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Heller v. City of ST. Louis

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Fourth Division

June 25, 2019

ELIZABETH HELLER, et al. Appellants,
v.
CITY OF ST. LOUIS, et al. Respondents.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis 1722-CC11009 Honorable Joan L. Moriarty

          GARY M GAERTNER, JR., JUDGE.

         Introduction

         This is an appeal from a decision of the Excise Division of the Department of Public Safety for the City of St. Louis (Division), granting a full drink license, full Sunday drink license, and summer garden permit to Up-Down STL, LLC (Up-Down) for operation of its business at 403-411 N. Euclid Ave. Appellants are residents living in the vicinity of the property. Appellants argue that the Division violated the applicable City ordinance by failing to consider whether granting Up-Down's license application would be a detriment to the neighborhood, and by refusing to accept evidence regarding detriment at the public hearing on the license application. Appellants further argue the Division failed to find facts regarding detriment to the neighborhood in its decision granting Up-Down's license application. Because we agree the Division's findings are inadequate, we reverse and remand.

         Background

         In February of 2016, Up-Down applied for a full drink license, full Sunday drink license, [1] and summer garden permit for the premises located at 403- 11 N. Euclid Avenue in the City of St. Louis. Upon receiving notice of Up-Down's application, Appellant Elizabeth Heller (Heller) submitted a letter of protest containing the signatures of 12 property owners in the surrounding neighborhood.

         On May 17, 2017, the Division held a hearing regarding the license application pursuant to City Ordinance No. 68536, Section Nine, Chapter 14.08. At the hearing, the Division's Commissioner heard evidence from both Up-Down and Heller regarding the signatures collected both in support of and in protest of the application for a liquor license. After ruling on objections regarding signatures, the parties began to discuss the character of the neighborhood and a "Good Neighbor Agreement" that Up-Down had submitted as evidence. Heller expressed that such an agreement was not enforceable and did not adequately address the protestors' concerns.

         The Commissioner then told the parties that such documents will not affect his decision at that particular hearing because he was concerned only with the validity of the signatures. He stated that there would be a protest hearing in the future at which he would hear additional evidence and consider the 13 factors regarding detriment to the neighborhood. The Commissioner subsequently stated he was going to approve Up-Down's application but give two weeks to determine what terms and conditions he might impose on the license. During that time, he said he would accept additional evidence from anyone who wished to submit it and would go visit the premises to further determine terms and conditions that would address the neighbors' concerns.

         On July 20, 2017, the Commissioner issued findings of fact and conclusions of law accompanying the grant of Up-Down's application for a liquor license. The Commissioner found that the protest petition did not contain enough valid signatures to merit a protest hearing, but he noted that he had heard the protesters' concerns at the original hearing and had had additional discussions with Heller when he visited the subject property. The decision includes 14 terms and conditions the Commissioner imposed on Up-Down's operation of its business in light of its location, Appellants sought administrative review in the circuit court. The Circuit Court affirmed the Commissioner's decision, finding that the Division's record was adequate and Appellants failed to demonstrate that the decision was not supported by competent and substantial evidence upon the whole record; that it was arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable; or that the Division abused its discretion. This appeal follows.

         Standard of Review

         In our review of an administrative decision, we review the decision of the agency, not of the circuit court. Sanders v. Firemen's Retirement Sys. of St. Louis. 393 S.W.3d 135, 137 (Mo. App. E.D. 2013). Administrative review of a contested case, as here, is governed by Section 536.140, [2] which authorizes this Court to determine whether the action of the agency

(1) Is in violation of constitutional provisions;
(2) Is in excess of the statutory authority or jurisdiction of the agency;
(3) Is unsupported by competent and substantial evidence upon ...

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