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Pepper v. St. Charles County

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Fifth Division

January 24, 2017

JIM PEPPER, et al., Appellants,
v.
ST. CHARLES COUNTY, MISSOURI, et al., Respondents.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Charles County Honorable Daniel G. Pelikan

          LAWRENCE E. MOONEY, JUDGE

          Did St. Charles County voters lawfully and effectively amend their county charter to prohibit red-light cameras, even within the County's incorporated municipalities? Yes, they did.

         We hold that the county charter amendment is a valid exercise of St. Charles County's broad authority to regulate municipal services and functions under Missouri Constitution article VI, section 18(c), and does not contravene a statewide policy; that the amendment does not violate the county charter; and that the amendment does not invade the province of the judiciary. Furthermore, the proposition appearing on the ballot contained no irregularities of sufficient magnitude to cast doubt on the validity of the election. Consequently, we affirm the trial court's judgment.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         The St. Charles County Council adopted Ordinance No. 14-044, submitting to voters a proposed amendment to the county charter that would prohibit the use of "red-light cameras" throughout the county, including within the county's municipalities. In November 2014, St. Charles County presented the following proposition to the county's voters:

PROPOSITION RED LIGHT CAMERA
Shall the St. Charles County Charter be amended to add a Section 10.130 reading:
"10.130. Automated Traffic Enforcement Systems. Notwithstanding any other provision of this St. Charles County Charter, red light cameras or similar photograph devices or automated traffic enforcement systems may not be used in enforcing traffic regulations adopted by St. Charles County or by any municipality within St. Charles County that prohibit drivers from entering intersections when controlled by red traffic lights, and no such municipality may exercise the legislative power to use such cameras or devices or systems. This prohibition is the only limit imposed by this Charter upon the County or any municipality within it in performing their functions of regulating traffic and imposes no additional costs that need to be financed."?

         The St. Charles County Election Authority certified the results of the election. Registered voters approved the charter amendment by a vote of 72.6% in favor and 27.4% opposed.

         The plaintiffs, taxpayers Jim Pepper and Pamela Fogarty, the fourth-class cities of St. Peters and Lake St. Louis, Missouri, and the constitutional charter city of O'Fallon, Missouri (collectively "the Cities"), filed suit against the defendants, St. Charles County and the Director of Elections of St. Charles County. Two taxpayers who supported the amendment-Carl Bearden and Dan Rakers-later intervened as defendants. (We refer to all defendants collectively as "the County").

         In three counts, the Cities sought a declaratory judgment stating that the charter amendment violates the Missouri Constitution and the St. Charles County Charter; sought injunctive relief to prohibit enforcement of the charter amendment; and contested the election, challenging the form of the ballot proposition submitting the charter amendment to the voters. An additional count alleged that the charter amendment impaired the City of St. Peters's contract with a third party.

          The parties filed motions for summary judgment. The trial court upheld the amendment to the St. Charles County charter prohibiting the use of "red light cameras or similar photograph devices or automated traffic enforcement systems" to enforce traffic regulations, and prohibiting municipalities from "exercis[ing] the legislative power to use such cameras or devices or systems." The trial court granted summary judgment to the County on the three counts of the Cities' petition seeking declaratory judgment and injunctive relief and contesting the election. The City of St. Peters voluntarily dismissed the petition's remaining count.

         The trial court concluded that the "Charter Amendment does not violate Article VI, sections 18(a), 18(b), and 18(c) of the Missouri constitution and is, therefore, valid and enforceable." The court also determined that the proposition submitted to the voters complied with the requirement of article VI, section 18(c) that the ballot "contain a clear definition of the power, function or service to be performed, " and that the proposition language submitted to the voters adequately informed them of the specific activities prohibited. The Cities appeal. The Missouri Municipal League filed an amicus brief in support of the Cities.

