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Moore v. Bi-State Development Agency

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Second Division

August 27, 2019

MARY J. MOORE, Appellant,

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis Honorable Christopher E. McGraugh.

          Kurt S. Odenwald, Judge.


         Mary J. Moore ("Moore") appeals the trial court's amended judgment reducing her personal injury award against Bi-State Development Agency d/b/a Metro ("Bi-State") from $1, 878 million to $420, 606.00 pursuant to the statutory cap set forth for sovereignly immune public entities in Section 537.610.[1] Moore argues the trial court misapplied the law when granting the remittitur because Section 70.429 mandates that Bi-State comply with all federal safety rules and regulations, including 49 C.F.R. Part 387, [2] which requires Bi-State to satisfy judgments up to five million dollars for personal injuries caused by the negligent operation of its buses carrying sixteen or more passengers. Because Section 70.429 supersedes the statutory cap on damages imposed by Section 537.610, we reverse the judgment of the trial court granting Bi-State's motion for remittitur and remand for the trial court to enter judgment consistent with this opinion.

         Factual and Procedural History

         This personal injury suit arose following a motor vehicle accident involving a Bi-State Call-A-Ride bus and a school bus. Bi-State's Call-A-Ride bus seats sixteen to eighteen passengers. At the time of the accident, Moore was driving the school bus. The Bi-State Call-A-Ride bus collided with the side of the school bus. The collision seriously injured Moore, who brought a personal injury suit against Bi-State.

         The case proceeded to trial on May 7, 2018. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Moore and awarded her $1.878 million in damages. Bi-State moved for remittitur of the damages award, arguing both that the award was excessive and that the award should be reduced pursuant to the liability limitations for public entities set forth in Section 537.610. The trial court granted Bi-State's motion for remittitur in part, ruling that the liability limitations set forth in Section 537.610 controlled. The trial court entered an amended final judgment in accord with the 2018 statutory cap of Section 537.610 and reduced the jury's award to $420, 606.00 plus interest at the rate of 6.25 percent per annum and taxable costs. Moore now appeals.

         Point on Appeal

         In her sole point on appeal, Moore argues the trial court erred in granting Bi-State's motion for remittitur and reducing her personal injury award pursuant to Section 537.610 because Section 70.429, incorporating 49 C.F.R. Part 387, requires Bi-State to satisfy in full the judgment award to her for personal injuries caused by Bi-State's negligent operation of its Call-A-Ride bus.

         Standard of Review

         We review a question of statutory interpretation de novo. Newsome v. Kansas City, Mo. Sch. Dist, 520 S.W.3d 769, 780 (Mo. banc 2017) (internal citation omitted); Brancati v. Bi-State Dev. Agency, 571 S.W.3d 625, 636 (Mo. App. E.D. 2018) (internal citation omitted). "The primary rule of statutory interpretation is to ascertain the intent of the legislature from the language used, to give effect to that intent if possible, and to consider the words in their plain and ordinary meaning." S. Metro. Fire Prot. Dist. v. City of Lee's Summit, 278 S.W.3d 659, 666 (Mo. banc 2009) (internal quotation omitted); see Newsome, 520 S.W.3d at 780 (internal citation omitted).


         Our review of Moore's appeal requires that we interpret and apply two distinct statutes enacted by the Missouri Legislature. We consider legislation specifically drafted to address the Legislature's concerns regarding the safety of public transit systems in light of the Legislature's concurrent desire to limit the scope of financial responsibility by public entities in civil litigation.

         Missouri and Illinois jointly created Bi-State in 1949 through an interstate compact. See Section 70.370, RSMo 1949; 45 Ill.Comp.Stat. 100/1 (1949); Jordan v. Bi-State Dev. Agency, 561 S.W.3d 57, 59-60 (Mo. App. E.D. 2018). The purpose of creating Bi-State was to "provide a unified mass transportation system" benefitting both Missouri and Illinois. Id. (internal citation omitted). Bi-State is a public entity for purposes of sovereign immunity from tort liability. See Section 537.600.3 (defining "public entity" to include "any multistate compact agency created by a compact formed between this state and any other state which has been approved by the Congress of the United States"). While the current Section 537.600.3 unambiguously defines "public entity" to include interstate compact agencies like Bi-State, prior versions of the statute did not. However, in 1988, the Supreme Court of Missouri held Bi-State was a public entity falling under the liability protections of Section 537.600, RSMo 1986. State ex rel. Trimble v.Ryan, 745 S.W.2d 672, 674 (Mo. banc 1988) (citing Section ...

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