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State ex rel. O'Basuyi v. Vincent

Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc

June 24, 2014

STATE EX REL PATRICK J. O'BASUYI, Relator,
v.
THE HONORABLE DAVID LEE VINCENT, III, Respondent

OPINION

Laura Denvir Stith, Judge.

Page 518

ORIGINAL PROCEEDING IN PROHIBITION

Relator Patrick O'Basuyi, the plaintiff in the action below, seeks a writ of prohibition preventing the trial court from simultaneously trying to a jury both his own claims for breach of contract, quantum meruit and fraud, and the defendants' counterclaim alleging he is maliciously prosecuting these three claims. This Court issued a preliminary writ of prohibition, which it now makes permanent.

The trial court abused its discretion in determining that Rule 55.06, which governs joinder of claims, authorized its denial of Mr. O'Basuyi's motion for separate trial of the malicious prosecution claim. Rule 55.06 did not change Missouri's long-settled law that a party's claim must be terminated in favor of the opposing party before the opposing party may try a claim for malicious prosecution. This Court's interpretation of Rule 55.06(b) in State ex rel. General Motors Acceptance Corporation v. Standridge, 181 S.W.3d 76 (Mo. banc 2006), is not to the contrary. But, to the extent that Standridge appears to interpret Rule 55.06 to authorize the filing of a contingent malicious prosecution counterclaim to be tried after the plaintiff's claims have been disposed, it misinterprets Rule 55.06 and should not be followed. Like its federal counterpart and like the comparable joinder rules in other states, Rule 55.06 simply permits one party to join together all of its own claims against an opposing party, even if those claims are not related to each other. Nothing in the rule authorizes the opposing party to file, much less try in the same action, a malicious prosecution counterclaim to any of the first party's claims. The trial court's denial of Mr. O'Basuyi's motion for separate trial, therefore, constituted an abuse of its discretion.

I. STATEMENT OF FACTS

Mr. O'Basuyi filed suit in the St. Louis County circuit court against Rodney Thomas, TriStar Property Associates and several other defendants (collectively " TriStar" ) for breach of an oral contract, quantum meruit and fraudulent conveyance.[1] TriStar filed a two-count counterclaim for malicious prosecution, alleging that the underlying claims are meritless and that Mr. O'Basuyi filed his action in bad faith for the purpose of harassing the defendants and in retaliation for prior lawsuits in which the defendants obtained judgments against Mr. O'Basuyi.

Mr. O'Basuyi filed a Rule 66.02 motion for separate trial of the defendants' counterclaims. In support, he noted that an essential element of a malicious prosecution claim is that the original plaintiff's claim be terminated in favor of the defendant, which means that a malicious prosecution claim is not cognizable until after the determination of the underlying claim. Mr. O'Basuyi argued that trying the two claims together and simply instructing the jury as to the contingent nature of the malicious prosecution action would be confusing to the jury and unduly prejudicial to him. Accordingly, he requested severance.

The trial court overruled the motion for separate trial. Mr. O'Basuyi seeks a writ of prohibition. This Court issued its preliminary writ.

Page 519

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

This Court has the authority to " issue and determine original remedial writs." Mo. Const. art. V, § 4.1; see also Rule 97.01 .

The extraordinary remedy of a writ of prohibition is available: (1) to prevent the usurpation of judicial power when the trial court lacks authority or jurisdiction; (2) to remedy an excess of authority, jurisdiction or abuse of discretion where the lower court lacks the power to act as intended; or (3) where a party may suffer irreparable harm if relief is not granted.

State ex rel. Mo. Pub. Defender Comm'n v. Waters, 370 S.W.3d 592, 603 (Mo. banc 2012) (internal citation omitted).

Rule 66.02 grants the trial court broad discretion to order separate trials for convenience, to avoid prejudice or to promote judicial economy. Rule 66.02; In re Competency of Parkus, 219 S.W.3d 250, 253 (Mo. banc 2007) . The trial court's decision to grant or deny a motion for separate trial will not be disturbed absent abuse of that discretion. Parkus, 219 S.W.3d at 253. " Judicial discretion will be found to be abused only when the ruling is clearly against the logic of the circumstances and is so arbitrary and unreasonable as to shock the sense of justice." Id.

III. THE TRIAL COURT ABUSED ITS DISCRETION UNDER RULE 66.02 IN DENYING MR. O'BASUYI'S MOTION FOR SEPARATE TRIAL OF THE MALICIOUS ...


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