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Bray v. Missouri Department of Corrections

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Fourth Division

July 26, 2016

JOAN BRAY, et al., Appellants,
v.
MISSOURI DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Respondent.

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

          Before Alok Ahuja, P.J., Mark D. Pfeiffer, C.J. and J. Dale Youngs, Sp.J.

          Alok Ahuja, Judge

         Four Missouri taxpayers filed suit in the Circuit Court of Cole County, alleging that the State's lethal-injection protocol for executing inmates violates federal and state law. The circuit court dismissed the Taxpayers' claims, finding that they lacked standing, that the Missouri Supreme Court had exclusive jurisdiction over the case, and that the Taxpayers' petition failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The Taxpayers appeal. We affirm.

         Factual Background

         Joan Bray, Jeanette Oxford, Elston McCowan, and Mary Ann McGivern (the "Taxpayers") filed a Verified Petition for Declaratory Judgment and Injunctive Relief, as well as a Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order, Preliminary Injunction, and Permanent Injunction, in the Circuit Court of Cole County on July 9, 2015. In their petition, the Taxpayers alleged that the Department of Corrections' current lethal-injection execution protocol violates both Missouri and federal laws and regulations because of the Department's purchase and use of pentobarbital prepared by a compounding pharmacy. The Taxpayers alleged that the use of compounded pentobarbital in executions violates state and federal laws concerning the compounding of FDA-approved drugs; the purchase, distribution, transfer, and administration of controlled substances; the dispensing of drugs without a valid prescription; and the licensing of compounding pharmacies. The Taxpayers sought a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief prohibiting the Department from continuing to use its current lethal-injection protocol.

         The Department was preparing to execute convicted murderer David Zink when the Taxpayers' petition was filed. The Missouri Supreme Court issued a Warrant of Execution setting Zink's execution date as July 14, 2015, and he was ultimately executed on that date. While Zink's execution was pending, the circuit court sustained the State's motion to dismiss on July 13, 2015. The circuit court's dismissal relied on three independent grounds. First, the court found that the Taxpayers lacked standing to sue. Second, the court held that it lacked jurisdiction, because the Missouri Supreme Court has exclusive jurisdiction over cases involving the death penalty. Third, the court held that the petition failed to state a claim for relief, because the federal and state laws and regulations cited by the Taxpayers do not apply to the Department's performance of court-ordered executions.

         This appeal follows.

         Analysis

         The circuit court relied on three independent grounds to dismiss the Taxpayers' petition. To justify reversal, the Taxpayers must demonstrate that each of the reasons for dismissal cited by the circuit court was erroneous; if we uphold any one of the grounds on which the circuit court relied, we must affirm. Knight v. Con-Agra Foods, Inc., 476 S.W.3d 355, 358-59 (Mo. App. W.D. 2015) (quoting City of Peculiar v. Hunt Martin Materials, LLC, 274 S.W.3d 588, 590-91 (Mo. App. W.D. 2009)).

         We conclude that the Taxpayers have failed to show that the circuit court's third basis for dismissal (that their petition failed to state a claim on which relief could be granted) was erroneous. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment without addressing the other two grounds cited by the circuit court.

         The circuit court's judgment provided a detailed explanation for its conclusion that the petition failed to state a legally viable claim. The court first addressed the Taxpayers' federal- law claims. It explained:

The intention of Congress to regulate executions would be an exercise of control over an area traditionally left to the States and would alter the usual balance between the States and the Federal Government. In such a case the intention of Congress to exercise control over the area traditionally left to the States must be unmistakably clear or it is presumed not to exist. . . .
. . . .
. . . The plain statement rule controls in the area of legal executions of criminals, because that area has traditionally been left to the States by Congress, and there is no plain statement in the [federal Controlled Substances Act ("CSA")] or the [Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act ("FDCA")] that those Acts are meant to regulate executions by lethal injection. The lack of a plain statement by Congress that it intended the FDCA and CSA to be enforced in the context of executions for state criminal convictions, an area traditionally left to ...

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