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State, ex rel. Gardner v. Stelzer

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Writ Fourth Division

February 13, 2019

STATE OF MISSOURI, ex rel., KIMBERLY M. GARDNER, CIRCUIT ATTORNEY OF THE CITY OF ST. LOUIS, Relator,
v.
HONORABLE MICHAEL F. STELZER, CIRCUIT JUDGE, DIVISION SIX, TWENTY-SECOND CIRCUIT, Respondent.

          Writ of Prohibition City of St. Louis Circuit Court Cause No. 1822-CC11132

          OPINION

          Honorable Mary K. Hoff Judge.

         Relator, Kimberly M. Gardner, Circuit Attorney of the City of St. Louis (Circuit Attorney) seeks a Writ of Prohibition to prevent Respondent, the Honorable Michael F. Stelzer (Respondent or Judge Stelzer) from enforcing his order of December 18, 2018, denying Circuit Attorney's Motion to Quash Subpoena of Chris Hinckley, Chief Warrant Officer for the Circuit Attorney Office (Hinckley), and denying Circuit Attorney's Motion to Dismiss St. Louis Metropolitan Police Officer John Doe's (John Doe) underlying Motion for Temporary Restraining Order and Permanent Injunction (TRO Motion).

         Circuit Attorney also filed Suggestions in Support of Writ of Prohibition, Exhibits, and Motions to Seal Exhibits. This court issued a Preliminary Order in Prohibition and sealed the exhibits. Respondent filed a Combined Motion to Dismiss and Suggestions in Opposition and Exhibits.[1] We dispense with further briefing as permitted by Rule 84.24(i). We make the Preliminary Order in Prohibition permanent.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On September 4, 2018, John Doe filed a TRO Motion against Circuit Attorney and the St. Louis Police Department alleging that on August 28, 2018, he and several other officers of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department were placed on an "exclusion list" by Circuit Attorney without explanation and alleged this was detrimental to his job, reputation, and promotion. John Doe filed a (TRO Motion) prohibiting the dissemination of this "exclusion list" to the public and demanded that the Circuit Attorney be required to indicate the reasoning and procedures established for inclusion on this list.

         On September 5, 2018, Circuit Attorney filed a Motion to Dismiss this action based on the insufficiency of the TRO Motion, alleging that the TRO Motion failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted because John Doe failed to state a cognizable claim. Both the TRO Motion and Circuit Attorney's Motion to Dismiss were heard on September 6, 2018, by Judge Stelzer without a record.

         On September 6, 2018, Judge Stelzer issued an order granting the TRO Motion, which prohibited the voluntary dissemination of the exclusion list, and denied Circuit Attorney's Motion to Dismiss.

         On October 4, 2018, Circuit Attorney filed a Consent Memorandum, consenting to a permanent order and agreeing to keep confidential and refrain from disseminating the exclusion list. Neither the September 6, 2018, order granting the TRO Motion nor the October 4, 2018, consent memorandum addressed John Doe's request for an order mandating Circuit Attorney to provide the reasons or procedures for the placement of officers' names onto the exclusion list.

         On December 6, 2018, Hinckley was served with a subpoena to appear for deposition regarding the exclusion list. On December 7, 2018, Circuit Attorney filed objections and a Motion to Quash Subpoena based on work product, privilege grounds, and infringement of her discretion and authority as elected circuit attorney. On December 18, 2018, Judge Stelzer summarily denied this Motion to Quash after hearing without a record. On January 7, 2019, Circuit Attorney filed this Writ of Prohibition with Suggestions in Support and Exhibits. On January 8, 2019, we issued a Preliminary Order in Prohibition directing Judge Stelzer to refrain from all action in Cause No. 1822-CC11132 until further notice. Thereafter, Judge Stelzer, John Doe, and the St. Louis Police Officers Association filed their Combined Motion to Dismiss and Suggestions in Opposition with attached Exhibits.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         "The writ of prohibition, an extraordinary remedy, is to be used with great caution and forbearance and only in cases of extreme necessity." State ex rel. Gardner v. Boyer, 561 S.W.3d 389, 394 (Mo. banc 2018) (quoting State ex rel. Douglas Toyota III, Inc. v. Keeter, 804 S.W.2d 750, 752 (Mo. banc 1991)). "The essential function of prohibition is to correct or prevent inferior courts and agencies from acting without or in excess of their [authority or] jurisdiction." Id. "Prohibition is a discretionary writ that may be issued to prevent an abuse of judicial discretion, to avoid irreparable harm to a party, or to prevent the exercise of extra-jurisdictional authority." State ex rel. Akers v. Hardy-Senkel, 554 S.W.3d 532, 534 (Mo. App. E.D. 2018). Prohibition will lie if a "petition does not state a viable theory of recovery, and relator was entitled to be dismissed from the suit as a matter of law." State ex rel. Henley v. Bickel, 285 S.W.3d 327, 330 (Mo. banc 2009) (quoting State ex rel. Union Elec. Co. v. Dolan, 256 S.W.3d 77, 81 (Mo. banc 2008)) (internal quotations omitted). Thus, "[i]n the context of a motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action, it has long been held that where a petition reveals that the pleader has not stated and cannot state a cause of action of which the circuit court would have jurisdiction, then prohibition will lie." Id. (internal quotations omitted). "If the complaint is insufficient to justify court action, it is fundamentally unjust to force another to suffer the considerable expense and inconvenience of litigation in addition to being a waste of judicial resources and taxpayer money." State ex rel. Church & Dwight Co., Inc. v. Collins, 543 S.W.3d 22, 26 (Mo. banc 2018) (quoting State ex rel. Union Elec., 256 S.W.3d at 81).

         III. DISCUSSION

         In this Writ of Prohibition, Circuit Attorney argues that Judge Stelzer abused his discretion in refusing to grant Circuit Attorney's Motion to Dismiss the TRO Motion filed by John Doe due to the inadequacy of the TRO Motion. Specifically, she alleges that the TRO Motion failed to plead facts invoking substantive principles of law that entitled John Doe to relief. We agree and find that John Doe's underlying TRO Motion is patently insufficient such that Judge Stelzer abused his discretion in not granting Circuit Attorney's Motion ...


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