State ex rel. Schmitt v. Choi, WD 83427

CourtCourt of Appeal of Missouri (US)
Writing for the CourtW. DOUGLAS THOMSON, JUDGE
Citation627 S.W.3d 1
Parties STATE of Missouri, EX REL., Eric SCHMITT, Attorney General, Appellant, v. Mun CHOI, et al., Respondents.
Decision Date02 February 2021
Docket NumberWD 83427

627 S.W.3d 1

STATE of Missouri, EX REL., Eric SCHMITT, Attorney General, Appellant,
v.
Mun CHOI, et al., Respondents.

WD 83427

Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District.

Opinion filed: February 2, 2021
Motion for Rehearing and/or Application for Transfer to Supreme Court Denied March 2, 2021
Application for Transfer Denied August 31, 2021


Julie M. Blake, for Appellant.

Logan Rutherford, Kansas City, for Respondents.

Division One: Thomas N. Chapman, Presiding Judge, Mark D. Pfeiffer, Judge and W. Douglas Thomson, Judge

W. DOUGLAS THOMSON, JUDGE

This appeal involves a challenge by the State of Missouri, at the relation of Attorney General Eric Schmitt ("State") to section 110.010.B.4(a) of the University of Missouri System Rules and Regulations ("Rule") which operates to prohibit University of Missouri employees from possessing firearms in their vehicles on university campuses. The State appeals from the trial court's judgment in favor of Mun Choi and the Curators of the University of Missouri (collectively, the "University") entered in part on the pleadings and in part after a bench trial. On appeal, the State claims the trial court erred in: (1) finding the Rule does not conflict with section 571.030.6;1 (2) holding the State has the burden of proof under strict scrutiny review; (3) finding the Rule survives strict scrutiny review; and (4) in admitting opinion testimony from lay witness, Dr. Mun Choi ("Dr. Choi"), President of the University of Missouri System. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand to the trial court for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Factual and Procedural History

The material facts are not in dispute. In 2015, Royce Barondes ("Barondes"), a University of Missouri employee, filed a petition for declaratory and injunctive relief against the University in case number 15AC-CC00426 in the Cole County circuit court. The petition alleged that the Rule violates section 571.030.6 and challenged the Rule's constitutionality. In October 2015, the case was removed to federal court. In November 2015, Barondes filed an amended complaint removing all allegations pertaining to any federal question. In May 2016, the case was remanded back to the Cole County circuit court.

In August 2016, the State intervened and the action was transferred to Boone County circuit court and given case number 16BA-CV03144. The State filed a parallel action in Boone County circuit court in its own name raising similar claims in case number 16BA-CV02758. In both actions, the State alleges four counts. In count one, the State alleges statutory preemption asserting the Rule conflicts with section 571.030.6. In general, the Rule prohibits the possession and discharge of weapons on campus, and the State's claim is that 571.030.6 allows state employees to possess a firearm on state property in

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certain circumstances. In counts two, three, and four the State alleges as applied constitutional challenges. On September 8, 2017, the State moved for judgment on the pleadings on its count I, in both actions, arguing that the Rule conflicts with section 571.030.6. The University filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings against Barondes and a cross-motion for judgment on the pleadings against the State on all counts. Barondes filed a motion for summary judgment on count I of his second amended petition, which contained his allegation that the Rule violates section 571.030.6.

On September 5, 2018, the trial court entered an order and judgment with both case numbers 16BA-CV02758 and 16BA-CV03144, denying the University's motion and cross-motion on the State's and Barondes' constitutional claims but granting the University's motion and cross-motion for judgment on the pleadings on the section 571.030.6 claims.2 Thereafter, pursuant to a settlement agreement, the remaining claims between Barondes and the University were dismissed with prejudice. A bench trial was held on the State's remaining claims challenging the constitutionality of the Rule. On November 18, 2019, the trial court entered findings of fact, conclusions of law and judgment in favor of the University finding the Rule satisfies strict scrutiny review and is constitutional. The State appeals.

On appeal, the State claims the trial court erred in: (1) finding the Rule does not conflict with section 571.030.6; (2) holding the State has the burden of proof under strict scrutiny review; (3) finding the Rule survives strict scrutiny review; and (4) in admitting opinion testimony from Dr. Choi.

Point I—Section 571.030.6 preempts the Rule

In Point I, the State claims that the trial court erred in granting judgment on the pleadings in favor of the University, finding that the Rule is not preempted by section 571.030.6 because the Rule conflicts with section 571.030.6 under either the statute's plain and ordinary meaning or after applying principles of statutory construction, in that the statute plainly provides that state entities such as the University shall not prohibit their employees from having firearms which are not visible in their locked vehicles while conducting activities within the scope of their employment, and in that all applicable principles of statutory interpretation support the State's view of this interpretation. We agree.

