Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Third Division
from the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis 1022-CC03827
Honorable Jason M. Sengheiser
M. Gaertner, Jr., Presiding Judge
suit involves the payment of court costs in an action by the
Collector of Revenue of the City of St. Louis (Collector) to
recover delinquent personal property taxes owed by Greg Wiley
(Wiley). Wiley filed a motion to tax or retax costs,
requesting a full refund of the $177.00 he paid in court
costs, arguing that he should not be liable for costs that
the Collector as plaintiff was statutorily exempt from
paying. The trial court granted Wiley a partial refund, and
both Wiley and the Collector appeal. We affirm in part and
reverse in part.
Collector filed a petition against Wiley on June 30, 2010, to
collect delinquent personal property taxes in the amount of
$269.87. The petition also requested court costs in the
amount of $177.00. Wiley was served on August 31, 2010. Wiley
paid his delinquent personal property taxes and the court
costs, but he also sent a letter to the Collector and the
Circuit Attorney of the City of St. Louis noting he was
paying the court costs under protest. On June 16, 2011, the
Collector dismissed its petition with prejudice, noting Wiley
had "tendered Cost of [Collector]."
Wiley filed a petition for declaratory judgment including
several claims, contesting the $177.00 in court
costs. The trial court issued a judgment in favor
of the Collector, which Wiley appealed to this Court. This
Court determined that Wiley's exclusive remedy for
contesting court costs was through a motion to retax costs
under Section 514.270 and dismissed Wiley's appeal in that
respect. Wiley v. Daly. 472 S.W.3d 257, 266 (Mo.
App. E.D. 2015). On July 6, 2016, Wiley filed a motion to tax
or retax court costs, pursuant to Section 514.260 (tax) or
Section 514.270 (retax). After a hearing, the trial court
found that the Circuit Clerk for the 22nd Judicial
Circuit (Clerk) had taxed 12 various fees making up the
$177.00 in court costs. The trial court determined six of
them were improperly taxed to Wiley, resulting in a refund of
$90.00. This appeal follows.
contests the remaining court costs, totaling $87.00, arguing
the trial court erred in allowing the Collector to tax these
costs against him. The Collector cross-appeals, arguing that
all costs taxed to Wiley were authorized by Missouri state
statutes. We review all costs taxed to Wiley.
amounts of each court cost taxed here are fixed by statute
and therefore do not require judicial determination. See
Fisher v. Spray Planes, Inc., 814 S.W.2d 628, 633 (Mo.
App. E.D. 1991): see also Givens v. Warren. 905
S.W.2d 130, 133 (Mo. App. E.D. 1995) (distinguishing cost
requiring judicial finding before cost may be taxed). On a
motion to retax such court costs, the trial court exercises a
ministerial duty, initially held by the circuit clerk, to
assess court costs or to correct errors made by the clerk in
taxing court costs. See Fisher, 814 S.W.2d at 633.
The propriety of each cost depends on the applicability of
the corresponding statute. Statutory interpretation is a
question of law, which we review de novo. See Gash v.
Lafayette County, 245 S.W.3d 229, 232 (Mo. banc 2008).
"[S]tatutes allowing for costs are to be strictly
construed." In Interest of J.P., 947 S.W.2d
442, 444 (Mo. App. W.D. 1997): see also In re
Thomasson. 159 S.W.2d 626, 628 (Mo. 1942).
argument is essentially that he cannot be liable for court
costs in this particular case because the Collector did not
actually incur any costs. We disagree.
514.060 provides that "[i]n all civil actions, or
proceedings of any kind, the party prevailing shall recover
his costs against the other party, except in those cases in
which a different provision is made by law,
" A party prevails not only by obtaining a
favorable judgment, but also by obtaining a settlement, a
voluntary dismissal of a groundless complaint, or a favorable
decision on a single significant issue in the underlying
case. Greenbriar Hills Country Club, 47 S.W.3d 346.
353 (Mo. banc 200R We also find that where, as here, a
defendant pays a requested monetary claim before the trial
court enters judgment on that claim, and the plaintiff
subsequently dismisses the suit on that basis, the plaintiff
has "prevailed" in that the plaintiff
"obtained the substance of what he sought."
Hewitt v. Helms. 482 U.S. 755, 761 (1987). Thus, the
Collector is the prevailing party here.
objects, however, because Section 514.060 provides that the
prevailing party collects "his costs, " and here,
the Collector did not incur costs due to a statutory
exemption. Section 140.730 provides the procedure for
collecting delinquent personal property taxes, and it states
in relevant part that "in no case shall the state,
county, city or collector be liable for any costs nor shall
any be taxed against them." Section 140.730.2.
Accordingly, the Clerk did not require the Collector to pay
any statutory fees that would ordinarily be due upon filing a
we find it does not follow that no costs are chargeable in
this case. The legislature has imposed various costs in order
to maintain the functioning of this state's judicial
system. At the same time, the legislature has relieved the
State of the burden of paying costs upon filing suit,
presumably in this situation to avoid burdening the general
revenue with the cost of recovering delinquent tax revenue.
If the Clerk had charged the Collector statutory filing fees,
regardless of the outcome of the litigation, the Collector
would receive a refund, either because the defendant would
pay court costs as a non-prevailing party, or because even if
the Collector did not prevail, Section 140.730.2 exempts the
Collector from liability for court costs. We do not believe
the Clerk's choice, therefore, not to collect statutory
court costs upon filing from the Collector, requires the
conclusion that such court costs do not apply. Rather than
eliminating costs altogether, Section 140.730.2 is intended
as an exception for the State to the general rule that
parties are liable for their own costs of litigation. See
State ex rel. Gottlieb v. Wilson, 74 S.W. 636, 637
(Mo. 1903) (discussing prior version of similar statute
exempting State from liability for costs). Additionally, the
Missouri Supreme Court has recognized that in some
situations, costs may be taxable even where the plaintiff had
not initially ...