State v. Richardson, Nos. WD 74907

CourtCourt of Appeal of Missouri (US)
Writing for the CourtTHOMAS H. NEWTON
Citation396 S.W.3d 387
PartiesSTATE of Missouri ex rel. WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY, Respondent, v. Jessica RICHARDSON, Appellant; Missouri Commission on Human Rights, Appellant.
Decision Date30 April 2013
Docket NumberWD 74993.,Nos. WD 74907

396 S.W.3d 387

STATE of Missouri ex rel. WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY, Respondent,
v.
Jessica RICHARDSON, Appellant; Missouri Commission on Human Rights, Appellant.

Nos. WD 74907, WD 74993.

Missouri Court of Appeals,
Western District.

Feb. 5, 2013.
Motion for Rehearing and/or Transfer to Supreme Court Denied March 5, 2013.

Application for Transfer to Supreme Court Denied April 30, 2013.


[396 S.W.3d 389]


Vanessa Ellis, St. Louis, MO, for appellant, MO, Commission.

[396 S.W.3d 390]

John Lynn, St. Louis, MO, for appellant, Richardson.


Molly Han, St. Louis, MO, for respondent, Richardson.

Ian Cooper, St. Louis, MO, for respondent.

Katherine Nash, St. Louis, MO, for respondent.

Before: THOMAS H. NEWTON, P.J., JOSEPH M. ELLIS, and GARY D. WITT, JJ.

THOMAS H. NEWTON, Presiding Judge.

In a consolidated appeal, the Missouri Commission on Human Rights (MCHR) and Ms. Jessica Richardson appeal from the trial court's judgment and order in prohibition barring the MCHR from acting on Ms. Richardson's claims of sex discrimination against Washington University (the University) under the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA). We reverse and remand with direction to quash the writ of prohibition.

Factual and Procedural Background

In June 2010, Ms. Richardson filed a complaint of discrimination with the MCHR against the University. The complaint stated that she enrolled in the University's Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program at the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts (Fox School). Ms. Richardson alleged that she was sexually harassed and verbally abused by her advisor from January 2009 until she left the program without graduating, and that the University retaliated against her for reporting the advisor's conduct. She asserted that she sought assistance in November 2009 in a meeting with the Director of the Graduate School of Art at the University (Director), but the Director took no action. In December 2009, her advisor subsequently cancelled, and then rescheduled, her end of semester review without informing her of the date and time. When she failed to appear at the review, she was expelled from the MFA program.

Ms. Richardson stated she subsequently met with the Dean of the Fox School, who rescheduled the review. The Director placed Ms. Richardson on probation for the spring 2010 semester and assigned new advisors. Ms. Richardson alleged that she received contradictory information as to the expectations she was required to fulfill to finish her MFA, and that the Director informed her in May 2010 that she would not receive a final review and would not graduate with her class.

After the complaint was filed, the MCHR notified the University. The University petitioned the circuit court for a writ of prohibition, contending that the MCHR had no jurisdiction over Ms. Richardson's complaint because the University was not a place of public accommodation under the MHRA. The University requested that the MCHR be prohibited from taking further action, including barring it from issuing Ms. Richardson a right to sue letter. The trial court entered a preliminary order of prohibition, barring the MCHR from taking further action on Ms. Richardson's complaint. Ms. Richardson was granted leave to intervene. Both MCHR and Ms. Richardson moved to quash the preliminary writ and a hearing was held.

In a judgment on February 2, 2012, the trial court made its preliminary writ absolute. It determined that the MCHR did not have jurisdiction over Ms. Richardson's complaint because the MFA program was not a place of public accommodation. It further found that the MCHR had no authority to issue a right to sue letter and

[396 S.W.3d 391]

ordered the MCHR to administratively close Ms. Richardson's complaint. Ms. Richardson and the MCHR appeal.

