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Missouri Ethics Commission v. Fountain-Henderson

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, First Division

October 25, 2016

MISSOURI ETHICS COMMISSION, Appellant,
v.
YOLONDA FOUNTAIN-HENDERSON, Respondent.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Louis County 15SL-CC04008 Honorable Michael D. Burton

          OPINION

          MARY K. HOFF, JUDGE.

         The Missouri Ethics Commission ("the Commission") appeals the circuit court's order and judgment denying the Commission's application for the enforcement of a subpoena duces tecum issued to Yolonda Fountain-Henderson (Respondent). We reverse and remand.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         In April 2015, Respondent was elected mayor of Jennings, a small Missouri municipality.[1] The Commission, which is responsible for administering Missouri's campaign finance disclosure laws, see Section 105.957.1(3)[2]; Geier v. Mo. Ethics Comm'n, 474 S.W.3d 560, 562-63 (Mo. banc 2015), received a citizen complaint regarding the mayoral election in September 2015. The complaint alleged that Respondent was required to file a committee disclosure report and financial summary for the campaign, but that Respondent failed to do so.

         The Commission initiated an investigation and issued a subpoena duces tecum to Respondent to provide "[a]ll documents related to the April 2015 [municipal] Mayoral race, " including bank statements, cancelled checks, debits and credits associated with [Respondent's] campaign's account, receipts for campaign expenditures, and records for all monetary and in-kind contributions. Respondent produced no documents. The Commission filed an application to enforce the subpoena.

         The circuit court ordered Respondent to show cause why the subpoena should not be enforced. Respondent filed a brief in opposition, arguing, inter alia, that the Commission lacked authority to issue the subpoena. After a hearing on the matter, the circuit court ruled in a one-page, handwritten order:

Respondents not required to produce records in response to the subpoena. Citizen complaint . . . did not allege sufficient facts showing that [Respondent] received over $325 in contributions from a single contributor, more than $11, 000 from all contributors, or $1, 000 in expenditures. Petitioner's application for enforcement of subpoena duces tecum denied.

         The Commission filed a motion to reconsider and / or amend the judgment. The circuit court summarily denied that motion. This timely appeal followed.[3]

         Standard of Review

         In reviewing a circuit court's decision regarding the enforcement of an administrative subpoena, we affirm unless the decision is unsupported by substantial evidence, is against the weight of the evidence, or erroneously declares or applies the law. Jackson v. Mills, 142 S.W.3d 237, 240 (Mo. App. W.D. 2004) (citing Angoff v. M & M Mgmt. Corp., 897 S.W.2d 649, 656- 57 (Mo. App. W.D. 1995)). Where, as here, a misapplication of law is asserted, our review is de novo. Jackson, 142 S.W.3d at 240.

         Discussion

         In the first of two points on appeal, the Commission argues that the circuit court erred in refusing to enforce the subpoena because the Commission's request comported with controlling law. Because we find Point One dispositive, we address that point alone.

         It is generally accepted that the courts will enforce a subpoena during an administrative investigation if: (1) the inquiry is within the agency's authority; (2) the demand is not too indefinite; and (3) the information sought is reasonably relevant. Angoff v. M & M Mgmt. Corp., 897 S.W.2d 649, 652 (Mo. App. W.D. 1995) (citing Matter of Hein, 5 ...


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