PROSECUTING ATTORNEYS v. BARTON COUNTY, No. SC 89896.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Missouri
Writing for the CourtMarc Ellinger, Thomas Rynard, Blitz, Bardgett, & Deutsch, L.C., Jefferson City, MO, for respondent
Citation311 S.W.3d 737
PartiesMISSOURI PROSECUTING ATTORNEYS and Circuit Attorneys Retirement System, an agency of the State of Missouri, Appellant, v. BARTON COUNTY, Gerry Miller, John Stockdale, and Dennis Wilson, Respondents.
Decision Date11 May 2010
Docket NumberNo. SC 89896.

311 S.W.3d 737

MISSOURI PROSECUTING ATTORNEYS and Circuit Attorneys Retirement System, an agency of the State of Missouri, Appellant,
v.
BARTON COUNTY, Gerry Miller, John Stockdale, and Dennis Wilson, Respondents.

No. SC 89896.

Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc.

March 23, 2010.

Rehearing Denied May 11, 2010.


311 S.W.3d 738

COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

311 S.W.3d 739

J. Kent Lowry, Jeffrey T. McPherson, Kim S. Burton, Armstrong Teasdale, LLP, Jefferson City, MO, for appellant.

Marc Ellinger, Thomas Rynard, Blitz, Bardgett, & Deutsch, L.C., Jefferson City, MO, for respondent.

LAURA DENVIR STITH, Judge.

The Missouri Prosecuting Attorneys and Circuit Attorneys Retirement System ("PACARS") filed a petition for writ of mandamus to compel payment by Barton County of the pension contributions required from it under section 56.807, RSMo Supp.1995. Barton County quit paying pension contributions on behalf of its prosecutors beginning in 2002, when the Missouri Department of Social Services ceased reimbursing it for those contributions. The trial court found that section 56.807 violates what is commonly known as the "Hancock Amendment" to the Missouri Constitution, MO. CONST., ART. X, § 21, and refused to require Barton County to make the payments mandated by that section. PACARS appeals.

While the Hancock Amendment generally bars the State from mandating that counties pay for a new activity or service or for an increased level of activity or service without a state appropriation to pay for that new or increased mandate, article VI, section 11 of the Missouri Constitution specifically provides that an increase in the "compensation of county officers" does not constitute a new or increased level of a service or activity. Such compensation, as a result, is not within the scope of the Hancock Amendment. For the reasons set out below, this Court finds that pension contributions are included within the phrase "compensation of county officers" as used in article VI, section 11. Therefore, the trial court erred in finding that the Hancock Amendment invalidates section 56.807 to the extent it requires counties to pay pension contributions for its prosecutors. Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court is reversed, and the cause is remanded.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

This case was submitted on stipulated facts. In 1989, the legislature enacted the Prosecuting Attorneys' and Circuit Attorneys' Retirement Fund (commonly referred to as the PACARS statutes). §§ 56.800-56.840, RSMo Supp.1990. As relevant here, these statutes authorize the creation of a retirement fund for prosecutors and circuit attorneys.

As initially enacted, section 56.807 provided for counties to receive "incentive funds" equal to the amount they were required to pay into PACARS. § 56.807.1. But in 1995, the legislature amended the PACARS statutes by removing the provisions entitling counties to reimbursement for county contributions. It instead provided, "The funds for prosecuting attorneys and circuit attorneys provided for in subsection 2 of this section shall be paid from county or city funds." § 56.807.1, RSMo Supp.1997.1

Barton County began making contributions on behalf of its prosecutors to PACARS from the time it came into being in 1989. In August 1995, Barton County's treasurer was provided with written notice

311 S.W.3d 740
that, as a result of the 1995 amendments to the PACARS statutes, incentive payments no longer would be required to be made to reimburse the county for its contributions to PACARS. Despite this written notice, from 1989 until January 2002, it appears that Barton County received incentive payments from the Department of Social Services that it specifically credited as contribution payments and forwarded to PACARS. Beginning in January 2002, however, the department took the action presaged in its 1995 letter and ceased making incentive payments reimbursing Barton County for its PACARS contributions. The Barton County Commission then voted to discontinue participation in PACARS

In August 2002, PACARS sent a letter to Barton County demanding that it make the pension contribution payments, as required by section 56.807.1. The county refused, stating it believed that, to the extent PACARS required it to make pension contributions without reimbursement from the state, the statute violated the Hancock Amendment. As relevant here, the latter prohibits the state from requiring any "new activity or service or an increase in the level of any activity or service beyond that required by existing law ... unless a state appropriation is made and disbursed to pay the county or other political subdivision for any increased costs." MO. CONST., ART. X, § 21.

