Hearing before planning commission not a ‘contested case’ under Missouri Administrative Procedures Act

by Andrea Vaage

450 N. Lindbergh Legal Fund v. City of Creve Coeur, Missouri
Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, June 16, 2015

Biermann Company owned a 1.98 acre tract in Creve Coeur, Missouri. The property was located in a General Commercial zoning district, which allows assisted-living facilities as a conditional use. Biermann Company applied for a conditional-use permit for an assisted-living facility for the elderly. The Planning and Zoning Commission recommended approval of the CUP after a public hearing, and the City council later approved the permit application.

Plaintiffs sought judicial review of City of Creve Coeur’s approval of the conditional-use permit as a contested case under the Missouri Administrative Procedures Act (MAPA). The trial court dismissed the petition on its merits.  The plaintiffs appealed the decision.

The threshold question before the Court was whether the case could be tried as a contested case (versus a noncontested case) under MAPA.  MAPA  defines a contested case as “a proceeding before an agency in which legal rights, duties or privileges of specific parties are required by law to be determined after hearing.” In order for a case to qualify as contested, parties must be given an opportunity for a formal hearing with the presentation of evidence, including sworn testimony and cross-examination of witnesses.  Contested cases also require written findings of fact and conclusions of law.  The hearing must be mandated by a statute or ordinance outside the MAPA.

As per rules set out in Creve Coeur City Code 405.170, the Planning and Zoning Commission held a public hearing about the conditional-use permit for the assisted-living facility. The City Code provides no procedural requirements for the hearing. The hearing for the assisted-living facility was held on the record and those who spoke were sworn in; however, no witnesses were examined or cross-examined, no objections to evidence were made, and no formal rules of evidence were followed.  Furthermore, the hearing was held for the Planning and Zoning Commission to make a recommendation to the City Council. The City Council made the final decision for the CUP application; therefore, the hearing held before the Commission did not determine the legal rights, duties, or privileges of specific parties.

The Court found that the recommendation of the Planning and Zoning Commission could not be reviewed as a contested case, and since plaintiffs sought judicial review under the sections governing contested cases it was improper for the trial court to consider the case.  As a result, the Missouri Court of Appeals reversed the case and remanded it to the trial court with instructions to dismiss the petition for review on grounds that plaintiffs failed to state claim upon which relief can be granted.

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