State high court to hear River Campus arguments

Tuesday, January 8, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The long-running River Campus dispute enters its final phase today as the Missouri Supreme Court hears oral arguments in a lawsuit blocking the project.

When it issues its ruling, which is expected in March, the court will decide whether a 1-cent hike in Cape Girardeau's hotel/motel tax approved by city voters in 1998 is valid. The revenue raised is intended to help fund Southeast Missouri State University's plan to turn the old St. Vincent's Catholic Seminary into a fine arts center.

If the city prevails, the $36 million project can go forward. If not, the city would have to call for another election and again win voter support for the tax, which would provide the city's $9 million share.

Cape Girardeau businessman James L. Drury sued the city in April 1999, challenging the tax increase. Drury claims the city council passed a faulty ordinance putting the matter on the ballot. Lower courts agreed that the title of the ordinance is unconstitutionally vague, throwing out the tax and prompting the city to appeal.

At issue are the "clear title" provisions of the city charter and state Constitution. Those provisions require that legislation be limited to one subject and that the measure's content be clearly reflected in the title.

The city argues that the lower court rulings were incorrect. If allowed to stand, the precedent would expose myriad local ordinances and state laws to legal challenges, according to court documents filed by the city.

St. Louis, Kansas City, the Missouri Municipal League and the state attorney general's office have all submitted friend-of-the-court briefs backing the city's position. Southeast, which is not a party to the lawsuit, has also filed a brief supporting the city.

Justice recuses himself

Chief Justice Stephen N. Limbaugh Jr. of Cape Girardeau has recused himself from the case, the high court's first of the year. Associate Platte County Circuit Court Judge Gary D. Witt will take Limbaugh's place.

Witt will also substitute for the chief justice in a second case today. That matter involves a $4 million damage award given to a Sikeston, Mo., man badly burned in a 1997 explosion at an aluminum plant.

Ernest Bland suffered third-degree burns after being splashed with molten aluminum at the now-closed Marnor Aluminum Processing Inc. in Miner, Mo. 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 asserted immunity from civil liability, saying that any claims should have been handled through the state worker's 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 to the state high court, IMCO would be solely responsible for paying the full amount of compensatory damages awarded to Bland.

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