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Geier v. Missouri Ethics Commission

Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc

November 24, 2015

GERALD GEIER AND STOP NOW!, Appellants,
v.
MISSOURI ETHICS COMMISSION, ET AL., Respondents

APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF JACKSON COUNTY. The Honorable Joel P. Fahnestock, Judge.

Geier and Stop Now! were represented by Hugh A. Eastwood, an attorney in St. Louis, and W. Bevis Schock, an attorney in St. Louis.

The commission was represented by Solicitor General James R. Layton, Nicholas Beydler, Andrew W. Blackwell and Peggy A. Whipple of the attorney general's office in Jefferson City.

OPINION

Mary R. Russell, Judge.

Gerald Geier and the political action committee of which he was the treasurer, Stop Now!, both appeal from the circuit court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Missouri Ethics Commission in an action involving their challenge to the constitutional validity of sections 130.021.4(1), 130.021.7, and 130.021.8, RSMo Supp. 2009, as well as sections 130.046.1, RSMo Supp. 2007, and 105.961.3, RSMo 2000. This Court affirms the judgment.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

From 1991 to 2012, Gerald Geier, a certified public accountant, was the treasurer of Stop Now!, a Missouri political action committee (PAC) that engaged in issue advocacy opposing ballot initiatives that would raise taxes. He was required to register the PAC with the Missouri Ethics Commission (MEC), the agency responsible for administering Missouri's campaign finance disclosure laws. Geier completed a " Statement of Committee Organization" form, which named him as the treasurer and required him to identify the PAC's bank account. Stop Now! became inactive after 2003. The bank closed the account in 2006 after routine fees depleted the account to zero. Stop Now! did not notify the MEC of the account's closure as required by section 130.021.7, RSMo Supp. 2009.

Stop Now!, however, remained a registered PAC and, from 2004 to 2010, continued to file the quarterly disclosure reports required by sections 130.041.1, RSMo 2000 and 30.046.1, RSMo Supp. 2007 indicating that it had no money and was engaging in no activity.[1] When Stop Now! failed to file reports for the first three quarters of 2011, the MEC opened an investigation. Geier subsequently filed the overdue reports along with a " Committee Termination Statement," indicating the dissolution of Stop Now!.

The MEC filed a formal complaint against Geier and Stop Now!, alleging they violated section 130.046.1, RSMo Supp. 2007 by failing to timely file disclosure reports in 2011 and violated sections 130.021.4(1) and 130.021.7, RSMo Supp. 2009 for failing to maintain a bank account or notify the MEC of changes to the account. The MEC held a hearing on the complaint, which was closed to the public pursuant to section 105.961.3. RSMo 2000. It found probable cause that Geier and Stop Now! unknowingly violated the applicable statutes due to the delinquent disclosure reports and failure to timely file a termination statement after the bank account was closed. The MEC issued a letter to Geier stating that no further action would be taken.[2]

Geier appealed the MEC's probable cause determination to the Administrative Hearing Commission (AHC) on behalf of himself and Stop Now!. He admitted the statutory violations, arguing instead that the reporting statutes were unconstitutional as applied because Stop Now! had been inactive prior to commencement of the enforcement action. He also challenged the constitutional validity of section 105.961.3, RSMo 2000, the provision under which the MEC's enforcement hearing was closed to the public. Finally, Geier argued that, if violations occurred, they must be attributed to Stop Now! and not to him either personally or in his official capacity as treasurer. The AHC granted summary decision on all counts in favor of the MEC.

Geier next sought judicial review in the circuit court pursuant to section 536.110, RSMo 2000. He raised each of the claims asserted at the AHC and asserted new claims. In addition to the " as applied" constitutional challenges to the reporting statutes, he also challenged the statutes facially, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief barring enforcement of the statutes against similarly situated inactive PACs. Finally, he supplemented the constitutional challenges with claims under 42 U.S.C. § § 1983 and 1988. The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of the MEC. Geier appeals.[3]

II. Standard of Review

This is an appeal from the circuit court's review of the AHC's grant of summary decision in favor of the MEC. Typically, in an appeal from an agency-tried case this Court reviews the decision of the agency and not the circuit court. Garozzo v. Mo. Dep't. of Ins., Fin. Inst. & Prof'l Registration, Div. of Fin., 389 S.W.3d 660, 663 (Mo. banc 2013). Here, however, the circuit court was the first to rule on the bulk of Geier's constitutional claims because the AHC cannot declare a statute unconstitutional. Cf., State Tax Comm'n v. Admin. Hearing Comm'n, 641 S.W.2d 69, 75-76 (Mo. banc 1982). Additionally, Geier's § § 1983 and 1988 claims were not presented to the AHC.

Rulings were entered in favor of the MEC before both the AHC and the circuit court. The circuit court decided only questions of law, and there were no factual disputes. Regardless of whether this Court reviews the AHC's decision or the circuit court's judgment, the standard of review is the same. The propriety of summary judgment is an issue of law entitled to de novo review. Floyd-Tunnell v. Shelter Mut. Ins. Co., 439 S.W.3d 215, 217 (Mo. banc 2014). Additionally, both the constitutional validity of a statute and an agency's interpretation and application of a statute are subject ...


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