By JOE HARRIS
ST. LOUIS (CN) - A group of convicted sex offenders who fought back when Missouri tried to restrict what they could do on Halloween are not entitled to legal fees, the 8th Circuit ruled (PDF).
Under the 2008 Halloween Statute, Missouri said that every Oct. 31 all registered sex offenders would have to avoid "all Halloween-related contact with children," post a sign saying that there was no candy at their homes, and spend most of the night in their houses with the outside lights off.
Six individuals who had previously been convicted of sex offenses challenged the rules as unconstitutional, but the law was in force on Oct. 31, 2008, after the 8th Circuit tossed an injunction.
That year, Missouri charged [name withheld] with violating the Halloween Statute, but a circuit court dismissed the charge because it found that the law violated the state's prohibition on retrospective laws since [name withheld]'s conviction predated enactment of the Halloween Statute.
Later the Missouri Supreme Court considered [name withheld]'s case with another sex offender named in the court documents as F.R.
The federal court stayed its consideration of the six offenders' case pending the conclusion of the state-court case. In January 2010, a majority of the Missouri Supreme Court concluded that the Halloween Statute violated the state Constitution as applied to [name withheld].
Since enactment of the Halloween Statute also predated the convictions of any of the anonymous plaintiffs in the federal case, Missouri conceded that it would be unconstitutional to prosecute any of them, and the case was dismissed as moot.
The court ordered the John and Jane Does to bear the costs of the federal action, but found that they were entitled to about $22,000 in attorneys' fees as prevailing parties.
A three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit affirmed dismissal but reversed the award of fees last week.
"The dismissal on mootness grounds in the instant case was not the result of the Does prevailing on the merits of any of their claims," Judge Roger Wollman wrote for the court. "Instead, it was the product of a voluntary change adopted by the officials' in the face of the Missouri Supreme Court's decision in F.R. Under these circumstances, the Does are not entitled to prevailing party status simply because the voluntary change in conduct is recognized in an order of dismissal."
Chief Judge William Jay Riley and Judge Michael Melloy joined the opinion.