Case summaries for Aug. 19 - Aug. 25, 2022
Each week, The Missouri Bar provides links to all hand downs published online during the past seven days by the Supreme Court of Missouri and the Missouri Court of Appeals. The Missouri Bar has created headings and summaries for each case. Summaries are not part of the opinions of the Court. They have been prepared for the convenience of the reader and should not be quoted or cited.
Personal Jurisdiction Lacking, Judgment Void
In an action to set aside a default judgment, movant alleged lack of personal jurisdiction. Personal jurisdiction attaches upon service of process, which may occur by “leaving a copy of the summons and petition at the individual’s dwelling house or usual place of abode with some person of the individual’s family over the age of 15.” A return of service reciting those facts establishes service prima facie and rebuttal requires clear and convincing evidence. Such evidence showed movant’s usual place of abode was not where delivery of process occurred, with no evidence to the contrary, but circuit court denied the motion to set aside anyway. No deference is due the circuit court’s findings of fact when the circuit court has made none. The Court of Appeals reviews de novo the circuit court’s conclusions of law, concludes that personal jurisdiction was lacking, and reverses the circuit court’s judgment denying the motion to set aside.
M.F.S.D.-C.S.E, Individually and as Next Friend of A.D., Respondent, v. J.M., Appellant, and A.D.D., Respondent.
Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District - ED110001
MMPA Claims Barred
Claims are distinguishable by ultimate facts, not merely evidentiary facts, so ultimate facts determine whether claims are split, decided, or barred. So, once plaintiff alleged that defendant demanded payment in earlier litigation, new allegations in later litigation—that plaintiff later made payment on those demands—did not create a new claim. Appellant argued that earlier litigation was no bar to later litigation because the earlier litigation was subject to no final judgment. But appellant raised that argument for the first time in appellate briefing, not in circuit court, and not in a point relied on. Such an argument is waived and unpreserved for appellate court review. Certification for appeal of a less-than-final judgment is possible by rule, but only if the judgment resolved at least one judicial unit, which includes a resolution of all theories related to at least one party. Plaintiff alleged one set of events to support relief under the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act and common law negligence claims, so dismissal under only one of those authorities did not result in a judgment certifiable for appeal. Denial of an attorney fee claim is subject to appeal as part of a judgment, but constitutes a separate ruling, which is subject to a separate point relied on; so a point that challenges both the denial of attorney fees and any other ruling is multifarious.
Danny Walker vs. A1 Solar Source Inc., et al.; Greensky, Inc., Greensky Holdings, LLC, Greensky LLC, and Midland States Bancorp, Inc.
Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District – WD84673 and WD84702
Plea Agreement Was Ambiguous
Plea agreement provided that the State would argue for 30 years, and the movant could argue for “something less.” In the context of sentencing ranges, that phrase is ambiguous, so the circuit court properly looked to evidence extrinsic to the plea agreement, including movant’s silences and affirmations at the plea hearing, to construe the agreement. Because the circuit court did not misconstrue the plea agreement, plea counsel’s objection would have been meritless, and plea counsel was not ineffective for making a meritless objection.
CORNELL ANTHONY CORNELIUS, Movant-Appellant v. STATE OF MISSOURI, Respondent-Respondent
Missouri Court of Appeals, Southern District – SD36988
EEOC Memo Supports Determination on Probable Cause
Statutes and regulations provide that the Missouri Human Rights Commission (“MoHRC”) must investigate complaints of discrimination and retaliation. On appellant’s complaint, the MoHRC concluded an investigation before its 180-day deadline, without issuing a right-to-sue letter, based on a memorandum of the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) concluding that the complaint was unsupported by probable cause. That decision was subject to circuit court review by petition for writ of mandamus, in which appellant sought an order to re-open the investigation and issue a right-to-sue letter, but the circuit court denied appellant’s petition. The Court of Appeals affirms that judgment because statutes and regulations governing MoHRC provide for work-sharing with the EEOC, whose memorandum was sufficient to support MoHRC’s determination, because it included specific findings as to reasonable accommodation, undue hardship, and non-discriminatory grounds for a negative job evaluation.
State Ex Rel: Christopher S. Moore vs. Missouri Commission on Human Rights, et al.
Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District - WD85120
Insurer Stated a Claim for Interpleader
On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim does not reach the merits of a claim, the only issue is whether the allegations support relief, assuming the truth of those allegations. The allegations necessary for insurer to state a claim for interpleader are “that persons have claims against the party,” and “that those claims are of such nature that the party may be exposed to double liability.” Statute and rule expressly include multiple claims on the same insurance coverage, while consigning apportionment to a further phase of litigation. Discussion of non-monetary settlement provisions do not change that result.
Farmers Insurance Company, Inc. vs. Jill Mabie, et al.
Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District – WD84881
Catastrophic Injury Statute Applied
On a charge of juror misconduct, alleging that a juror gathered evidence outside of trial, a juror’s testimony is admissible. If the extra-judicial evidence is “material to the consequential facts of the case [,]” a presumption of prejudice arises. But no presumption arose because the circuit court found that no such misconduct occurred, based on its determinations of credibility, so no rebuttal was necessary. And the allegations of misconduct, even assumed true, did not prejudice the defendant's prejudice because they were not relevant to the plaintiff’s claim. A point relied on related to juror instructions was multifarious and unpreserved at trial. An untimely and incomplete offer of proof failed to preserve error as to limitations on cross-examining an expert witness. Those limitations barred only the expert’s “ultimate opinions about whether [plaintiff]’s non-party medical providers met the standard of care [,]” which is inadmissible anyway, so defendant showed no prejudice. Statute capping non-economic damages provides a higher cap for catastrophic injuries, including “irreversible” loss of a major organ system, which plaintiff showed by evidence of “permanent” damage to skin.
Katherine Harned vs. Daniel V. Spurlock, D.O., et al.
Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District - WD84990