During the 2021-2022 school year, the Attorney General for Missouri filed several lawsuits against public school districts to challenge their legal authority to implement COVID mitigation measures like masking. In one of the few cases where the Court weighed in on the subject, the Boone County Circuit Court handed down a decision in favor of our client, Columbia Public Schools.
On June 16, 2022, the Court stated that there was no live issue to decide in Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s COVID-19 masking lawsuit against CPS. The Judge agreed with the arguments in CPS’s motion to dismiss, ruling that the Attorney General’s claims were moot since CPS had not required masks in over four months and there was no reasonable expectation that a mask requirement would be reimplemented.
In Missouri, courts do not determine moot cases. A cause of action is moot when the question presented for decision seeks a judgment upon some matter which, if the judgment was rendered, would not have any practical effect upon any then existing controversy. The Supreme Court of the United States made it clear that “a court may not proceed to hear an action if, subsequent to its initiation, the dispute loses ‘its character as a present, live controversy of the kind that must exist if the Court is to avoid advisory opinions on abstract propositions of law.” Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Envtl. Servs. (TOC), Inc. Judge Joshua Devine wrote that the issue [of masking] does not present a “live controversy of the kind that must exist if the Court is to avoid advisory opinions on abstract propositions of law.”
This win came on the heels of another victory by Columbia Public Schools. In the fall of 2021, CPS defeated an attempt by the Attorney General to sue all Missouri school districts in a purported reverse defendant class action lawsuit. The Missouri Solicitor General argued on behalf of the Attorney General and not only fought for the creation of a defendant class of all Missouri schools but also sought to enjoin all school districts statewide from implementing masking as a mitigation measure against COVID-19. The trial court in this separate litigation denied the Attorney General’s motions for class certification and preliminary injunction and State dismissed its lawsuit later that year.