Philip M. Hess, Judge
Plaintiffs Tony Bethmann and Justin Rinaldi appeal the dismissal of their petition for writ of mandamus and civil negligence action brought against the City of St. Charles (City) and numerous city officials (collectively, "Defendants"). In their mandamus action, Plaintiffs sought to compel city officials to collect allegedly unpaid license taxes from restaurant businesses in the City. In their civil suit, Plaintiffs sought monetary damages against the City and city officials based on claims of negligence and respondeat superior. On appeal, Plaintiffs challenge the trial court's dismissal of both actions for lack of standing and failure to state a claim.
On December 30, 2013, Plaintiffs, on behalf of themselves and "others similarly situated," filed a petition for writ of mandamus against the Mayor of the City of St. Charles, the Director of Finance, and several Council Members. Specifically, Plaintiffs sought to compel the collection of allegedly unpaid license taxes "from all persons responsible for the payment of the same under Chapter 620 from January 1,
In January 2014, the trial court entered a preliminary order directing Defendants to "take all actions to collect the [l]icense [t]ax as provided for in Chapter 620 of the [o]rdinances of the City of St. Charles ... from all entities located in the City ... which operate a `restaurant' as defined in Chapter 620." Defendants filed a motion to quash the preliminary order and motions to dismiss both the mandamus action and the civil suit asserting that Plaintiffs lacked standing and failed to state a claim. Following a hearing and arguments by counsel, the trial court granted Defendants' motions and dismissed both actions based on the grounds alleged. Plaintiffs appeal.
Standard of Review
Appellate review of a trial court's dismissal for lack of standing is de novo. Missouri Pub. Serv. Comm'n v. Oneok, Inc., 318 S.W.3d 134, 137 (Mo.App.W.D. 2009). The issue of standing is determined "as a matter of law on the basis of the petition, along with any other noncontested facts accepted as true by the parties at the time the motion to dismiss was argued, and resolve the issue as a matter of law on the basis of the undisputed facts." Id. (citation and quotation omitted). We will affirm the dismissal if it is supported by any ground raised in the motion to dismiss. Dujakovich v. Carnahan, 370 S.W.3d 574, 577 (Mo. banc 2012).
Failure to Comply with Rule 84.04
As an initial matter, we note that Plaintiffs' opening brief contains deficiencies that do not comply with Rule 84.04.
In addition, Plaintiffs' first point relied on is multifarious in violation of Rule 84.04(d)(1), in that, Plaintiffs have attempted to challenge two separate rulings in a single point relied on. See Pool v. Farm Bureau Town & Country Ins., 311 S.W.3d 895, 902 (Mo.App.S.D.2010). The point also contains multiple grounds and legal issues (e.g., standing and failure to state a claim).
Plaintiffs raise four points on appeal. In their first point, Plaintiffs claim the trial court erred in dismissing their actions against Defendants for lack of standing and failure to state a claim. In their second point, Plaintiffs contend that the trial court erred in dismissing their actions because Defendants are not shielded from liability by sovereign immunity, official immunity, or the public duty doctrine. In their third point, Plaintiffs claim the trial court erred in dismissing their civil negligence suit because they alleged facts sufficient to state a cause of action based on claims of negligence and respondeat superior. In their fourth and final point, Plaintiffs claim the trial court erred in denying their request for class action certification in their mandamus suit. Because we find that Plaintiffs' first point regarding standing is dispositive of the entire appeal, we address it alone.
In their first point, Plaintiffs claim the trial court erred in dismissing their petition for writ of mandamus and their civil negligence action for lack of standing and failure to state a claim. While Plaintiffs' point is somewhat hard to follow, they appear to argue that they have taxpayer standing for both actions and/or they have general standing to pursue the writ of mandamus because the duties imposed on Defendants are ministerial rather than discretionary.
