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Riggs v. State Dep't of Soc. Servs.

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, First Division

August 18, 2015

LESLIE RIGGS, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF MISSOURI DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES, ET AL., Respondent

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Appeal from the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri. The Honorable Jack R. Grate, Judge.

Leslie R. Riggs, Appellant, Pro se.

Doug Leyshock and Nick Beydler, Jefferson City, MO, for respondent.

Before Division One: Cynthia L. Martin, Presiding Judge, Joseph M. Ellis, Judge and James E. Welsh, Judge. All concur.

OPINION

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Cynthia L. Martin, J.

Leslie Riggs (" Riggs" ) appeals from a trial court judgment entered in favor of the State of Missouri Department of Social Services (" Social Services" ) following a trial on her claims for disability discrimination and retaliation. Riggs also appeals from a trial court order taxing costs against her. Riggs argues that the trial court erred: (1) in awarding and taxing costs incurred by Social Services against her; and (2) in making statements during voir dire and trial that demonstrated prejudice and bias against Riggs, depriving her of a fair trial. The trial court's judgment is affirmed. Riggs's appeal of the trial court's order taxing costs is dismissed as premature.

Factual and Procedural Background[1]

Beginning in August 2004, Riggs worked as a litigation attorney for Social Services in its Independence office. Riggs was required to attend a meeting with her supervisors in Jefferson City on October 23, 2008, to discuss her work performance. During that meeting, her immediate supervisor unexpectedly collapsed. Riggs's immediate

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supervisor was transported to the hospital and died a short time later.

Riggs was subsequently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and other emotional disorders by a counselor. Riggs applied for extended medical leave under the Family Medical Leave Act.[2] Social Services granted her request on or about December 12, 2008. Before her extended medical leave expired, Riggs requested accommodations that would permit her to return to work, but she was never able to reach an agreement regarding accommodations with Social Services and did not return to work. Social Services ultimately dismissed Riggs from employment on April 1, 2009.

Riggs filed suit against Social Services. Her third amended petition[3] alleged three counts against Social Services: (1) disability discrimination in violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act (" MHRA" )[4]; (2) retaliation under the MHRA; and (3) violations of the Missouri Constitution Article I, sections 8,[5] 14,[6] and 22(a).[7] Partial summary judgment was granted in favor of Social Services on Riggs's constitutional violation claims approximately one month prior to trial. Trial proceeded on Riggs's MHRA claims.[8]

The jury returned a verdict in favor of Social Services on Riggs's MHRA claims. The trial court entered a judgment (" Judgment" ) dated November 26, 2013, in favor of Social Services in accordance with the jury's verdict. The Judgment awarded costs in favor of Social Services and against Riggs.

On December 11, 2013, Social Services filed a memorandum of costs, attaching various court reporter and special process server invoices and requesting that costs in the amount of $4,539.73 be taxed against Riggs. On December 21, 2013, Riggs filed a pleading titled " Motion for the Court to Remedy Its Judgment Assessing Court Costs Against the Plaintiff," arguing that the Judgment's award of costs to Social Services was prohibited by law. On December 24, 2013, Riggs filed a motion for new trial which argued that the trial court demonstrated prejudice and bias against her during trial. The trial court entered an order (" Order" ) dated March 4, 2014, taxing costs against Riggs in the amount of $4,539.73 and denying Riggs's post-trial motions.

Riggs appeals. Additional facts are discussed in the analysis portion of this opinion as necessary.

Analysis

Riggs asserts that the trial court erred in two respects: (1) in awarding and taxing

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costs in the amount of $4,539.73 against Riggs; and (2) in making prejudicial and biased statements against Riggs ...


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