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State ex rel. Henderson v. Asel

Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc

February 13, 2019



          Paul C. Wilson, Judge

         Relator, Jennifer Henderson ("Henderson"), petitions this Court for a writ of mandamus directing Respondent, the Honorable Jodie Asel ("Respondent"), to enter a judgment in Henderson's case against the Business Loop Community Improvement District, Tom May, and Carrie Gartner ("Defendants"). This Court has the authority to issue original remedial writs pursuant to article V, section 4.1 of the Missouri Constitution. The preliminary writ of mandamus is now made permanent, and Respondent is directed to enter a judgment disposing of Henderson's claims.


         Henderson filed suit against Defendants in the Boone County circuit court, asserting various claims contesting the results of a sales tax election under the Community Improvement District Act ("CID Act"). See § 67.1400 et seq.[1] Defendants filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, arguing the CID Act did not create the right to challenge a CID sales tax election. After a contested hearing, Respondent entered an order sustaining the motion to dismiss, finding the circuit court did not have subject matter jurisdiction. The docket entry for the order (hereinafter, the "Dismissal Order") was titled "Order by Judge Jodie Asel Granting Business Loop CID's Motion to Dismiss." The order taxed costs to Henderson. It stated, "Cause is dismissed in its entirety without prejudice" and was signed "JCA/IV."

         Henderson filed a motion to reconsider. Before Respondent ruled on this motion, Henderson petitioned the court of appeals and, in turn, this Court, for a writ of prohibition. Both petitions were denied. Henderson then filed a motion in the circuit court for Respondent to denominate the Dismissal Order a "judgment" so she could appeal. That motion was overruled.

         Thereafter, Henderson filed a notice of appeal seeking to appeal the Dismissal Order to this Court. She asserted this Court had exclusive appellate jurisdiction under article V, section 3 of the Missouri Constitution because the case involved the validity of a Missouri statute. This Court dismissed her appeal for want of an appealable judgment. Henderson v. Bus. Loop Cmty. Improvement Dist., No. SC95926 (Mo. banc Dec. 20, 2016).

         Citing this Court's decision to dismiss her appeal, Henderson again filed a motion in the circuit court seeking to have Respondent denominate the Dismissal Order a "judgment." Respondent again overruled the motion. Henderson then petitioned the court of appeals for a writ directing Respondent to denominate the Dismissal Order a "judgment," but this petition was denied. Henderson now petitions this Court for the same relief. This Court issued a preliminary writ of mandamus and now makes this writ permanent and orders Respondent to enter a judgment disposing of Henderson's claims.


         "The purpose of the extraordinary writ of mandamus is to compel the performance of a ministerial duty that one charged with the duty has refused to perform." Furlong Cos., Inc. v. City of Kan. City, 189 S.W.3d 157, 165 (Mo. banc 2006). "The writ can only be issued to compel a party to act when it was [her] duty to act without it." Id. at 166. "A litigant asking relief by mandamus must allege and prove that [s]he has a clear, unequivocal, specific right to a thing claimed." Id. This Court will not issue a remedial writ in cases wherein adequate relief can be afforded through an appeal. Rule 84.22(a).

         There is persistent confusion surrounding the issues of what a judgment is, what form it takes, and when it is entered. The first, and most important, of these issues is definitional: a judgment is a legally enforceable judicial order that fully resolves at least one claim in a lawsuit and establishes all the rights and liabilities of the parties with respect to that claim. Cf. Rule 74.01. If a judgment resolves all claims by and against all parties, or it resolves the last such claim and some (but not all) claims have been resolved previously, [2] it is commonly referred to as a "final judgment." State ex rel. Koster v. ConocoPhillips Co., 493 S.W.3d 397, 401 (Mo. banc 2016).

         Judgments are a subset of orders generally. Rule 74.02. As a result, a judgment must be in writing. Rule 74.01(a). In addition, because the foregoing definition of judgment depends upon the court's purpose and intent, a judgment must be denominated "judgment" and signed by the judge[3] to avoid any confusion about whether the court intended to enter a judgment.[4] Id. Finally, because numerous timetables are or may be triggered by the entry of a judgment, see, e.g., Rules 71.05, 72.01(b), and 78.04, a judgment is "entered" when the writing denominated a judgment is signed by the judge and filed. Rule 74.01(a).

         There is no doubt the Dismissal Order was intended to resolve all of Henderson's claims against all Defendants.[5] Accordingly, it was a judgment and must be denominated as such. Respondent has no discretion to resolve claims other than by judgment, and a writ of mandamus is an appropriate remedy to compel Respondent to sign and file a judgment, denominated as such, resolving Henderson's claims.

         This analysis is not affected by whether the circuit court intends or understands the judgment to be "with prejudice" or "without prejudice." That distinction may affect whether a judgment is (or is not) appealable, [6] and whether it does (or does not) preclude a subsequent suit asserting the same claim, see, e.g., Rules 67.01, 67.03, and 67.06, but it has no effect whatsoever on whether a particular writing is a judgment under the definition set forth above. And, if a writing is a judgment under that definition, the question of whether it is "with prejudice" or "without ...

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