Standard of Review

"The question presented in a motion of judgment on the pleadings is whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the face of the pleadings." Buehrle v. Missouri Dept. of Corrections , 344 S.W.3d 269, 270 (Mo. App. E.D. 2011). " ‘A court's grant of judgment on the pleadings is reviewed de novo. ’ " Bell v. Phillips , 465 S.W.3d 544, 547 (Mo. App. W.D. 2015) (citation omitted). Moreover, here the State challenges the trial court's interpretation of section 571.030.6, and "[s]tatutory interpretation is a question of law" that we review de novo. Henry v. Piatchek , 578 S.W.3d 374, 378 (Mo. banc 2019).

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Analysis

"The issue of preemption may be divided into two questions: (1) Has the Missouri legislature expressly preempted the area?; and (2) Is the [University's] regulation in conflict with state law?" St. Charles County Ambulance Dist v. Town of Dardenne Prairie , 39 S.W.3d 67, 68 (Mo. App. E.D. 2001). "In construing statutes to determine whether the area of regulation has been expressly preempted, we look to the statute's plain and ordinary meaning." Id. at 68-69. "[W]hen the expressed or implied provisions of the local regulation and the state statute are inconsistent and in irreconcilable conflict, then the local regulation is void. A conflict exists if the local regulation ‘permits what the statute prohibits’ or ‘prohibits what the statute permits.’ " Id. at 69 (citations omitted).3 "In order to interpret the expressions ‘prohibit what the statute permits’ and ‘permits what the statute prohibits’ we look to specific substantive prohibitions and liberties in the statute[.]" Miller v. City of Town & Country , 62 S.W.3d 431, 438 (Mo. App. E.D. 2001).

"This Court's primary rule of statutory interpretation is to give effect to legislative intent as reflected in the plain language of the statute at issue." Karney v. Dep't of Labor & Indus. Relations , 599 S.W.3d 157, 162 (Mo. banc 2020) (internal quotation marks omitted). Accordingly:

We will look beyond the plain meaning of the statute only when the language is ambiguous or would lead to an absurd or illogical result. A statute is ambiguous when its plain language does not answer the current dispute as to its meaning. Ambiguities in statutes are resolved by determining the intent of the legislature and by giving effect to its intent if possible. When determining the legislative intent of a statute, no portion of the statute is read in isolation, but rather the portions are read in context to harmonize all of the statute's provisions. Rules of statutory construction are used to resolve any ambiguities if the legislative intent is undeterminable from the plain meaning of the statutory language.

Truman Med. Ctr., Inc. v. Progressive Cas. Ins. Co. , 597 S.W.3d 362, 367 (Mo. App. W.D. 2020) (quoting Truman Med. Ctr., Inc. v. Am. Standard Ins. Co. , 508 S.W.3d 122, 124-25 (Mo. App. W.D. 2017) (internal quotation marks omitted)).

Section 571.030.6 provides:

Notwithstanding any provision of this section to the contrary, the state shall not prohibit any state employee from having a firearm in the employee's vehicle on the state's property provided that the vehicle is locked and the firearm is not visible. This subsection shall only apply to the state as an employer when the state employee's vehicle is on property owned or leased by the state and the state employee is conducting activities within the scope of his or her employment. For the purposes of this subsection, ‘state employee’ means an employee of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the government of the state of Missouri.

The Rule provides, in pertinent part, "The possession of ... firearms ... on University property ... is prohibited except in regularly approved programs or by University agents or employees in the line of duty."4

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1 practice notes
  • Lamy v. Stahl Speciality Co., WD85163
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • July 26, 2022
    ...reply brief, and we are precluded from addressing arguments made for the first time in the reply brief." State ex rel. Schmitt v. Choi, 627 S.W.3d 1, 18 n.14 (Mo. App. W.D. 2021). [4]Lamy's reply brief summarily alleges that Lamy was "tricked" into entering into the compromise settlement fo......
3 cases
  • Tinnin v. Modot & Patrol Employees' Ret. Sys., WD 84636
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • May 31, 2022
    ...the trial court's interpretation of a statute, however, concerns an issue of law that we review de novo. State ex rel. Schmitt v. Choi , 627 S.W.3d 1, 6 (Mo. App. W.D. 2021).AnalysisMPERS presents six points on appeal. Point One alleges that the trial court committed legal error in interpre......
  • Lamy v. Stahl Speciality Co., WD 85163
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • July 26, 2022
    ...reply brief, and we are precluded from addressing arguments made for the first time in the reply brief." State ex rel. Schmitt v. Choi , 627 S.W.3d 1, 18 n.14 (Mo. App. W.D. 2021).4 Lamy's reply brief summarily alleges that Lamy was "tricked" into entering into the compromise settlement for......
  • Lamy v. Stahl Speciality Co., WD85163
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • July 26, 2022
    ...reply brief, and we are precluded from addressing arguments made for the first time in the reply brief." State ex rel. Schmitt v. Choi, 627 S.W.3d 1, 18 n.14 (Mo. App. W.D. 2021). [4]Lamy's reply brief summarily alleges that Lamy was "tricked" into entering into the compromise settlement fo......

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