What comes next in Jennifer Henderson’s nationally famous fight against the Business Loop Community Improvement District’s sales tax is now in the hands of the Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District.
On Wednesday afternoon, the three-judge appeals court came to Columbia to hear oral arguments in open hearings on several cases, including Henderson v. Business Loop CID, a lawsuit originally filed in 2016. The judges convened in the ceremonial courtroom of the Boone County Courthouse.
Richard Reuben, the MU School of Law professor who is representing Henderson pro bono, did not ask the appellate court to determine the validity of the district’s 2015 sales tax election, which has been contested since it was held. His main argument was that trial courts do have subject matter jurisdiction.
Henderson is alleging that the 2015 election, in which the district’s half-cent sales tax was approved on a 4-3 vote, was improperly conducted and violated state election laws.
“All we are asking is that (the Court of Appeals) tell the court below that they do have the power to hear the case,” Reuben said.
“We never got a trial to begin with. This case was kicked out of court on day one. The reason that the court dismissed the case was because it did not believe it had the power to decide it,” Reuben said outside the courthouse after oral arguments. “We thought then that that was an improper decision. We think that it’s an improper decision today.”
Reuben was referring to Boone County Circuit Judge Jodie Asel’s decision in March 2016 that she lacked jurisdiction to rule on a case involving the validity of a community improvement district’s election. It took almost three years and two orders from the Missouri Supreme Court before she finally ruled in the case, dismissing it without prejudice in February. That allowed Henderson to appeal.
Reuben told reporters that, while it is difficult to determine what the appellate judges think of a case, he was optimistic it would go his way.
Caleb Colbert of the Columbia law firm Haden & Haden represented the Business Loop district and challenged Henderson’s right to dispute the results of the election, arguing that she no longer has legal standing now that she no longer lives within the district’s boundaries.
“The right to challenge this election is not an inherent right,” Colbert said. “It is only a statutory right.”
Reuben said that if the appellate court rules in Henderson’s favor, the impact would be “very simple.”
“We will have a right to proceed with discovery and a right to bring our case to trial,” Reuben said.
“I’m just really hoping that we are able to be heard,” Henderson said. “I think we’ve been doing this for a long time, just to try to get our trial heard. ... I think it’s just really important.”