JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Supreme Court has affirmed a Cole County Circuit Court decision that dismissed an employer's petitions for writs of mandamus involving a discrimination complaint before the Missouri Commission on Human Rights (MCHR).
According to an opinion issued Aug. 22, Judge Patricia Joyce had rejected Tivol Plaza Inc.'s argument that the MCHR had to first decide whether an employee's complaint was filed timely with the MCHR before it had authority to issue an employee a right-to-sue letter.
The high court ruled 5-1 that the circuit court had no authority to direct the MCHR to perform an act the Missouri Human Rights Act prohibits, and "it properly refused to issue writs directing the MCHR to do so," the ruling states.
A writ of mandamus is an order from a court to an inferior government official ordering the official to properly fulfill their official duties or correct an abuse of discretion, according to Wex Legal Dictionary.
The majority of justices, including Laura Denvir Stith, George Draper, Paul Wilson, Mary Russell and Patricia Breckenridge, indicated its review was on the legal question as to whether the relevant statute allows a circuit court to direct the MCHR to continue to process a complaint once it has issued a right to sue letter after 180 days.
The high court held that the circuit court's summons "were the functional equivalent of preliminary writs."
It found that the circuit court improperly issued a summons instead of a preliminary writ as required by Rule 94.04, which holds that “If the court is of the opinion that the preliminary order in mandamus should be granted, such order shall be issued.”
Citing a decision in U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs v. Boresi, the opinion states, "Writs are extraordinary remedies, and their procedures differ from normal civil actions. ... The practice of issuing a summons rather than a preliminary order fails to acknowledge the nature of the remedy.”
In dissent, Chief Justice Zel Fischer found no compelling reason "to depart from this Court's clear admonition and declaration of law" expressed in Boresi.
In that case, Fischer wrote, a circuit court's "practice of issuing a summons in lieu of a preliminary writ is not authorized by Rule 94."
"Enforcing our rules will encourage the court of appeals – as it did in these cases prior to transfer – and the circuit courts to follow this Court's rules," Fischer wrote.
He added that failure by the court to enforce its own rules "perpetuates uncertainty as to when this Court will rationalize an excuse to follow proper procedure.
"In my view, it is not good policy for this Court not to follow its own rules. The resolution of the extremely narrow legal issue presented in these two cases does not justify litigants' and circuit courts' decisions to not follow the rules of civil procedure. In fact, it could be argued that if there are numerous pending cases raising the same legal issue, those litigants and circuit courts that followed proper procedure should be entitled to prompt resolution, as opposed to those litigants and circuit courts that did not follow proper procedure."