Tietjens v. City of St. Louis

Citation222 S.W.2d 70,359 Mo. 439
Decision Date11 July 1949
Docket Number41343
PartiesOtto Tietjens, Edgbert A. Ramsey and Laura E. Ramsey, Arthur M. Cooper, Natalia Moiser, William F. Schmidt and Barbara C. Schmidt, Kate Weinerth, John Skarha, James T. Aldrich and Athalia F. Aldrich, Leslie E. Wingo and Blondell Wingo, William S. Turnstall, Paul Bruckner, Jr., and Florence Bruckner, Frank Woeltge and Laura Woeltge, R.A. Baundendistel, Inc., and George C. Dieghert, for Themselves and on Behalf of the Class of Owners, Lessors, Sublessors of Housing Accommodations Located in the City of St. Louis, Missouri, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. The City of St. Louis, a Municipal Corporation, Aloys P. Kaufmann, Mayor of the City of St. Louis, Charles C. Wilson, Kathryn Cross and Robert N. Owens, Acting as Housing and Rent Commissioners of the City of St. Louis, H. Sam Priest, President of the Board of Police of the City of St. Louis, and J. E. Taylor, Attorney General of the State of Missouri, Defendants-Respondents
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Missouri

Appeal from Circuit Court of City of St. Louis; Hon. William K Koerner, Judge.

Judgment reversed and rights of plaintiffs declared.


The rent control ordinance of the City of St. Louis is invalid, as the state has not delegated to the city its police power to regulate rents. An action under the Declaratory Judgment Act by property owners affected by the ordinance was a proper remedy. Plaintiffs' petition was improperly dismissed and their rights are declared.

Jones, Hocker, Gladney & Grand, Lon O. Hocker, Jr., and Benjamin Roth for appellants.

(1) The court erred in dismissing the action because the petition states facts entitling the plaintiffs to a declaration of their rights under the Declaratory Judgment Act (Art. 14, Ch. 6, R.S. Mo. 1939), and the action was not premature. King v. Priest, 357 Mo. 68, 206 S.W.2d 547, appeal dismissed, 332 U.S. 852; City of Joplin v. Jasper County, 349 Mo. 441, 161 S.W.2d 411; Terrace v. Thompson, 263 U.S. 197; City of Nevada v. Welty, 356 Mo. 734, 203 S.W.2d 459; Wire Co. v. Wollbrinck, 275 Mo. 339, 205 S.W. 196; Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510; Euclid v. Ambler Co., 272 U.S. 365; Dill v. Hamilton, 137 Neb. 723, 291 N.W. 62; Borchard, Declaratory Judgments (2d Ed.), p. 7. (2) The court erred in dismissing the petition because the petition states facts showing that the ordinance is void in that the ordinance is not within the powers of the City of St. Louis, since the City does not have the power to limit rents of private housing nor to control evictions. City of St. Louis v. Southwestern Bell Telephone Co., 96 Mo. 623, 10 S.W. 197; Turner v. Kansas City, 354 Mo. 857, 191 S.W.2d 612; Carter Carburetor Co. v. St. Louis, 346 Mo. 646, 203 S.W.2d 438; State ex rel. Spencer v. Anderson, 101 S.W.2d 530; State ex rel. Kennedy v. Remmers, 340 Mo. 126, 101 S.W.2d 70; Kansas City v. Threshing Machine Co., 337 Mo. 913, 87 S.W.2d 195; Sec. 7442, R.S. 1939; Chaps. 12, 13, Art. 2, R.S. 1939; Sec. 14, Art. I, Const. of Missouri; Charter of St. Louis: Art. I, Sec. 1, Par. 13; Art. I, Sec. 1, Par. 16; Art. I, Sec. 1, Par. 18; Art. XIX, Sec. 1; Art. XIX, Sec. 2.

Robert Kratky for respondents.

(1) The petition does not state a justiciable controversy, and, therefore, was properly dismissed. City of Joplin v. Jasper County, 349 Mo. 441, 161 S.W.2d 411; Alabama State Federation of Labor v. McAdory, 325 U.S. 450; Saline Branch Drainage Dist. v. Urbana-Champaign Sanitary Dist., 399 Ill. 189, 77 N.E.2d 158; Oregon Creamery Mfrs. Assn. v. White, 78 P.2d 572; State of Minnesota ex rel. Smith v. Haveland, 223 Minn. 89, 25 N.W.2d 474, 174 A.L.R. 544; Danforth v. City of Yankton, 25 N.W.2d 50; Thomas v. Riggs, 175 P.2d 404; American Federation of Labor v. Bain, 106 P.2d 544; Butler v. Ellis, 47 S.E.2d 861; Declaratory Judgments: Experience Under the Uniform Act, Vol. 26, Washington University Law Quarterly, p. 468; Anderson, Declaratory Judgments, p. 184; Borchard, Declaratory Judgments (2d Ed.), p. 29. (2) The ordinance is constitutional as a valid exercise of the city's police power. City of St. Louis v. Klausmeier, 213 Mo. 119, 112 S.W. 516; Vest v. Kansas City, 355 Mo. 1, 194 S.W.2d 38; Ex parte Williams, 345 Mo. 1121, 139 S.W.2d 485; St. Louis Gunning Adv. Co. v. St. Louis, 235 Mo. 99, 137 S.W. 929; Kalbfell v. St. Louis, 211 S.W.2d 911; State v. Mo. Pac. R. Co., 147 S.W. 118; Block v. Hirsh, 256 U.S. 135; Levy Leasing Co. v. Siegel, 258 U.S. 242; People ex rel. Durham Realty Corp. v. La Fetra, 230 N.Y. 429, 130 N.E. 601, 16 A.L.R. 152; Art. I, Charter of St. Louis, adopted June 30, 1914. (3) A rent control ordinance does not of itself impair the obligation of contracts. American Petroleum Exchange v. Public Service Comm., 172 S.W.2d 952; Home Building & Loan Assn. v. Blaisdell, 290 U.S. 398. (4) The adoption of similar requirements by many cities evidences a deepseated conviction both as to the presence of the evil and as to the means adopted to check it. West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish, 300 U.S. 379; State v. Whittaker, 45 S.E.2d 860; American Federation of Labor v. American Sash & Door Co., 67 Ariz. 29, 189 P.2d 912. (5) The City of St. Louis, operating under a home rule charter, is a sovereignty within a sovereignty, and except as limited by the Constitution or statute, the police power of St. Louis as a home rule city is of the same general scope and nature as that of the state. Kansas City v. J.I. Case Threshing Machine Co., 87 S.W.2d 195; Siemens v. Shreeve, 296 S.W. 415; Kansas City v. Bacon, 147 Mo. 259, 48 S.W. 860; People v. Sell, 310 Mich. 305, 17 N.W.2d 193. (6) An interpretation which gives effect to the ordinance will be chosen instead of one which defeats it. State ex rel. Webster Groves Sanitary Sewer Dist. v. Smith, 342 Mo. 365, 115 S.W.2d 816; Parks v. State Social Security Comm., 160 S.W.2d 823.

