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Court of Appeals Issues Writ of Mandamus Against Clay County Collector
State ex rel. Yoest, et al. v. McEvoy, WD 80556 Posted October 5, 2017
In State ex rel. Yoest v. McEvoy, the Court of Appeals provides insight into when a duty is ministerial and thus subject to a writ of mandamus. But first, what is a writ of mandamus? It's the name we use for orders from the court that direct a government official to fulfill a ministerial duty. The process gets cloudier when the court of appeals issues a writ directing the trial court to do something, but in general this is the simplest way to think about writs of mandamus.
Practice Tip: Getting a writ of mandamus is slightly different than filing an ordinary civil lawsuit for damages. Under Mo. R. Civ. P. 94, the case is initiated with a petition by the party seeking relief (dubbed the “Relator” under the rule). The court then decides if the petition properly invokes the mandamus procedure. If it does, the court will enter a preliminary writ and an order telling the government official (called the Respondent) to file an answer to the petition. At the same time, the court initiates service of process.
So back to the Yoests. They wanted to participate in Clay County’s annual tax delinquency sales. But the county Collector declared them permanently ineligible to be bidders based on what she deemed “a history of dishonesty and lack of reliability.” The Yoests looked at the statute (RSMo. Section 140.190.2) governing county tax sales and found that it only has two requirements of potential bidders: that they be Missouri residents and that they be current on their own taxes. Because they met those requirements, the Yoests cried foul and asked the trial court to order the Collector to allow them to bid. The trial court issued a preliminary writ, but after the Collector answered, the court granted the Collector’s motion to dismiss the action, finding that there was no “unequivocal right to be a bidder” at the sales.
In an opinion written by Judge Newton (joined by Judges Ahuja and Martin), the Court of Appeals came to the opposition conclusion. It could find nothing in the law giving the Collector the discretion to ban tax-paying citizens the right to bid in tax sales. Citing an earlier case ordering a city clerk to include the name of a statutorily qualified candidate on the ballot, the panel concluded that the Collector was bound to allow qualified citizens to participate in the annual sales.
Bonus Practice Tip: Because the court granted a preliminary writ, the Court of Appeals reviewed the judgment under Murphy v. Carron (reversing only for errors of law, lack of substantial evidence, or if the judgment is against the weight of the evidence). Had it dismissed the case before the preliminary writ was granted, the review would have been de novo. As it was, the standard of review made little difference because the Court of Appeals was essentially reviewing the trial court’s interpretation of the statutes, a decision to which an appellate court owes no deference.