St. Charles County v. Dardenne Realty Co.

Decision Date13 June 1989
Docket NumberNo. 71386,71386
Citation771 S.W.2d 828
PartiesST. CHARLES COUNTY, Missouri, Appellant, v. DARDENNE REALTY COMPANY, Sandra Crawford Dillard, August A. Busch, III and Clinton W. Lane, Jr., Respondents.
CourtMissouri Supreme Court

Stephen A. Martin, County Counselor, St. Charles, for appellant.

Charles A. Seigel, Hugh McPheeters, St. Louis, Claude C. Knight, Norman C. Steimel, Paul Niedner, St. Charles, for respondents.

Roger J. Marzulla, Asst. Atty. Gen., Robert L. Klarquist, Charles J. Sheehan, Dept. of Justice, Washington, D.C., for Amicus Curiae.

COVINGTON, Judge.

St. Charles County filed a petition for injunctive relief against landowners, alleging four counts of public nuisance and four counts of zoning violations. The county appealed from the trial court's order granting landowners' motions to dismiss and motions for summary judgment. The Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, affirmed the trial court's dismissal of the nuisance counts because of the county's lack of standing, but reversed the granting of the motions for summary judgment and remanded as to the zoning violations. This Court granted transfer. The judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

In September, 1976, the county enacted and adopted a Revised Zoning Order pursuant to Chapter 64, RSMo 1969. In November, 1978, also pursuant to Chapter 64, the county established a zoning order (Flood Plain Order) for federally designated flood plain districts. One such flood plain district encompasses the landowners' properties. The Flood Plain Order provides, in pertinent part, that "[n]o person, firm or corporation shall initiate any development or substantial improvement ... without first obtaining a separate permit...."

The county filed a multi-count petition for injunctive relief. Counts one through four alleged that the landowners violated the Revised Zoning Order, as well as the Flood Plain Order, of St. Charles County by constructing, extending, converting, or altering levees without first obtaining permits. Counts five through eight alleged that the levees caused water to back up onto state highway C. As a result, the petition alleged, the highway becomes impassable, thereby creating a public nuisance.

The landowners filed motions to dismiss and motions for summary judgment based on several grounds. As one such ground, the landowners pointed to § 64.620, RSMo 1986, which provides in relevant part that the provisions of Chapter 64 "shall not be exercised so as to impose regulations or to require permits with respect to land, used or to be used for the raising of crops, orchards or forestry or with respect to the erection, maintenance, repair, alteration or extension of farm buildings or farm structures." In support, the landowners submitted affidavits attesting to the agricultural use of their property. In addition, the landowners alleged that the county had no standing to bring an action regarding state highway C since it was a state highway and state property.

The trial court agreed with the landowners, finding that the county "has no standing to bring the action to enjoin the alleged flooding of a state highway." Further, the trial judge found "that the levees ... are farm structures and no permits were or are required." The trial court dismissed all counts with prejudice.

The county alleges that the trial court erred in dismissing its petition because the county has standing to bring suit to enjoin a public nuisance on a state highway when the nuisance affects the public safety and welfare of county residents.

The trial court properly dismissed the nuisance counts. The county's petition identifies the plaintiff as "St. Charles County, Missouri; a first class county." Under certain circumstances, a local governmental unit can properly sue in its own name to enjoin a public nuisance. See, e.g., City of Kansas City v. Mary Don Co., 606 S.W.2d 411 (Mo.App.1980). Here, however, the county's petition seeks to enjoin a public nuisance on a state highway. The construction and maintenance of state highways is under the exclusive jurisdiction and control of the State Highways and Transportation Commission. § 227.030, RSMo 1986. The fact that a state highway goes through a municipality does not make it the property of the municipality. State ex rel. Russell v. State Highway Comm'n, 328 Mo. 942, 42 S.W.2d 196, 204 (1931). Rather, the highway remains the state's property and under the state's control. See, Crofton v. City of Kansas City, 660 S.W.2d 709, 716 (Mo.App.1983). Thus, if the county desires to bring suit to enjoin a public nuisance on a state highway, the suit must be instituted and maintained in the name of, and on behalf of, the State of Missouri by the prosecuting attorney on the information of the county. State ex rel. Carter County v. Pennington, 720 S.W.2d 779, 780 (Mo.App.1986). Because the county's petition was not brought by the prosecuting attorney of St. Charles County for and on behalf of the State of Missouri, the county's petition on the public nuisance counts fails for lack of standing. County of Shannon v. Mertzlufft, 630 S.W.2d 238, 239 (Mo.App.1982). Having no...

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