Metro. St. Louis Sewer Dist. v. City of Bellefontaine Neighbors, No. SC 94831

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Missouri
Writing for the CourtLaura Denvir Stith, Judge
Citation476 S.W.3d 913
Parties The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District, Appellant, v. The City of Bellefontaine Neighbors, Respondent, Sherrell Construction, Inc., et al., Defendants.
Decision Date12 January 2016
Docket NumberNo. SC 94831

476 S.W.3d 913

The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District, Appellant,
v.
The City of Bellefontaine Neighbors, Respondent,

Sherrell Construction, Inc., et al., Defendants.

No. SC 94831

Supreme Court of Missouri, en banc .

Opinion issued January 12, 2016


MSD was represented by Christopher R. LaRose and Bryan E. Francis of Armstrong Teasdale LLP in St. Louis, (314) 621–5070.

The city was represented by Kevin M. O'Keefe and Robert E. Jones of Curtis, Heinz, Garrett & O'Keefe PC in St. Louis, (314) 725–8788.

Neither Sherrell Construction Inc. nor Lift Rite Inc. filed a brief or argued in this Court.

Laura Denvir Stith, Judge

The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District ("MSD") appeals the trial court's judgment dismissing its claims of inverse condemnation, trespass and negligence against the city of Bellefontaine Neighbors for damage to MSD sewer lines allegedly caused in the course of a city street improvement project. MSD argues that it can bring a claim under article I, section 26 of the Missouri Constitution for inverse condemnation alleging the City unintentionally took its property without just compensation. This Court disagrees. Article I, section 26 provides constitutional protection against the taking of "private" property without just compensation. It is undisputed that the sewer pipes that MSD alleges were inversely condemned are public property. This Court rejects MSD's argument that the word "private" was intended to encompass "public" property as well. The meaning of the word "private" is unambiguous, and the trial court did not err in giving the provision its plain meaning and dismissing the inverse condemnation claim.

MSD alternatively argues that the trial court erred in holding that sovereign immunity barred it from asserting claims for trespass and negligence against the City because the City has not identified a previous case in which sovereign immunity has been found to apply in suits between governmental entities. This Court rejects MSD's argument. Sovereign immunity is the rule, not the exception. Unless it is waived or a statutory or recognized common law exception, such as consent, is applicable, sovereign immunity applies. No statutory or common law exception applies here, and the federal and California cases on which MSD relies are distinguishable. The judgment is affirmed.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

MSD was formed in 1954 following voter approval pursuant to article VI, section 30 of the Missouri Constitution. MSD provides wastewater treatment and sewerage facilities for the St. Louis city and county metropolitan area. In 2009, the City of Bellefontaine Neighbors, a municipality in St. Louis County, initiated a street improvement and resurfacing project and hired Sherrell Construction Inc. as general contractor for the project and P.H. Weis & Associates as engineer. Sherrell hired

476 S.W.3d 915

Lift Rite Inc. to conduct mudjacking services. Mudjacking is a process of pumping a concrete-like slurry underneath the streets to fill the voids. When Lift Rite pumped the concrete slurry under the streets, some of the slurry was pumped into and hardened inside MSD's sewer lines, allegedly requiring MSD to replace the lines to make them usable again. The alleged damage was $66,860.25.

In October 2013, MSD filed suit. In its original petition, MSD asserted a claim of trespass and negligence against Sherrell, Weis and Lift Rite and a claim of inverse condemnation against the City. The City moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim, arguing that inverse condemnation applies only in the case of a taking of private property, not public property, and that MSD failed to allege any affirmative acts by the City that caused the damage. The trial court granted the City's motion to dismiss in April 2014.

