FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF COLE COUNTY The Honorable Daniel R.
Victor C. Howard, Presiding Judge, Lisa White Hardwick and
Edward R. Ardini, Jr., Judges.
White Hardwick, Judge.
appeals from the judgment in favor of James Cannon on her
action to recover damages caused by childhood sexual abuse.
S.H. contends the circuit court erroneously applied the law
in denying her claim because Cannon's guilty plea to
statutory rape and statutory sodomy conclusively established
that he caused her harm and that she was entitled to damages.
For reasons explained herein, we affirm.
and Procedural History
1995, when S.H. was 10 years old, her mother married Cannon.
Thereafter, Cannon lived in the same household with S.H., her
mother, and her siblings. In 2001, Cannon pled guilty to
charges of statutory rape, under Section 566.032,
statutory sodomy, under Section 566.062.
2011, S.H. filed an action against Cannon for damages for
childhood sexual abuse under Section 537.046. In her
petition, S.H. alleged that Cannon began grooming her for sex
in 1996, when she was 11 years old. She averred that he began
raping and sodomizing her when she was 12 years old and
continued to repeatedly do so until she was over the age of
13 but under the age of 14. S.H. further alleged that Cannon
was arrested in 1999 and then pled guilty to charges of
raping and sodomizing her in 2001, for which he was sentenced
to seven years in prison.
further alleged that, as a direct and proximate result of
Cannon's childhood sexual abuse of her, she suffered
from, and continues to suffer from, injury or illness in the
form of shock, emotional distress, physical manifestations of
emotional distress, embarrassment, loss of self-esteem,
disgrace, humiliation, and loss of enjoyment of life.
Additionally, S.H. asserted that she was prevented and will
continue to be prevented from performing her daily activities
and obtaining the full enjoyment of life; has lost earnings
and earning capacity; and/or has incurred and may continue to
incur expenses for medical and psychological treatment,
therapy, and counseling. S.H. requested compensatory and
response, Cannon admitted only that he was married to
S.H.'s mother, lived in the same household with S.H.,
pled guilty to charges under Sections 566.032 and 566.062,
and was sentenced to seven years in prison. He denied that he
groomed S.H. for sex, that he was caught repeatedly raping
and sodomizing her, and that the criminal charges were for
"raping" and "sodomizing" her. Cannon
also denied all of S.H.'s allegations concerning the
injuries or illnesses that his alleged actions caused her.
waived her right to a jury trial. The case proceeded to a
bench trial in December 2013. S.H. offered the testimony of
her sister and her own testimony. S.H.'s sister testified
that, for a couple of years in the 1990s, Cannon used to make
her leave the room and take her siblings with her so that he
could be alone with S.H. S.H.'s sister testified that,
while the abuse was going on and for a couple of years
afterwards, she noticed changes in S.H.'s behavior.
Specifically, she said that S.H. became disobedient, smoked
cigarettes, and gained weight, and she noticed a change in
S.H.'s self-esteem. Cannon did not cross-examine
now 28 years old, testified that Cannon forced her to engage
in acts of vaginal, anal, and oral intercourse with him when
she was between the ages of 11 and 13 years old. She
testified that, while the abuse was going on, she "just
shut down" emotionally and that, as a result of the
abuse, she underwent counseling for six months to a year.
S.H. stated that the sexual abuse put a lot of stress on her
and caused her to have low self-esteem, no motivation,
nightmares, and trouble in relationships. She testified that
she is presently married and considering having children,
works at Wal-Mart, has a degree from a technical college, and
is going to college online to obtain another degree. S.H.
asked the court to award her $5 million in compensatory
damages and $500, 000 in punitive damages.
cross-examined S.H. about the counseling she obtained and the
frequency of her nightmares. She said that she started
counseling six months after Cannon was arrested. As for her
nightmares, S.H. testified that she had one "a couple of
months" before the trial in this case. Before that, the
last time she had a nightmare was about a year ago. Cannon
did not offer any evidence. In closing arguments, Cannon
first contested his liability, asserting that the statutes to
which he pled guilty to violating - Sections 566.032 and
566.062 - were not among the statutory sections listed in
Section 537.046 upon which a cause of action for childhood
sexual abuse could be based. Cannon then argued that S.H.
failed to present sufficient evidence to support an award of
compensatory damages for physical injury or psychological
injury or punitive damages.
court subsequently entered its judgment stating that, after
considering the evidence and exhibits offered at trial and
the credibility of all of the witnesses, it found in favor of
Cannon. S.H. appeals.
bench-tried case, we will affirm the circuit court's
judgment unless there is no substantial evidence to support
it, it is against the weight of the evidence, or it
erroneously declares or applies the law. Murphy v.
Carron,536 S.W.2d 30, 32 (Mo. banc 1976). We review
legal issues de novo, without any deference to