Lane v. Lensmeyer, No. WD 62084 (MO 5/18/2004)

Decision Date18 May 2004
Docket NumberNo. WD 62084,WD 62084
PartiesHENRY G. LANE, et al., Appellants, v. PATRICIA S. LENSMEYER, Boone County Collector, and COLUMBIA 93 SCHOOL DISTRICT, Respondents.
CourtMissouri Supreme Court

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Boone County, Missouri, The Honorable Frank Conley, Judge.

Craig S. Johnson, Jefferson City, MO, for Appellants.

John L. Patton, Columbia, MO, for Respondent Lensmeyer.

Alex Bartlett, Jefferson City, MO, Attorney for Respondent Columbia 93 School District.

Before Breckenridge, P.J., and Smith and Howard, JJ.


Henry Lane, Lloyd Haley, Curtis Braschler, Gordon L. Trumbo, Beulah F. Alverson, Ernest W. Greenup, Ronald M. Lucas, and William and Margie Anglen appeal the judgment of the Circuit Court of Boone County for the respondents, the Columbia 93 School District (the District) and Patricia S. Lensmeyer, the Boone County Collector (the Collector), on the appellants' amended petition seeking: (1) in Count I, a declaration of the court that the District's 2001 tax levy was in excess of that permitted by § 67.110.2;1 and (2) in Count II, a refund from the Collector of the property taxes that were collected from them as a result of the District's alleged erroneous and excessive 2001 tax levy.

The appellants raise three points on appeal. In Point I, they claim that the trial court erred in entering judgment in favor of the respondents on the appellants' amended petition because it misapplied § 67.110.2. In Point II, they claim that the trial court erred in overruling their motion for class certification because, by finding that sovereign immunity prohibited class certification, the court misapplied the law. In Point III, they claim that the trial court erred in sustaining the Collector's motion to join the District as a necessary and indispensable party defendant because, in doing so, the court misapplied § 139.031.5.

We affirm, in part, and reverse, in part.


On June 11, 2001, the District adopted its "2001-2002 School Year Budget," reflecting declared needs from local property taxes of $56,232,505. On August 15, 2001, the District published a notice announcing that a public hearing would be held August 23, 2001, on the proposed tax levy, which was $4.7544 per $100 assessed valuation. The hearing was held, which Lane attended. Based on its declared needs and the total assessed valuation of $1,281,852,353, the District adopted the proposed levy. In November 2001, the Collector dispersed the 2001 tax bills, including those of the appellants, reflecting taxes due the District based on a levy of $4.7544 per $100 assessed valuation.

On November 6, 2001, Lane filed a two-count petition against the District in the Circuit Court of Boone County, seeking: (1) in Count I, a declaration of the court declaring that the District's 2001 tax rate was in excess of that permitted by § 67.110.2; and (2) in Count II, an injunction requiring the District to revise its 2001 levy to conform to § 67.110.2. Lane and the District were the only named parties. On January 4, 2002, Lane filed a written motion for leave to amend his petition. On January 14, 2002, Lane's motion was taken up and sustained, authorizing the filing of an amended petition, which occurred on the same date. The amended petition named as plaintiffs Lane and the other appellants. The Collector was named as the sole defendant in the amended petition. On April 30, 2002, at the request of the Collector, the District was added as an indispensable party defendant. In their two-count amended petition, the appellants sought: (1) in Count I, a declaration of the court declaring that the District's 2001 tax levy was in excess of that permitted by § 67.110.2; and (2) in Count II, a refund from the Collector of the property taxes that were collected from them as a result of the District's alleged excessive 2001 tax rate. In support of their petition, the appellants alleged that the District's 2001 levy was not "calculated to produce substantially the same revenues as required in the annual budget," as required by § 67.110.2, in that it would produce $57,287,725, $1,055,220 more than the District's declared needs of $56,232,505.

On June 21, 2002, the appellants filed a motion for class certification. They sought certification on behalf of themselves and "[a]ll persons or entities paying property taxes determined by the tax levy rate of the Columbia 93 School District for calendar year 2001 to the Boone County Collector." In their suggestions in opposition, both the District and the Collector asserted that, as a matter of law, class certification was prohibited under the existing circumstances by the doctrine of sovereign immunity. The appellants' motion for class certification was taken up and heard on August 2, 2002, and was denied on August 21, 2002. The trial court "specifically [found] and [determined] that as a matter of law a class action cannot be certified in this case and that the [appellants] should not be appointed as class representatives."

