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Rebman v. Parson

Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc

April 16, 2019

LAWRENCE G. REBMAN, Respondent,
v.
MIKE PARSON, et al., Appellants.

          APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF COLE COUNTY The Honorable Jon E. Beetem, Judge

          W. BRENT POWELL, JUDGE

         Lawrence Rebman sought a declaratory judgment that an appropriations statute enacted by the general assembly, House Bill No. 2007, is unconstitutional and a permanent injunction to prevent the State[1] from terminating his employment as an administrative law judge (ALJ). The Cole County circuit court declared certain provisions of HB2007 unconstitutional as applied to Rebman. The circuit court severed the unconstitutional language from the statute and permanently enjoined the State from terminating Rebman's employment pursuant to the unconstitutional language. The State appeals. This Court holds restricting funding for the payment of an ALJ's salary based on that ALJ's date of appointment violates the separation of powers requirement of the Missouri Constitution. Rebman, therefore, was entitled to declaratory relief and a permanent injunction to prevent the State from terminating his employment based on the unconstitutional provisions of HB2007. The circuit court's judgment is affirmed.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Rebman is an ALJ employed by the department of labor and industrial relations. ALJs preside over claims filed under the workers' compensation laws and have statutory authority to enter awards and approve settlements. Although serving a decision making role, ALJs are employees of the executive branch of government, not the judicial branch. As such, authority to appoint and remove ALJs is vested solely in the director of the department of labor and industrial relations ("the director"). Rebman was appointed as an ALJ in 2013. While the department is authorized by statute to appoint up to 40 ALJs, the number of ALJs the department actually employs depends on the amount of funding for ALJ salaries appropriated by the general assembly each year.

         Section 287.615.1(1)[2] sets ALJs' compensation at 90 percent of an associate circuit judge's salary. In 2017, the Missouri General Assembly appropriated sufficient funding to pay the salaries of 28 ALJs. In 2018, the general assembly reduced the total appropriation for ALJ salaries by providing sufficient funding to pay the salaries of only 27 ALJs. In addition to reducing the total appropriation for ALJ salaries, the general assembly placed restrictions on how the appropriated funds could be used. Specifically, HB2007 provided the funds appropriated for the payment of ALJ salaries could be used to pay only the salaries of ALJs appointed before 2012 and after 2015. The statute specifically appropriated $2, 480, 240 "[f]or the purpose of funding Administrative Law Judges appointed on or prior to January 1, 2012," and $859, 334 "[f]or the purpose of funding Administrative Law Judges appointed on or after January 1, 2015." Rebman was the only ALJ appointed between 2012 and 2015. The director of the division of workers' compensation ("division director"), therefore, informed Rebman his employment as an ALJ would be terminated when the funding for fiscal 2017 expired because the funding restrictions contained in HB2007 prevented the department from using its appropriated funds to pay his salary.

         In a letter dated May 25, 2018, the division director informed Rebman his employment as an ALJ would terminate June 15, 2018. Rebman filed a declaratory judgment action on June 7, 2018, seeking a declaration that the funding restrictions contained in HB2007 were unconstitutional and a permanent injunction to prevent the State from terminating his employment as an ALJ. Rebman petitioned the circuit court for a temporary restraining order the same day. The circuit court issued a temporary restraining order to prevent the State from terminating Rebman's employment while his case proceeded.[3] The circuit court ultimately entered judgment in favor of Rebman, declaring HB2007 unconstitutional to the extent it restricted the use of funds appropriated for the payment of ALJ salaries based on an ALJ's date of appointment and permanently enjoining the State from terminating Rebman's employment pursuant to the unconstitutional funding restrictions. The State appeals.

         Jurisdiction and Standard of Review

         The circuit court found HB2007 unconstitutional. This Court has exclusive appellate jurisdiction over cases challenging the validity of a statute. Mo. Const. art. V, § 3.

         "When reviewing a declaratory judgment, an appellate court's standard of review is the same as in any other court-tried case." Guyer v. City of Kirkwood, 38 S.W.3d 412, 413 (Mo. banc 2001). "[T]he trial court's decision should be affirmed unless there is no substantial evidence to support it, unless it is against the weight of the evidence, unless it erroneously declares the law, or unless it erroneously applies the law." Id. "Challenges to a statute's constitutional validity are questions of law, which this Court reviews de novo." City of Normandy v. Greitens, 518 S.W.3d 183, 190 (Mo. banc 2017).

         Analysis

         The State raises multiple points on appeal. The central issue is whether an appropriations statute that precludes the director from exercising discretion over certain personnel choices by effectively requiring the termination of a specific ALJ violates the separation of powers requirement of the Missouri Constitution.

         I. HB2007 violates the separation of powers requirement of the Missouri Constitution.

         The separation of powers is a fundamental principle embedded in the Missouri Constitution. Article II, section 1 of ...


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