River Campus appeal will be argued Jan. 8

Wednesday, November 21, 2001

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- In its first case of 2002, the Missouri Supreme Court will hear arguments Jan. 8 in a lawsuit that threatens the fate of Southeast Missouri State University's proposed River Campus in Cape Girardeau.

The court agreed in September to take the case but didn't announce a date for arguments until Tuesday.

In its second case of the new year, the court will hear arguments in the appeal of a $4 million award given to a Sikeston, Mo., man badly burned in a 1997 explosion at an aluminum processing plant in Miner, Mo.

Rulings in both matters should come in March.

In the River Campus dispute, the court will decide if a Cape Girardeau city ordinance that put a hotel-motel-restaurant tax increase before voters in November 1998 was valid. Voters approved the tax, which was intended to cover the city's $9 million share of the $36 million plan to convert the former St. Vincent's Seminary into a visual and performing arts center.

Cape Girardeau businessman James L. Drury and his MidAmerica Hotels Corp. sued the city, claiming the ballot ordinance defective because its title didn't clearly reflect the ordinance's contents as required by the city charter and Missouri Constitution.

Lower courts, most recently a panel of the Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District in St. Louis, sided with Drury.

The city appealed, claiming the appeals court decision, in addition to being wrong, would expose countless other ordinances in municipalities around the state and even state statutes to legal challenges. A number of parties, including St. Louis, Kansas City, Mo., and the state attorney general's office have filed friend-of-the-court briefs backing Cape Girardeau's position.

In a response brief filed with the court, Drury's attorney says relevant legal precedent clearly supports the lower courts' position and dismisses the claims of dire statewide consequences as hyperbole.

If the court rules against the city, the tax hike would be invalidated, requiring the city to hold another election for the River Campus to move forward.

Chief Justice Stephen N. Limbaugh Jr. has recused himself from the case because his wife, Marsha Limbaugh, serves on the board of directors of the university's private foundation. A yet-to-be-named lower-court judge will sit in Limbaugh's place.

Molten aluminum

The other lawsuit stems from a Jan. 12, 1997, furnace explosion at the now-closed Marnor Aluminum Processing Inc. plant in Miner. Ernest Bland, a plant employee at the time, suffered third-degree burns after being hit with molten aluminum.

In February, a Scott County jury awarded Bland $4 million in his personal injury lawsuit against Marnor's owner, Metal Mark Inc., and that company's owner, IMCO Recycling Inc.

On appeal, the companies claimed immunity from civil liability, saying any claims should have been handled through the state workers' compensation system.

In August, a panel of the Court of Appeals Southern District in Springfield, Mo., by a 2-1 vote, dismissed Metal Mark as a defendant but upheld the decision against IMCO. If unsuccessful in its appeal, IMCO would be solely responsible for paying the full amount of compensatory damages awarded Bland.

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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