         Standard of Review

         Summary judgment allows a trial court to enter judgment for the moving party where the party demonstrates a right to judgment as a matter of law based on facts about which there is no genuine dispute. ITT Commercial Fin. Corp. v. Mid-Am. Marine Supply Corp., 854 S.W.2d 371, 376 (Mo. banc 1993). Our review is essentially de novo. Id. When considering an appeal from summary judgment, we review the record in the light most favorable to the party against whom the court entered judgment. Id. We can affirm a summary judgment by any appropriate theory supported by the record. Missouri Bankers Assoc, Inc. v. St. Louis County, 448 S.W.3d 267, 270-71 (Mo. banc 2014).

          Discussion

         In eight points on appeal, the Cities claim the trial court erred in granting the County's motion for summary judgment. They challenge the County's authority for the charter amendment under numerous constitutional provisions and the county charter itself; allege that the amendment invades the province of the judiciary; and challenge the validity of the election in which voters passed the amendment. In a ninth point, the Cities appeal the trial court's denial of their motion for summary judgment based on the foregoing arguments.

         The County's Authority for the Charter Amendment

         In six points, the Cities challenge the County's authority for the charter amendment under numerous Missouri constitutional provisions-namely article VI, section 15, relating to classification of cities; article VI, sections 18(a), 18(b), and 18(c), relating to charter counties and their powers; and section 19 of article VI, relating to charter cities such as the City of O'Fallon. The Cities also contend that the amendment violates the county charter itself.

         The rules of statutory construction apply to constitutional provisions, and we give constitutional provisions a broad construction because of their more permanent nature. Chesterfield Fire Protection Dist. v. St. Louis County, 645 S.W.2d 367, 370 (Mo. banc 1983). "The rules of construction are designed to give effect to the intent and purpose of the provision." Id.

         The County's power is determined by article VI, section 18 of Missouri's Constitution. K-Mart Corp. v. St. Louis County, 672 S.W.2d 127, 131 (Mo. App. E.D. 1984). Section 18 of article VI first appeared in the 1945 Constitution, and was wholly new. State ex rel. Shepley v. Gamble, 280 S.W.2d 656, 659 (Mo. banc 1955). A charter county functions in a dual capacity because sometimes it performs state functions, and sometimes performs municipal functions. Missouri Bankers, 448 S.W.3d at 272.

         Section 18(a) permits a county to adopt a charter for its own government. K-Mart, 672 S.W.2d at 131. Article VI, section 18(a) provides:

Any county having more than 85, 000 inhabitants, according to the census of the United States, may frame and adopt and amend a charter for its own government as provided in this article, and upon such adoption shall be a body corporate and politic. In addition and as an alternative to the foregoing, any county which attains first class county status and maintains such status for at least two years shall be authorized to frame and adopt and amend a charter for its own government as provided by this article, and upon such adoption by a vote of the qualified electors of such county shall be a body corporate and politic. Counties which adopt or which have adopted a charter or constitutional form of government shall be a separate class of counties outside of the classification system established under section 8 of this article.

St. Charles County became a charter county in 1993.

         Section 18(b) sets forth the specific provisions that a county charter shall contain. It also provides "that a charter county shall possess an implied grant of power 'for the exercise of all powers and duties of counties and county officers prescribed by the constitution and laws of the state ....'" Missouri Bankers, 448 S.W.3d at 271. Section 18(b) states in full:

The charter shall provide for its amendment, for the form of the county government, the number, kinds, manner of selection, terms of office and salaries of the county officers, and for the exercise of all powers and duties of counties and county officers prescribed by the constitution and laws of the state; however, such charter shall, except for the charter of any county with a charter form of government and with more than six hundred thousand but fewer than seven hundred thousand inhabitants, require the assessor of the county to be an elected officer.

         The power described in section 18(b) is limited in that a charter or ordinance enacted under this section may not "invade the province of general legislation involving the public policy of the state as a whole." Id. (quoting Flower Valley Shopping Ctr., Inc. v. St. Louis County, 528 S.W.2d 749, 754 (Mo. banc 1975)). The current dispute, however, does not involve the implied power contained in section 18(b); rather, it involves the express power granted to charter counties in section 18(c).