In response, Defendants assert that the trial court did not err in dismissing Plaintiffs'
"Standing is an antecedent to the right to relief." Manzara v. State, 343 S.W.3d 656, 659 (Mo. banc 2011). The purpose of the standing doctrine is to ensure that litigation is brought only by the appropriate parties having a present, substantial interest in the outcome, Hinton v. City of St. Joseph, 889 S.W.2d 854, 858 (Mo.App.W.D.1994), as well as to prevent parties from "creating controversies in matters in which they are not involved and which do not directly affect them[.]" Schweich v. Nixon, 408 S.W.3d 769, 774 (Mo. banc 2013) (citations and quotations omitted). Regardless of an action's merits, without standing, a court may not entertain the action. Id. If a party has no standing to bring a claim, the claim shall be dismissed because the court lacks authority to determine its merits. Weber v. St. Louis Cnty., 342 S.W.3d 318, 323 (Mo. banc 2011).
The mere filing of a lawsuit is not enough to confer standing on a taxpayer. Eastern Missouri Laborers Dist. Council v. St. Louis Cnty., 781 S.W.2d 43, 46 (Mo. banc 1989). The party seeking relief must have a legally protectable interest at stake so as to be directly and adversely affected by the challenged action. Id. Missouri courts have long held that taxpayers have a legally protectable interest in the proper use and expenditure of tax dollars. See, e.g., LeBeau v. Comm'rs of Franklin Cnty., 422 S.W.3d 284 (Mo. banc 2014); Ste. Genevieve School Dist. R-II v. Bd. of Aldermen, 66 S.W.3d 6 (Mo. banc 2002); Eastern Missouri Laborers, 781 S.W.2d at 46. Absent fraud or compelling circumstances, in order to establish taxpayer standing, the party seeking relief must demonstrate that one of three conditions exist: (1) a direct expenditure of funds generated through taxation; (2) an increased levy in taxes; or (3) a pecuniary loss caused by the challenged transaction of the municipality. Id. at 47.
In determining whether the trial court properly sustained Defendants' motions to dismiss both the mandamus action and the civil negligence suit, it is necessary to ascertain whether Plaintiffs' pleadings have properly identified the facts on which their claims rest. See Berkowski v. St. Louis Cnty Bd. of Comm'rs, 854 S.W.2d 819, 823 (Mo.App.E.D.1993). Specifically, the petitions must contain "allegations of fact in support of each essential element of the cause sought to be pleaded." Id. Mere conclusions that are not supported by factual allegations are disregarded. Id. "Where a petition contains only conclusions and does not contain the ultimate facts or any allegations from which to infer those facts, a motion to dismiss is properly granted." Id.
Writ of Mandamus
In their petition for writ of mandamus, Plaintiffs alleged that Defendants were obligated to collect the license tax under Chapter 620 and that Plaintiffs had a "special interest, distinct from the general public, in the collection and expenditure of the funds generated by the [l]icense [t]ax." Plaintiffs also alleged that Defendants breached their duties by failing to collect the license tax from "all entities engaged in the business of a restaurant as defined by Chapter 620, section 620.010," and failing to collect the "proper amount" of license taxes from all entities engaged in the restaurant business. Plaintiffs further alleged that the failure to collect the unpaid
While Plaintiffs have alleged they have standing to pursue their actions based on their status as taxpayers, they have failed to clearly specify in their opening brief or in their petitions on which of the requisite conditions they purport to rely to establish taxpayer standing.
Likewise, in Ste. Genevieve School Dist., a school district and its superintendent challenged the legality of an ordinance adopted by the City of Ste. Genevieve to amend a redevelopment project without reconvening the tax increment financing (TIF) commission. 66 S.W.3d at 9. The Court found that the school district had standing conferred both by statute (based on its legally protected interest in appointing members to the TIF commission) and also based on its taxpayer status because the city's unauthorized actions would have deprived the school district of tax revenue. Id. at 10.
