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Missouri Supreme Court hears plea for clarity after pandemic ruling on regulations

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(The Center Square) – COVID-19 measures have subsided, but Missouri counties continue to seek clarity on actions taken by former Attorney General Eric Schmitt during the pandemic.

The Missouri Supreme Court heard arguments on Wednesday in Robinson v. Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and four counties. The appeal is based on whether the counties have a right to intervene, the timeliness of their intervening, if they have a legitimate interest in the case and whether their interests might be represented by existing parties in the lawsuit.

During arguments, Neal Perryman, representing the counties, emphasized and described turmoil surrounding the state’s actions more than legal status.

“Chaos was raining across the state,” said Perryman. “Nobody knew what their powers were anymore.”

In December 2020, Shannon Robinson and others sued the Department of Health and Senior Services. Cole County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Green in November 2021 ruled local health departments can’t issue orders, close businesses, quarantine students and stated parts of Missouri’s Code of State Regulations violated the state constitution.

Days later, then Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt, now a U.S. senator, threatened legal action against all public school districts and local public health agencies if they didn’t obey Green’s ruling, which nullified mask mandates, quarantines and other actions.

St. Louis, Jackson, Cooper and Livingston counties appealed, but Judge Green denied the request. Schmitt then stated only he could appeal, since the counties weren’t involved in the original case. He declined to appeal on behalf of the state health department.

Kimberley Mathis, representing Robinson, argued the counties should have asserted themselves in the case before Judge Green’s ruling.

“I think they took a calculated risk because, at least at oral arguments, the attorney representing the proposed interveners stated all of them had watched it all along,” Mathis said. “This court has repeatedly said that intervening to appeal a judgment because you’re unhappy with the judgment, you’re unhappy with the outcome of a consent judgment, or unhappy with a settlement isn’t permitted.”

Maria Lanahan of the attorney general’s office said the counties are attempting to remove the state’s authority.

“This is a sovereign interest and they have no right to come in and take the attorney general’s job in deciding what is the state’s interest in this case,” Lanahan said.

Perryman mentioned a recent court ruling in favor of the Lee Summit School District, which found Schmitt overstepped his authority in threatening legal action if mask mandates were enforced. Perryman said the counties simply want the courts to rule whether Judge Green’s ruling was lawful.

“We’ve lost a significant part of our authority to issue orders in the event of a contagious disease,” Perryman said. “That’s our interest. We can’t do what we used to be able to do and that’s our interest. That’s not the state’s interest. … Why won’t they let you look at it and decide whether Judge Green was right or wrong? That’s all we want. Tell us if his order is correct. Let us intervene.”

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