Standard of Review

The “power to issue a writ of prohibition is limited to correction or limitation of an inferior court or agency that is acting without, or in excess of, its jurisdiction.” State ex rel. AG Processing Inc. v. Thompson, 100 S.W.3d 915, 919 (Mo.App. W.D.2003). A party is not entitled to the issuance of a writ, and in each case, whether a writ should be issued is left to the court's discretion. Id. The court may issue a writ “when the facts and circumstances of a particular case demonstrate unequivocally that an extreme necessity for preventative action exists.” Id. Consequently, we review the issuance of a writ of prohibition for abuse of discretion. State ex rel. City of Jennings v. Riley, 236 S.W.3d 630, 631 (Mo. banc 2007). The trial court abuses its discretion if it fails to follow the applicable statutes. Id. However, where “the foundation of the writ is based upon interpretation of a statute,” our review of the statute's meaning is de novo. Pitts v. Williams, 315 S.W.3d 755, 759 (Mo.App. W.D.2010). We are mindful that a writ is an extraordinary remedy and it must be used “with great caution, forbearance, and only in cases of extreme necessity.” AG Processing Inc., 100 S.W.3d at 919.

Legal Analysis

On appeal, Ms. Richardson raises one point, arguing that the trial court erred in granting the writ because the University is a place of public accommodation under the MHRA in that: (1) it receives public funds; and (2) it offers educational services to the public. The MCHR raises two points. In its first point, the MCHR argues that the trial court erred in granting a writ of prohibition because Missouri law holds it can issue a right-to-sue letter at any time during the administrative process of a case, and the scope of the MHRA is for the parties to litigate. In its second point, the MCHR argues that the trial court erred in finding the Fox School was not a place of public accommodation because the proper issue was whether the University was a place of public accommodation. For ease of discussion, we combine the parties' arguments where they overlap and discuss them out of order.

Section 213.0651 mandates that all “persons are entitled to the full and equal use and enjoyment of public accommodations within this state without discrimination.” Doe ex rel. Subia v. Kansas City, Mo. Sch. Dist., 372 S.W.3d 43, 47–48 (Mo.App. W.D.2012). The section makes it an unlawful 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 ... or to segregate or discriminate against any such person in the use thereof on the grounds of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, ancestry, or disability.
§ 213.065.2. Sections 213.010 and 213.065 define “place of public accommodation.” 213.065.2. Subsection 213.010(15) provides in relevant part that “places of public accommodation” are:

all places or businesses offering or holding out to the general public, goods, services, privileges, facilities, advantages or accommodations for the peace, comfort,

[396 S.W.3d 392]

health, welfare and safety of the general public or such public places providing food, shelter, recreation and amusement[.]

Subsection 213.010(15) then provides a non-exclusive list of examples of places, businesses, and other establishments that are places of public accommodation. Subia, 372 S.W.3d at 48. Subsection 213.065.3 excludes particular places from the ban on discrimination. Under subsection 213.065.3, a place is excluded if it is a:

private club, a place of accommodation owned by or operated on behalf of a religious corporation, association or society, or other establishment which is not in fact open to the public, unless the facilities of such establishments are made available to the customers or patrons of a place of public accommodation as defined in section 213.010 and this section.

§ 213.065.3. At issue in this case is whether the University was a “place of public accommodation” under these sections.2

Our goal in interpreting statutes is “to ascertain the intent of the legislature, as expressed in the words of the statute, and that goal is achieved by giving the language used its plain and ordinary meaning.” City of Jennings, 236 S.W.3d at 631 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). We give meaning to “each word, clause, sentence, and section” and do not presume language used by the legislature to be superfluous. Williams, 315 S.W.3d at 759 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). To determine the legislature's purpose we “do not read statutory provisions in isolation but, rather, we construe the provisions of a legislative act together and read a questioned phrase in harmony with the entire act.” Subia, 372 S.W.3d at 47 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

The MHRA's prohibition against discrimination serves a remedial purpose: it is designed to be conducive to public welfare and the public good. Id. at 47. As such, it must be interpreted “liberally to include those cases which are within the spirit of the law and all reasonable doubts should be construed in favor of applicability

[396 S.W.3d 393]

to the case.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).3

Supported in Whole or in Part by Public Funds

Ms. Richardson argues that the University is a public accommodation under subsection 213.010(15)(e) because it receives government funds. That subsection provides that “places of public accommodation” include:

(e) Any public facility owned, operated, or managed by or on behalf of this state or any agency or subdivision thereof, or any public corporation; and any such facility supported in whole or in part by public funds;

§ 213.010(15)(e) (emphasis added).