In Eastern Missouri Laborers, construction contractors brought suit against St. Louis County to enjoin the performance of a contract after the county failed to seek competitive bids in the selection of a construction manager to remodel and remove asbestos from county office buildings. 781 S.W.2d at 44. The plaintiff taxpayers claimed the county's actions violated state and county laws regarding competitive bidding and prevailing wage determination. Id. at 47. The Court agreed and concluded that the plaintiffs had standing to sue because the county's alleged
As the aforementioned cases demonstrate, Missouri courts have conferred taxpayer standing to enjoin the illegal expenditure of public funds and/or pecuniary losses attributable to the challenged government actions. See, e.g., LeBeau, 422 S.W.3d at 286; Ste. Genevieve School Dist., 66 S.W.3d at 10; Eastern Missouri Laborers, 781 S.W.2d at 46. By contrast, in the instant case, Plaintiffs have failed to allege or demonstrate that Defendants' actions caused an illegal expenditure of tax funds, an increased tax burden, or a pecuniary loss attributable to the challenged conduct. Although Plaintiffs claim they are seeking to ensure that Defendants "conform with applicable laws" and that they have "an inherent right" to hold public officials accountable "for acts that adversely affect taxpayers," Plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that they have been specifically injured or adversely affected by Defendants' alleged failure to "fully" and "properly" collect purportedly unpaid license taxes from business entities in the City. In fact, the record shows that Defendants have been collecting license tax revenue from applicable businesses in the City. It is evident that Plaintiffs are not contesting their own tax liabilities, nor do they seek to enjoin the City from improperly spending tax revenue collected under Chapter 620. Other than conclusory assertions that they have standing to pursue these actions, Plaintiffs have cited no authority where individual taxpayers whose own tax liabilities are not at issue have been permitted to compel a governmental entity to collect allegedly unpaid taxes from nonparty taxpayers. In fact, Missouri courts have rejected similar arguments and declined to confer taxpayer standing on individual plaintiffs in the absence of unlawful expenditures of public funds or pecuniary losses directly attributable to the challenged transaction. See, e.g., Manzara v. State, 343 S.W.3d 656 (Mo. banc 2011); State ex rel. Kansas City Power & Light Co., v. McBeth, 322 S.W.3d 525 (Mo banc 2010); W.R. Grace & Co. v. Hughlett, 729 S.W.2d 203 (Mo. banc 1987).
In W.R. Grace, the Missouri Supreme Court concluded that a taxpayer company did not have standing to challenge the county's collection of a "manufacturers tax," which granted "exemptions" to certain taxpayers for specific types of tangible personal property. 729 S.W.2d at 205-06. The plaintiff argued that the exemptions resulted in a "lack of tax uniformity" in violation of the Missouri Constitution. Id. at 204-05. Before reaching the merits of the claim, the Court considered the issue of whether the taxpayer had standing to bring the action. Id. at 206. In affirming the trial court's judgment dismissing the action, the Court concluded that the taxpayer failed to demonstrate that it was adversely affected by the exemptions or that any public interests were implicated. The Court also noted that the plaintiff had not alleged that the challenged actions involved an improper expenditure of tax funds. Id. at 207. In concluding that the taxpayer lacked standing, the W.R. Grace court explained, in pertinent part:
Similarly, in McBeth, the Missouri Supreme Court found that taxpayer plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the property tax assessments of other taxpayers. 322 S.W.3d at 533-34. In reaching this conclusion, the Court specifically noted that, "[w]hether the taxpaying property owner is a corporation or a next-door neighbor... the principle that a third party is not permitted to challenge another's property tax assessment applies equally." Id. at 530. The Court also concluded that the plaintiffs were precluded from seeking mandamus relief because the duties imposed on the county assessor in determining the proper valuations and tax assessments were discretionary. Id. at 532.
