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Taylor v. Ferguson

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Second Division

May 20, 2014

BRENT E. TAYLOR, Plaintiff/Respondent,
v.
BRYAN FERGUSON and TINA FERGUSON, Defendants/Appellants, and MICHAEL TAYLOR RENTALS, LLC and MARTINSBURG BANK AND TRUST, Intervenors/Respondents

Page 800

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Warren County. Honorable Wesley C. Dalton.

Henry M. DeWoskin, St. Louis, MO, for appellant.

David G. Wasinger, St. Louis, MO, for intervenor-respondents.

LAWRENCE E. MOONEY, PRESIDING JUDGE. ROBERT G. DOWD, JR., J and SHERRI B. SULLIVAN, J., concur.

OPINION

Page 801

LAWRENCE E. MOONEY, PRESIDING JUDGE.

The homeowners, Bryan and Tina Ferguson, appeal the judgment of the Circuit Court of Warren County denying their motion to set aside the default judgment obtained against them by the plaintiff, Brent Taylor, in his action to quiet title to certain real property. Because the homeowners' motion to set aside the default judgment and supporting documents averred a prima facie basis for reopening the default judgment pursuant to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, 50 App. U.S.C. sec. 501 et seq., the trial court plainly erred in denying their motion without an evidentiary hearing. We reverse and remand with directions.

The homeowners owned real property in Warren County, Missouri. On August 25, 2008, the Warren County tax collector sold the property at public auction for non-payment of property taxes. The plaintiff purchased the property on that date and received a collector's deed some 20 months later. On May 21, 2010, the plaintiff filed an action to quiet title against the homeowners. The plaintiff made no attempt to personally serve the homeowners. The record reveals that the court never issued summonses. Instead, the plaintiff obtained an order for service by publication the same day that he filed his petition to quiet title. Furthermore, the plaintiff failed to file an affidavit stating whether the homeowners were in military service and setting forth facts to support such an affidavit. Nor did the court appoint an attorney to represent the homeowners, whose military-service status was not considered. Unsurprisingly, the homeowners neither filed a responsive pleading nor appeared for trial. On September 1, 2010, the trial court granted a default judgment for the plaintiff and quieted title to the property in him.[1] Michael Taylor Rentals,

Page 802

LLC later acquired the property and obtained a loan secured b the property from Martinsburg Bank and Trust.

The homeowners filed a motion to set aside the default judgment pursuant to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) on July 3, 2013. In their motion, the homeowners asserted that Bryan Ferguson had been called to active duty in the United States Army, where he served from February 3, 2005 to April 14, 2013. They attached a copy of a Department of Defense Manpower Data Center Status Report pursuant to the SCRA reflecting Mr. Ferguson's dates of active duty as above. The homeowners pleaded that the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, 50 App. U.S.C. sec. 501 et seq., (formerly the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act) takes precedence over Missouri law pursuant to the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution, that the SCRA applies to any judicial proceeding commenced in state court, and that various provisions of the SCRA afford them--active-duty servicemembers and their dependents--multiple protections from the plaintiff's action and judgment.

The homeowners averred that these protections include: a requirement that the plaintiff file an affidavit stating whether or not the defendant is in military service and stating necessary facts to support the affidavit; appointment of an attorney to represent the defendant if it appears that he or she is on active duty in the military; a requirement that a court order be obtained before the sale, foreclosure, or seizure of property secured by a mortgage, deed of trust, or instrument of like nature for breach of that obligation; tolling of the periods allowed for bringing an action and for redeeming the property for the duration of the servicemember's active duty; and an opportunity to reopen a default judgment entered against the servicemember if it appears that military service materially affected him or her in making a meritorious defense to the action. Citing sections 140.340 and 140.420 R.S.Mo., the homeowners expressly pleaded that the one-year redemption period for the property did not begin to run until Mr. Ferguson left military service on April 14, 2013, pursuant to section 526(b) of the SCRA. They further alleged that Mr. Ferguson was stationed in Germany, that both homeowners lived there at the time the court entered judgment, that neither homeowner knew about the tax sale or the action to quiet title, that Mr. Ferguson was not authorized to leave Germany in order to defend against the plaintiff's action, and that they wanted to retain the property but did not receive an opportunity to redeem it.

One week after the homeowners filed their motion, the trial court heard argument on the motion, but did not conduct an evidentiary hearing. The court allowed Michael Taylor Rentals and Martinsburg Bank to intervene (collectively " the intervenors" ). The homeowners argued that

Page 803

they believed that Michael Taylor Rentals was not a bona fide purchaser for value. Rather, the homeowners expressed their belief that Michael Taylor is the plaintiff's son and that the property was a gift. The trial court denied the homeowners' motion without elaboration as to its reasoning, rendering no findings of fact or conclusions of law, and the homeowners appeal. The plaintiff ...


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