Arthur M. O'Keefe, Assistant Attorney General, for J. E. Taylor, Attorney General of the State of Missouri.


Douglas, J.

The question for decision is whether the city of St. Louis is authorized to enact a rent control ordinance. Since the city's charter has not granted it specific power to legislate on such a subject, its authority to do so must be reasonably implied from the broad power in its charter to regulate business generally in the interest of the health, safety and welfare of its inhabitants. While we recognize the worthy purpose sought to be accomplished, still we must hold that the settled law of this state does not permit a city to invoke such power on the ground it is reasonably implied in general powers. Such authority as the city now has to control rates and charges, such as ferry charges and water rates, is by specific grant.

There is also an incidental question of procedure in the case, whether the pleadings present an existing controversy between the parties which has sufficiently developed for determination by a declaratory judgment. We shall first decide the latter question.

The plaintiffs own property in St. Louis which is now, and will be, rented to tenants and lodgers. The property consists of apartment buildings, multiple family flats, rooming houses and a hotel. Plaintiffs have brought this action for a declaratory judgment to test the validity of an ordinance adopted by the people of St. Louis by popular vote in August, 1948. The purpose of the ordinance is to control rents and evictions. The ordinance creates a Housing Rent Commission which is authorized to establish rent ceilings on newly constructed and converted housing accommodations. It provides a rent ceiling for permanent guests in hotels. The penalty for violating the ordinance is a fine of $ 500 and imprisonment for ninety days. The ordinance is intended to supplement the Federal Housing and Rent Act of 1947, 50 U.S. Code App., Sec. 1891, which did not continue the federal regulations of hotels or newly constructed or converted housing accommodations. The Housing Act was part of the Federal Emergency Price Control Act of 1942. The Missouri state control act, also intended to supplement the Federal law, expired by its terms on June 30, 1948. Laws 1947, p. 474.

The ordinance also imposes restrictions on the right of a landlord to evict his tenants and recover possession of his property. These restrictions were tied in with sections of the 1947 Federal Act which have since been repealed by the 1949 Housing and Rent Act. 50 U.S. Code App., Sec. 1899 as amended. Accordingly, it is conceded by respondents that the restrictions on evictions are no longer operative, leaving only the matter of rent control now for determination.

Plaintiffs have joined as defendants the city, members of the Housing Rent Commission, public and law enforcement officials. In their petition they assert the subject of the ordinance is beyond the charter powers of the city, and that it violates various constitutional provisions. They ask the court to determine the constitutionality of the ordinance and plaintiffs' rights, status and legal relations under it.

The trial court dismissed the petition on the ground it did not show a present legal controversy between the parties. It declared it had no jurisdiction "to give advisory legal opinions as to anticipated controversies that have not arisen and may never arise." Plaintiffs have appealed. The trial court has correctly stated the law but we disagree with its holding there is no present controversy. We find the record discloses an actual and existing controversy which has sufficiently developed so as to be properly determinable by a declaratory judgment.

The Declaratory Judgment Act does not intend that courts should issue advisory opinions on hypothetical facts or on some possible future transaction. A declaratory judgment presupposes a present controversy between actual p...

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  • Marshall v. Kansas City
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    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • April 9, 1962
    ...Williams, 345 Mo. 1121, 139 S.W.2d 485, 488; City of St. Louis v. Southcombe, 320 Mo. 865, 8 S.W.2d 1001, 1003; Tietjens v. City of St. Louis, 359 Mo. 439, 222 S.W.2d 70, 73[8, 9]; Wilhoit v. City of Springfield, 237 Mo.App. 775, 171 S.W.2d 95, 100; McGill v. City of St. Joseph, 225 Mo.App.......
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    ...expose himself to enforcement before challenging a statute). One must assume the State will enforce its laws. See Tietjens v. City of St. Louis, 359 Mo. 439, 222 S.W.2d 70, 72 (Mo. banc 1949) (action was ripe even where city was not prepared to enforce the ordinance and the plaintiffs had n......
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    ...or disagreement or argument does not afford adequate basis for invoking the judicial power to declare rights. Tietjens v. City of St. Louis, 359 Mo. 439, 222 S.W.2d 70, 72(3, 4). The facts on which the decision is demanded must have accrued so that the judgment declares the existing law on ......
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