Roberts v. McNary, No. 63798

CourtMissouri Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtDONNELLY
Citation636 S.W.2d 332
Docket NumberNo. 63798
Decision Date02 August 1982
PartiesWilhelmina D. ROBERTS, Respondent, v. Gene McNARY, St. Louis County Executive, et al., Appellants.

Page 332

636 S.W.2d 332
Wilhelmina D. ROBERTS, Respondent,
v.
Gene McNARY, St. Louis County Executive, et al., Appellants.
No. 63798.
Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc.
Aug. 2, 1982.
Rehearing Denied Aug. 23, 1982.

Page 334

James H. White, Assoc. County Counselor, Katherine L. Gayer, Asst. County Counselor, Clayton, for appellants.

Lewis C. Green, St. Louis, for respondent.

Alex Bartlett, Jefferson City, Aaron A. Wilson, City Atty., Geo. L. DeBitetto, Asst. City Atty., Kansas City, Howard C. Wright, Jr., City Atty., Springfield, Russell D. Jacobson, Assoc. County Counselor, Kansas City, Joseph R. Niemann, City Counselor, Robert H. Dierker, Jr., Edward J. Hanlon, Asst. City Counselors, St. Louis, William Patrick Cronan, Fayette, for amici curiae.

DONNELLY, Chief Justice.

On November 4, 1980, Missouri voters adopted an amendment to their State Constitution-Article X, §§ 16 through 24, inclusive (the Hancock Amendment). Section 22, which is pertinent here, provides in part as follows:

" § 22. (Taxation by political subdivisions, limitations-repayment of bonds)

Section 22. (a) Counties * * * are hereby prohibited from levying any tax, license or fees, not authorized by law, charter or self-enforcing provisions of the constitution when this section is adopted or from increasing the current levy of an existing tax, license or fees, above that current levy authorized by law or charter when this section is adopted without the approval of the required majority of the qualified voters of that county or other political subdivision voting thereon. * * *."

In its proposed budget for the 1982 calendar year, St. Louis County included increases in certain fees charged for numerous county services, such as parks and building inspection. This budget, with the increased fees, was adopted by the St. Louis County Council in January 1982. On January 22, 1982, respondent Wilhelmina Roberts, a resident and taxpayer of St. Louis County, filed a declaratory judgment action seeking to prevent St. Louis County from implementing the fee increases. She alleged that the county ordinances which increased the fees violated Mo.Const. Art. X, § 22, because the increases were not submitted to the qualified voters of the county for approval. Respondent requested that the ordinances be declared unconstitutional and that an injunction be issued against their enforcement. After trial, the court granted the relief requested, and Gene McNary, County Executive, and St. Louis County have filed this appeal. This Court has jurisdiction because the validity of a provision of the State Constitution is involved. Mo.Const. Art. V, § 3.

The first point raised on appeal concerns whether the charges which St. Louis County seeks to raise, or establish, fall within the phrase "tax, license or fees" within Art. X, § 22(a). Appellants contend that the purpose of the Hancock Amendment-limitation of taxation-requires that "tax, license or fees" be read to include only those levies which seek to generate general revenue. Therefore, they argue that "user" fees or "regulatory" fees (which, it is agreed, accurately

Page 335

describe the fees in this case) are not governed by Art. X, § 22(a) because they support only the service for which they are collected. On the other hand, respondent's position is that a plain reading of Art. X, § 22(a) would include all licenses or fees, regardless of the use to which the funds generated are put.

Appellants have two pillars of support for their interpretation of Art. X, § 22(a). First, the testimony of Melton D. Hancock (after whom the Amendment was named) was that the words "license or fees" were added to "tax" in § 22(a) to prevent the government from levying higher licenses and fees in order to generate general revenue to compensate for the funds lost through the tax-limiting aspect of the Amendment. The second prong of appellants' argument is that the Hancock Amendment as a whole, as shown in § 16, limits only local taxing and state taxing and spending, and therefore does not extend to "user" or "regulatory" fees because by definition they are not considered taxes.