More recently, in Manzara, the Missouri Supreme Court reaffirmed the standards for establishing taxpayer standing, particularly with regard to what constitutes a "direct expenditure of funds generated through taxation." 343 S.W.3d at 660. In Manzara, two taxpayers challenged the constitutional validity of a statute authorizing the issuance of certain tax credits to private individuals, associations and corporations, arguing that it was an illegal expenditure of tax funds. Id. at 657. In rejecting this argument, the Court explained, in part:
As the preceding cases make clear, Missouri courts have consistently denied taxpayer standing to private citizens for the purpose of challenging the tax obligations and/or tax assessments of other taxpayers. See, e.g., Manzara, 343 S.W.3d 656; McBeth, 322 S.W.3d 525 (Mo banc 2010); W.R. Grace, 729 S.W.2d 203. We find the Court's analysis in McBeth and W.R. Grace particularly instructive. In both McBeth and W.R. Grace, the Court concluded that the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge other taxpayers' tax obligations and/or tax assessments. Significantly, in W.R. Grace, the Court concluded that the taxpayer plaintiffs failed to show how they were "adversely affected" by the statutes in question, given the statutes would "merely excuse the tax obligations of others." Id. at 206-07 (citation omitted). Similarly, in the instant case, Plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that they have been adversely affected by Defendants' alleged failure to collect license taxes from nonparty taxpayers.
Plaintiffs also claim they have standing to bring a mandamus action because the duties imposed on Defendants by the City Charter and the Chapter 620 ordinances are ministerial rather than discretionary. In response, Defendants assert that the challenged duties involve discretionary determinations that are not subject to attack by mandamus. We agree.
The determination of whether a public official's acts are ministerial or discretionary rests upon the facts of the case. Green v. Lebanon R-III School Dist., 13 S.W.3d 278, 284 (Mo. banc 2000). Discretionary acts require the exercise of reason in the adaptation of means to an end and discretion in determining how or whether an act should be done or course pursued. Id. By contrast, ministerial acts require that certain duties be performed "upon a given state of facts, in a prescribed manner, in obedience to the mandate of the legal authority, without regard to an employee's own judgment or opinion concerning the propriety of the act to be performed." Id. Where an ordinance involves a determination of facts, or a combination of law and facts, a discretionary act rather than a ministerial act is involved. Jones, 965 S.W.2d at 213. Because the "determination of facts or a combination of facts and law are quasi-judicial functions, and not ministerial, ... this discretion cannot be coerced by the courts." Id.
In the instant case, Plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate a clear, unequivocal, and specific right that would entitle them to bring an action in mandamus. It is apparent from the record that the grievances lodged by Plaintiffs are primarily predicated on their own dissatisfaction with the manner in which Defendants have interpreted and implemented the license tax ordinance. We also believe the alleged actions that Plaintiffs seek to compel involve discretionary determinations that entail the application of specific factual circumstances and/or a combination of facts and law.
Civil Negligence Action
In their "Class Action Petition" seeking compensatory and punitive damages,
The private injury that invests standing to a taxpayer is not a purely personal grievance where other taxpayers have no interests, but rather an injury shared by the public at large. State ex rel. Mid-Missouri Limestone v. City of Callaway, 962 S.W.2d 438, 441 (Mo.App.W.D. 1998). "The rule allowing taxpayers standing to sue does not have as its purpose a private redress but rather a public benefit." Id.
For the same reasons set forth under our discussion regarding the mandamus action, Plaintiffs have similarly failed to demonstrate they have standing to bring a civil negligence action against Defendants. While it is apparent that Plaintiffs are dissatisfied with the manner in which Defendants have interpreted and implemented the license tax ordinance, they cite no authority (nor have we found any) holding that a private citizen whose own tax liabilities are not contested has standing to sue a municipality to compel the collection of allegedly unpaid taxes from nonparty taxpayers.
For the foregoing reasons, the judgments of dismissal are affirmed.
Sherri B. Sullivan, P.J. and Mary K. Hoff, J. concur.