Case summaries for Nov. 3 - Nov. 9, 2023
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.
Delegation clause unchallenged, arbitration compelled
On a motion to compel arbitration, movant has the burden of proof. The first issue is whether an arbitration agreement exists, but the respondent party waived that issue by failing to raise it. The next issue is whether circuit court has authority to compel performance of the arbitration agreement. The parties’ arbitration agreement incorporated the Federal Arbitration Act, which exempts from its provisions “contracts of employment of ... workers engaged in ... interstate commerce.” Interstate commerce includes an airline pilot like respondent, so the Federal Arbitration Act did not apply, but the Missouri Uniform Arbitration Act did. “Regardless of whether the parties agree to it, all arbitration agreements in Missouri, unless they are contracts of insurance or adhesion, are subject to [the Missouri Uniform Arbitration Act] so long as the matter is not preempted by the [Federal Arbitration Act]. The parties’ arbitration agreement included a delegation provision, which delegated to an arbitrator all issues of arbitrability, which includes formation, enforceability, and applicability to the underlying dispute. Delegation provisions are severable, so failure to challenge the delegation provision in circuit court—specifically and separately from the agreement—waives any challenge. The Missouri Supreme Court vacates the order denying a motion to compel arbitration and remands the case to compel arbitration.
Hampton S. Brown, et al., Respondent, vs. GoJet Airlines, LLC, Appellant.
Supreme Court of Missouri - SC99961
Results of striking pleadings discussed
Appellant’s failure to serve discovery responses for ten months after service of discovery requests and four months after a circuit court order to serve responses, showed “a contumacious and deliberate disregard for the authority of the court” that supported the sanction of striking pleadings. Striking the pleadings deprived appellant of standing to contest any issue, including lack of a conference required by local rule, so no prejudice resulted. “The failure of notice ... did not affect the validity of the judgment against [appellant], if for no other reason than that his presence could add no efficacy to the proceedings.” Statutorily required findings of fact are a matter of the judgment’s form, to which any challenge must first appear in a motion to amend, which appellant did not file. Appellant first raised that matter in a multifarious point that preserves nothing for appeal.
Wyatt W. Lee vs. Beverly J. Lee
Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District - WD85856
In running engine case, evidence showed that defendant was driving
Convicting the defendant requires evidence that supports a finding favorable to the State on each element of the offense charged. At trial, the State had to persuade the circuit court beyond a reasonable doubt. On appeal, the State had to show that a reasonable person could make such a finding beyond a reasonable doubt. For each offense, the elements included defendant driving a motor vehicle, for which the standard differs depending on whether the vehicle’s engine is found running or not running. If the vehicle’s engine was found running, and no direct evidence is present, “substantial additional evidence” was necessary to make the case on circumstantial evidence. But the evidence showed that the engine was running. Defendant’s facial injuries matched a hole in the windshield. That evidence supported a finding that defendant was driving the vehicle, with tags from another vehicle, in a careless and imprudent manner, without a seat belt, and while defendant’s license was suspended.
State of Missouri, Respondent, vs. Ricky L. Laughlin, Appellant.
Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District - ED110894
Alternative suspect defense discussed
Defendant’s evidence that some third person committed the offense against victim is admissible only on a threshold showing of evidence “that directly connects the [third] person with the corpus delicti and tends clearly to point to someone other than the [defendant].” Conduct that is not part of the crime is insufficient, including an incident that shows motive and opportunity, as in defendant’s offer of proof. The circuit court did not err in denying the offer of proof. And that ruling did not prejudice the defense because victim testified with 100% certainty that defendant, not the third person, committed the offense.
