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Category Archives: Missouri

Brooks Blevins’s refreshing new book, A History of the Ozarks, Volume 1, The Old Ozarks


Brooks Blevins has given us a fresh and refreshing new look at the early history of the Ozarks in the first volume of A History of the Ozarks, published in July 2018 by the University of Illinois Press. I bought my copy through Amazon.

This history is refreshing because it includes many aspects of Ozarks history that I have learned and forgotten, as well as including lots of things that I never knew.

It is fresh because it does avoids the errors of many histories of the Ozarks. The introduction is essentially an essay to counter the stereotyping of the people of the Ozarks. I highly recommend the book just for this part.

In addition, the book sidesteps many errors of previous histories, rather than:

  • being confined to either the Arkansas Ozarks or the Missouri Ozarks, Blevins covers both and a little of the Oklahoma Ozarks,
  • overlooking the contributions of women in commerce as well as on pioneer homesteads, instead, he tells us about Betty Black’s ferry and Polly Hillhouse’s pioneer farming enterprise,
  • treating Indians as as though they were here and suddenly gone, we learn about the internal divisions among the Osage as they confronted loss of hunting lands, as well as many other groups of Indians who lived in the Ozarks while being pushed westward, eventually to Indian Territory,
  • describing the landscape merely as rugged and rocky with poor soils, we learn that different groups of settlers had different preferences and abilities, which were applied to various types of forest, prairie and bottomlands, and
  • leaving out slavery and the economic contributions of enslaved persons, the earliest substantial industries, such as the Maramec ironworks, depended heavily on involuntary servitude, as did the founders of Springfield

There’s a good balance of cultural history, political history and economic history, leavened with a few tall tales, such as that of Duke, who tamed a herd of elk calves and taught them to pull his wagon, carrying him away from the Ozarks when too many settlers came in.

I’m anxious for the next volume, which takes up with the gathering clouds of the Civil War.

 

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Are Indians extinct?


In this article from Missouri Life, “The Tribes of Missouri, Part 1: When the Osage & Missouria Reigned,” the author Ron Soodalter barely hints that the Osage and Missouria people are living people who maintain relationships with Missouri.

Admittedly, the focus of the article is historical. The Osage Nation has very competent academically-trained historians and archaeologists, and citizens who can relate oral histories that involve the Osage time in Missouri, who should have been consulted.

Magazine articles and museum curators who treat Indians as an extinct form of wildlife–or as extirpated in a particular region–are demeaning. The following two paragraphs are galling to me:

There are no full-blooded Missouria alive today; the last one died in 1985. Two centuries after their ancestors were absorbed into other tribes, the remnants of the once-powerful Niutachi exist only within the amalgamated tribal group formally known as the Otoe-Missouria.

Nor were these two tribes unique. After the various land-hungry nations staked their respective claims on the seemingly boundless expanse they called the New World, no tribe that had long occupied or settled in Missouri would ever again claim control over itself or its old way of life.

I hope the forthcoming installments in this series are different.

SB 656: Missouri’s New Statute on Carrying Concealed Firearms and Standing Your Ground


Springfield criminal defense attorney Shane Cantin has written a well-balanced article that examines Missouri’s new legislation, SB 656, “Missouri Concealed Carry & Castle Doctrine: What You Need to Know.”

SB 656 does away with the requirement of training and a permit for carrying concealed firearms. The business of concealed carry classes and permits will still go on, though perhaps with smaller enrollments.   Missourians carrying their weapons to states that require permits will need a permit from Missouri to carry a firearm in those states.

Because of the lack of necessity of attending a class and obtaining a permit, it is possible that more people will wish to buy handguns to carry. My guess, though, is that most of the people who wish to own handguns already have purchased them, and the new law will not boost sales. As young people turn 19 and thus fall under the new law, they may purchase handguns, and some of these may enjoy the hobby of collecting and trading guns. Events, such as the Orlando shooting and the election of candidates perceived as anti-gun, often spur gun sales, more than changes in state law. I wonder about how many people who once start carrying concealed firearms continue to do so.

The modification of the castle doctrine to a stand-your-ground law expands the scope of justification as a defense to the use of lethal force. The duty to first retreat and the requirement of being in one’s home or on one’s property are eliminated. While there may be an increase in shootings due to more people being armed and feeling empowered to use guns to resolve disputes and more opportunity for accidental shootings, I am not expecting there to be any substantial economic effect from the new law. The vast majority of people who lawfully carry guns will not display or use them.

 

 

 

 

Breaking bad; closing good. So is walking away.


The rebound of the real estate market in the Ozarks seems very real, judging from the calls I get from stressed out buyers and sellers who are approaching closing dates.

Buyers sometimes want break contracts, and sellers want to force the buyers to close.

