Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Missouri

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In this appeal from the circuit court's finding that D.C.M. committed an act that, if committed by an adult, would have constituted the felony of making a terrorist threat in the second degree, the Supreme Court remanded this case to the circuit court for an evidentiary hearing to determine whether counsel was ineffective and otherwise affirmed the judgment, holding that the record was insufficient to determine whether counsel was ineffective. D.C.M. was sitting in a school cafeteria when he told another student that he felt like "blowing the school up" or wanted to see how it felt to "shoot the school up." Based on this evidence, the circuit court placed D.C.M. in the custody of the division of youth services for an indefinite term. The Supreme Court held (1) D.C.M.'s ineffective assistance of counsel claims could not be addressed on direct appeal because the record was insufficient to address these claims; (2) the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in denying counsel's request for a continuance; and (3) there was sufficient evidence for the circuit court to find beyond a reasonable doubt that D.C.M. committed an act which, if committed by an adult, would have constituted the felony of making a terrorist threat in the second degree. View "D.C.M. v. Pemiscot County Juvenile Office" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court finding Defendant guilty of the first-degree murder of a ten-year-old girl and sentencing him to death, holding that none of Defendant's assignments of error warranted reversal. Specifically, the Court held that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion by (1) overruling Defendant's objection to the admission of photographs from the victim's cellphone; (2) admitting gun evidence found in Defendant's home; (3) admitting the contents of a folder containing photos of Defendant's female, middle school students and accounts of fictional sexual encounters with thirteen-year-old girls; (4) admitting victim impact evidence; (5) permitting the State to argue during closing argument that the jury could speak for the victim and her family by sentencing Defendant to death; and (6) sustaining the State's motion to strike a venire person for cause during the death qualification voir dire. Further, Defendant's constitutional arguments were unavailing, and Defendant's death sentence met all the statutory requirements. View "State v. Wood" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the motion court accepting Defendant's guilty plea to first-degree murder, first-degree robbery, and armed criminal action and sentencing him to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, holding that Defendant's counsel was effective and that Defendant's plea was entered knowingly and voluntarily. After the circuit court imposed the sentence Defendant filed a motion for postconviction relief alleging, among other things, that his counsel was ineffective, and therefore, his plea was not entered knowingly and voluntarily. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Defendant was not coerced into accepting the State's plea agreement; (2) Defendant was competent to plead guilty; and (3) counsel was not ineffective for declining to seek a second competency examination. View "Johnson v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the labor and industrial relations commission affirming the award of the administrative law judge (ALJ) determining that Douglas Cosby was not entitled to permanent total disability (PTD) or permanent partial disability (PPD) benefits from the second injury fund pursuant to Mo. Rev. Stat. 287.220.3, holding that the commission did not err and that section 287.220.3, as applied to Cosby, does not violate the open courts provision or Cosby's due process and equal protection rights. Cosby injured his knee during the course of his employment. Cosby filed a workers' compensation claim against his employer and the second injury fund alleging that he was disabled as a result of his knee injury combined with his preexisting disabilities. An ALJ denied benefits, and the commission affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the commission properly interpreted section 287.220 to find that Cosby was not entitled to PPD benefits from the fund because his knee injury occurred after January 1, 2014; and (2) interpreting section 287.220.3(2) to not provide PPD benefits from the fund does not violate the Missouri open courts provision or Defendant's due process or equal protection rights. View "Cosby v. Treasurer of the State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the motion court overruling Appellant's Mo. R. Crim. P. 29.15 motion for post-conviction relief alleging several claims of ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel, holding that Appellant's claims of error were unavailing. After a jury trial, Appellant was found guilty of one count of first-degree murder for the death of a Missouri highway patrolman. The jury was unable to agree whether to recommend a sentence of death or life imprisonment. The circuit court subsequently conducted an independent review of the facts and imposed a death sentence. The Supreme Court affirmed on appeal. Thereafter, Appellant filed his Rule 29.15 motion. The motion court denied the motion after an evidentiary hearing. