Rest in Peace, Judge Rick Teitleman. He was a friend of mine and many and a shining light among people, lawyers and judges. Many great things were said of him: Wikipedia page, Supreme court profile page, and post dispatch obituary. He was a humble but brilliant lawyer and judge who dedicated himself to serving the poor and underprivileged in accessing justice.
Here are some of his significant cases:
- State ex rel. Amrine v. Roper (2003): Teitelman’s 4-3 majority ruling ordered a new trial for death row inmate Joseph Amrine after witnesses recanted their testimony implicating him in a prison murder. Amrine was subsequently released after prosecutors declined to retry him. The case remains the only “freestanding claim of actual innocence” that Missouri courts have recognized.
- Hampton v. Big Boy Steel Erection (2003): This oft-cited case reset the standard of review for workers’ compensation cases, saying that courts should examine the evidence in support of an award in the context of the whole record. The unanimous decision overruled some 360 earlier cases that had employed a different method of review.
- Snodgras v. Martin & Bayley Inc. (2006): The unanimous opinion upheld Missouri’s so-called “dram-shop law,” finding that sellers of pre-packaged liquor can’t be sued for selling alcohol to a minor the way bars and restaurants can.
- Schoemehl v. Treasurer of the State of Missouri (2007): Under a strict reading of the state’s worker’s compensation law, Teitelman’s 4-3 ruling said a woman could continue collecting her husband’s benefits after he died, even though his death was unrelated to his on-the-job injury. Lawmakers changed the statute in 2008 in response to the ruling as part of a larger debate over the solvency of the Second Injury Fund, which covers workers whose existing infirmities are worsened by an on-the-job injury.
- Keveney v. Missouri Military Academy (2009): The case was one of three opinions issued the same day that reshaped employment law by allowing whistle-blowers who are fired to sue for wrongful termination. Teitelman’s Keveney ruling specifically extended that protection to contract workers. As it turned out, Teitelman also issued a lone dissent in one of the other employment cases, Margiotta v. Christian Hospital Northeast Northwest, saying the fired worker shouldn’t have to cite a particular law or rule that the employer broke to be able to sue.
- Brewer v. Missouri Title Loans Inc. (2010 and 2012): Teitelman’s initial majority ruling invalidated a waiver that barred the plaintiffs from pursuing class arbitration, finding it unconscionable. Following a remand from the U.S. Supreme Court, the state court reconsidered the case and, once again, found the bar on class arbitration to be fatally unfair. The case finally ended in 2014 with a settlement that forgave $262 million in debt the plaintiffs alleged owed.
- Delana v. CED Sales Inc. (2016): Teitelman’s unanimous opinion recognized negligent entrustment as a valid cause of action against sellers of dangerous items. The ruling allowed a lawsuit to proceed against a store that sold a gun to a mentally ill woman who fatally shot her father. The suit settled in November for $2.2 million.
Just as famous are Teitelman’s many dissents, including:
- City of Arnold v. Tourkakis (2008): The majority said third-class Missouri cities could use eminent domain for redevelopment efforts, prompting cries from proponents of property rights. Teitelman, in a lone dissent, wrote that no Missouri city has the power of eminent domain until the legislature expressly provides for it.
- In the Matter of the Care and Treatment of Van Orden (2008): The majority found that is constitutional to civilly commit sex offenders using the “clear and convincing evidence” standard. In a solo dissent, Teitelman said the commitment law was punitive in nature and should use the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used in criminal proceedings. The plaintiff in the case, John Van Orden, is now part of an ongoing federal challenge to Missouri’s commitment process. A similar case was argued in the Missouri Supreme Court on Nov. 16.
- Missouri Alliance for Retired Americans v. Department of Labor and Industrial Relations(2009): The case began as a broad constitutional challenge to a 2005 overhaul of the state’s workers’ compensation laws. The unsigned plurality opinion that emerged more than a year after arguments reached a more modest result, holding only that workers who were now excluded from the worker’s compensation system still has the right to pursue lawsuits in court. In a lone dissent, Teitelman said the 2005 changes were unconstitutional.
- Glossip v. Missouri Department of Transportation and Highway Patrol Employees’ Retirement System (2013): Not long ago, before the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, the Missouri Supreme Court had its own brush with the hot-button issue. The court’s 5-2 unsigned opinion dodged the issue, ruling that the same-sex partner of a Highway Patrol officer killed in the line of duty couldn’t collect survivor benefits — not because he was gay, but because the couple had never married in any of the jurisdictions that recognized same-sex marriage at the time. In his impassioned dissent, Teitelman, joined by Judge George W. Draper III, said the case illustrated that gay people “continue to be singled out for disparate treatment even though the immutable fact of who one loves neither interferes with the rights of others nor has any relevance to one’s ability to contribute to society.”
- Dodson v. Ferrara (2016): For Teitelman, this case was a disappointing coda to the 2012 Wattsdecision. The 5-2 majority upheld the legislative damage cap in wrongful death cases, even if they stem from medical malpractice, because the wrongful death cause of action was created by statute and not part of the common law. The rulings created a strange imbalance — damages are limited if a doctor causes someone’s death but not if the patient is merely injured. In his dissent, Teitelman said the wrongful death damage cap should be struck down as well.