Missouri Com'n on Human Rights v. Red Dragon Restaurant, Inc.

Decision Date31 March 1999
Docket NumberNo. WD,WD
Citation991 S.W.2d 161
PartiesMISSOURI COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS, Appellant, v. RED DRAGON RESTAURANT, INC., Respondent. 55419.
CourtMissouri Court of Appeals

Jeremiah W. (Jay) Nixon, Atty. Gen., Keith D. Halcomb, Asst. Atty. Gen., Jefferson City, for appellant.

Lyle L. Odo, Platte City, for respondent.

Before BRECKENRIDGE, C.J., ULRICH and HANNA, JJ.

BRECKENRIDGE, Judge.

The Missouri Commission on Human Rights (MCHR) appeals from the trial court's "Amended Judgement/Order Nunc Pro Tunc" which reversed the MCHR's finding of discrimination against Red Dragon Restaurant, Inc. The MCHR issued its order, based on the hearing commissioner's "Findings of Facts and Conclusions of Law, Recommended Decision and Order," concluding that Red Dragon had discriminated against Judith Rupard on the basis of her association with disabled people in violation of § 213.065, RSMo 1986. 1 On appeal, Red Dragon argues that associational discrimination as embodied in § 213.070, RSMo Supp.1992, was not effective when the discriminatory incident occurred in 1991, and that associational discrimination was not intended as a cause of action under §§ 213.065 and 213.070, as they existed in 1991. Further, Red Dragon argues that the MCHR abused its discretion in awarding Ms. Rupard $590.40 for out-of-pocket expenses and $300 as actual damages for the deprivation of her civil rights. The judgment of the trial court is reversed and the case is remanded to the circuit court with directions to remand to the MCHR to enter an amended order consistent with this opinion.

Factual and Procedural Background

On September 12, 1991, the complainant, Judith Rupard, accompanied two friends, Cynthia Robin and Bill Stephan, to the Red Dragon Restaurant for dinner to celebrate the recent move of Ms. Robin. Mr Stephan and Ms. Robin are blind and use guide dogs to aid their mobility. Mr. Stephan and Ms. Robin had their guide dogs with them when they attempted to dine at the Red Dragon. However, upon entering the restaurant, the group was informed that the guide dogs could not enter the restaurant. Although the group tried to explain that the restaurant was required by law to allow guide dogs to enter, the restaurant employees still refused them admission. The employees offered to let the dogs remain in the lobby with a security guard, but that arrangement was not acceptable to the group. The employees then informed the three that the restaurant would not serve them and they would have to leave. After the refusal, Ms. Rupard informed the patrons of the restaurant that she and her friends were refused service because her friends were blind and the restaurant would not allow them to enter with their guide dogs.

Ms. Robin and Mr. Stephan filed suit in the Circuit Court of Jackson County against Red Dragon for violations of the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA). The court found that Red Dragon's refusal to serve Mr. Stephan and Ms. Robin with their guide dogs was a refusal to make a reasonable accommodation for their handicap as required by § 213.065. Ms. Rupard subsequently filed her own complaint with MCHR, which is the subject of this action, alleging associational discrimination against Red Dragon. Ms. Rupard's complaint was heard before the MCHR on November 1, 1994. On February 26, 1996, the MCHR filed its "Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, Recommended Decision and Order," and a "Notice of Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Decision and Order, and Notice of Statutory Right to Judicial Review" was issued on April 22, 1996. The MCHR found that Red Dragon had violated Chapter 213, by refusing to serve Ms. Rupard because of her association with handicapped persons when it refused to serve them unless the guide dogs were left at the door. Therefore, the MCHR ordered Red Dragon to pay Ms. Rupard $590.40 for out-of-pocket expenses and $300.00 as actual damages for the deprivation of her civil rights.

Red Dragon appealed the MCHR's decision to the Circuit Court of Platte County. In its "Amended Judgment/Order Nunc Pro Tunc," the court stated that Ms. Rupard claimed relief under the 1992 amendment to § 213.070, which "affects the substantive rights of the parties and should not be considered procedural." The court found that the legislature did not order § 213.070 to be retroactive and, therefore, the legislative intent was that it not be applied retroactively. Because the alleged discrimination occurred on September 12, 1991, before the amendment of § 213.070, the trial court reversed the MCHR's finding of associational discrimination. Thereafter, the MCHR filed a timely appeal to this court.