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding, among other things, that counsel were not ineffective in failing to question Juror 58 during voir dire about the provocative and violent novel he admitted writing and in failing to call other jurors in support of Appellant's motion for new trial. View "Shockley v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court remanded this case resulting in Defendant's convictions of first- and second-degree murder and sentence of death for the first-degree murder and life imprisonment for the second-degree murder, holding that Defendant's second-degree murder conviction must be reversed and that the judgment on the first-degree murder must be reversed as to the penalty phase of the trial. Specifically, the Court held (1) the circuit court erred when it refused to submit Defendant's proposed jury instructions for second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter in that there was sufficient evidence from which the jury could find that Defendant acted out of sudden passion arising from adequate cause; (2) the circuit court erred in admitting statements made in violation of Defendant's Miranda rights, but the error was harmless; (3) the circuit court violated Defendant's right to due process by admitting evidence of his post-Miranda silence, but those violations were harmless; and (4) the circuit court erred when it overruled Defendant's objection to the State's penalty phase closing argument in which the State made an impermissible reference to Defendant's decision not to testify, and this error required the judgment on the first-degree murder to be reversed as to the penalty phase of the trial. View "State v. Rice" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the circuit court, after a bench trial, finding Defendant “not guilty” of felony sexual misconduct involving a child by indecent exposure because the statute under which he was charged was unconstitutionally overbroad as applied to Defendant’s case, holding that, based on the record, the Court was unable to ascertain the precise nature of the circuit court’s ruling. On appeal, the State argued that the circuit court’s judgment was equivalent to a dismissal of the indictment following a guilty verdict, and therefore, Defendant was not acquitted of the offense. In response, Defendant argued that the circuit court’s judgment was a judgment of acquittal because the circuit court expressly found him not guilty. Therefore, Defendant argued, the appeal was barred by double jeopardy. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment and remanded the case with instructions to enter a new judgment, holding that the Court could not consider the appeal or motion to dismiss on the merits because the Court was unable to determine if the judgment was an acquittal or a dismissal. View "State v. Ward" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the trial court awarding Matthew Vacca actual and punitive damages, including substantial future lost wages, on his claim that he was retaliated against for filing a complaint with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging disability discrimination, holding that the trial court abused its discretion in refusing to apply judicial estoppel to Vacca’s claim of future lost wages. The circuit court found Vacca claimed in this case that he could have continued to work as an administrative law judge (ALJ) for twenty more years. In Vacca’s ongoing dissolution proceeding, however, he claimed he was entitled to maintenance because he was totally unable to work due to his disability. The circuit court concluded that it was barred from applying judicial estoppel because the dissolution judgment had been remanded for further proceedings based on evidentiary errors. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) once a party takes inconsistent positions, there are no fixed prerequisites to application of judicial estoppel; and (2) the trial court abused its discretion in refusing to apply judicial estoppel to preclude Vacca from making the inconsistent claim that he was able to work as an ALJ for another twenty years with reasonable accommodations. View "Vacca v. Missouri Department of Labor & Industrial Relations, Division of Workers' Compensation" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the circuit court dismissing with prejudice R.M.A.’s petition alleging that Defendants, a school district and school board, unlawfully discriminated against him on the grounds of his sex in violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA), Mo. Rev. Stat. 213.065, holding that R.M.A.’s petition alleged facts that, if taken as true, established the elements of a claim under section 213.065. R.M.A. filed suit alleging that his “legal sex is male” and that, by denying him access to the boys’ restrooms and locker rooms, Defendants discriminated against him in the use of a public accommodation “on the grounds of his sex.” The circuit court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment below and remanded the case to the circuit court for further proceedings, holding that R.M.A. stated a claim under section 213.065.2. View "R.M.A. v. Blue Springs R-IV School District" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court granting summary judgment in favor of the Missouri Commission on Human Rights (Commission) on Appellants’ consolidated allegations of violations of the Missouri Human Rights Act (Act), Mo. Rev. Stat. 213.010 et seq., holding that the circuit court erred in finding that Appellants’ claims failed under Pittman v. Cook Paper Recycling Corp., 478 S.W.3d 479 (Mo. App. W.D. 2015). Specifically, the circuit court relied upon Pittman’s holding that the Act does not include claims for sex discrimination based upon sexual orientation and then extended that rationale to include claims for sex discrimination based upon sex stereotyping. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case, holding (1) the Commission improperly characterized Appellants’ claims as sexual orientation discrimination, and therefore, the circuit court’s reliance on Pittman was misplaced; and (2) the circuit court erred in issuing summary judgment in favor of Defendant because the Act covers sex discrimination. View "Lampley v. Missouri Commission on Human Rights" on Justia Law