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R.M.A. v. Blue Springs R-IV School District

Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc

February 26, 2019

R.M.A. (A MINOR CHILD), by his next friend: RACHELLE APPLEBERRY, Appellant,
v.
BLUE SPRINGS R-IV SCHOOL DISTRICT and BLUE SPRINGS SCHOOL DISTRICT BOARD OF EDUCATION, Respondents.

          APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF JACKSON COUNTY The Honorable Marco Roldan, Judge.

          ZEL M. FISCHER, CHIEF JUSTICE.

         R.M.A., by his next friend, appeals the circuit court's judgment dismissing with prejudice his petition alleging Defendants, the Blue Springs R-IV School District ("School District") and the Blue Springs School District Board of Education ("School Board"), unlawfully discriminated against him on the grounds of his sex in violation of section 213.065[1] of the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA). Because R.M.A.'s petition alleges facts that (if taken as true, as required by the standard of review) establish the elements of a claim under section 213.065, the judgment of the circuit court is vacated, and the case is remanded. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to article V, section 10, of the Missouri Constitution.

         Background

         In October 2014, R.M.A. filed a charge of discrimination with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights ("Commission") alleging he was discriminated against in a public accommodation on the grounds of his sex. In July 2015, the Commission issued a notice of right to sue, which terminated its administrative proceedings. Then, following an unsuccessful attempt to obtain relief via a writ of mandamus, [2] R.M.A. filed suit in October 2015 against the School District and the School Board (collectively, "Defendants"). R.M.A.'s petition alleges his "legal sex is male" and that, by denying him "access to the boys' restrooms and locker rooms," Defendants have discriminated against him in the use of a public accommodation "on the grounds of his sex" in violation of section 213.065.2.

         In November 2015, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The motion asserts two grounds for dismissal: (1) the MHRA does not cover claims based on gender identity and (2) Defendants are not "persons" as defined by section 213.010(14) and used in section 213.065.2. From September 2015 through May 2016, both R.M.A. and Defendants made numerous filings with the circuit court regarding Defendants' motion to dismiss. Then, in June 2016, the circuit court sustained Defendants' motion to dismiss without explanation and entered judgment dismissing R.M.A.'s petition with prejudice. This timely appeal follows.

         Analysis

         Appellate courts review "a trial court's grant of a motion to dismiss … de novo." Ward v. W. Cty. Motor Co., Inc., 403 S.W.3d 82, 84 (Mo. banc 2013). "A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted is an attack on the plaintiff's pleadings." In re T.Q.L., 386 S.W.3d 135, 139 (Mo. banc 2012). "Such a motion is only a test of the sufficiency of the plaintiff's petition." Id. "When considering whether a petition fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, this Court must accept all properly pleaded facts as true, giving the pleadings their broadest intendment, and construe all allegations favorably to the pleader." Bromwell v. Nixon, 361 S.W.3d 393, 398 (Mo. banc 2012). "The Court does not weigh the factual allegations to determine whether they are credible or persuasive." Id. "Instead, this Court reviews the petition to determine if the facts alleged meet the elements of a recognized cause of action …." Id. (quotation marks omitted).

         Here, R.M.A. asserts he has stated a claim under section 213.065.2, which, in relevant part, provides: "It is an unlawful discriminatory practice for any person, directly or indirectly, to refuse, withhold from or deny any other person … advantages, facilities, services, or privileges made available in any place of public accommodation … or to segregate or discriminate against any such person in the use thereof on the grounds of … sex …." Therefore, the elements of a public accommodation sex discrimination claim under section 213.065 are:

(1) plaintiff is a member of a class protected by section 213.065;
(2) plaintiff was discriminated against in the use of a public accommodation (as defined by section 213.010); and
(3) plaintiff's status as a member of a protected class was a contributing factor[3] in that discrimination.