In November 2006, PACARS filed a petition for writ of mandamus against Barton County and County Commissioners Gerry Miller, John Stockdale and Dennis Wilson in which it requested that the court compel Barton County to make the pension contributions required by section 56.807. Bonda Rawlings, a resident of Barton County, intervened as a taxpayer defendant.2 The trial court found that section 56.807 violates the Hancock Amendment to the extent it mandates that Barton County contribute to PACARS without receiving reimbursement from the State. It thereby rejected PACARS's argument that article VI, section 11 of the Missouri Constitution specifically provides that increases in the compensation of county officials does not constitute a new or increased level of a service or activity as barred under the Hancock Amendment. PACARS appeals. MO. CONST., ART. V, § 3.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

As the case was submitted on stipulated facts, "`the only question before this court is whether the trial court drew the proper legal conclusions from the facts stipulated.'" Schroeder v. Horack, 592 S.W.2d 742, 744 (Mo. banc 1979), quoting Drysdale v. Cornerstone Bank, 562 S.W.2d 182, 183 (Mo.App.1978). Therefore, as the decision below was based on the interpretation of section 56.807 and the Missouri Constitution, this Court's review is de novo. Gash v. Lafayette County, 245 S.W.3d 229, 231 (Mo. banc 2008); Akers v. City of Oak Grove, 246 S.W.3d 916, 919 (Mo. banc 2008). "This Court's review begins with the recognition that all statutes are `presumed to be constitutional and will not be held unconstitutional unless they clearly and undoubtedly contravene the constitution.'" Mo. Prosecuting Attorneys & Circuit Attorneys Ret. Sys. v. Pemiscot County, 256 S.W.3d 98,

311 S.W.3d 741
102 (Mo. banc 2008) (alterations in original), quoting United C.O.D. v. State, 150 S.W.3d 311, 313 (Mo. banc 2004). "Courts will enforce a statute unless it plainly and palpably affronts fundamental law embodied in the constitution." United C.O.D., 150 S.W.3d at 313. "Doubts will be resolved in favor of the constitutionality of the statute." Pemiscot County, 256 S.W.3d at 102

III. PENSION CONTRIBUTIONS ARE INCLUDED WITHIN ARTICLE VI, SECTION 11

In Boone County v. State, 631 S.W.2d 321, 326 (Mo. banc 1982), this Court held that a state statute requiring counties to increase the salary of county clerks without state funding violated the Hancock Amendment. The principle underlying Boone County is that the Hancock Amendment generally prohibits the state from increasing a county's financial obligations to county employees without state reimbursement. In response to Boone County, article VI, section 11 of the Missouri Constitution was amended in 1986 to state in pertinent part:

A law which would authorize an increase in the compensation of county officers shall not be construed as requiring a new activity or service or an increase in the level of any activity or service within the meaning of this constitution.

MO. CONST., ART. VI, § 11 (emphasis added). This constitutional provision, as amended in 1986, therefore provides an exception to the Hancock Amendment for laws that authorize "an increase in the compensation of county officers." Id. Such increases in compensation can be mandated devoid of state reimbursement without running afoul of the Hancock Amendment.

The dispositive issue on appeal is whether pension contributions are encompassed within the phrase "compensation of county officers" as used in article VI, section 11. If the phrase "compensation of county officers" includes pension contributions as well as salaries and other forms of remuneration to county officers, then section 56.807 does not violate the Hancock Amendment because article VI, section 11 provides an exception to the Hancock Amendment for the payment of all such compensation. Conversely, if the phrase "compensation of county officers" as used in article VI, section 11 does not include pension contributions, then mandating that counties pay such contributions violates the Hancock Amendment.

Article VI, section 11 does not define the phrase "compensation of county officers," and, in the absence of such clarity, courts must turn to rules of construction to determine meaning. Boone County sets out a clear statement of the principles governing construction of a constitutional provision:

Rules applicable to constitutional construction are the same as those applied to statutory construction, except that the former are given a broader construction, due to their more permanent character. State ex inf. Martin v. City of Independence, 518 S.W.2d 63, 65 (Mo.1974). In determining the meaning of a constitutional provision the court must first undertake to ascribe to the words the meaning which the people understood them to have when the provision was adopted. State ex inf. Danforth v. Cason, 507 S.W.2d 405, 408 (Mo. banc 1973).

631 S.W.2d at 324. As Boone County further explains:

The meaning conveyed to the voters is presumptively equated with the ordinary and usual meaning given thereto. Id. at 409. The ordinary, usual and commonly understood meaning is, in turn, derived from the dictionary. Id., Accord, Concerned
311 S.W.3d 742
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    ...whether the circuit court drew the proper legal conclusions from the facts stipulated. Missouri Prosecuting Attorneys v. Barton County, 311 S.W.3d 737, 740 (Mo. banc 2010). The circuit court's decision to deny probation was based upon its interpretation and application of section 559.115 to......
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