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Winter Brothers Material Co. v. County of St. Louis

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Fifth Division

April 4, 2017

WINTER BROTHERS MATERIAL COMPANY, Appellant,
v.
COUNTY OF ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI, et al., Respondents.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Louis County Honorable Robert S. Cohen.

          KURT S. ODENWALD, Judge

          Introduction

         This appeal stems from the denial by the St. Louis County Council (the "County Council") of the application for a conditional-use permit by Winter Brothers Material Company ("Winter Brothers") to extract sand and gravel from property owned by Winter Brothers. Following the denial of the permit by the County Council, Winter Brothers filed a petition with the circuit court seeking contested-case review of the County Council's decision under Sections 536.100 through 536.140[1] of the Missouri Administrative Procedure Act ("MAPA"). The circuit court reviewed the denial of the conditional-use permit as a contested case under MAPA and upheld the County Council's denial of the permit. Winter Brothers appeals to this Court.

          Because the administrative hearing provided by St. Louis County ordinances did not mandate the procedural formalities necessary to establish a contested case under MAP A, the circuit court erred in undertaking review of the County Council's denial of the conditional-use permit as a contested case. Instead, the circuit court was required to review the County Council's decision as a non-contested case under Section 536.150 (RSMo (2000)) of MAP A, which is a fundamentally different judicial review from that of a contested case. Accordingly, we reverse and remand with instructions that the circuit court dismiss Winter Brothers' claim seeking contested-case administrative review, but with further instructions to allow Winter Brothers leave to amend its petition to assert a claim for administrative review of a non-contested case under Section 536.150.

         Factual and Procedural History

         Winter Brothers owns 900 acres of land on the west side of the Meramec River. The tract of land contains commercially valuable sand and gravel. A majority of the property (575 of 900 acres) is located in unincorporated St. Louis County.[2] Of the 575 acres located in St. Louis County, 537 acres are in the Meramec River floodplain. These 537 acres are the subject of this dispute. Under the applicable St. Louis County zoning ordinance, sand-and-gravel extraction is allowed only as a conditional use. Winter Brothers applied for a conditional-use permit with the County to allow the extraction of gravel and sand. The St. Louis Planning and Zoning Commission ("Planning Commission") considered Winter Brothers' application. Following a public hearing, the Planning Commission recommended denial of the conditional-use permit. Winter Brothers appealed the denial to the County Council.

          The County Council initially referred Winter Brothers' statement of appeal back to the Planning Commission for reconsideration. The Planning Commission reiterated its recommendation to deny the conditional-use permit. The County Council then referred the appeal to its Public Improvements Committee (the "PIC Committee"). The PIC Committee held another public hearing in which it heard from Winter Brothers, staff of the County Planning Department, and the public. As had occurred before the Planning Commission, persons speaking at the committee meeting spoke on the record, but no witnesses were examined or cross-examined under oath. The PIC Committee recommended that the County Council uphold the Planning Commission's denial of the permit.

         Following receipt of the PIC Committee report and recommendation, the County Council, during a regular session, adopted Resolution 6034 denying Winter Brothers' request for a conditional-use permit. The resolution contained findings of fact and also stated the reasons for the County Council's decision to deny the conditional-use permit.

         Having exhausted all avenues with St. Louis County, Winter Brothers filed a two-count petition in the circuit court. Count I of its petition sought contested-case review of the County Council's decision to deny the conditional-use permit under Section 536.100. If Count I failed, Count II asserted a claim for inverse condemnation, alleging that the County took Winter Brothers' property for public use without just compensation. The circuit court ordered Count II to be held in abeyance pending a ruling on Count I.

         The circuit court entered judgment against Winter Brothers on Count I. The circuit court provided written findings and conclusions upholding the County Council's denial of the conditional-use permit. Following the process for contested-case review, the circuit court acted as an appellate court by reviewing the record compiled in the administrative proceedings and concluding that substantial evidence supported the County Council's decision to deny the conditional-use permit. The circuit court did not hear evidence or conduct a de novo review of Winter Brothers' application for the conditional-use permit. Although Count II was not resolved, the circuit court certified the judgment on Count I as final and appealable under Rule 74.01(b)[3] by finding "no just reason for delay." Winter Brothers appeals the circuit court's judgment on Count I.

         Discussion

         On appeal, Winter Brothers asserts that the County Council's denial of the conditional-use permit was unsupported by substantial evidence, and was arbitrary and capricious. Before we may address the substantive arguments raised by the parties, it is incumbent upon us to resolve two procedural issues. We first must determine if the circuit court properly certified its judgment as final and appealable under Rule 74.01(b). If we find that the judgment is properly appealable, then we must determine if the administrative proceedings conducted by the County Council constituted a contested case. Only then did the circuit court properly engage in contested-case review of the County Council's action under MAPA.

         I. The Circuit Court Judgment May Be Appealed as a Final Judgment.

         As noted above, the circuit court's judgment did not resolve Count II of Winter Brothers' petition. Normally, court rulings that do not resolve all counts of a petition are not deemed final for purposes of appeal. See Boley v. Knowles, 905 S.W.2d 86, 88 (Mo. banc 1995). A final judgment is usually required for appellate review. Absent a final judgment, we must dismiss the appeal. Gibson v. Brewer, 952 S.W.2d 239, 244 (Mo. banc 1997). As a prerequisite to our appellate review, we review the finality of a judgment sua sponte. Id.

          Rule 74.01(b) sets forth an exception to the final-judgment rule: Rule 74.01(b) provides that a "court may enter a judgment as to one or more but fewer than all of the claims ... only upon an express determination that there is no just reason for delay." The circuit court here certified its judgment on Count I (for administrative review) as final and appealable under Rule 74.01(b), expressly finding that there was no just reason to delay the appeal.

         However, even a partial final judgment certified under Rule 74.01(b) is appealable only if the judgment resolves a distinct "judicial unit." Gibson, 952 S.W.2d at 244. What constitutes a "judicial unit for an appeal" is settled law. A judicial unit exists for purposes of appeal when a trial-court ruling fully resolves a claim. Id. A judicial unit is not resolved when the court makes a "ruling on some of several issues arising out of the same transaction or occurrence which does not dispose of the claim." Id. "An order dismissing some of several alternative counts, each stating only one legal theory to recover damages for the same wrong, is not considered an appealable judgment while the other counts remain pending because the counts are concerned with a single fact situation." Id. (emphasis added). The presence of differing, separate, and ...


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