Local Government

Paul Martin, Esquire

City’s enforcement of red light camera ordinance violated Missouri Supreme Court rule, but ordinance itself was authorized by state law. Smith, et al. v. City of St. Louis, No. 98263 (Mo. App. E.D., June 11, 2013), Odenwald, J.

Smith and others brought suit against the City of St. Louis, claiming that the city’s automated photo enforcement program (aka “red light camera ordinance”) deprived them of various constitutional rights and was not authorized by Missouri law. The trial court sided with some of the plaintiffs on some of the issues, as did the Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District. Two of the court’s holdings are notable.

First, the court held that the city’s enforcement of the red light ordinance was unlawful, as the notice of violation did not adequately inform a defendant of the options of either paying the fine or pleading not guilty and going to trial. As Supreme Court Rule 37.33(b) specifically so requires, the ordinance was held unlawful in its application to some of the plaintiffs, thus depriving them of procedural due process.

Second, the court addressed whether the city had the authority to enact the ordinance under state law. The court found that the ordinance was a proper exercise of the police power, as Section 304.120.2 RSMo. permits cities to enact additional “rules of the road or traffic regulations” so long as they do not conflict with state law. The court also held that under the ordinance’s own terms, it was substantially and rationally related to public safety. The court finally relied on the authority of a charter city to enact legislation that did not conflict with the constitution or the statutes of Missouri or the city’s own charter.

As to the question of a statutory conflict, the court noted Sections 302.010(12), 302.302, and 302.225, which define moving violations and which require the reporting and assessment of points on a defendant’s conviction. Rather than addressing whether a red light camera case was a moving or a static, “wrong place, wrong time” violation, the Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District observed that the trial court failed to find any conflict with state law and that the issue had not been appealed. “While we question the trial court’s decision as to whether the Ordinance conflicts with Missouri statutes, neither party appeals that determination. Accordingly, we do not and cannot address that issue here.”

City firefighter not an “officer” under three-year limitations of Section 516.130(1) RSMo. Carman v. Wieland, No. 98872(Mo. App. E.D., July 16, 2013), Mooney, P.J.

Wieland ran over and injured Carmen while backing up a fire truck into a fire station.   Both parties were municipal firefighters. Carmen sued for damages, and Weiland moved for summary judgment. Weiland argued that the three-year statute of limitations (Section 516.130(1) RSMo.) had run and that he owed no independent duty of care to Carmen. The trial court awarded summary judgment to the defendant on the first ground but not the second. The court held that while Weiland had an independent, actionable duty to protect Carmen from harm, he was also an “officer” under Section 516.130(1). Since the statute’s period of limitations had lapsed, the court granted judgment to Weiland. Carmen appealed.

After extensive consideration of case law concerning the meaning of “officer” under Section 516.130(1), including the Western District’s recent holding that a police officer fell within the statute (see Dilley v. Valentine, No. WD74790, decided on June 18, 2013), the Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District determined that a firefighter was not such an officer. The court reasoned that ordinary firefighters lacked an appointive office of trust, authority or command and did not have the legal authority to exercise the government’s sovereign power to make or enforce the law. To extend the statute to include firefighters would be tantamount to including all government employees within its scope, a result not intended by the legislature. The court accordingly reversed the trial court’s holding on the statute of limitations ground.

But the court also affirmed the summary judgment award because of the absence of an independent duty owed by Weiland to Carmen. The court surveyed the law on co-employee liability and concluded that any duty owed by Weiland to Carmen to operate the fire truck in a safe, non-negligent manner was subsumed by the employer’s non-delegable duty to maintain a safe workplace. Because the plaintiff failed to allege any duty independent of the employer’s non-delegable obligation (the “something more” test), summary judgment should have been granted to Weiland on that basis.