If the buyer has not made objections to the condition of the property in the proper time, or if the reason for wanting out seem weak (by “weak” I mean petty or based on alleged fraudulent concealment that shouldn’t have fooled an inspector), I tell them to either close or buy their way out with money. It is difficult for a buyer to prove that a seller has breached a contract, and spending two or three years in a lawsuit  is a very expensive way to not have fun.

If a seller calls me because a buyer is threatening to walk away from the contract, I tell the seller that a suit for specific performance (asking the judge to force the buyer to close) is unlikely to be successful and would result in the property being taken off the market while the suit is pending.

The seller’s other alternative is to sell the house to someone else, then sue the buyer for damages, which are the difference between the contract price in the first contract and the price at which the property actually sells. In a rising market, there’s a good chance of finding another buyer and perhaps getting a better price, so litigation is unnecessary.

When I get these calls, here’s what I’m really thinking. I might have been able to prevent this situation if I had been asked to assist in the preparation of the contract. I would get to meet the client when the client was happy, rather than angry.

I could have looked at the title history to the property. I could have given advice based on my long experience in this market and knowledge about such things as:

  • subdivision covenants,
  • the developer of the subdivision,
  • the builder’s reputation,
  • how well the HOA is functioning,
  • drainage and road maintenance,
  • past or pending litigation involving the property or the subdivision

Instead, I speak to people who are already upset, who seem to resent that I don’t see the other party as a villain, and who have to make a decision in the next 24 hours.

It’s a joke among lawyers that a friend or client will call a lawyer to complain about a $200 traffic ticket, but will not talk to the lawyer about a $300,000 real estate contract. So when I get the call, I have to work really hard to be sympathetic.

Owner of philandering bull strictly liable but comparatively at fault for neighbor’s injuries


When Taylor’s bull crossed the fence, attracted by Coble’s heifers, Coble hopped on his ATV. The bull charged and the ATV flipped. The bull mounted–not the heifer–but the ATV, pinning Coble, who was seriously injured. In Coble v. Taylor, the Missouri of Appeals for the Southern District reviewed Missouri’s fencing laws to affirm that Taylor was liable for Coble’s injuries resulting from his attempt to drive the bull back home. The jury awarded damages for Coble’s injuries; however, the damage award was reduced, based on the jury finding that Taylor was 65% at fault and Coble was 35% at fault.

Under Missouri’s fencing laws, particularly section 272.030, an owner of livestock is liable for damages sustained if his animal trespasses by breaching a lawful fence.

Taylor (the owner of the bull) argued that the fence was not an “exterior” fence (one along a public road, not a fence that separates the land of two different owners), but a partition fence, and therefore was not the kind of fence that section 272.030 referred to. The appellate court stated that section 272.030 was a modern statute that didn’t follow the old common law that limited the livestock owner’s liability to injuries resulting only breaches of exterior fences, which was related to the 19th century concept of fencing out free-ranging animals, rather than fencing them in.

Taylor also argued that the he and his wife should not be strictly liable for injuries resulting from animal trespass, so that they should not be liable for injuries caused by Coble flipping his ATV. “Strict liability” essentially means liability without regard to the actions of the person who was injured. The appeals court reviewed the Restatement (Second) of Torts, section 518, which is a distillation of appellate court decisions of state and federal courts, with commentary, to find that “any trespassing bull may be expected to attack and gore any other animal or any person who gets in his way.” Thus it is reasonable to expect that people will try to control the bull and get hurt doing so, and the owner of the bull should be liable.

Coble argued that the jury should not have been instructed to determine that he was partly at fault for the way he drove the ATV, which led the jury to only compensate him for only 65% of the damages that he proved. The appeals court said that the jury was properly instructed to apply Missouri’s comparative fault statute, because the Missouri Supreme Court has determined that the legislature intended for comparative fault to be applied whenever possible (other than cases of intentional injury), even though the idea of strict liability and comparative fault seem incompatible.

Missouri’s Sunshine Law overrides confidentiality clause in settlement agreement and advice of counsel


On advice of its attorney, the Robinwood South Community Improvement District refused to provide a copy of a settlement agreement to John P. Strake, a member of the public who requested it.  Strake sued and filed a motion for summary judgment, stating that there was no fact question regarding whether the settlement agreement (relating to a personal injury suit) was a public record; Strake also wanted the imposition of a civil penalty and the recovery of his costs and attorney fees.

On November 10, 2015, a unanimous Missouri Supreme Court in Strake v Robinwood West Community Improvement District held that the District’s reliance on its attorney’s advice to not disclose the settlement agreement did not shield the District from being held liable for knowing and purposeful violations of the Sunshine Law.

The trial judge in St. Louis County ordered the District to provide a copy of the settlement agreement. But the trial judge also entered a judgment in favor of the District, denying the civil penalty, attorney fees and costs that were sought by Strake for the District’s knowing and purposeful violation of the Sunshine Law. The trial judge’s order did not explain why exactly she declined to impose the penalty and award costs and attorney fees, noting only that the District “was relying on the advice of counsel to avoid a lawsuit for breach of contract.”

