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Shaw v. Administrative Hearing Commission

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, First Division

January 9, 2018

ADARINE SHAW, Appellant,
v.
ADMINISTRATIVE HEARING COMMISSION, ET AL., Respondents.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cole County, Missouri The Honorable Patricia S. Joyce, Judge

          Before Cynthia L. Martin, P.J., James Edward Welsh, and Karen King Mitchell, JJ.

          James Edward Welsh, Judge.

         Adarine Shaw appeals the circuit court's judgment affirming the Administrative Hearing Commission's dismissal of her application for attorney's fees as the prevailing party in an earlier proceeding before the Commission. We affirm.

         Background

         On July 6, 2012, Shaw was terminated from her position as a Registered Senior Nurse at the St. Louis Psychiatric Rehabilitation Center by Felix Vincenz, Ph.D. (the Chief Operating Officer and "Appointing Authority"). As an employee of Missouri's Department of Mental Health, Shaw appealed to the Administrative Hearing Commission, and the matter was assigned Case No. 12-1408 PER.[1] On February 21, 2014, the Commission entered its decision in favor of Shaw and ordered Vincenz to reinstate Shaw to her former position. As neither party sought judicial review, the decision became final thirty days later by operation of law.

         On April 3, 2014, having received no notice of appeal in the termination case, the Commission commenced a separate action, Case No. 14-0409 PBP, on the issue of back pay. The Commission set a hearing date to determine Shaw's date of reinstatement and calculation of her back pay. Two years later, on April 15, 2016, the Commission issued its decision in that case. Shaw appealed the decision to the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis, which affirmed in part and reversed in part. Shaw's appeal to the Eastern District of this Court is still pending.

         In the meantime, on January 8, 2015, nearly a year after Shaw prevailed in Case No. 12-1408 PER (the termination case), she filed an application to recover her attorney's fees pursuant to section 536.087. The Commission assigned Shaw's application Case No. 15-0019 AF. Dr. Vincenz filed a motion to dismiss Shaw's fee application as untimely.

         On April 21, 2015, the Commission dismissed Shaw's application because it was filed past the thirty-day deadline in section 536.087.3. The Commission explained that:

[O]nce this Commission has determined that an employee will be reinstated and the parties have let the time for appeal lapse, that determination becomes the final disposition of an agency proceeding, and the application for attorney fees and expenses must be filed within thirty days in accordance with § 536.087.3.

         Shaw appealed the dismissal of her application to the Cole County Circuit Court, and that court affirmed. Shaw now appeals that decision to this Court.

         Standard of Review

         On appeal of a circuit court's judgment reviewing an agency decision, this Court "does not review the circuit court's decision, but rather the agency decision, that is, the [Commission's] findings and conclusions [.]"[2] Mo. Real Estate Appraisers Comm'n v. Funk, 492 S.W.3d 586, 592 (Mo. banc 2016). The grounds upon which a reviewing court may reverse an administrative decision denying attorney's fees are set forth in section 536.087.7. It provides, in pertinent part:

The court may modify, reverse or reverse and remand the determination of fees and other expenses if the court finds that the award or failure to make an award of fees and other expenses . . . was arbitrary and capricious, was unreasonable, was unsupported by competent and substantial evidence, or was made contrary to law or in excess of the court's or agency's jurisdiction.

§ 536.087.7 (emphasis added). We defer to the Commission's findings of fact, but we review questions of law de novo. Snider v. Mo. Highways and Transp. Comm'n, 356 S.W.3d 320, 323 (Mo. App. 2011). The resolution of this appeal involves the interpretation and application of the relevant statutes, which are issues of ...


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