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Bartlett v. Missouri Department of Insurance

Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc

August 22, 2017

BARBARA BARTLETT, et al., Appellants,
v.
MISSOURI DEPARTMENT OF INSURANCE and CHLORA LINDLEY-MYERS, Respondents.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cole County, Missouri The Honorable Jon E. Beetem, Judge[1]

          PER CURIAM.

         Rule 94 prescribes the practice, procedure, and pleading for mandamus proceedings in circuit court, including the requirement that a circuit court issue a preliminary writ before an answer and decision on the merits. Here, the circuit court issued summonses rather than a preliminary writ. But the "practice of issuing a summons in lieu of a preliminary writ is not authorized by Rule 94, " and this Court will not exercise its discretion to treat the summonses as a preliminary writ in this case. U.S. Dep't of Veterans Affairs v. Boresi, 396 S.W.3d 356, 359 n.1 (Mo. banc 2013) (warning that this Court "is not required to exercise its discretion in like manner in the future"). As such, the appeal is dismissed.

         I.

         On November 9, 2012, two former employees of the Missouri Department of Insurance, Barbara Bartlett and Shawn Hernandez ("Employees"), filed a "Petition for Writ of Mandamus-Class Action" in Jackson County circuit court. Employees requested a writ of mandamus directing the department and its director (collectively, "Department") to pay Employees for lost wages and pensions. The circuit court's administrator, uncertain how to characterize the filing, sent a note asking Employees if the filing should be "handled as a Writ or a regular Jackson County case? If handled as a Writ of Mandamus, please refer to the Missouri Court Rules." Employees responded, instructing: "Please file the above styled case as a regular Jackson County Case and not as a Writ."

         In compliance with Employees' instructions, summonses for a civil case were issued by the circuit court and served. The case was subsequently transferred to Cole County circuit court, and the Department filed a motion to dismiss. In its motion, the Department argued, in part, that Employees "fail[ed] to satisfy the elements for a writ of mandamus and fail[ed] to satisfy the procedural requirements for mandamus under Missouri Supreme Court Rule 94.03." Employees then filed a "First Amended Petition for Writ of Mandamus, " styling themselves as relators in the writ petition and attaching suggestions in support and exhibits. The circuit court overruled the motion to dismiss, finding "mandamus an appropriate remedy" and directing the Department to file an answer.

         The Department filed a "General Objection and Answer" asserting "the circuit court is empowered to issue but one type of order; a preliminary order in mandamus." After the answer was filed, Employees sought leave to file a "Second Amended Petition for Writ of Mandamus" and, in an effort to "file a complete writ" that "fully complies with Rule 94.03, " they filed suggestions in support of their petition along with exhibits. The Department once again objected and argued Employees failed to comply with Rule 94 and were not entitled to a writ of mandamus. Specifically, the Department argued:

This case is not a civil tort action and was brought over two years ago as a petition for writ of mandamus. … Relators concede on the face of their Amended Motion that their prior attempts failed to support their claim for writ and failed to supply the required material under Rule 94.03.

         The parties eventually filed competing motions for summary judgment. On December 31, 2015 - more than three years after the initial filing - the circuit court entered the following "judgment:"

The Court finds that Relators have failed to establish a basis for mandamus in that they cannot establish what they should have been paid, except to the extent that it should be more. Mandamus requires a showing of a clearly established right.
Independently, while as this Court has previously found that mandamus is the proper cause of action to compel a payment, the doctrine of sovereign immunity bars this action under the facts established.
The Court sustains the Respondents' Motion for Summary Judgment.
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that Relators' request for a Writ of Mandamus is denied and judgment is entered in favor of Respondents. All other claims for relief, not expressly granted herein, are denied. Costs taxed to the Relators.

         Employees appealed, and this Court granted transfer after opinion by the court of appeals. Se ...


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