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England v. England

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Second Division

February 24, 2015

LORI L. ENGLAND, Appellant-Respondent,
JESSE W. ENGLAND, Respondent-Appellant

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Appeal from the Circuit Court of Platte County, Missouri. The Honorable James W. Van Amburg, Judge.

For Appellant-Respondent: Anne Kiske, St. Joseph, MO.

For Respondent-Appellant: Jonathan Sternberg, Kansas City, MO.

Karen King Mitchell, Judge. Anthony Rex Gabbert, Presiding Judge, and Joseph M. Ellis, Judge, concur.


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Karen King Mitchell, J.

Jesse and Lori England, formerly husband and wife, cross-appeal various portions of the trial court's distribution of marital assets in its judgment of dissolution. Finding no error, we affirm.


Husband and Wife were married in 2003. At that time, they lived in a house in Omaha, Nebraska, that Husband owned before the marriage. In 2005, they moved to St. Joseph, Missouri, where they purchased a home. In August 2012, Wife moved out of the marital home and filed for divorce.

Husband's mother, Alice Longfellow (Mother), made a number of gifts to Husband, Wife, or both. Three of these purported gifts are at issue in this case.

Before the marriage, Mother gave Husband a gift of $50,000. Husband testified at trial that some of this money " went to . . . [his] education when [he] went back to school," before the marriage. Husband did not offer any evidence of the amount of the gift remaining, if anything, at the time of the marriage.

Also before the marriage, Mother purchased a motor vehicle for Husband. Husband testified that Mother initially offered to purchase a much more expensive vehicle, but that he chose, instead, to receive a less expensive vehicle and, in return, Mother agreed to give him money to also purchase a motorcycle. However, no motorcycle was purchased before the marriage. Instead, Husband purchased a Harley Davidson motorcycle during the marriage. Husband offered an exhibit estimating the motorcycle's value at the time of trial as between $7,000 and $8,000, along with a bill of sale from 2003 showing a price of $22,000 and " Jesse W. England" as the purchaser. Husband implied that Mother purchased the motorcycle for him, testifying that he was unemployed at the time of the purchase and that " unemployed people typically don't have the ability to pay $22,000" for a motorcycle.

During the marriage, while Husband and Wife were visiting Mother in Texas, Mother told Husband that she would like to give him a gift of $115,000. A few days later, when Mother was dropping Husband and Wife off at the airport, Mother asked Husband for his bank account number so that she could wire the money. Husband

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did not have his checkbook, but Wife wrote down and handed Mother the account number for the couple's joint account. Mother believed that this number was for Husband's sole account. Mother wired the money to the account number given to her by Wife after Mother verified the account number with Husband.

Husband then transferred $100,000 from the joint account to his personal account. This action was taken over a number of days in a series of $10,000 transfers, because of Husband's belief that federal law required " going through a lot of hoops" for transactions totaling over $10,000 per day. The remaining $15,000 was used to pay off a large credit card bill. Wife did not protest any of these transactions.

There was an issue regarding alleged debts for work done at the couple's home during the marriage. Husband testified that, during the marriage, three contractors performed work on the couple's St. Joseph property for which the couple had been billed, but had not made payment. Husband testified that Wife knew of and approved of each of the projects, costing a total of $78,473.

In late 2011 and early 2012, Woods Contracting hauled crushed concrete, black dirt, fill rock, and gravel (fill) onto the couple's property to fill in eroded areas on a dam separating two ponds. Gerald Woods, owner of Woods Contracting, testified that the fill was made up of remnants from other jobs, which would have been disposed of had it not been used on the England property. Husband also offered two invoices from Woods Contracting, dated June 30 and July 31, 2012, totaling $55,435 for the materials, as well as equipment rental and the time of an equipment operator. Husband also offered a collection letter from Woods Contracting, dated May 17, 2013, in which Woods stated that the Englands' " account is grossly overdue despite numerous notices we have sent you in the past several months." Woods was unable to locate any such notices, or testify as to when or whether any notices were actually sent.

Husband next testified that Jerry Kamler worked on farm equipment, as well as some buildings, on the Englands' property during the marriage, for which Kamler was due compensation. Kamler testified that he worked on the property nearly every weekend from April through July of 2012, often working with Husband on various equipment and projects. Husband offered fifteen invoices from Kamler, totaling $15,915. Husband also offered a collection letter from Kamler, dated May 3, 2013, demanding payment of $16,122 for " the past due invoices including late fees and interest."

Finally, Husband testified that there was a shed on the couple's property in which he did work on farm machinery. Husband testified that, because the shed did not have electricity, he hired Leonies Enterprises to install electricity and lighting. Husband offered an invoice from Leonies Enterprises, dated June 5, 2012, showing a balance due of $6,500.

The parties also disputed whether a dog acquired during the marriage was Husband's sole property or the property of both Husband and Wife. In 2009, a dog that Husband had owned since before the marriage passed away. Husband's father, Gerald England (Father), was formerly married to a dog breeder, who had a puppy that was too small to sell. Father and his ex-wife decided to offer the puppy to replace the one that had passed away. Wife received the call from them and she indicated that she wanted the dog, but would check with Husband to be sure that he thought they should take it. Husband then called Father and accepted the dog. Father and his ex-wife drove from Oklahoma

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to St. Joseph to deliver the puppy to the couple's home. Father testified that " as far as [he] kn[e]w," the puppy was meant as a gift from his " ex-wife to [Husband] and [Husband] only . . . ."

Following a three-day trial, the court issued its findings of fact, conclusions of law, and judgment dissolving the marriage and distributing the marital assets. The court found the testimony of Kamler and Woods, regarding alleged marital debts, " to be incredible," and further found that there was " no credible evidence to support the claim of" any of the debts at issue in this case. The court did not include the $78,473 alleged marital debt in the distribution of assets. The court found the $115,000 gift from Mother to Husband to be non-marital, and set it " aside to [Husband] as his non-marital property." The $50,000 pre-marital gift from Mother to Husband was found to be fully dissipated by the time of the marriage. The court found the motorcycle to be marital property and set it aside ...

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