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Silvey v. Bechthold

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Special Division

September 20, 2016

RYAN A. SILVEY, Appellant,
v.
J. RANEN BECHTHOLD; CLAY COUNTY BOARD OF ELECTION COMMISSIONERS, Respondents.

         APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF CLAY COUNTY The Ho norable Janet L. Sutton, Judge

          Before Victor C. Howard, Presiding Judge, James E. Welsh and Lisa White Hardwick, Judges

          Lisa White Hardwick, Judge

         Ryan A. Silvey appeals the judgment denying his petition to challenge the qualifications of J. Ranen Bechthold to run for the position of state senator in Missouri Senate District 17. Silvey contends the circuit court had no authority to extend the deadline for Bechthold to file an answer to Silvey's election contest petition and that Bechthold's failure to file an answer within the statutory time required a default judgment or judgment on the pleadings in Silvey's favor. For reasons explained herein, we affirm.

         Factual and Procedural History

         On August 15, 2016, Silvey, the Republican nominee for election to Missouri Senate District 17, filed a petition seeking to have Bechthold, the Democratic nominee for the same senate seat, disqualified on the basis of residency.[1] Three days later, on August 18, Silvey filed an amended petition that added additional facts regarding Bechthold's alleged residency.

         On August 22, the court held a preliminary hearing. Counsel for Silvey and the Clay County Board of Election Commissioners appeared.[2] Bechthold appeared without counsel. No transcript of this preliminary hearing appears in the record on appeal. The court set the case for trial on August 29.

         On August 23, counsel for Bechthold entered his appearance. On August 24, Silvey and Bechthold were each deposed. Also on that day, Silvey filed a motion for default judgment or, in the alternative, judgment on the pleadings. In the motion, Silvey argued that, during the August 22 preliminary hearing, the court informed Bechthold that he would be in default if he did not file an answer by August 23. Because Bechthold did not file an answer by August 23, Silvey asserted that Bechthold was in default and that Silvey was entitled to either a default judgment or a judgment on the pleadings.

         Bechthold filed an answer on August 26. In his answer, Bechthold responded to the allegations in the amended petition and set forth several facts supporting his defense that he satisfied the residency requirements.[3] Bechthold also filed a motion to file his answer out of time.

         On August 29, before the trial on Silvey's amended petition to disqualify Bechthold, the court heard arguments on Bechthold's motion to file his answer out of time and Silvey's motion for default judgment or, in the alternative, for judgment on the pleadings. The court granted Bechthold's motion to file his answer out of time. The court denied Silvey's motion for default judgment or judgment on the pleadings after finding that the filing of an answer in response to an election contest petition is permissive and not mandatory.

         A bench trial was held on Silvey's amended petition to disqualify Bechthold. The court subsequently entered a judgment in favor of Bechthold. The court found that the "overwhelming majority of the evidence demonstrates that Bechthold has always intended to be, has always maintained, and but for his service as a soldier in the U.S. Army, has always been physically a resident within Missouri Senate District 17." Silvey appeals.

         Standard of Review

         Appellate review of an election contest petition is under the standard of Murphy v. Carron, 536 S.W.2d 30, 32 (Mo. banc 1976). In re Contest of Primary Election Candidacy of Fletcher, 337 S.W.3d 137, 139 (Mo. App. 2011). Therefore, 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. Id. at 139-140. We review issues of law, including questions of statutory interpretation, de novo. Chastain v. Kansas City Missouri City Clerk, 337 S.W.3d 149, 154 (Mo. App. 2011).

         Analysis

         Silvey's points on appeal challenge the circuit court's handling of Bechthold's failure to file his answer within the time frame provided by statute. In Point I, Silvey contends the court erred in allowing Bechthold to file his answer out of time and in allowing him to submit evidence relating to the defense set forth in his answer. In Point II, Silvey asserts the court erred in denying his ...


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