MSD filed an amended petition again setting out a count for inverse condemnation against the City and added claims against the City of negligence and trespass, alleging it was the City's participation in and direction of the activities that damaged MSD's sewer lines.1 The City again moved to dismiss, alleging that inverse condemnation does not apply to public property and that sovereign immunity applied and had not been waived. Finding "no just reason for delay," the trial court entered judgment in favor of the City and certified the ruling for immediate appeal pursuant to Rule 74.01. The court of appeals transferred the case to this Court after opinion under Mo. Const. art. V, sec. 10.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

"The standard of review for a trial court's grant of a motion to dismiss is de novo. " Lynch v. Lynch, 260 S.W.3d 834, 836 (Mo. banc 2008). The Court treats the facts contained in the petition as true and in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Id. "If the petition sets forth any set of facts that, if proven, would entitle the plaintiffs to relief, then the petition states a claim." Id.

III. INVERSE CONDEMNATION

A. Principles Governing Inverse Condemnation

Article I, section 26 of the Missouri Constitution provides "[t]hat private property shall not be taken or damaged for public use without just compensation." Condemnation is the proceeding by which a governmental entity takes private property. State ex rel. Missouri Highway & Transp. Comm'n v. Anderson, 735 S.W.2d 350, 352 (Mo. banc 1987) (superceded by statute on other grounds). Missouri statutes provide procedures through which just compensation for this taking is determined

476 S.W.3d 916

and paid in accordance with the principles set out in article I, section 26. See, e.g., sections 523.010 to 523.2152 (governing condemnation proceedings); sections 88.010 to 88.824 (governing a public entity's condemnation for public works). This Court also has adopted procedures governing condemnation in Rule 86. "Both the statutes and our rule contemplate a two-step process. First, the court must determine whether ... the condemning authority complied with the conditions precedent to bringing the action ... [and] [s]econdly, the court must establish the landowner's damages from the taking." State ex rel. Missouri Highway & Transp. Comm'n, 735 S.W.2d at 352.

At times a public entity does not initiate condemnation proceedings but nonetheless intentionally or accidentally takes private property, such as when it damages private property or mistakes boundaries or property rights. In such cases, property owners may pursue claims for "inverse condemnation." "Inverse condemnation is not an alternative to proper condemnation, but a method of ... assur[ing] that landowners receive just compensation for that which was taken." Harris v. L.P. & H. Const. Co., 441 S.W.2d 377, 381 (Mo.App.1969). Accord, State ex rel . City of Blue Springs v. Nixon, 250 S.W.3d 365, 371 (Mo. banc 2008).

B. Inverse Condemnation Claim

Here, MSD claims that the City took its property accidentally when the City or its agents filled MSD sewer pipes with slurry during the mudjacking process, thereby rendering the pipes unusuable. It sued the City for just compensation for this damage under a theory of inverse condemnation. The trial court dismissed MSD's inverse condemnation claim without issuing findings of fact or conclusions of law. When a trial court does not indicate why it dismissed the petition, this Court presumes it was for one of the reasons stated in the motion. Costa v. Allen, 274 S.W.3d 461, 462 (Mo. banc 2008). Here, the City's motion alleged that article I, section 26 of the Missouri Constitution and Missouri statutes governing condemnation and inverse condemnation provide for just compensation only for the taking of private property and that these provisions do not entitle MSD to sue for inverse condemnation because MSD is seeking compensation for the taking of public property.

On appeal, MSD necessarily does not contest that it is a public entity,3 that the property allegedly taken is the property of a public entity, and that article I, section 26 expressly provides only that "private property shall not be taken or damaged for public use without just compensation." (emphasis added). But, MSD argues, this Court should interpret the words "private property" as used in article I, section 26 to include "public property" that is damaged by other unrelated public entities, either

476 S.W.3d 917

by ignoring the word "private," by defining "private" to include "public," or by adding by implication the word "public" because there is no good policy reason why just compensation should not be provided to public entities whose property has been taken by another public entity when private entities are so entitled.

This Court rejects MSD's arguments. MSD cites no Missouri case that has interpreted the word "private" to include "public" in its meaning. Neither does it cite any instance in which a Missouri court has ruled that article I, section 26 applies to public as well as private entities whose property has been taken by another public entity. In effect, MSD asks this Court to act as a legislature or to add a provision to the constitution that is not there because it would be good public policy. But that is not a role...