Standard of Review

On appeal, this court reviews the decision of the administrative agency, and not that of the circuit court. Missouri Ethics Com'n v. Thomas, 956 S.W.2d 456, 457 (Mo.App.1997). A reviewing court is usually limited to determining if the administrative agency's decision is supported by substantial competent evidence based on the record as a whole, whether the decision is arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable, or whether the agency abused its discretion. Id.; § 536.140.2. However, when, as here, the decision of the agency involves the interpretation of law and application of the law to undisputed facts, this court must form its own independent conclusions and is not bound by the interpretation of the hearing examiner. Id.See also Kansas City v. Missouri Com'n on Human Rights, 632 S.W.2d 488, 490 (Mo. banc 1982).

While we are not bound by the hearing examiner's interpretation of the law, our review of the case is limited to applying the law only to the facts contained in the record on appeal. Gannett Outdoor Co. of Kansas City v. Board of Zoning Adjustment of Jackson County, 943 S.W.2d 359, 362 (Mo.App.1997); Tonkin v. Jackson County Merit System Commission, 599 S.W.2d 25, 29-30 (Mo.App.1980). "[B]ecause decisions of administrative tribunals are not subject to de novo review, additional evidence would serve no purpose." Gannett, 943 S.W.2d at 363. The MCHR filed in this court the affidavit of Alvin Plummer, Executive Director of the MCHR from 1981 to 1997, in support of its interpretation of § 213.065. However, the affidavit was not presented at the administrative hearing and is not part of the record on appeal. See Gannett, 943 S.W.2d at 362; Tonkin, 599 S.W.2d at 29-30. Therefore, we will not consider Mr. Plummer's affidavit in reviewing this appeal.

Associational Discrimination

As its first point on appeal, Red Dragon claims that MCHR erred in sustaining Ms. Rupard's claim because she did not state a claim for relief under § 213.065. Red Dragon argues that the legislature did not intend to create a cause of action for associational discrimination under the version of § 213.065 in effect at the time of the incident at the Red Dragon Restaurant. Red Dragon argues that the plain language of the statute evidences that the legislature did not intend for § 213.065 to permit claims by non-handicapped people who were discriminated against because they were accompanied by handicapped people. Section 213.065 prohibits discrimination in public accommodations as follows:

1. All persons within the jurisdiction of the state of Missouri are free and equal and shall be entitled to the full and equal use and enjoyment within this state of any place of public accommodation, as hereinafter defined, without discrimination or segregation on the grounds of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, ancestry, or handicap.

2. It is an unlawful discriminatory practice for any person, directly or indirectly, to refuse, withhold from or deny any other person, or to attempt to refuse, withhold from or deny any other person, any of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, services, or privileges made available in any place of public accommodation, as defined in sections 213.010 to 213.0126, or to segregate or discriminate against any person in the use thereof on the grounds of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, ancestry, or handicap.

* * *

There is no case law in Missouri addressing whether associational discrimination was a cause of action under § 213.065. Therefore, this court must interpret the statute by determining the legislature's intent when it enacted the statute.

The primary purpose of statutory interpretation is to determine the intent of the legislature from the words used in the statute and give effect to that intent. Wallace v. Van Pelt, 969 S.W.2d 380, 383 (Mo.App.1998). The words of a statute are to be given their plain and ordinary meaning. Id. " 'Further insight into the legislature's object can be gained by identifying the problems sought to be remedied and the circumstances and conditions existing at the time of the enactment.' " Id. (quoting Sermchief v. Gonzales, 660 S.W.2d 683, 688 (Mo. banc 1983)). See also Schneider by Schneider v. State of Missouri, Div. of Water Safety, 748 S.W.2d 677, 678 (Mo. banc 1988) (finding that "[t]he legislative intent and meaning of the words can, in many instances, be found in the general purposes of the legislative enactment").

In determining legislative intent, this court must bear in mind that "[r]emedial statutes should be construed liberally to include those cases which are within the spirit of the law and all reasonable doubts should be construed in favor of applicability to the case." State ex rel. Ford v. Wenskay, 824 S.W.2d 99, 100 (Mo.App.1992). See also Perez v. Missouri State Bd. of Registration for Healing Arts, 803 S.W.2d 160, 165 (Mo.App.1991). Section 213.065 of the MHRA was enacted to provide "[a]ll persons within the jurisdiction of the state of Missouri ... the full and equal use and enjoyment within this state of any place of public accommodation...." Section 213.065.1. This mandate that all persons be treated equally in public accommodations was enacted "in the interest of public welfare," Hagan v. Director...

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