Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Fourth Division
THE BI-STATE DEVELOPMENT AGENCY OF THE MISSOURI-ILLINOIS METROPOLITAN DISTRICT, Appellant,
ALISA WARREN, THE MISSOURI COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS, and SCOTT GUSTAFSON, Respondents.
from the Circuit Court of Cole County, Missouri The Honorable
Jon E. Beetem, Judge
Before: Karen King Mitchell, Chief Judge, and Victor C.
Howard and Alok Ahuja, Judges
King Mitchell, Chief Judge
Bi-State Development Agency of the Missouri-Illinois
Metropolitan District, doing business as Metro, Metro
Transit, and MetroLink, (Bi-State) appeals from a judgment
dismissing its petition for writs of mandamus and prohibition
and de novo judicial review of a right-to-sue letter
issued to Scott Gustafson by the Missouri Commission on Human
Rights (MCHR). Bi-State argues that the circuit court erred
in dismissing its petition because: (1) the MCHR failed to
abide by a settlement agreement involving the same
allegations of discrimination (Point I); (2) the MCHR lacked
jurisdiction over Bi-State due to its interstate compact
status (Point II); (3) the court was required to conduct an
evidentiary hearing (Point III); (4) the MCHR was equitably
estopped from challenging Bi-State's right to seek
judicial review because the right-to-sue letter stated that
any party aggrieved by issuance of the letter had a right to
seek such review (Point IV); and (5) the court improperly
relied on facts not alleged in Bi-State's petition (Point
V). Finding that dismissal was appropriate under State ex
rel. Tivol Plaza, Inc. v. Mo. Commission on Human
Rights, 527 S.W.3d 837 (Mo. banc 2017), we affirm.
is blind and uses a guide dog to navigate. Gustafson lives in
the City of St. Louis and relies on public transportation
when he travels; he is a regular customer of
2006, Gustafson filed both an initial and an amended
Complaint of Discrimination with the MCHR (the 2006
complaint), alleging that Bi-State had violated the Missouri
Human Rights Act (MHRA) by denying him access to its public
transit services based on his disability. Gustafson alleged
that, on or about October 10, 2006, Bi-State had
discriminated against him by requiring him to seek out a
ticket agent to purchase tickets. Gustafson also alleged
that, on October 10, 2006, "prior and continuing,"
Bi-State had discriminated against him on the basis of his
disability by passing by him at bus stops, not calling out
stops, and not locating ticket and validation machines in the
same location within each station.
2008, the MCHR found probable cause to credit Gustafson's
allegations that he was denied service due to his disability
and that he was not allowed equal services due to his
disability. Following an administrative proceeding
initiated by the MCHR, Bi-State and the MCHR executed a
settlement agreement in September 2011 resolving those
allegations. Paragraph 11 of the settlement agreement stated,
in pertinent part, that the "MCHR will not proceed with
any administrative or legal action on behalf of [Gustafson]
with respect to any matter raised or which could have been
raised by [him] prior to the date of this Agreement." In
Paragraph 13 of the agreement, the MCHR, on its behalf and on
behalf of Gustafson, released Bi-State
from any and all charges, claims, suits, demands, debts,
liens, liabilities, costs, expenses, actions, and causes of
action, of every kind and nature, whether known or unknown,
suspected or unsuspected, that [Gustafson] had, now has, or
which he may have against [Bi-State] arising out of, related
to or based upon any facts or events which occurred on or
prior to the date of this Agreement, including but not
limited to, any charge, claim, suit or action arising under
or relating to the full and equal use and enjoyment of public
places of accommodation, including, without limitation, the
MHRA, § 213.065, et seq.
Gustafson participated in the settlement discussions, he did
not personally intervene in the administrative action or sign
the settlement agreement, nor did he challenge it.
April 2014, Gustafson filed another Complaint of
Discrimination, which he amended in November of that year
(the 2014 complaint). He alleged multiple violations of the
MHRA by Bi-State, including buses failing to pick him up at
designated stops on the following dates: December 26, 2013;
June 13, 2014; and August 5, 2014. He also alleged that
Bi-State failed to provide assistive technology on its
website or at ticket and transfer machines, adequate markers
at bus stops, and audible announcements about routes,
transfer points, and stops.
November 30, 2015, the MCHR issued a right-to-sue letter to
Gustafson. The letter stated, "This notice of right to
sue is being issued as required by Section 213.111.1, RSMo,
because it has been requested in writing 180 days after
filing of the  complaint. Please note that
administrative processing of this complaint, including
determination of jurisdiction, has not been completed."
The letter advised Gustafson that the MCHR was
administratively closing the case and terminating all MCHR
proceedings regarding his 2014 complaint. The letter also
stated, "if any party is aggrieved by this action of the
MCHR, that party may appeal the decision by filing a petition
under § 536.150 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri in
the . . . circuit court of Cole County."
December 23, 2015, Gustafson filed a lawsuit in St. Louis
County, alleging Bi-State violated the MHRA. Seven days later,
Bi-State filed the present lawsuit in the Circuit Court of
Cole County, seeking preliminary and permanent writs of
mandamus and prohibition against the MCHR and its Executive
Director Alisa Warren and de novo judicial review.