The plain language of the provision cannot support Ms. Richardson's argument. Subsection 213.010(15)(e) plainly states that a place of public accommodation includes (1) any public facility, (2) that is owned, operated, or managed by or on behalf of the state, a state agency, or a subdivision of the state, or by a public corporation, (3) and any...

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9 practice notes
  • v. Blue Springs R-Iv Sch. Dist. & Blue Springs Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ., WD80005
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • July 18, 2017
    ...are "places of public accommodation" as that term is defined in section 213.010(15). State ex rel. Washington University v. Richardson, 396 S.W.3d 387, 396 (Mo. App. W.D. 2013) (holding that a private school was nonetheless a "public accommodation" for purposes of section 213.065 on the fac......
  • State v. Welch, No. ED 106820
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • February 11, 2020
    ..."[t]he trial court abuses its discretion if it fails to follow the applicable statutes." State ex rel. Washington Univ. v. Richardson, 396 S.W.3d 387, 391 (Mo. App. W.D. 2013) (citing State ex rel. City of Jennings v. Riley, 236 S.W.3d 630, 631 (Mo. banc 2007)). We review issues involving i......
  • State ex rel. Zimmerman v. Blanc, WD 80744
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • April 10, 2018
    ...of discretion also occurs if the trial court "fails to follow the applicable statutes." State ex rel. Washington Univ. v. Richardson , 396 S.W.3d 387, 391 (Mo. App. W.D. 2013). Where the issuance of a writ is " ‘based upon interpretation of a statute,’ our review of the statute's meaning is......
  • State v. Mo. Comm'n On Human Rights, WD 81135
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals
    • August 21, 2018
    ...based upon interpretation of a statute,’ our review of the statute’s meaning is de novo. " State ex rel. Washington Univ. v. Richardson , 396 S.W.3d 387, 391 (Mo. App. W.D. 2013) (citation omitted).The primary goal of statutory interpretation is to give effect to legislative intent, which i......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
9 cases
  • v. Blue Springs R-Iv Sch. Dist. & Blue Springs Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ., WD80005
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • July 18, 2017
    ...are "places of public accommodation" as that term is defined in section 213.010(15). State ex rel. Washington University v. Richardson, 396 S.W.3d 387, 396 (Mo. App. W.D. 2013) (holding that a private school was nonetheless a "public accommodation" for purposes of section 213.065 on the fac......
  • State v. Welch, No. ED 106820
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • February 11, 2020
    ..."[t]he trial court abuses its discretion if it fails to follow the applicable statutes." State ex rel. Washington Univ. v. Richardson, 396 S.W.3d 387, 391 (Mo. App. W.D. 2013) (citing State ex rel. City of Jennings v. Riley, 236 S.W.3d 630, 631 (Mo. banc 2007)). We review issues involving i......
  • State v. Mo. Comm'n On Human Rights, WD 81135
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals
    • August 21, 2018
    ...based upon interpretation of a statute,’ our review of the statute’s meaning is de novo. " State ex rel. Washington Univ. v. Richardson , 396 S.W.3d 387, 391 (Mo. App. W.D. 2013) (citation omitted).The primary goal of statutory interpretation is to give effect to legislative intent, which i......
  • State ex rel. Zimmerman v. Blanc, WD 80744
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • April 10, 2018
    ...of discretion also occurs if the trial court "fails to follow the applicable statutes." State ex rel. Washington Univ. v. Richardson , 396 S.W.3d 387, 391 (Mo. App. W.D. 2013). Where the issuance of a writ is " ‘based upon interpretation of a statute,’ our review of the statute's meaning is......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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