This Week in Missouri Supreme Court: Week of October 30, 2017

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Missouri Supreme Court issued hand downs for six cases and disciplined five attorneys.

In Sun Aviation Inc. v. L-3 Communications Avionics Systems Inc., Sun Aviation sued L-3 Communication under the Merchandising Practices chapter of Missouri Revised Statutes and for fraudulent concealment. Sun was contracted to distribute the aircraft instruments produced by L-3 until L-3’s parent company decided to end their partnership with Sun as a consolidation process. The circuit court supported Sun’s claims on every count, awarded damages, and L-3 appealed.

The Missouri Supreme Court unanimously decided to uphold some of Sun’s claims, reversed some, and sent the case back. The court reversed the circuit court’s decision under the Merchandising Practices claim because the product did not completely fit the definition of “industrial, maintenance, and construction power equipment.”

Secondly, the court reversed the circuit court’s decision on the fraudulent concealment claim. Since L-3 was not aware of their parent company’s decision to terminate their agreement, the Missouri Supreme Court decided that L-3 should not be held responsible. Sun also was not required to inform L-3 why their contract was terminated.

Finally, the Missouri Supreme Court determined that the circuit court incorrectly assessed damages for Sun’s claim under the franchise act. Under state law, the L-3’s parent company should have delivered a written notice 90 days before the termination of their contract. The damages were incurred by the company’s failure to deliver the notice – which the Missouri Supreme Court decided to send back to the circuit court to determine the damages.

PHOTO/THE MISSOURI TIMES

In State ex rel. Amy J. Fite, Christian County Prosecuting Attorney v. The Honorable Laura Johnson, and State of Missouri v. Robby Ledford, when Ledford confessed to felony stealing, the circuit court determined that he should go to prison, suspended the imposition of his sentence, and placed him on probation instead. The circuit court would eventually revoke his probation and sent him to prison. He tried to revoke his guilty plea under the 2016 decision State v. Bazel and the circuit court changed his sentence from a felony to a misdemeanor. The state of Missouri sought to appeal this decision.

While the Missouri Supreme court dismissed the state’s appeal, it was because Ledford did not have the ability to withdraw his plea. Since Ledford was arrested before Bazel was a part of the legal system, the legal precedent that would have granted him a lighter sentence did not exist yet and does not apply retroactively. The court decided that circuit court did not have the ability to re-decide Ledford’s sentence and so his claim did not have merit.

In Todd Bearden v. State of Missouri, the circuit court decided that Bearden would spend 14 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to felony possession of a chemical with the intent to create a controlled substance. During an April 2015 probation revocation hearing, his probation was revoked, and sentenced to prison. His public defender tried to file a motion for post-conviction relief and a transcript of his guilty plea. The court granted Bearden and his public attorney an extension to file his motion, but the public defender filed the motion after the deadline. The court denied Bearden’s relief, which he then appealed.

The Missouri Supreme Court unanimously reversed the court’s denial of Bearden’s relief. They sent the case back to determine whether the public defender technically abandoned him by filing the amended motion late. Since the extension only began after the transcript was filed and the sentencing hearing, the court decided that hearing was not affected by the attorney’s late filing.

In The Doe Run Resources Corporation v. American Guarantee & Liability Insurance and Lexington Insurance Company, St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Company, citizens who lived near a complex owned by the Doe Run Resources Corporations in Peru, claimed they were injured by the company’s pollution in the air and water. Doe Run, who creates lead and lead concrete through mining and smelting processes, sued St. Paul Insurance to reimburse the legal costs of the initial case.

In the subsequent case, St. Paul posited that it was not legally compelled to defend Doe Run because the company had violated their policy through their initial lawsuit. The circuit court decided that since St. Paul was their primary insurer, they should have to cover Doe Run and awarded $2.12 in damages, interest, and costs – which St. Paul appealed.

The Missouri Supreme Court reversed the circuit court’s decision and found that St. Paul’s policy does not cover toxic tort cases from industrial pollution and also does not cover injuries from an irritant or contaminant. Since their emissions in the air and water contained lead which is defined as an irritant or a contaminant, Doe Run was not covered.

In State ex rel. Steven Pinkerton v. The Honorable Joel P. Fahnestock, Pinkerton filed a suit against the Aviation Institute of Maintenance in Kansas City for fraud, misrepresentation, and deception about the school’s graduation and job placement rates, starting salaries, and costs for the school’s programs. The school filed a motion to dismiss the claim or initiate a forced arbitration of his claims. The circuit court decided that the parties should compel an arbitration of his claims. Pinkerton raised an issue with the arbitrator and said that he or she should neither consider threshold issues because it was unconscionable nor implement national arbitration rules.

The Missouri Supreme Court quashed the preliminary writ, saying that the circuit court properly forced arbitration and should have implemented national arbitration rules. Since the agreement Pinkerton signed to enroll with the school explicitly references the rules for arbitration, it allows the school to implement such rules.  The court also found that he did not challenge the delegation provision of the threshold issue, it must be enforced.

The Missouri Supreme court disciplined St. Louis County attorney Timothy Belz for violating the safekeeping property rule of the Missouri Bar and placed him on probation.

The court also disciplined Clayton attorney Wayne Richard Brewster for professional misconduct after not giving an answer required. He is suspended indefinitely and will have to wait two years for a petition for reinstatement.

It was decided that Clayton attorney Robert Leggat would be placed on probation for failing to timely withdraw fees from an account, failed to deliver the funds within a reasonable time, and failed to “adequately supervise the reconciliation of the law firm trust account.”

The court placed Lamar Ottsen on probation for depositing attorney fees that were earned into a trust account, failed to withdraw his fees in a timely fashion, and failed to adequately supervise the trust account.

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Michael Layer is a reporter for the Missouri Times and the Missouri Times Magazine. He joined the Missouri Times in August 2017 after graduating from Goucher College the previous May. To contact Michael, email michael@themissouritimes.com or follow him on Twitter @_MichaelLayer