The MCHR, Warren, and Gustafson moved to dismiss
Bi-State's petition for failure to state a claim upon
which relief can be granted under Rule
55.27(a)(6). While the motions to dismiss were pending,
Bi-State moved for leave to file an amended petition. The
court granted Bi-State leave to amend and issued preliminary
writs of mandamus/prohibition to the MCHR and Warren,
requesting they file a pleading to the amended petition and
serve the pleading on Bi-State.
amended petition requested a writ of mandamus requiring the
MCHR and Warren to withdraw Gustafson's right-to-sue
letter, a writ of prohibition to prevent the MCHR and Warren
from issuing another right-to-sue letter against Bi-State on
Gustafson's behalf, and de novo judicial review
of the MCHR's decision to issue a right-to-sue letter
based on the 2014 complaint. Bi-State offered three reasons
the writs of mandamus and prohibition should issue: (1) as
the creation of an interstate compact, Bi-State is not
subject to the MHRA; (2) the MCHR had an obligation to
determine its authority and jurisdiction before issuing the
right-to-sue letter; and (3) the allegations in the 2014
complaint mirror those in the 2006 complaint, and those
allegations were resolved by the 2011 settlement
the circuit court indicated its intention to rule on the
motions to dismiss and asked the parties to submit proposed
judgments. Bi-State objected, claiming that it had the right
to offer evidence, including documents showing that the MCHR
had found no probable cause to support some of the
allegations in the 2006 complaint and an internal email
indicating that MCHR personnel tasked with investigating the
2014 complaint were aware of the 2011 settlement agreement.
Bi-State argued that this evidence was sufficient to raise
the question of whether the MCHR's decision to issue the
right-to-sue letter was unlawful, unreasonable, arbitrary,
capricious, or involved an abuse of discretion. Also in
support, Bi-State cited a recent decision by the Eastern
District of this court holding that the MHRA did not apply to
Bi-State because it is an interstate compact entity.
circuit court rejected Bi-State's arguments and entered
judgment on February 9, 2018, granting the MCHR's motion
to dismiss Bi-State's amended petition. The court
concluded that the MCHR had properly issued the right-to-sue
letter and closed its administrative proceeding. Bi-State
filed a motion for new trial or motion to reconsider, again
arguing that it had the right to present evidence. On June 6,
2018, the circuit court entered an amended judgment
dismissing Bi-State's amended petition with prejudice.
The circuit court based its decision on three facts, which
the court found to be undisputed: (1) Gustafson filed a
complaint with the MCHR; (2) the MCHR did not render a
decision on Gustafson's complaint within 180 days of its
filing; and (3) Gustafson requested a right-to-sue letter. On
those facts, the circuit court concluded that mandamus would
not lie. Bi-State appeals.
appeal will lie from the denial of a writ petition when a
lower court has issued a preliminary order in mandamus but
then denies a permanent writ." Tivol Plaza, 527
S.W.3d at 841 (quoting U.S. Dep't of Veterans Affairs
v. Boresi, 396 S.W.3d 356, 358 (Mo. banc 2013)).
"An appellate court reviews the denial of a petition for
a writ of mandamus for an abuse of discretion. An abuse of
discretion in denying a writ occurs when the circuit court
misapplies the applicable statutes." Id.
(quoting Boresi, 396 S.W.3d at 359). But we review
questions of law de novo. Laut v. City of
Arnold, 491 S.W.3d 191, 196 (Mo. banc 2016). Thus, we
review de novo the legal question of whether the
court may direct the MCHR to determine its authority or
jurisdiction to process a complaint before issuing a
right-to-sue letter when the 180-day window following the
complaint has passed and the complainant requests a
right-to-sue letter. See Tivol Plaza, 527 S.W.3d at
841 (Court reviewed de novo legal question of
whether statute permitted the circuit court to direct the
MCHR to continue to process a complaint once the MCHR has
issued a right-to-sue letter after 180 days had passed).
"[w]e review the dismissal for failure to state a claim
upon which relief can be granted de novo."
Jordan v. Bi-State Dev. Agency, 561 S.W.3d 57, 59
(Mo. App. E.D. 2018). In doing so, we review the petition
"in an almost academic manner, to determine if the facts
alleged meet the elements of a recognized cause of
action." Id. (quoting State ex rel. Henley
v. Bickel, 285 S.W.3d 327, 329 (Mo. banc 2009)).
"In order to avoid dismissal, the petition must invoke
substantive principles of law entitling plaintiff to relief
and . . . ultimate facts informing the defendant of that
which plaintiff will attempt to establish at trial."
Id. (quoting Otte v. Edwards, 370 S.W.3d
898, 900 (Mo. App. E.D. 2012)) (internal quotations omitted).
analyzing Bi-State's points on appeal, we first consider
the MCHR's authority to issue right-to-sue letters under
MHRA Right-to-Sue Letters
MHRA authorizes the MCHR "[t]o receive, investigate,
initiate, and pass upon complaints alleging
discrimination." § 213.030.1(7). "[A]ny
person claiming to be aggrieved by an unlawful discriminatory
practice may make, sign and file with the commission a
verified complaint in writing, within one hundred eighty days
of the alleged act of discrimination . . . ." §
213.075.1. After receiving the complaint, the agency shall
"promptly investigate the complaint" to determine
whether "probable cause exists for crediting the
allegations of the complaint." § 213.075.3.
the director determines after the investigation that probable
cause exists for crediting the allegations of the complaint,
the executive director shall immediately endeavor to
eliminate the unlawful discriminatory practice . . . ."
Id. If, however, the MCHR does not complete the
administrative processing of the complaint within 180 days
from the date it was ...