         Article VI, section 18(c) is key to resolution of this case. Section 18(c) sets forth the provisions authorized in county charters, namely the county's participation in the government of other local units. Hardy v. Fire Standards Comm'n, 992 S.W.2d 330, 334 (Mo. App. E.D. 1999). Section 18(c) provides as follows.

The charter may provide for the vesting and exercise of legislative power pertaining to any and all services and functions of any municipality or political subdivision, except school districts, in the part of the county outside incorporated cities; and it may provide, or authorize its governing body to provide, the terms upon which the county may contract with any municipality or political subdivision in the county and perform any of the services and functions of any such municipality or political subdivision.
The charter may provide for the vesting and exercise of legislative power pertaining to any and all services and functions of any municipality or political subdivision, except school districts, throughout the entire county within as well as outside incorporated municipalities', any such charter provision shall set forth the limits within which the municipalities may exercise the same power collaterally and coextensively. When such a proposition is submitted to the voters of the county the ballot shall contain a clear definition of the power, function or service to be performed and the method by which it will be financed.

(Emphasis added).

         As amended in 1970, article VI, section 18(c) of the Missouri Constitution grants the County broad "legislative power pertaining to any and all services and functions of any municipality or political subdivision, except school districts, throughout the entire county within as well as outside incorporated municipalities." Mo. Const, art. VI, sec. 18(c); Missouri Bankers, 448 S.W.3d at 272. A "function" is all of the activity appropriate to the nature of political subdivisions or municipalities that combine to produce services, which are those acts performed by political subdivisions or municipalities for the benefit of the general public. Chesterfield Fire Protection Dist., 645 S.W.2d at 371.

          The police power is one of the powers delegated to charter counties by the state pursuant to article VI, section 18(c). Missouri Bankers, 448 S.W.3d at 272. Our Courts have held that generally the function of the police power is to promote the welfare, health, and safety of the people by regulating all tin-eats either to the comfort, safety, and welfare of the citizenry or harmful to the public interest. Id. A charter county's exercise of the police power delegated by the state under article VI, section 18(c) is a governmental function. Id.

         Several Missouri decisions support the proposition that "the police powers delegated to a charter county are constitutional grants of authority that are not subject to, but take precedence over, the legislative power." Id. Nonetheless, the County remains a legal subdivision of the state, and consequently, it can control only matters of distinctly local concern, and at the same time must act in harmony with the general law when it touches upon matters of state policy. Id.

         The Cities argue that state law delegates exclusive authority to control traffic on city streets to the cities, and likewise limits counties' legislative power regarding traffic control to unincorporated areas of the counties. Further, the Cities argue, no state law authorizes a county to regulate traffic within the boundaries of any incorporated municipality.

         The Cities cite the unhelpful case of State ex rel Audrain County v. City of Mexico, 197 S.W.2d 301 (Mo. 1946), for the proposition that state law grants exclusive authority over city streets to the cities. Although decided the year after adoption of the Constitution of 1945, Audrain County makes no reference to section 18 of article VI. Furthermore, our Supreme Court decided Audrain County decades before the amendment of section 18(c) in 1970, which added the second paragraph, which expressly provides that "[t]he charter may provide for the vesting and exercise of legislative power pertaining to any and all services and functions of any municipality or political subdivision, except school districts, throughout the entire county within as well as outside incorporated municipalities ...." Mo. Const, art. VI, sec. 18(c). Referring to the "wholly new" section 18, our Supreme Court stated that "[b]ecause of the novel provisions of the section, prior decisions are of little help." Shepley, 280 S.W.2d at 659. We agree with our Supreme Court's assessment of the caselaw. We place no reliance on Audrain County.