When a city or other unit of local government enters into a settlement agreement to end a lawsuit,  officials often don’t want to encourage additional claims by disclosing how much was paid to make the plaintiff go away. Most settlement agreements contain a confidentiality clause, which may contain penalties for disclosure of the settlement terms, unless ordered by a court before the settlement is final.

Private corporations are no different, but governmental bodies in Missouri have to follow the Sunshine Law, which is Missouri’s body of statutes that require disclosure of most kinds of public records, as well as requiring that meetings of governmental business be conducted in public meetings. Some kinds of governmental records may properly be closed for a time–such as the details of negotiations to buy or sell real estate or terms of proposed settlement offers in litigation–but these records must eventually become public, unless a court determines that they should remain closed. The Sunshine Law specifies very limited grounds for keeping settlement agreements closed, not allowing courts to conceal the amounts paid by or to the governmental body.

A governmental body that knowingly violates the Sunshine Law may be penalized up to $1,000, plus paying the court costs and attorney fees of the party requesting the records. The penalty is up to $5,000 if the governmental body purposely violates the Sunshine Law, which requires proof that the governmental body had “a conscious design, intent or plan” to violate the law “with awareness of the probable consequences.” The District’s attorney had advised the District that “the most prudent course” was to refuse the request to produce the settlement agreement, while pointing out the statute that required the disclosure of the settlement agreement, apparently fearing that the consequences of breaching the confidentiality clause might be more serious than the consequences of violating the Sunshine Law.

The District’s attorney’s advice provided a basis for the Supreme Court to conclude that the District had actual knowledge of its obligations under the Sunshine Law to give the settlement agreement to Strake and the consequences of not doing so, such that its decision to withhold the settlement agreement was a purposeful violation.

The American Civil Liberties Union provided legal counsel to Strake. Those who criticize the ACLU for many of its activities should recognize that the ACLU’s action in this case was non-partisan and strongly in support in openness in government. The Missouri Press Association also participated in the appeal.

 

 

Missouri appeals court reverses trial court, slaps down bank that manipulated HOA


The Missouri Supreme Court, on June 30, 2015, reversed much of this Court of Appeals decision discussed in this post, reinstating the judgment of the trial court, after determining that Jefferson Bank’s amendment of the covenants was proper. The amendment removed the requirement that the HOA’s board members be residents; the Supreme Court reasoned that unanimous consent of the lot owners was not required since the nature of the amendment was to remove rather than add a restriction.

After the real estate bubble burst, many Missouri banks ended up owning a majority of lots in subdivisions, standing in the shoes of the developers–the banks’ previous customers. Banks face many challenges in their effort to sell the lots that they had to take through foreclosure; not the least is high-end architectural standards imposed by the original developer that seem unworkable in this more austere era.

Jefferson Bank & Trust found itself in this fix after it became the owner of 13 of the 18 lots in the Arbors at Sugar Creek subdivision. In 2005, the developer had recorded covenants that gave the board of the homeowners’ association (HOA) approval rights over any new construction. The owners of the five existing homes  protested when the bank and its new partner proposed to build what the homeowners characterized as “tract houses.”

Because the original HOA had been dissolved by the Missouri Secretary of State for failing to file annual reports, the bank formed a new HOA and recorded a new declaration of covenants, since it had more than 67% of the voting power, as required by the old declaration for amendment. The new declaration eliminated the old declaration’s requirement that HOA board members be residents, and the bank appointed its executives to be the new board.

After a bunch of wrangling in court, the trial court ruled that the new HOA was legitimate, that the new board acted reasonably in approving the new building plans, asking that the HOA reimburse the bank for subdivision maintenance costs paid by the bank, and awarding other damages against the lot owners.

The appeals court in this October 28, 2014 decision, agreed that the new HOA was the successor to the old HOA, but threw out the rest of the trial court’s judgment, to find that the bank acted in bad faith, having

  • relied on its acquisition of majority voting power to unilaterally deny homeowners the benefit of self-governance that they received under the original declaration
  • used its command of the subdivision’s affairs to advance in own financial interest in redeveloping the subdivision in a manner contrary to the wishes of the newly disenfranchised residents
  • violated the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing by amending the declaration and removing the residency requirement for board members so it could appoint its own executives to the board.

Having stacked the board of the new HOA, the appeals court ruled “all the board’s subsequent actions are null and void,” including the approval of development plans submitted by the bank’s partner.

The critical factor here is the requirement of the original declaration that the HOA board members be residents. The overreaching on this issue tainted everything else that the bank did.

It’s unusual to see a court roll over a bank in favor of homeowners. My guess is that the Missouri Supreme Court will be asked to review this decision.

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