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Chastain v. James

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Special Division

June 8, 2015

CLAY CHASTAIN AND VINCENT LEE, Appellants,
v.
SYLVESTER JAMES, ET AL., Respondents

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri. The Honorable Joel P. Fahnestock, Judge.

Elbert A. Walton, Jr., St. Louis, MO, for appellants.

Patrick A. McInerney, Kansas City, MO, for respondents.

Before: Alok Ahuja, Chief Judge, Presiding, Thomas H. Newton, Judge and Cynthia L. Martin, Judge. All concur.

OPINION

Cynthia L. Martin, Judge.

Page 812

This expedited appeal involves election contests filed by Clay Chastain (" Chastain" )

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and Vincent Lee (" Lee" ) challenging the qualifications of incumbent Mayor Sylvester James (" Mayor James" ) to appear as a candidate on the April 7, 2015 primary election ballot and on the June 23, 2015 general election ballot for Mayor of Kansas City, Missouri (" City" ). Following expedited proceedings, the trial court entered a judgment denying Chastain's leave to file an amended petition, denying Chastain's motion for leave to join Lee as an additional plaintiff, denying Lee's motion to intervene or to join as a plaintiff in the amended petition, and dismissing the election contest claims asserted by Chastain in his original petition and by Chastain and Lee in the amended petition. Chastain and Lee appeal.

Because the trial court correctly determined that the election contests are time-barred, we affirm.

Factual and Procedural Background

The trial court entered its judgment (" Judgment" ) in reliance on stipulated facts.

Summary of the Stipulated Facts

Mayor James is the incumbent candidate for the office of Mayor of the City. On December 9, 2014, Mayor James filed a nominating petition in which he sought re-election. Along with his nominating petition, Mayor James submitted to Marilyn Sanders, the City Clerk (" Sanders" or " City Clerk" ), a signed and notarized " Declaration of Tax Payments by Candidate for Municipal Office" (" Declaration" ). In the Declaration, Mayor James declared and attested that he was " current on all city taxes and municipal user fees." On December 9, 2014, when the Declaration was signed and submitted, Mayor James was current on all city taxes and municipal user fees as required by Section 204(b)[1] of the City's Charter.

All persons owning taxable personal property in Jackson County, Missouri, must, by December 31st of each calendar year, pay the applicable property tax due on the property. Mayor James owned taxable personal property in Jackson County, Missouri, during 2014, specifically two motor vehicles. Mayor James received a property tax statement for both vehicles. Mayor James did not pay the applicable personal property tax due by the deadline of December 31, 2014.

On January 13, 2015, filing for the office of Mayor closed. On February 2, 2015, Mayor James discovered and immediately paid the personal property tax due, along with interest and a late filing penalty. February 12, 2015 was thirty (30) days after January 13, 2015.

On April 7, 2015, the City conducted a primary nominating election for mayoral and city council candidates. There were three mayoral candidates: Mayor James, Lee and Chastain. The Kansas City Board of Election Commissioners, and the Cass, Platte, and Clay County Boards of Election Commissioners, are the election authorities authorized to conduct the April 7, 2015 primary election. The Kansas City Board of Election Commissioners is, however, the accumulation board of the City responsible for certifying the official results of the April 7, 2015 primary election for the City, including the office of Mayor. This certification includes the results from all election authorities for the City.

On April 15, 2015, the Kansas City Board of Election Commissioners released

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the official results for the April 7, 2014 primary election certifying that Mayor James had received over 80% of the votes cast, followed by Lee, who received the second highest number of votes cast. Chastain finished last. Section 605(a)(1) of the City's Charter provides that the two candidates receiving the highest number of votes cast in the primary election shall advance to the general election.

Procedural History

On April 15, 2015, Chastain filed an unverified pro se " Motion to Disqualify Mayoral Candidate Sylvester James" (" Chastain's Election Contest" ) in the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri, naming Mayor James and Sanders as the " contestees." [2] Chastain's Election Contest sought an " order to disqualify [Mayor James] as a [City] Mayoral Candidate in the upcoming general election because [Mayor James] failed to meet candidate qualifications to have his name placed on the primary ballot." [L.F. 6] (Emphasis added.) Chastain's Election Contest asserted that City Charter provisions disqualified Mayor James from appearing on the primary ballot, and that as a result, " the next highest vote getter, [Chastain], would have his name placed on the general election ballot." [3] [L.F. 8] Chastain's Election Contest requested an emergency hearing and expedited ruling.

On April 27, 2015, the trial court entered a Scheduling Order. The Scheduling Order required Mayor James and Sanders to " file responsive pleadings" by April 28, 2015, and further scheduled a hearing to dispose of Chastain's Election Contest on May 1, 2015. [L.F. 2]

On April 28, 2015, Mayor James and Sanders each filed a pleading denominated as a " Motion to Dismiss" which explained why Mayor James was qualified to appear as a candidate on the primary election ballot and asserted several legal defenses to Chastain's Election Contest, including that the election contest had not been timely filed pursuant to section 115.526.2.

On April 29, 2015, an attorney entered an appearance for Chastain. On April 30, 2015, Chastain filed a " Motion for Leave to Amend Petition." He filed on the same date, (but without leave of court), a " First Amended Petition to Contest the Qualifications of a Candidate to Seek and to Hold Office of Mayor and to Have his Name Printed on the Ballot" (" Amended Election Contest" ). The Amended Election Contest added Lee as an additional " contestant." [4] The Amended Election Contest asserted two counts. Count I, titled " Primary Election," was asserted and verified by Chastain only, and contested Mayor James's qualifications to appear as a candidate on the ballot for the April 7, 2015 primary election. Count II, titled " General

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Election," was asserted and verified by Lee only, and contested Mayor James's qualifications to appear as a candidate on the ballot for the June 23, 2015 general election. Both Counts of the Amended Election Contest relied exclusively on section 115.526 as the source for authority to assert a claim of candidate disqualification. [L.F. 68-70; 73]

On April 30, 2015, Chastain also filed a " Motion to Join Party Plaintiff," seeking to add Lee as a plaintiff so Lee could assert Count II in the Amended Election Contest; Lee filed a " Motion to Intervene and for Leave to Join in the Filing of a First Amended Petition; " Chastain and Lee filed " Contestants' Request for and Proposed Findings of Facts and Conclusions of Law; " and Chastain and Lee filed a " Notice of Hearing and Motion to Shorten Time" setting their pending motions for hearing on May 1, 2015, at the same time scheduled for disposition of Chastain's Election Contest on the merits.

Just prior to the May 1, 2015, hearing, the parties filed a " Stipulation" setting forth the stipulated facts summarized above. Mayor James and Sanders each filed a " Consolidated Response" to the pending motions which explained why Mayor James was qualified to appear as a candidate on the primary and general election ballots and asserted several legal defenses to the Amended Election Contest, including that Chastain's and Lee's claims were time-barred by section 115.526.2.[5] And Chastain and Lee filed their " Contestants' Pre-Trial Brief." The trial court proceeded with the hearing, and then entered an Order taking " all matters" under advisement. The Order directed that any additional briefing had to be filed by May 4, 2015.

On May 4, 2015, Mayor James filed " Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law," and Chastain and Lee filed " Contestants' Suggestions in Opposition to Motion to Dismiss of Mayor James and City Clerk."

On May 6, 2015, the trial court entered its Judgment. The Judgment denied Chastain's motion to join Lee as a plaintiff; denied Chastain's motion for leave to file the Amended Election Contest; denied Lee's motion to intervene and for leave to join in the Amended Election Contest; dismissed Chastain's Election Contest on ...


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