To do so, the Committee used the initiative petition process set forth in the city charter and gathered signatures for the proposed ordinance.[2]  This proposal was submitted to the Kansas City Council, which chose not to adopt the measure.[3]  The Committee then exercised its right under the charter to insist that the proposal be submitted to city voters.[4]  On August 20, 2015, the city council directed the city clerk to give notice to the local election authorities that the proposed ordinance should be submitted to city voters on the November 3, 2015, election.[5]
Subsequently, on September 22, 2015, the City of Kansas City (the “City”) filed an action seeking to have the local election authorities remove the proposed ordinance from the ballot.[6]  The City argued that, if adopted, “the proposed ordinance would be invalid because it would conflict with section 285.055,” a Missouri statute.[7]  The validity of the proposed ordinance under this statute was the sole basis asserted for removing the proposal from the ballot.[8]  In response, the Committee argued that section 285.055 is unconstitutional, as it violates the single subject and clear title requirements of the Missouri Constitution.[9]  Further, the Committee argued that the trial court should reject the City’s challenge, as the claim is “not ripe unless and until the City voters approve that ordinance.”[10] 
            On September 22, the trial court entered judgment for the City, stating that the proposed minimum wage ordinance “is inconsistent with [section 285.055] and is therefore unconstitutional, on its face.”[11]  Therefore, the trial court ordered that the proposed minimum wage ordinance be struck from the November 3, 2015, ballot.[12]
II.  Legal Background
In pursuing its argument in this dispute, the City relied on section 285.055, a Missouri statute, and article VI, section 19(a) of the Missouri Constitution.
Section 285.055 prevents local governments from enacting local minimum wage requirements greater than those imposed by state and federal law.[13]  It states,
No political subdivision shall establish, mandate, or otherwise require an employer to provide to an employee:

(1) A minimum or living wage rate; or
(2) Employment benefits;

that exceed the requirements of federal or state laws, rules, or regulations.  The provisions of this subsection shall not preempt any state law or local minimum wage ordinance requirements in effect on August 28, 2015.[14]

            As for article VI, section 19(a) of the Missouri Constitution, titled “Power of charter cities, how limited,” it reads:
Any city which adopts or has adopted a charter for its own government, shall have all powers which the general assembly of the state of Missouri has authority to confer upon any city, provided such powers are consistent with the constitution of this state and are not limited or denied either by the charter so adopted or by statute.  Such a city shall, in addition to its home rule powers, have all powers conferred by law.[15]

            In response to the City’s argument, the Committee relied on article III, sections 21 and 23 of the Missouri Constitution, arguing that section 285.055 is invalid, as it violates the single subject and clear title requirements of the constitution.[16]  Article III, section 21 states:
The style of the laws of this state shall be: “Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Missouri, as follows.”  No law shall be passed except by bill, and no bill shall be so amended in its passage through either house as to change its original purpose.  Bills may originate in either house and may be amended or rejected by the other.  Every bill shall be read by title on three different days in each house.[17]

Article III, section 23 states:
No bill shall contain more than one subject which shall be clearly expressed in its title, except bills enacted under the third exception in section 37 of this article and general appropriation bills, which may embrace the various subjects and accounts for which moneys are appropriated.[18]

III.  Instant Decision
            In the present case, the Supreme Court of Missouri reversed the decision of the trial court and ordered that the City take all necessary steps to have the Committee’s proposed ordinance placed before City voters in accordance with the city charter.[19]
            In coming to this decision, the court found the substantive challenges to the validity of the proposed ordinance were premature.[20]  Therefore, “it was premature for the trial court to address either: (a) the City’s argument that the proposed minimum wage ordinance would – if approved by the voters – be invalid because it would conflict with section 285.055; or (b) the Committee’s argument that section 285.055 is invalid.”[21]
            Instead, both arguments must remain hypothetical until the voters approve the proposal, at which point “a party with proper standing can then sue to enjoin its operation,” under the arguments previously outlined.[22]  Citing Boeving v. Kander, the court explained, “[P]reelection challenges are limited to claims that the procedures for submitting a proposal to the voters were not followed.”[23]  Here, as the City made no contention that there was a procedural flaw in the Committee’s proposed minimum wage ordinance, it must wait to bring a claim until after the citizens have approved the ordinance.[24]
IV.  Comment
            While it appears clear the Supreme Court of Missouri came to the right decision here, in determining the City’s substantive claim opposing the minimum wage ordinance was not ripe for litigation, the larger battle over a city’s right to create local minimum wage law in Missouri is now in full debate.
            Following this case, on March 4, 2017, the Kansas City Council voted 8-4 in favor of increasing the local minimum wage to $13 an hour by 2023.[25]  While the court in City of Kansas City v. Kansas City Board of Election Commissioners determined this measure must be brought before Kansas City citizens via vote, the Kansas City Council has taken unilateral action to approve the measure.  As such, the City’s original claim that such a measure would violate section 285.055 is certainly now ripe, and we can now look to the substantive arguments originally brought by the parties.
            In doing so, it is difficult to see how such an ordinance could be upheld.  Language from section 285.055 prohibiting local governments from enacting local minimum wage requirements greater than those imposed by state and federal laws appears to be clear.  Further, Missouri House Bills 1193 and 1194, which would replace some current language in section 285.055, have recently been confirmed by the Missouri House of Representatives.[26]  As such, any further arguments from the Committee in support of its minimum wage ordinance may become futile.  In the future, it appears the only legitimate way Missouri can increase its minimum wage, aside from law created by the state legislature, will be through a state-wide vote on the matter.
-       EC Duckworth

[1] City of Kan. City v. Kan. City Bd. of Election Comm’rs, 505 S.W.3d 795, 796 (Mo. 2017) (en banc).
[2] Id.
[3] Id.
[4] Id.
[5] Id.
[6] Id.
[7] Id. at 796–97. 
[8] Id. at 797.
[9] Id.
[10] Id.
[11] Id. (alteration in original) (quoting the trial court).
[12] Id.
[13] Id. at 796.
[14] Mo. Ann. Stat. § 285.055.2(2) (West 2017).
[15] Mo. Const. art. VI, § 19(a).
[16] City of Kansas City, 505 S.W.3d at 797.
[17] Mo. Const. art. III, § 21.
[18] Id. § 23.
[19] City of Kansas City, 505 S.W.3d at 799.
[20] Id. at 798.   
[21] Id.
[22] Id.
[23] Id.
[24] Id. at 799.
[25] Lynn Horsley, KC Council Defies State Legislature, Narrowly Approves Increased Minimum Wage, Kan. City Star (Mar. 9, 2017),
[26] Id.