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Missouri Dep't of Soc. Servs. v. J & J Indus. Supply, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, First Division

March 31, 2015

MISSOURI DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES, FAMILY SUPPORT DIVISION, Respondent,
v.
J & J INDUSTRIAL SUPPLY, INC., Appellant

Appeal from the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis. Hon. Paula P. Bryant.

Stephen J. Bardol, Webster Groves, MO, For Appellant.

Chris Koster, Rebecca Wohltman, St. Louis, MO, For Respondent.

CLIFFORD H. AHRENS, Judge. Lawrence E. Mooney, P.J., concurs. Lisa Van Amburg, J., concurs.

OPINION

CLIFFORD H. AHRENS, Judge

Page 479

J& J Industrial Supply appeals the trial court's judgments in favor of the Department of Social Services Family Support Division after J& J failed to comply with income withholding orders.[1] This appeal presents questions of first impression in Missouri as to whether a child support obligor should be joined as a party in an action against his employer for income withholding violations and whether the employer can challenge the evidence supporting the underlying order. We resolve both

Page 480

questions in the negative and affirm the trial court's judgments.

Background

J& J is a recycling services business in the City of St. Louis. Between 2006 and 2010, the Division served J& J with five orders to withhold income for child support owed by J& J employee Charles White. White did not contest the orders. J& J remitted payment to the Division approximately monthly, combining White's and other employees' withholdings into one check to the Division. Neither J& J nor the Division contacted the other with questions or concerns regarding compliance. From 2006 to early 2013, J& J withheld and paid to the Division $18,856.96 out of $57,832.50 owed, leaving a deficit of $39,003.54.

In March 2013, the Division filed two petitions under § 454.505 RSMo seeking recovery of the difference. J& J moved to join White as a necessary party, but the trial court denied the motion. At trial on both petitions, the Division adduced its internal records itemizing White's child support arrearages. The Division's witness, Mark Sheiper, explained how the Division issues and enforces withholding orders. He testified that payments are allocated according to federal guidelines and that, in over 21 years at the Division, he had seen distribution mistakes " extremely rarely." J& J's owner, Gerald McArthur, testified that he attempted to comply with the Division's orders but wasn't certain whether he succeeded or how the Division allocated his combined payments. He conceded that he never called the Division for verification or guidance as the orders invite employers to do. Although McArthur testified that White never asked him to withhold less than the amount ordered, White testified that he did ask McArthur not to withhold the full amount " because, if he had, I wouldn't be able to live."

The trial court found that J& J failed to comply with the Division's orders without legal justification or excuse and entered judgments for the Division and against J& J for a combined total of $39,003.54. The court also explained that White was not a necessary party because the action is based on J& J's failure to comply with the Division's orders under § 454.505 and not on White's own liability for child support. Finally, the court noted that its judgments did not prejudice J& J's claim against White for unjust enrichment or other relief.

J& J appeals and asserts that the trial court erred by: (1) denying its motion to join White as a necessary party and (2) accepting the Division's ...


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