Rules employed in construction of constitutional provisions are the same as those employed in construction of statutes, but the former are to be given a broader construction due to their more permanent character. Boone County Court v. State of Missouri, 631 S.W.2d 321, 325 (Mo. banc 1982); State at the Information of Martin v. City of Independence, 518 S.W.2d 63, 65 (Mo.1974). Crucial words must be viewed in context and it must be assumed that words used were not intended to be meaningless. State v. Shell, 571 S.W.2d 798, 800 (Mo.App.1978). This Court has recognized that in construction of constitutional provisions, it should undertake to ascribe to words the meaning which the people understood them to have when they adopted the provision. State ex inf. of Danforth v. Cason, 507 S.W.2d 405, 408 (Mo. banc 1973). "The framers of the Constitution and the people who adopted it 'must be understood to have employed words in their natural sense, and to have intended what they have said.' This is but saying that no forced or unnatural construction is to be put upon their language." State ex inf. Danforth v. Cason, 507 S.W.2d at 409; State ex rel. Heimberger v. Board of Curators of University of Missouri, 268 Mo. 598, 188 S.W. 128 (banc 1916). The meaning of the words in the provision, as conveyed to the voters, is presumed to be their natural and ordinary meaning. State ex inf. Danforth v. Cason, 507 S.W.2d at 409. The ordinary, and commonly understood meaning is derived from the dictionary. Boone County Court v. State of Missouri, 631 S.W.2d at 324. Moreover, the grammatical order and selection of the associated words as arranged by the drafters is also indicative of the natural significance of the words employed. Id. Of course, this Court must give due regard to the primary objectives of the provision under scrutiny as viewed in harmony with all related provisions, considered as a whole. State at the Information of Martin v. City of Independence, 518 S.W.2d at 66.

Article X, § 22(a) prohibits counties from levying any tax, license or fee not then authorized and from increasing any existing tax, license or fee. Webster's Third New International Dictionary (1965) defines these words as follows: (1) tax-"a pecuniary charge imposed by legislative or other public authority upon persons or property for public purposes: a forced contribution of wealth to meet the public needs of a government"; (2) license-"a right or permission granted in accordance with law by a competent authority to...

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46 practice notes
  • Keller v. Marion County Ambulance Dist., No. 72979
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • December 17, 1991
    ...for particular services rendered.... Zahner v. City of Perryville, 813 S.W.2d 855, 859 (Mo. banc. 1991), citing Roberts v. McNary, 636 S.W.2d 332, 336 (Mo. banc. 1982), citing Craig v. City of Macon, 543 S.W.2d 772, 774 (Mo. banc 1976) (omitting citations), citing Leggett v. Missouri State ......
  • Quinn v. State of Mo., No. 87-4492-CV-C-5.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Western District of Missouri
    • March 15, 1988
    ...even though the constitutional terms are given a broader construction due to their more permanent nature. Roberts v. McNary, 636 S.W.2d 332, 335 (Mo.1982) (en banc), citing Boone County Court v. State of Missouri, 631 S.W.2d 321, 325 (Mo.1982) (en banc). Still, "crucial words must be viewed......
  • Associated Industries of Missouri v. State Tax Com'n of Missouri, No. 68671
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • January 8, 1987
    ...objectives of the provision under scrutiny as viewed in harmony with all related provisions, considered as a whole, Roberts v. McNary, 636 S.W.2d 332, 335 (Mo. banc 1982). Thus § 4(b) must be harmonized consistent with § 4 as a In the 1943-44 constitutional convention, the debate over prope......
  • Voorhees, In re, No. 69338
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • October 13, 1987
    ...constitutional provisions must be viewed in context: their use is presumed intended, and not meaningless surplusage. Roberts v. McNary, 636 S.W.2d 332, 335 (Mo. banc 1982). The words used in constitutional provisions are interpreted so as to give effect to their plain, ordinary and natural ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
46 cases
  • Keller v. Marion County Ambulance Dist., No. 72979
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • December 17, 1991
    ...for particular services rendered.... Zahner v. City of Perryville, 813 S.W.2d 855, 859 (Mo. banc. 1991), citing Roberts v. McNary, 636 S.W.2d 332, 336 (Mo. banc. 1982), citing Craig v. City of Macon, 543 S.W.2d 772, 774 (Mo. banc 1976) (omitting citations), citing Leggett v. Missouri State ......
  • Quinn v. State of Mo., No. 87-4492-CV-C-5.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Western District of Missouri
    • March 15, 1988
    ...even though the constitutional terms are given a broader construction due to their more permanent nature. Roberts v. McNary, 636 S.W.2d 332, 335 (Mo.1982) (en banc), citing Boone County Court v. State of Missouri, 631 S.W.2d 321, 325 (Mo.1982) (en banc). Still, "crucial words must be viewed......
  • Associated Industries of Missouri v. State Tax Com'n of Missouri, No. 68671
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • January 8, 1987
    ...objectives of the provision under scrutiny as viewed in harmony with all related provisions, considered as a whole, Roberts v. McNary, 636 S.W.2d 332, 335 (Mo. banc 1982). Thus § 4(b) must be harmonized consistent with § 4 as a In the 1943-44 constitutional convention, the debate over prope......
  • Voorhees, In re, No. 69338
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • October 13, 1987
    ...constitutional provisions must be viewed in context: their use is presumed intended, and not meaningless surplusage. Roberts v. McNary, 636 S.W.2d 332, 335 (Mo. banc 1982). The words used in constitutional provisions are interpreted so as to give effect to their plain, ordinary and natural ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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