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MISSOURI SHERIFF’S RETIREMENT SYSTEM LITIGATION UPDATE ​

Tuesday, April 7, 2020   (0 Comments)
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MISSOURI SHERIFF’S RETIREMENT SYSTEM LITIGATION UPDATE

by Allen Garner

            A suit challenging the constitutionality of the assessment of court cost in municipal courts was brought in Jackson County Circuit Court by two individuals who were given traffic tickets and paid the surcharge. The plaintiffs (Fowler and Keller) sought “restitution” under a claim of “unjust enrichment” for a surcharge that the Clerk of the Kansas City Municipal Division of the Circuit Court of Jackson County assessed to them after they pled guilty to violating Kansas City municipal traffic ordinances and a declaration that the surcharge is unconstitutional in Municipal Divisions of the Circuit Courts as violative of Article I, section 14 of the Missouri Constitution. The statute involved in the case is §57.955.1 RSMo.1

Timeline

            On April 17, 2013, a Missouri Attorney General opinion concluded that “the legislature intended that the surcharge be collected in municipal courts.”2  On August 16, 2013, the Missouri Supreme Court issued an Order directing that the surcharge be collected in all divisions of the Missouri Circuit Courts—including the Municipal Divisions. In May 2017, Plaintiffs received citations for municipal ordinance violations. A bench trial was commenced on November 4, 2019 and concluded on November 7, 2019. While the plaintiffs were found to have standing, on March 10th the Circuit Court found in favor of the defendant Sheriffs Retirement System and assessed costs against the plaintiffs. 

Holding

            The Court found plaintiffs failed to assert a claim and seek declaratory or injunctive relief against Municipal Division Clerks of the Circuit Court who assess and collect the surcharge. The Court further found that a Judgment in plaintiffs favor would not relieve Municipal Division Clerks of their Missouri Supreme Court Order and statutory obligations of assessing, collecting, and remitting the surcharge to the Retirement System. Consequently, the Court found that plaintiff’s failure to join the Municipal Division Clerks as necessary and indispensable parties a part of the plaintiffs’ claim to be dismissed.3 Thus, the surcharge is not subject to Art. I, section 14 review because it is not paid by a Municipal Division defendant as a prerequisite, requirement or condition to seek justice and the Municipal Division defendant as immediate access to the courts “without sale, denial or delay.”3

            The court found that the proper test of the appropriateness of the surcharge was whether it reasonably related to the expense of administering justice. While the Missouri Supreme Court has not defined what is included in the administration of justice, relying of testimony of numerous sheriffs and conclusions from other courts the Court found that county sheriffs are essential and necessary to the administration of justice and provide indispensable services to Missouri municipalities and municipal courts. Given the myriad of services provided by the Sheriffs to Missouri counties, municipalities, all divisions of the Circuit Courts, including Municipal Divisions, the Court concluded a “rational basis” existed for the Missouri General Assembly to incentivize attracting and retaining more qualified individuals to become Missouri sheriffs.

            Plaintiff’ counsel has stated an intent to appeal the decision to the Missouri Court of Appeals.

1 Section 57.955.1, RSMo states:

There shall be assessed and collected a surcharge of three dollars in civil actions filed in the courts of this state and in all criminal cases including violation of any county ordinance or any violation of criminal or traffic laws of this state, including infractions, but no such surcharge shall be assessed when the costs are waived or are to be paid by the state, county or municipality or when a criminal proceeding or the defendant has been dismissed by the court. . . . The clerk responsible for collecting court costs in civil and criminal cases, shall collect and disburse such amounts as provided by sections 488.010 to 488.020. Such funds shall be payable to the sheriffs’ retirement fund. Moneys credited to the sheriffs’ retirement fund shall be used only for the purposes provided for in sections 57.949 to 57.997 and for no other purpose.

2 Op. Mo. Att’y Gen. 20-2013 (2013); Pet. ¶ 10.

3 See Harness, 436 S.W.3d at 584.


Missouri Municipal League

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