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King v. City of Crestwood

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

August 13, 2018

Brian King Plaintiff- Appellant
v.
The City of Crestwood, Missouri; John Newsham, in his official capacity, City of Crestwood Municipal Court Judge Defendants - Appellees

          Submitted: December 13, 2017

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri - St. Louis

          Before SMITH, Chief Judge, ARNOLD and KELLY, Circuit Judges.

          SMITH, Chief Judge.

         Brian King sued the City of Crestwood, Missouri ("City") after successfully defending himself in its municipal court against a charge that he violated an ordinance. Following the dismissal of the charge, Municipal Judge John Newsham ("Judge Newsham"), who presided over the matter, denied King's motion for costs and attorney's fees incurred in his defense. King sought redress by filing suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City and Judge Newsham. He now appeals the district court's[1] dismissal of his action. We affirm.

         I. Background

         In April 2013, King visited a bowling alley in Crestwood, a municipality located in St. Louis County. At closing time, several inebriated patrons became rowdy, and a fight involving two people ensued. King intervened, stopping the fight by drawing a gun. When police arrived, they brought the situation under control but made no arrests.

         Several months later, the City filed an amended information in the Municipal Court of Crestwood, Missouri.[2] It charged King with violating Crestwood Municipal Code § 16.12, the City's disorderly conduct ordinance, and stated, "Upon information and belief, Defendant inserted himself into the altercation and, at some point, drew his firearm. Upon information and belief, Defendant pointed his firearm at [one of the combatants]." Complaint at 7, King v. City of Crestwood, Missouri, No. 4:16-cv-01383-AGF (E.D. Mo. Aug. 28, 2016), ECF No. 1.

         King filed an answer in which he pleaded not guilty and, relying on Mo. Ann. Stat. §§ 563.026, .031, and .074, asserted the affirmative defense of justification. He filed a subsequent motion bolstering that defense.

         After a bench trial, Judge Newsham found King not guilty of the charged violation. However, Judge Newsham did not expressly rule on King's affirmative defense. Several months later, King filed a motion pursuant to Mo. Ann. Stat. § 563.074 seeking an award of over $27, 000 for the attorney's fees, costs, and expenses associated with his defense. Section 563.074 states:

1.Notwithstanding the provisions of section 563.016, a person who uses force as described in sections 563.031, 563.041, 563.046, 563.051, 563.056, and 563.061 is justified in using such force and such fact shall be an absolute defense to criminal prosecution or civil liability.
2.The court shall award attorney's fees, court costs, and all reasonable expenses incurred by the defendant in defense of any civil action brought by a plaintiff if the court finds that the defendant has an absolute defense as provided in subsection 1 of this section.

         Judge Newsham subsequently held that the court did not have jurisdiction over King's petition for the fees and costs incurred in mounting his justification defense. He analogized King's case to Bright v. Mollenkamp, 482 S.W.3d 467 (Mo.Ct.App. 2016). The Bright court held that municipal courts lack jurisdiction to decide a petition for expungement. Id. at 468. In reaching that conclusion, the court considered municipal courts' status as divisions of circuit courts and that their jurisdiction is limited to ordinance violations. Id. at 468-69.

         Instead of appealing the decision of the municipal court within the state court system, King filed this case in federal court. King alleged that the City and Judge Newsham, in his official capacity, violated his federal due process rights by not granting him attorney's fees, costs, and expenses available under state law. Count 1 alleged that Judge Newsham's order "establish[ed] a policy of 'no jurisdiction' to award costs and attorney fees under Missouri 'Justification' statutes" and sought the costs and fees that he requested from the municipal court, $250, 000 in damages, and a declaration that the "policy" is "unconstitutional and void." Complaint at 13. Count 2 sought a

[j]udgment declaring Judge Newsham's Order of June 2, 2016 unconstitutional and void; that any and all judicial policies, practices, and customs purporting to avoid jurisdiction over "Justification" defenses arising out [of] the Federal and Missouri Constitution, statutes, rules, ordinances, and case law are Unconstitutional in violation of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution, together with any further relief and remedy allowed by law or equity.
King prays Judgment of damages from Judge News[ham], jointly and severally with Crestwood, as in COUNT 1, acknowledging the District Court is obliged to follow the law of "judicial immunity" as expressed in Pierson v. Ray [, 386 U.S. 547 (1967)], while King ...

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