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City of Jefferson v. Buescher

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Fourth Division

May 2, 2017

CITY OF JEFFERSON, Respondent,
v.
BARBARA J. BUESCHER, Appellant.

         APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF COLE COUNTY The Honorable Patricia S. Joyce, Judge

          Before Mark D. Pfeiffer, Chief Judge, Presiding, Lisa White Hardwick and Gary D. Witt, Judges

          Lisa White Hardwick, Judge

         Barbara J. Buescher appeals from the circuit court's judgment finding that she owed Jefferson City ("City") $24, 785.33 for nuisance abatement actions that the City took with regard to her properties. She argues that the City does not meet the statutory requirements to collect nuisance abatement fees; the City has no statutory authority to enact ordinances for the abatement of conditions on property; the City's ordinances providing for abatement of nuisances are void because they do not require a hearing prior to the abatement; and the City's ordinances concerning weed and trash control are void because they do not provide for an automatic hearing. For reasons explained herein, we affirm.

         Factual and Procedural History

         Buescher is the owner of several properties in the City. In 2014 and 2015, the City took actions to abate nuisances on her properties, including boarding up windows and doors to secure the buildings, cutting and trimming the yards, and removing weeds and debris. After the City took these actions, the City's code enforcement division certified the costs of each action to the city clerk, who then issued a special tax bill against Buescher for each amount.

         When Buescher failed to pay the special tax bills assessed against her, the City filed a petition. The petition asserted 21 counts[1] of Buescher's failing to pay the costs of abatement actions. During a bench trial on the petition, the City offered into evidence Chapter 21 of the City Code, which contained the City's nuisance ordinances. The City also offered the testimony of the city clerk and the certification of costs and special tax bills for each of the abatement actions for which it was seeking payment. Buescher did not offer any evidence. Following the trial, the court entered judgment in favor of the City and found that Buescher was indebted to the City for $24, 785.33. Buescher appeals.

         Standard of Review

         In this bench-tried case, we will affirm the circuit court's judgment unless there is no substantial evidence to support it, it is against the weight of the evidence, or it erroneously declares or applies the law. Murphy v. Carron, 536 S.W.2d 30, 32 (Mo. banc 1976). We view all of evidence and inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the judgment, disregarding any contrary evidence and inferences. Bolt v. Giordano, 310 S.W.3d 237, 242 (Mo. App. 2010). When, as in this case, neither party has requested that the court enter findings of fact or conclusions of law, we assume that the court resolved all factual issues in accordance with the result. Id. We review questions of law, which include the interpretation of municipal ordinances and the determination of whether they conflict with state law, de novo. City of St. Peters v. Roeder, 466 S.W.3d 538, 543 (Mo. banc 2015).

         Analysis

         In Point I, Buescher contends the circuit court erred in granting judgment in favor of the City because the requirements of Section 67.451, RSMo Cum. Supp. 2013, [2] had not been met. Section 67.451 provides, in pertinent part, "Any city in which voters have approved fees to recover costs associated with enforcement of municipal housing, property maintenance, or nuisance ordinances may issue a special tax bill against the property where such ordinance violations existed." Buescher argues that, pursuant to this language, before a city can issue a special tax bill to recover the costs of nuisance abatement, the voters must approve the recovery of such costs. Buescher asserts that the City did not obtain voter approval and, therefore, has no authority to recover abatement costs by a special tax bill.

         We need not decide whether the City was required to obtain voter approval because, even if we presume that it was, Buescher presented no evidence that the City did not obtain voter approval. As the party challenging the validity of the City's ordinance allowing it to assess and recover abatement costs by issuing a special tax bill, Buescher had the burden of proving the ordinance was invalid because no election was held. "An ordinance enacted pursuant to the valid police power of a municipality is presumed valid, and the party challenging the ordinance bears the burden of proving its invalidity." Bezayiff v. City of St. Louis, 963 S.W.2d 225, 229 (Mo. App. 1997). Indeed, "[t]he burden is on the party contesting the ordinance to negate every conceivable basis which might support it." Id. Buescher did not offer any evidence at trial on this issue and, in fact, did not even mention the issue during the trial. Accordingly, the circuit court did not err in denying Buescher's challenge to the validity of the ordinance on this basis. Point I is denied.

         In Point II, Buescher contends the circuit court erred in entering judgment against her on the 13 counts that sought recovery for the cost of boarding up windows and doors to secure the buildings on her properties. She argues that the City has no authority to enact ordinances to abate these conditions, because Section 67.398.2 provides, "The governing body of any home rule city with more than four hundred thousand inhabitants and located in more than one county may enact ordinances for the abatement of a condition of any lot or land that has vacant buildings or structures open to entry." Buescher notes that the City's population is well under 400, 000. She asserts that no other statute gives the City the authority to enact ordinances allowing it to abate nuisances by boarding up windows and doors on vacant buildings.

         The City is a constitutional charter city. Article VI, section 19(a) of the Missouri ...


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