To continue reading

Request your trial
43 practice notes
  • Church v. Missouri, No. 17-2857
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • January 10, 2019
    ...recognized common law exception, such as consent, is applicable." Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer Dist. v. City of Bellefontaine Neighbors , 476 S.W.3d 913, 914 (Mo. banc 2016). The plaintiffs assert both a waiver and a common-law exception, contending that sovereign immunity does not apply in......
  • McGuire v. Edwards, No. ED 106860
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • April 2, 2019
    ...Review We review a trial court’s grant of a motion to dismiss de novo. Metro. St. Louis Sewer Dist. v. City of Bellefontaine Neighbors, 476 S.W.3d 913, 915 (Mo. banc 2016) (quoting Lynch v. Lynch, 260 S.W.3d 834, 836 (Mo. banc 2008) ). We "treat[ ] the facts contained in the petition as tru......
  • Sanitary & Improvement Dist. No. 67 of Sarpy Cnty. v. Neb. Dep't of Rds., S-20-659.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Nebraska
    • June 25, 2021
    ...(App. 2019) ; Bd. of Water Works v. Board of Supervisors , 890 N.W.2d 50 (Iowa 2017) ; St. Louis Sewer Dist., v. Bellefontaine Nbrs. , 476 S.W.3d 913 (Mo. 2016) (en banc).52 Bd. of Water Works, supra note 51, 890 N.W.2d at 69. Accord S.I.D. No. 95, supra note 37.53 See Holmstedt v. York Cty......
  • Henderson v. Mo. Dep't of Soc. Servs., Case No. 4:17 CV 2074 (JMB)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Missouri)
    • October 10, 2019
    ...law exception, such as consent, is applicable." Id. (quoting Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer Dist. v. City of Bellefontaine Neighbors, 476 S.W.3d 913, 914 (Mo. banc 2016)); see also Div. of Employment Sec., Missouri v. Bd. of Police Commissioners, 864 F.3d 974, 980 (8th Cir. 2017) ("In Missour......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
43 cases
  • Church v. Missouri, No. 17-2857
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • January 10, 2019
    ...recognized common law exception, such as consent, is applicable." Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer Dist. v. City of Bellefontaine Neighbors , 476 S.W.3d 913, 914 (Mo. banc 2016). The plaintiffs assert both a waiver and a common-law exception, contending that sovereign immunity does not apply in......
  • McGuire v. Edwards, No. ED 106860
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • April 2, 2019
    ...Review We review a trial court’s grant of a motion to dismiss de novo. Metro. St. Louis Sewer Dist. v. City of Bellefontaine Neighbors, 476 S.W.3d 913, 915 (Mo. banc 2016) (quoting Lynch v. Lynch, 260 S.W.3d 834, 836 (Mo. banc 2008) ). We "treat[ ] the facts contained in the petition as tru......
  • Sanitary & Improvement Dist. No. 67 of Sarpy Cnty. v. Neb. Dep't of Rds., S-20-659.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Nebraska
    • June 25, 2021
    ...(App. 2019) ; Bd. of Water Works v. Board of Supervisors , 890 N.W.2d 50 (Iowa 2017) ; St. Louis Sewer Dist., v. Bellefontaine Nbrs. , 476 S.W.3d 913 (Mo. 2016) (en banc).52 Bd. of Water Works, supra note 51, 890 N.W.2d at 69. Accord S.I.D. No. 95, supra note 37.53 See Holmstedt v. York Cty......
  • Henderson v. Mo. Dep't of Soc. Servs., Case No. 4:17 CV 2074 (JMB)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Missouri)
    • October 10, 2019
    ...law exception, such as consent, is applicable." Id. (quoting Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer Dist. v. City of Bellefontaine Neighbors, 476 S.W.3d 913, 914 (Mo. banc 2016)); see also Div. of Employment Sec., Missouri v. Bd. of Police Commissioners, 864 F.3d 974, 980 (8th Cir. 2017) ("In Missour......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT