This case arises from a land use dispute between two political subdivisions within the State of Missouri, each claiming superior land use authority. Warren County initiated this declaratory judgment action to determine relative spheres of authority: whether the County was required to follow the building code and to pay for and obtain building permits from the City of Warrenton. The trial court granted summary judgment to the City, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.
The County had decided that it would build a new County administrative building wholly within the borders of the City. The City instructed the County they had to conform to the building code and obtain permits, but the County disagreed. In support of its authority to build without restriction, the County relies on two sections of the State code. One permits the County to control its own buildings, the other provides broad authority to construct. The City claims that the police powers held by the City provide it with the authority to regulate buildings.
Addressing the plaintiff’s argument, the court provided that Missouri law does not vest localities with the inherent police power. However, the codified law of Missouri does afford cities the general police power, enabling the City to pass ordinances to protect the health and safety of the community. Specifically, state law provides that local legislative bodies may enact ordinances that “regulate and control” the construction and inspection of buildings within its jurisdiction. This grant of authority covers the institution of a building code.
The County claims, however, that the statute does not permit the City to regulate other political subdivisions. It is the County’s position that the specific provisions of State law affording the County authority to construct and maintain buildings trumps localized control. Since this law does not have a specific provision granting local authority to regulate the County buildings, this local authority must not exist. The County cited five cases in support of this position.
The court reviewed the cases presented by the County and found they did not provide the County with the autonomy it sought, as all the cases concerned statutory language affording the prevailing political subdivision independence from localized control. One case was not supportive because it addressed State, and not county, authority. The other cases concerned zoning statutes and had language that indicated county or public purposes were exempt from local control. These cases did not support the County’s position because they concerned a different grant of power – the zoning enabling law. The pertinent statute in this case grants a broad police power, whereas the zoning law provides a more restricted form of local control. The court stated that the case law of the one statute could not simply be transferred to the other, especially since the two statutes granted different levels of control to the local government.
Finding the County’s cases unsupportive, the court interpreted the statutory language to determine its scope. The language provides forth class cities with the authority to regulate the construction of buildings and to inspect the same. This is a broad grant and it does not include exceptions for public buildings. This authority covers every use within the political subdivision unless there is a specific exception provided by law.
In this case, there was no exception, as the law the County relies on only provides counties with the authority to contract for the construction of a building, and ensure that the construction conforms to the contract – it “does not speak to protecting the public’s safety.” The court reasoned that if public safety were envisioned, then there would be no reason for another statute that provides higher-class counties with the authority to regulate buildings to ensure fire safety. In any event, the power granted to the higher-class counties is limited and did not provide authority over local governments. The court stated, “If the legislature intended to limit a city from controlling the construction and permitting of county buildings, it certainly knew how to do so.” The Court held that the power to create and administer building codes was vested in the City, and the County must adhere. The Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed.
Engelage v. City of Warrenton, 2012 WL 4077370 (Mo. Ct. Ap., E. Dist., Sept. 18, 2012).
The opinion can be accessed here.