On August 23, 2002, the appellants' amended petition for declaratory judgment and a tax refund was taken up and heard by the court. At trial, the appellants and the District presented evidence; however, the Collector did not. Having taken the cause under advisement, the trial court, on September 27, 2002, entered judgment for the respondents, finding that the District's levy of $4.7544 per $100 assessed valuation did not violate § 67.110.2.

This appeal follows.

Appellate Jurisdiction

In every case, before addressing the merits of the appeal, we first have to determine our jurisdiction, sua sponte. Nicholson Constr. Co. v. Mo. Highway & Transp. Comm'n, 112 S.W.3d 6, 9 (Mo. App. 2003) (citing Comm. for Educ. Equal. v. State, 878 S.W.2d 446, 450 (Mo. banc 1994)). Without jurisdiction, we must dismiss the appeal. Id. (citing Gibson v. Brewer, 952 S.W.2d 239, 244 (Mo. banc 1997)).

In determining our jurisdiction, here, we first address the issue of whether the trial court should have dismissed, for failing to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, pursuant to Rule 55.27(a)(6),2 Count I of the appellants' amended petition, in which they sought a declaration of the court that the District's 2001 tax levy was in excess of that permitted by § 67.110.2. Parshall v. Buetzer, 121 S.W.3d 548, 551 (Mo. App. 2003). The issue of whether a claim has been stated upon which relief can be granted is inherent in every appeal and may be raised, sua sponte, by this court. Preferred Physicians Mut. Mgmt. Group, Inc. v. Preferred Physicians Mut. Risk Retention Group, 916 S.W.2d 821, 823 (Mo. App. 1995). "This is because the failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted essentially deprives the trial court of subject matter jurisdiction and, thus, the authority to rule on the plaintiff's petition; and if the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to rule, we necessarily have no jurisdiction to review the court's ruling on the merits." Parshall, 121 S.W.3d at 551-52 (citations omitted). In determining whether Count I of the appellants' amended petition stated a claim upon which relief can be granted, we are to give it its most liberal interpretation and accord it all reasonable inferences from the facts alleged. Id. at 552.

Under the Declaratory Judgment Act, §§ 527.010-.130, trial courts have the "power to declare rights, status, and other legal relations whether or not further relief is or could be claimed." § 527.010. And, although trial courts have a considerable measure of discretion in determining whether an action for a declaratory judgment should be entertained, Shelter Mut. Ins. Co. v. Vulgamott, 96 S.W.3d 96, 101 (Mo. App. 2003), that discretion is not without limits. Parshall, 121 S.W.3d at 552. Any exercise of that discretion "must be sound, based on good reason, and calculated to serve the purposes for which the legislation was enacted." Id. (quoting Preferred, 916 S.W.2d at 824-25). In order to state a claim for declaratory relief, four requirements must be met: (1) there must be a justiciable controversy; (2) the plaintiff must demonstrate a legally protected pecuniary or personal interest directly at issue and subject to immediate or prospective consequential relief; (3) the issue to be determined must be ripe for judicial determination; and, (4) the plaintiff must demonstrate that he does not have an adequate remedy at law. Kinder v. Holden, 92 S.W.3d 793, 804-05 (Mo. App. 2002). Here, the appellants did not meet all four requirements for declaratory judgment in that, as we discuss, infra, they clearly had an adequate remedy at law in addressing the issue of claimed excessive taxes paid to the District, namely a refund of the taxes that they claim were assessed and paid in excess of what was permitted by § 67.110.2.

In Count II of their amended petition, the appellants sought, pursuant to § 139.031.5, a partial refund of their 2001 taxes paid to the District. Section 139.031.5 provides:

All the county collectors of taxes, and the collector of taxes in any city not within a county, shall, upon written application of a taxpayer, refund or credit against the taxpayer's tax liability in the following taxable year and subsequent consecutive taxable years until the taxpayer has received credit in full for any real or personal property tax mistakenly or erroneously levied against the taxpayer and collected in whole or in part by the collector. Such application shall be filed within three years after the tax is mistakenly or erroneously paid. The governing body, or other appropriate body or official of the county or city not within a county, shall make available to the collector funds necessary to make refunds under this subsection by issuing warrants upon the fund to which the mistaken or erroneous payment has been credited, or otherwise.

As a basis for their refund claim under § 139.031.5, the appellants alleged in their petition...

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