Quo Warranto for disputes between municipalities is dead – Long Live Declaratory Judgments

There is hardly anything more contentious than a battle between two municipalities over who will govern a particular area. Usually there is a lot at stake in these disputes with a winner take all rule that controls. The procedures for contesting the boundaries of another municipality are part of our legal history and have been described as arcane because they involved – until recently – a seldom-used special remedy known as a quo warranto. One rule that has been ground into the municipal legal fabric is that quo warranto is the sole exclusive remedy to contest another municipality’s boundaries. Much to the surprise of most municipal attorneys a recent decision by the Missouri Supreme Court  – City of Lake St. Louis v. City of O’Fallon, – held that the City of Lake St. Louis could file a declaratory judgment contesting the boundaries of the City of O’Fallon.

The Missouri Supreme Court reasoned that the difficulty with a quo warranto action is that it must be brought by the Attorney General of the State of Missouri or by the prosecuting attorney in the county where the contested land is located. The Court reasoned that if the Attorney General or the county prosecutor refuses to bring the quo warranto action a municipality – that has a legally protectable interest – would have no way to challenge the boundaries of another municipality. The declaratory judgment action allowed the dispute  to proceed directly without the AG or the county prosecutor as an intermediary.  For additional analysis see my MMAA Newsletter summary of this important decision.

Before bringing an action to contest the boundaries of another community municipal leaders should  first determine if they have a legally protectable interest, the long-term consequences on the relations with the other community and whether or not it could  be resolved through mediation. The Institute for Local Government has a program for dispute resolution between public agencies and has released two pamphlets on this subject.

The information provided in this Post is not intended to constitute legal advice. (©) 2011 Howard Wright

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