Justia Missouri Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the trial court awarding Matthew Vacca actual and punitive damages, including substantial future lost wages, on his claim that he was retaliated against for filing a complaint with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging disability discrimination, holding that the trial court abused its discretion in refusing to apply judicial estoppel to Vacca’s claim of future lost wages. The circuit court found Vacca claimed in this case that he could have continued to work as an administrative law judge (ALJ) for twenty more years. In Vacca’s ongoing dissolution proceeding, however, he claimed he was entitled to maintenance because he was totally unable to work due to his disability. The circuit court concluded that it was barred from applying judicial estoppel because the dissolution judgment had been remanded for further proceedings based on evidentiary errors. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) once a party takes inconsistent positions, there are no fixed prerequisites to application of judicial estoppel; and (2) the trial court abused its discretion in refusing to apply judicial estoppel to preclude Vacca from making the inconsistent claim that he was able to work as an ALJ for another twenty years with reasonable accommodations. View "Vacca v. Missouri Department of Labor & Industrial Relations, Division of Workers' Compensation" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the circuit court dismissing with prejudice R.M.A.’s petition alleging that Defendants, a school district and school board, unlawfully discriminated against him on the grounds of his sex in violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA), Mo. Rev. Stat. 213.065, holding that R.M.A.’s petition alleged facts that, if taken as true, established the elements of a claim under section 213.065. R.M.A. filed suit alleging that his “legal sex is male” and that, by denying him access to the boys’ restrooms and locker rooms, Defendants discriminated against him in the use of a public accommodation “on the grounds of his sex.” The circuit court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment below and remanded the case to the circuit court for further proceedings, holding that R.M.A. stated a claim under section 213.065.2. View "R.M.A. v. Blue Springs R-IV School District" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court granting summary judgment in favor of the Missouri Commission on Human Rights (Commission) on Appellants’ consolidated allegations of violations of the Missouri Human Rights Act (Act), Mo. Rev. Stat. 213.010 et seq., holding that the circuit court erred in finding that Appellants’ claims failed under Pittman v. Cook Paper Recycling Corp., 478 S.W.3d 479 (Mo. App. W.D. 2015). Specifically, the circuit court relied upon Pittman’s holding that the Act does not include claims for sex discrimination based upon sexual orientation and then extended that rationale to include claims for sex discrimination based upon sex stereotyping. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case, holding (1) the Commission improperly characterized Appellants’ claims as sexual orientation discrimination, and therefore, the circuit court’s reliance on Pittman was misplaced; and (2) the circuit court erred in issuing summary judgment in favor of Defendant because the Act covers sex discrimination. View "Lampley v. Missouri Commission on Human Rights" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the circuit court dismissing Mary Doe’s second amended petition seeking to enjoin the enforcement of a portion of the Missouri Informed Consent Law, Mo. Rev. Stat. 188.027 - which she alleged required her to read a booklet, have an ultrasound, and wait seventy-two hours before having an abortion - for failure to state a claim, holding that the circuit court did not err in dismissing the petition. In her petition, Doe claimed that requiring her to read the booklet violated her rights under the Establishment Clause and that reading the booklet and requiring her to have an ultrasound violated her rights under the Missouri Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Mo. Rev. Stat. 1.302.1. The Supreme Court affirmed the denial of Doe’s request for injunctive relief, holding (1) the informed consent law does not adopt any religious tenant but requires those seeking an abortion be offered a booklet that repeats two principles set out in Mo. Rev. Stat. 1.205; (2) the informed consent law does not require a pregnant woman to read the booklet or to have an ultrasound; and (3) Doe did not allege how the seventy-two hour waiting period conflicts with her religion or that it was an undue burden. View "Doe v. Parson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court finding the board of regents of Harris-Stowe State University liable on Dr. Shereen Kader’s claims of national origin discrimination and retaliation under the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA), holding that the circuit court’s jury instructions were erroneous and prejudicial. The jury returned a verdict in Dr. Kader’s favor on her claims of national original discrimination and retaliation, awarding $750,000 in actual damages and $1.75 million in punitive damages. The circuit court entered judgment on the jury’s verdict. On appeal, Harris-Stowe argued that the circuit court’s disjunctive jury instructions Nos. 8 and 9 misled and confused the jury, thereby resulting in prejudice. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that the circuit court’s jury instructions were erroneous and prejudicial because they included at least one alternative that did not constitute actionable conduct under the MHRA. View "Kader v. Board of Regents of Harris-Stowe State University" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court’s decision overruling Defendant’s motion suppress evidence found during a warrantless search and seizure of a bag that the police seized from the back seat of the vehicle in which Defendant had been riding, holding that no prejudice resulted from the suppression motion being overruled. On appeal, Defendant argued that under Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332 (2009), and State v. Carrawell, 481 S.W.3d 833 (Mo. banc 2016), the evidence should have been suppressed because, contrary to the ruling of the circuit court, the drugs and drug paraphernalia in the bag were not within his possession or control when the bag was seized. The Supreme Court affirmed without reaching the issue of whether Gant or Carrawell required the suppression of the evidence, holding that any error was not prejudicial because other unchallenged evidence fully supported the judgment reached by the circuit court. View "State v. Hughes" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the motion court overruling Appellant’s Mo. R. Crim. P. 29.15 motion for postconviction relief after an evidentiary hearing, holding that the motion court did not err. After a jury trial, Appellant was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder. The circuit court adopted the jury’s recommendations and sentenced Appellant to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for one murder and to death for the other murder. The Supreme Court affirmed the convictions. At issue in this appeal was the motion court’s judgment overruling Appellant’s Rule 29.15 motion after an evidentiary hearing. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Appellant was not entitled to postconviction relief for ineffective assistance of counsel because Appellant did not show by a preponderance of the evidence that he was entitled to relief under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). View "Anderson v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the motion court’s judgment denying Appellant postconviction relief, holding that the motion court’s findings of fact and conclusions of law were not clearly erroneous. On appeal from the motion court’s denial of postconviction relief from his conviction and death sentence for first-degree murder, Appellant claimed that the motion court committed multiple errors. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment denying postconviction relief, holding (1) the judge did not err in limiting juror questioning; (2) the postconviction process was not tainted by a ruling on the juror issue by a judge who later refused; (3) defense counsel were not ineffective in failing to call additional lay and expert witnesses in the guilt and penalty phase; and (4) Appellant was not entitled to relief on his remaining claims of error. View "McFadden v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court overruling Defendant’s motions to suppress evidence and sentencing Defendant to eight years’ imprisonment in connection with his conviction for possession of a controlled substance. Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the circuit court did not err in overruling Defendant’s motions to suppress methamphetamine because Defendant was not unlawfully seized when an officer requested that Defendant produce his driver’s license to verify whether he was driving on a suspended license and Defendant complied with that request; and (2) even though the range of punishment was misstated at the sentencing hearing, Defendant failed to establish that the circuit court imposed sentence based on a mistaken belief. View "State v. Perry" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court overruling Defendant’s motions to suppress evidence and sentencing Defendant to eight years’ imprisonment in connection with his conviction for possession of a controlled substance. Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the circuit court did not err in overruling Defendant’s motions to suppress methamphetamine because Defendant was not unlawfully seized when an officer requested that Defendant produce his driver’s license to verify whether he was driving on a suspended license and Defendant complied with that request; and (2) even though the range of punishment was misstated at the sentencing hearing, Defendant failed to establish that the circuit court imposed sentence based on a mistaken belief. View "State v. Perry" on Justia Law