         The Cities also rely on sections 304.120 RSMo. (Supp. 2013), 82.190 RSMo. (2000), [1] and 88.670 RSMo. (2000) to argue that they have exclusive control over traffic on their streets. Section 304.120 RSMo. (Supp. 2013) provides that "[municipalities, by ordinance, may" establish traffic regulations that, inter alia, set speed limits, establish one-way streets, require traffic to stop before crossing intersections, limit use of designated streets to passenger vehicles, regulate parking on the street, require the use of signaling devices, prohibit sound-producing warning devices other than forward-directed horns, and establish additional traffic regulations to meet municipal needs and traffic conditions. Nowhere does section 304.120 RSMo. (Supp. 2013) say that cities have exclusive control over all traffic regulation on city streets.

         Section 82.190 states that "[s]uch [constitutional charter] city shall have exclusive control over its public highways, streets, avenues, alleys and public places, and shall have exclusive power, by ordinance, to vacate or abandon any public highway, street, avenue, alley or public place . . . ." Section 88.670 relates to the powers of fourth-class cities to make public improvements. This section grants fourth-class cities the power to enact ordinances to: (1) levy and collect property taxes; and (2) open and improve streets, make sidewalks, and build bridges, culverts, drains, and sewers. Sec. 88.670.1. It grants fourth-class cities "exclusive control over all streets, alleys, avenues and public highways within the limits of such city." Sec. 88.670.3. The language of sections 82.190 and 88.670 pertain to a municipality's exclusive authority over the physical property that comprises city streets.

         Even were we to construe the cited statutes to grant cities exclusive authority over regulation of traffic on city streets, the referenced statutes do not grant exclusive control over all matters related to regulation of traffic-enforcement mechanisms on city streets, which is a critical distinction. Traffic-enforcement mechanisms that are not necessarily traffic regulations-for example, laws governing the use of DWI checkpoints or radar and laser units-do not regulate traffic, but rather govern how traffic regulation may be enforced. Similarly, the charter amendment here does not seek to regulate traffic on city streets, but addresses how the regulations may be enforced. Specifically, it provides that "red light cameras or similar photograph devices or automated traffic enforcement systems may not be used in enforcing traffic regulations." (Emphases added.) The charter amendment does not purport to regulate traffic directly. It does not seek to tell cities how to set speed limits, where to place traffic signals and signs, where to establish one-way streets, how to restrict certain kinds of traffic, how to control parking, and the like.

         The Cities also maintain that the charter amendment violates the limits of article VI, section 18(c) because it addresses a matter of statewide concern-rather than a matter of purely local concern-and is out of harmony with the general laws of the state on this matter of statewide public policy. Missouri cases provide little clarity about what constitutes a matter of purely local concern and what constitutes a matter of statewide policy. What this general rule arguably seeks to promote, however, is uniformity throughout the state by distinguishing between uniquely local concerns and matters that merit a uniform approach statewide. We recognize that sometimes a charter county's power under article VI, section 18(c) must yield to statewide policy. With regard to red-light cameras and similar automated traffic-control devices, however, we find no statewide policy exists.

         Missouri has no state statute pertaining to red-light cameras or similar devices. Slate Laws, States, Missouri, Governors Highway Safety Ass'n, available at http://www.ghsa.org/ state-laws/states/missouri (last visited Jan. 4, 2017).[2] Our research reveals that between 2000 and 2016, the Missouri legislature introduced some 47 bills pertaining to red-light cameras, which are set forth in the appendix. The bills variously allowed ten cities to be designated for installation of red-light cameras, prohibited red-light cameras, required revenue generated from red-light camera enforcement to go to local school districts, set limits on the amount of fines allowed for violations, required red-light cameras to photograph the driver from the front, prohibited photographs of the driver's face, prohibited photographs of the vehicle's front license plate, required criminal prosecution and the assessment of points against the operator's driver's license for violations, and exempted red-light camera violations from the point-assessment system. None of these bills has become law. In addition, as of this writing, one bill is pending in the Missouri legislature to submit to voters a measure prohibiting the use of ...


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