Cf. Midstate Oil Co., Inc. v. Mo. Comm'n on Human Rights, 679 S.W.2d 842, 846 (Mo. banc 1984) (holding elements of an employment sex discrimination claim under section 213.055 are: "that complainant [(1)] was a member of a class protected by § 296.020.1; [(2)] that she was discharged; and [(3)] that a gender-related trait - pregnancy - was a factor in respondent's decision to discharge her").

         As is often said, Missouri is a fact-pleading state. ITT Commercial Fin. Corp. v. Mid-Am. Marine Supply Co., 854 S.W.2d 371, 379-80 (Mo. banc 1993). But the facts that must be pleaded are the ultimate facts, not evidentiary facts. Scheibel v. Hillis, 531 S.W.2d 285, 290 (Mo. banc 1976). Ultimate facts are those the jury must find to return a verdict for the plaintiff. Johnson v. Auto Handling Corp., 523 S.W.3d 452, 463 (Mo. banc 2017) (concluding "a not-in-MAI instruction must follow substantive law by submitting the ultimate facts necessary to sustain a verdict") (quotation marks and alteration omitted).

         There is no Missouri Approved Instruction (MAI) for submitting a plaintiff's public accommodation claim under section 213.065 to a jury. But MAI 38.01(A), which applies to employment discrimination claims under section 213.055, can be made applicable with only minor modifications. Using MAI 38.01(A) as the starting point, therefore, a verdict director in this case would state (in substance if not in form):

         Your verdict must be for plaintiff [R.M.A.] if you believe:

First, defendants [School District and School Board] denied plaintiff full and equal use and enjoyment of the males' restroom and locker room facilities at defendants' school, and
Second, plaintiff's male sex was a contributing factor in such denial, and
Third, as a direct result of such conduct, plaintiff sustained damage.

         With these elements identified, the analysis required to resolve R.M.A.'s appeal is simple and straightforward.[4] This analysis, of course, requires a faithful application of the standard of review. See, e.g., In re T.Q.L., 386 S.W.3d at 139 ("[T]his Court assumes that the allegations set forth are true and liberally grants the plaintiff reasonable inferences based on those allegations.").[5]

         The first element is the defendants denying the plaintiff "full and equal use and enjoyment" of a public accommodation. § 213.065.1. R.M.A. alleges Defendants have denied him (and, in 2015 when the petition was filed, were continuing to deny him) "access to the boys' restrooms and locker rooms." Petition at ¶ 31, R.M.A. v. Blue Springs School R-IV Dist. (No. 1516-CV20874) (Cir. Court Jackson County, Sept. 25, 2015). See also id. at ¶ 27 (alleging "Defendants refused to give R.M.A. access to the boys' locker room and restrooms when he requested such access while attending Delta Woods Middle School"); id. at ¶ 40 (alleging Defendants "refused to give him access to the boys' locker rooms"); id. at ¶ 42 (R.M.A. "has been required to use separate bathrooms from other boys on a daily basis and has been denied access to the boys' locker room if he wishes to participate in boys' P.E. or athletic activities."). A school's restrooms and locker rooms constitute public accommodations as defined in section 213.010(15)(e).[6] Thus, R.M.A.'s petition alleges facts sufficient to satisfy this first element.

         The second element is the plaintiff's membership in a protected class. Section 213.065 protects the following classes: "race, color, religion, national origin, sex, ancestry, or disability," and the petition specifically alleges that "R.M.A.'s legal sex is male." Petition at ¶ 25. Accordingly, R.M.A.'s petition pleads facts sufficient to satisfy the second element.[7]

         The third element is that plaintiff's sex[8] was a contributing (or motivating) factor in the denial of his use of a public accommodation. § 213.065.2. R.M.A. alleges he was "discriminated against in his use of a public accommodation on the grounds of his sex." Petition at ¶ 50. See also id. at ¶ 35 ("Defendants have discriminated and continue to discriminate against Plaintiff R.M.A. based on his sex."); id. at ΒΆ 43 ("Plaintiff received different and inferior access to public facilities ...


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