Hedgecorth v. Jones, ED110755

CourtCourt of Appeal of Missouri (US)
Writing for the CourtJames M. Dowd, Judge
PartiesJOSHUA EDWARD HEDGECORTH, Respondent, v. JOHN I. JONES, IV, Appellant.
Docket NumberED110755
Decision Date13 September 2022

JOSHUA EDWARD HEDGECORTH, Respondent,
v.

JOHN I. JONES, IV, Appellant.

No. ED110755

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Fourth Division

September 13, 2022


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Washington County 22WA-CC00130 Honorable Daren L. Adkins

Kelly C. Broniec, P.J., Philip M. Hess, J., and James M. Dowd, J.

James M. Dowd, Judge

Introduction

This expedited appeal involves an election contest filed by Contestant Joshua Hedgecorth ("Hedgecorth") challenging, pursuant to section 115.526[1] of Missouri's election contest law, the qualifications of Contestee John Jones, IV ("Jones") to appear on the primary election ballot as a candidate for Prosecuting Attorney of Washington County. The trial court entered its judgment on June 23, 2022 disqualifying Jones as a candidate.

Jones now asserts on appeal that: (1) the trial court erred by failing to dismiss Hedgecorth's petition because the election contest statute's mandatory deadlines and procedures for the issuance and service of the summons and petition were not followed which deprived the trial court of jurisdiction over this case; (2) the trial court's decision to disqualify Jones on the basis that he did

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not reside in Washington County for at least one year before the November 8, 2022 general election as required by section 56.010 was against the weight of the evidence; and (3) the trial court erred by failing to dismiss Hedgecorth's petition because section 115.127.3's eight-week deadline to remove Jones from the ballot had lapsed which rendered Hedgecorth's petition moot as a matter of law.

We reverse based on our conclusions (1) that section 115.579.1's requirements regarding the issuance and service of the summons and petition apply to this section 115.526 action, and (2) that the failure to comply with those requirements in this case stripped the trial court of the authority to grant Hedgecorth the relief he sought in his petition, i.e., the disqualification of Jones.

Background

On February 22, 2022, Jones filed his application to be a candidate in the August 2, 2022 primary election for the office of Prosecuting Attorney of Washington County. On April 21, 2022, Hedgecorth filed a petition contesting Jones's qualifications to seek or hold that office. Hedgecorth alleged that Jones was not a bona fide resident of Washington County for at least twelve months immediately preceding November 8, 2022, the date of the general election, as required by section 56.010.

The circuit clerk's office issued a summons five days later on April 26, 2022. Jones was personally served with the petition and summons on May 5, 2022, fourteen days after the petition was filed. On May 9, 2022, Jones moved to dismiss the petition contending that the trial court lacked jurisdiction because the summons was not "immediately" issued as required by the election contest statute, nor was Jones served within the time and in the manner prescribed in the statute. The trial court overruled the motion and set the matter for trial. On May 24, 2022, Jones filed a

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petition for writ of prohibition with this Court reiterating his claim that the trial court lacked jurisdiction. This Court denied the writ petition on May 27, 2022.

The matter proceeded to trial on June 6, 2022. On June 9, the trial court entered its judgment finding that since Jones did not satisfy section 56.010's residence requirement, he was disqualified as a candidate for nomination for the office. The court directed the county clerk not to print Jones's name on the primary ballot.

On June 22, 2022, Jones filed a motion to amend the court's judgment asserting that the matter was moot after June 7, 2022 pursuant to section 115.127.3, which states "in no event shall a candidate or issue be stricken or removed from the ballot less than eight weeks before the date of the election." Jones asked that the court withdraw the judgment and dismiss Hedgecorth's petition as moot. On June 23, 2022, the trial court entered its amended judgment disqualifying Jones but removed the instruction to the county clerk that Jones's name not be printed on the official primary ballot. This appeal follows.

Standard of Review

In a court-tried case, this Court will affirm the trial court's judgment unless there is no substantial evidence to support it, unless it is against the weight of the evidence, or unless it erroneously declares or applies the law. Murphy v. Carron, 536 S.W.2d 30, 32 (Mo.banc 1976). The construction of a statute presents a legal question that we review de novo. Silvey v. Bechthold, 499 S.W.3d 760, 762 (Mo. App. W.D. 2016). See, e.g., Miller v. Frank, 519 S.W.3d 472, 475 (Mo. App. E.D. 2017) ("We will examine de novo issues of law, including questions of statutory and constitutional interpretation.").

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Discussion

I.

The task before us is to discern the legislature's intent with respect to the procedures to be followed concerning the issuance and service of the summons and petition in a section 115.526 election contest challenging a candidate's qualifications inasmuch as section 115.526 does not specifically address those issues. To undertake this task, we turn to the well-worn principles of statutory construction. "The primary rule of statutory construction is to determine the intent of the legislature from the language used and give effect to that intent." Wright-Jones v. Johnson, 256 S.W.3d 177, 181 (Mo. App. E.D. 2008). Words are given their plain and ordinary meaning. Id. Additionally, "we construe statutes in such a way as to avoid unreasonable, oppressive, or absurd results." Id. Perhaps most important for purposes of this case, the whole legislative act must be read together, and all provisions should be harmonized if possible. Id.

"Election contest statutes 'are a code unto themselves,' and election contest procedures are 'exclusive and must be strictly followed as substantive law.'" Mosley v. English, 501 S.W.3d 497, 501 (Mo. App. E.D. 2016) (quoting Chastain v. James, 463 S.W.3d 811, 819 (Mo. App. W.D. 2015) (quoting in part Foster v. Evert, 751 S.W.2d 42, 44 (Mo.banc 1988)). "The party requesting relief must bring [himself] within its terms." Id. Moreover, "[s]trict compliance with the election contest statutes is necessary to confer subject matter jurisdiction upon the trial court." Wright-Jones, 256 S.W.3d at 180.[2]

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In sections 115.526 to 115.601, the legislature has laid out the exclusive provisions governing election contests. Since this is a primary election contest, we note that "primary election contests can take three forms. First, before a primary election is held, the election may be contested on the...

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