STATE OF MISSOURI, Plaintiff-Respondent v. WILLIAM C. WILLIS, Defendant-Appellant
Missouri Court of Appeals, Southern District - SD37692
Multiple allegations on propensity, multiple witnesses
Trial counsel is not ineffective for failure to make an objection that would have been meritless. Missouri Constitution provides a standard on which propensity evidence in the form of charged or uncharged offenses is admissible subject to logical and legal relevance. Legal relevance does not cap the number of witnesses who may testify under that provision because the State may offer evidence on every allegation. “[A]ny increase in prejudice was equal to an increase in probative value [.]” An out-of-court statement that is not offered for the truth of the matter stated is not hearsay and is not propensity evidence. Failure to object to cumulative evidence results in no prejudice. On a motion for post-conviction relief, trial counsel’s decision to make no such objections did not show that trial counsel was ineffective, so the circuit court did not err in denying relief.
Lewis C. Marshall vs. State of Missouri
Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District - WD85339
College expenses and living expenses redundant
An order to pay child support is subject to modification if the order becomes unreasonable. Unreasonableness may arise when the circuit court orders a payor to pay a child’s living expenses and college expenses, and the two expenses are redundant. Redundancy arose, the circuit court reasonably found, when child went away to college and payor paid virtually all associated costs. Appellant payee’s evidence offered to the contrary was self-serving, or supported respondent payor, and did not weigh against the judgment.
Elaina Marie (Fulton) Sansone vs. Jeffrey Jay Fulton
Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District - WD85717
Commitment is not the issue in an SVP case
In an action to determine sexually violent predator status, the issue for the jury is whether respondent is a sexually violent predator, not whether respondent should be committed; so the circuit court did not err in sustaining objections to questions and arguments about committing respondent. Respondent has the right to effective counsel, which is subject to challenge only on direct appeal. The standard is either a meaningful hearing or the Strickland test and, under either standard, trial counsel was not ineffective. Trial counsel has no duty to make a meritless objection. When the State decided against calling one of its experts, no mistrial was due, so trial counsel was not ineffective for choosing not to seek a mistrial. Objections are a matter of trial strategy and, while victim’s testimony included objectionable components, trial counsel’s decision not to object was “extremely reasonable.”
In the Matter of the Care and Treatment of: A.K., a/k/a A.D.K.
Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District - ED111269
Sentencing not grossly disproportionate
When the same judge issued judgment in both the criminal trial and the post-conviction hearing, the findings of fact carry special weight. The Court of Appeals defers to the circuit court’s determination that a prosecutor’s misstatement, about co-defendant’s sentencing, was a mere error and did not render movant’s plea less than knowing and voluntary. Movant showed no prejudice in sentencing that was within the range understood by movant, and that the circuit court supported with “sound reasons [,]” without consideration of co-defendants’ sentences. Sentencing of movant as ringleader was not grossly disproportionate to those of movant’s followers, whose post-arrest conduct diverged significantly from movant’s. Movant did not show that trial counsel was ineffective for failure to present additional evidence at sentencing that would have reduced the sentence.
Jaylen James vs. State of Missouri
Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District - WD85640
Grounds for mental exam explained
Effective assistance requires counsel to initiate a mental examination when defendant’s mental competency is questionable as to “the present ability to consult rationally with the attorney and understand the court proceedings.” Such ability was absent in the past, but present at the plea hearing and at sentencing, according to the circuit court’s findings. Those findings are due deference on appeal, so the Missouri Supreme Court affirms the judgment denying post-conviction relief.
Aaron Hecker, Appellant, v. State of Missouri, Respondent.
Supreme Court of Missouri - SC100084
Purchase of IT equipment exempt from use tax
Statutes impose the use tax for using in Missouri anything purchased outside Missouri subject to exemptions and exclusions. Exclusions and exemptions include tangible personal property purchased for an eventual resale that is subject to tax. Respondent purchased information technology equipment, installed and tested it, and sold it to its buyer, who paid tax on that transaction. Those facts exempted and excluded respondent’s purchases from use tax. A theory not offered to the Administrative Hearing Commission is not preserved for review in an appellate court.
Walmart Starco. LLC, v. Director of Revenue, Appellant.
Supreme Court of Missouri - SC99998