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Pauli v. Spicer

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Second Division

October 14, 2014

DEBRA S. PAULI AND STEVEN G. SPICER, Appellants,
v.
GWEN SPICER, Respondent

Page 668

Appeal from the St. Louis County Circuit Court. Honorable Barbara W. Wallace.

FOR APPELLANTS: Gregory G. Fenlon, Fenlon & Fenlon, Clayton, Missouri.

FOR RESPONDENT: Ronald S. Ribaudo, The Ribaudo Law Firm, Ballwin, Missouri.

Philip M. Hess, Judge. Sherri B. Sullivan, P.J. and Mary K. Hoff, J. concur.

OPINION

Page 669

Philip M. Hess, Judge

Introduction

In this declaratory judgment action, Debra Pauli and Steven Spicer (Plaintiffs) seek to set aside as null and void the St. Louis Circuit Court's January 22, 2008 judgment (2008 judgment), which effectively quieted title to certain real property in Gwen Spicer (Defendant).[1] After a bench trial, the trial court entered a judgment in favor of Defendant, which denied Plaintiffs the declaratory relief requested and had the effect of making the 2008 judgment binding on Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs raise four points on appeal, claiming that the trial

Page 670

court's judgment is erroneous because: (1) Plaintiffs were " necessary and indispensable" parties to the prior quiet title action, but were never made parties to that lawsuit, and the 2008 judgment is, therefore, void; (2) Plaintiffs, as non-parties to the quiet title action, are not bound by the 2008 judgment because they were neither identified nor served in that action; (3) the trial court entered the 2008 judgment against the Donald N. Spicer Revocable Living Trust (Trust), which is a " non-suable entity" and, thus, the 2008 judgment is void; and (4) the trial court erred by failing to rule on Plaintiff Pauli's request for findings of fact. Because Plaintiffs were necessary and indispensable parties to the prior quiet title action, but were never made parties to that action, the 2008 judgment is void. Accordingly, we reverse and remand.

Factual Background

Because the facts pertinent to this case have already been summarized in previous litigation, we quote the relevant portions of that background here:

Several years after [Defendant] and Donald Spicer (" Donald" ) were married, they purchased real property located at 5367 Southview Hills Court in St. Louis, Missouri. Marital difficulties ensued, causing [Defendant] to move into a separate home, while Donald continued to reside on the property.
On or about May 31, 2007, Donald executed a General Warranty Deed, purportedly conveying a one-half undivided interest in the property unto the [Trust] dated February 7, 2002. Donald died July 3, 2007, while he and [Defendant] were still lawfully married. Per the [T]rust provisions, [Plaintiff] . . . Spicer became the successor trustee of the trust. [ Spicer v. Donald N. Spicer Revocable Living Trust, 336 S.W.3d 466, 467 (Mo. banc 2011) (footnote omitted) (hereinafter " Spicer I." ).]

After Donald's death, counsel for the Trust held a meeting where counsel informed Plaintiffs and Defendant that Donald had conveyed his one-half interest in the marital home to the Trust.

Prior Quiet Title Action

Thereafter,

[Defendant] filed a petition to quiet title on August 21, 2007, naming the [T]rust as the sole defendant. The petition, in essence, sought to have the deed canceled, alleging that [Defendant] and Donald had purchased the home as tenants by the entirety and, upon Donald's death, she lawfully became the sole and fee simple owner of the property. Further, [Defendant] maintained that she had never executed a marital waiver, consent, conveyance or the like in connection with the property. Counsel [for the Trust] entered and filed an answer on the [T]rust's behalf, stipulating to the bulk of [Defendant]'s petition, but contending that the deed effectively operated as a unilateral termination of the tenancy by the entirety.
Three months later, [Defendant] filed a motion for summary judgment, praying that the deed be canceled . . . . The trial court granted [Defendant]'s motion on January 22, 2008, ordering the deed be canceled . . . .
Sixteen days later, the trustee [Plaintiff Spicer], who was not named in the pleadings, filed a " Motion of Trustee, Appearing by Special Appearance, to Set Aside Judgment and to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction" . . . . [Plaintiff Spicer's] Motion asserted that " the only defendant before the [c]ourt is the [T]rust . . . ." As such, [Plaintiff Spicer's] Motion argued that the [T]rust was not a legal entity capable of being sued and

Page 671

that the failure to either name the trustee or the beneficiaries as parties, [i.e., Plaintiffs,] who the trustee alleged were necessary parties, was a jurisdictional defect in the case.
On February 25, 2008, 34 days after . . . entry [of the 2008 judgment], the court granted the Trustee's Motion to set aside [the 2008 judgment], but declined to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction. Additionally, the court ordered [Defendant] to amend her pleadings to include the trustee. After [Defendant] filed amended ...

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