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State ex rel. Koster v. Charter Communs., Inc.

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Third Division

May 26, 2015

STATE OF MISSOURI ex rel. ATTORNEY GENERAL CHRIS KOSTER, Appellant,
v.
CHARTER COMMUNICATIONS, INC., d/b/a CHARTER COMMUNICATIONS; CHARTER FIBERLINK-MISSOURI, LLC; and CHARTER ADVANCED SERVICES (MO) LLC, Respondents

Page 852

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cole County, Missouri. The Honorable Patricia S. Joyce, Judge.

Chris Koster, Attorney General, Jefferson City, MO; Joshua M. Jones, Assistant Attorney General, St. Louis, MO, for Appellant.

Steven M. Sherman and Maria A. Lanahan, St. Louis, MO; John D. Landwehr, Jefferson City, MO, for Respondents.

Before Division III: Mark D. Pfeiffer, Presiding Judge, and Gary D. Witt and Anthony Rex Gabbert, Judges. Gary D. Witt and Anthony Rex Gabbert, Judges, concur.

OPINION

Mark D. Pfeiffer, J.

Page 853

Appellant-Relator, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster (" the AG" ), appeals the judgment of the Circuit Court of Cole County, Missouri (" trial court" ), declaring that the Civil Investigative Demands (" CIDs" ) issued to Respondents by the AG were not authorized by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, 18 U.S.C. § § 2701 et seq. (" ECPA" ), and were thus not enforceable. Because we conclude that the CIDs were " administrative subpoenas" contemplated by the ECPA and did not violate Respondents' constitutional rights of privacy, we reverse the judgment of the trial court and enter the judgment the trial court should have entered.

Factual and Procedural Background

The salient facts of this case are not in dispute. They are as follows:

One of the responsibilities of the AG is investigating and prosecuting violations of Missouri's consumer protection statutes, Chapter 407 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri, including the Missouri Telemarketing Law (§ § 407.1070 et seq. ) and Missouri's No-Call Law (§ § 407.1095 et seq. ). In furtherance of these investigations, the

Page 854

AG is authorized to issue CIDs pursuant to section 407.040.

Respondents Charter Communications, Inc.; Charter Fiberlink-Missouri, LLC; and Charter Advanced Services (MO), LLC, are for-profit companies wholly owned by Charter Communications Holdings, LLC, an active Delaware corporation (collectively, " Charter" ). Among other things, Charter provides telephone and voice-over-internet-protocol service to residential and commercial customers in the State of Missouri.

On June 12, 2014, the AG's office served Charter with CID number 039-14JG (" the June CID" ). The June CID sought information and documentation regarding one of Charter's customers which was suspected of having violated Missouri's no-call and telemarketing laws. On July 29, 2014, the AG's office sent CID number 059bb-14JK (" the July CID" ) to Charter. The July CID stated that an unknown Charter customer was suspected of having violated Missouri's telemarketing laws and requested information and documentation designed to investigate such Charter customer. Invoking protections pursuant to the ECPA and article I, section 15 of the Missouri Constitution, Charter refused to produce the information and documentation sought by the AG's CIDs.[1]

The AG's office filed a petition seeking declaratory relief in the form of a judgment stating that the CIDs were " administrative subpoenas" for purposes of the ECPA and that nothing in article 1, section 15 precluded the AG from obtaining the requested information and documentation requested in the June and July CIDs. The petition further requested the trial court to order Charter to respond to both CIDs pursuant to section 407.090.

The parties agreed that the pertinent facts were not in dispute and filed dueling motions for judgment on the pleadings. After briefing and argument, the trial court issued its judgment in favor of Charter, thereby refusing to enforce the AG's CIDs. This appeal follows.

Standard of Review

The trial court's judgment on the pleadings addresses only issues of law. Accordingly, our review is de novo and without deference to the trial court's judgment. State ex rel. Kansas City Symphony ...


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