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Sophian Plaza Association v. City of Kansas City

Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc

October 15, 2019

SOPHIAN PLAZA ASSOCIATION, et al., Respondents,
v.
CITY OF KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI, Appellant.

          Appeal From the Circuit Court of Platte County The Honorable James Van Amburg, Judge.

          Zel M. Fischer, Judge.

         I. Introduction

         The City of Kansas City appeals a judgment in favor of Sophian Plaza Association and a class of similarly situated plaintiffs on claims of breach of injunction, breach of contract, specific performance and civil contempt in connection with City's termination of its trash rebate program. The breach of contract claim is not viable because the underlying contract was merged into the 1976 Modified Judgment at the request of the parties. Neither Sophian Plaza nor the class of similarly situated plaintiffs may bring a contempt action to enforce the 1976 Modified Judgment because they were not parties to the litigation nor were the 1976 plaintiffs certified as a class under Rule 52.08. The circuit court's judgment is reversed.

         II. Background

         In 1971, City enacted an ordinance, § 16.20(a), providing for trash collection for all residences except "trailer parks or buildings containing seven or more dwelling units." In 1975, three lawsuits filed by owners of residences excluded from the trash collection service were consolidated in one suit challenging the constitutional validity of the ordinance. In its April 1976 judgment, the circuit court held the exclusion of trailer parks and buildings with seven or more dwelling units was unconstitutional and entered a mandatory injunction requiring City to provide trash collection services to Graham[1] "unless and until City enacts a valid ordinance which establishes a reasonable and justifiable classification for those persons who are not entitled to refuse collection by City." Both Graham and City filed timely notices of appeal of the April 1976 order.

         On August 31, 1976, City and Graham filed a Stipulation and Agreement ("the Agreement") with the circuit court. The Agreement was signed by Graham's attorney as well as by the assistant city attorney on City's behalf. The Agreement required City to either provide trash services to owners of apartment buildings containing seven or more dwelling units and owners of trailer parks within Kansas City, Missouri, or pay each owner $1.15 per occupied unit per year in lieu of trash services. The Agreement provided the cash payment would be increased or decreased each year by "the same percentage as the increase or decrease in the average cost of providing services" to those dwelling units receiving trash service under the city ordinance. The Agreement also provided City's obligations to provide the trash rebate program would terminate only upon City's termination of its entire trash collection service. Following termination of the trash collection service, City's obligation to provide the trash rebate program would renew should City ever then restore its city-wide trash collection service.

         Before the record on appeal was filed in the court of appeals, and upon the joint request of the parties through the Agreement, the circuit court entered a modified judgment (the "1976 Modified Judgment") declaring § 16.20(a) unconstitutional, adopting and incorporating the Agreement into its judgment at the request of the parties, and entering a mandatory injunction directing City to comply with the terms and conditions of the Agreement.[2] In 1976, City amended its trash collection ordinances in adherence with the 1976 Modified Judgment by formally adopting the trash rebate program into the city code.

         City continued providing the trash rebate program until the city council approved a proposed budget eliminating the program in 2008. In 2010, City effectively eliminated the program by repealing City Code §§ 62-41(a3) and 62-42.

         The class plaintiffs, Sophian Plaza Association, Townsend Place Condominium Association, Inc., and Stadium View Apartments filed a class action petition in 2015, alleging City's elimination of the trash rebate program was a breach of the modified judgment and a breach of the Agreement. The circuit court certified a class consisting of:

All managers and owners of trailer parks, condominiums, apartments and buildings containing seven or more dwelling units located in Kansas City Missouri during the class period May 1, 2010 to the present. Excluded from the class are members of the Heartland Apartment Association as of February 27, 2015.

         After trial, the circuit court entered judgment in favor of the class on its claims for breach of injunction, breach of contract, specific performance, and civil contempt.[3] The circuit court assessed $10, 274, 704 in compensatory damages, required City to "pay $2, 846 per day until it complies with its trash collection obligations[, ]" and ordered City to pay class counsel $1, 362, 562.50 in fees and $59, 035.56 in expenses. The court of appeals affirmed the judgment, and this Court granted transfer.[4]

         III. Analysis

         The circuit court determined members of the class fell within the definition of "Owners" provided in the Agreement.[5] In accord with this determination, the circuit court concluded City breached the Agreement and the class could recover for breach of contract and could receive specific performance of the Agreement. A fatal flaw in the circuit court's conclusion in this regard is that, at the request of Graham and City, the circuit court merged the Agreement into the 1976 Modified Judgment. "[M]erger is the substitution of ...


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