Stinson Morrison Hecker LLP attorneys Nick Frey, Mike Gibbons and Chuck Hatfield successfully represented the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 73 in challenging a decades-old fire department residency requirement. The residency issue has been a significant issue for the union, which was elated by the Missouri Supreme Court's unanimous decision, allowing firefighters with seven years on the job to move out of the city.
The Supreme Court overturned a trial court decision and determined the 2010 state law exempting firefighters from the city residency requirement was legal. Section 320.097 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri, enacted in 2010, allows firefighters who have at least seven years of experience to live outside of a city if the only public school district within the area is unaccredited or provisionally accredited.
For the union, the issue had greater significance when the St. Louis school district became unaccredited in 2007.
"The purpose of the legislation was to provide educational options for the children of firefighters that are required by their employer to live within a failing school district,” said Frey, who filed an amicus brief on behalf of the union in the Missouri Supreme Court.
St. Louis’ charter currently requires most municipal employees to live within city boundaries. After the exemption statue was passed in 2010 by the legislature, the City of St. Louis sued, alleging the statute violates the constitutional provisions on special laws, home rule rights and equal protection.
The home rule law, Article VI, section 22 of the state constitution, applies to charter cities and provides: “No law shall be enacted creating or fixing the powers, duties or compensation of any municipal office or employment.” The city argued that the provision gives it exclusive authority to establish residency requirements for its employees, but the Supreme Court disagreed.
“Residency does not constitute, nor is it claimed to constitute, a power or duty of firefighters, nor does it concern their compensation,” Judge Laura Denvir Stith wrote for the court. “These are the only matters that section 22 states that charter cities may take solely unto themselves to regulate.”
Frey believes the ruling helps clarify the relationship between charter cities and the state legislature on this point.
“With this decision, the Supreme Court brought it back to the plain language of the constitution,” he said.
Frey, Gibbons and Hatfield are members of the firm's Government Solutions practice group. Frey focuses on assisting clients with all aspects of government regulation, particularly Missouri state government regulation. His experience in governmental solutions ranges from representing clients in litigation against the government to negotiating agreements with government agencies. Gibbons provides clients with both strategic planning and advocacy on issues before the legislative and executive branches in Missouri. Hatfield, managing partner of Stinson's Jefferson City office, serves as chair of the Government Solutions practice group. He practices in a wide range of areas, including government relations, regulatory and administrative law, and general litigation. He has extensive state court experience and has personally handled a dozen major cases before the Missouri Supreme Court.
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