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Scott v. King

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Fourth Division

February 14, 2017

MICHAEL SCOTT, Appellant,
v.
JANICE B. KING, Respondent.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis Honorable Joan L. Moriarty

          KURT S. ODENWALD, Judge.

         Introduction

         Michael Scott ("Scott") appeals from the trial court's judgment entered after a bench trial. Scott sued his landlord, Janice King ("King"), for specific performance to enforce a sale agreement for the leased property. King counterclaimed for unjust enrichment and ejectment, arguing that Scott occupied her property without paying rent. The trial court found in King's favor on both Scott's petition and King's counterclaims. On appeal, all five of Scott's points on appeal fail to comply with Rule 84.04(d)(1), [1] but we exercise our discretion to review Scott's first two points ex gratia. In Point One, Scott argues that the trial court erred in awarding King unpaid rent for the past nine years because the relevant statute of limitations was only five years. In Point Two, Scott claims that the trial court's award of prejudgment interest under Section 408.020[2] was improper because King's unjust-enrichment claim was unliquidated.

         Because Scott failed to specifically assert the relevant statute of limitations in his motion to dismiss King's counterclaim, he waived that defense. Further, because King's unjust-enrichment claim for unpaid rent was liquidated, the trial court's award of prejudgment interest was proper under Section 408.020. Points Three, Four, and Five are dismissed for failing to comply with Rule 84.04(d)(1). Accordingly, the trial court's judgment is affirmed.

         Factual and Procedural History

         In June 2006, King agreed to rent a property in the City of St. Louis to Scott. The parties' written agreement required Scott to "pay $250.00 per month for the renting of the property[.]" Further, the agreement required Scott to bring the property up to code by spending an additional $250 per month on improvements. Once the property was up to code, the agreement provided that King would sell it to Scott for $15, 000, minus the amount of rent already paid-in other words, the $250 monthly rental payments was to be applied towards the purchase price of the property. The agreement also specified how Scott would make payments. Scott was required to send the monthly rent by a postal money order, and King would send back a receipt for that payment.

         In December 2013, Scott sued King. Scott's petition outlined the 2006 written agreement and alleged that he had spent six years bringing the property up to code, using considerable time, money, and "sweat equity." The petition further alleged that Scott notified King that the property was up to code and that he was prepared to purchase the property by paying the outstanding balance. In July 2013, King notified Scott that he still owed $8000 to purchase the property, and Scott agreed to that price, according to the petition. In August 2013, King allegedly presented Scott with a written purchase agreement reflecting the $8000 purchase price, but then King refused to go through with the sale. Thus, Scott's petition sought specific performance to force the sale.

         In January 2015, Scott amended his petition by consent. The amended petition reasserted the original count for breach of contract and added additional counts for quantum meruit and unjust enrichment. After the denial of King's motion to dismiss the amended petition, King filed an answer and counterclaims for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and ejectment. The unjust-enrichment count alleged that Scott had occupied the property from June 2006 through the present, a period of over nine years, without paying rent. The ejectment count sought return of the property, alleging that Scott's occupation was unlawful.

         Scott subsequently moved to dismiss King's counterclaim. As grounds for the motion, Scott asserted: "e. the rent allegedly owed by Scott arose from a contract entered into between the parties in June 2006. King failed to bring this action in a timely manner. As such, she is permanently barred by the statute of limitation[s] from bringing it in 2015[.]" The trial court took Scott's motion to dismiss with the case.[3]

         The case proceeded to a bench trial. At trial, the parties disputed whether Scott had made the rental payments and had improved the property. Scott maintained that he had paid King $250 in rent monthly, and had paid a total of $15, 000. King and her daughter[4] testified that Scott made very few payments. Regarding his duty to bring the property up to code, Scott testified that he made many improvements, but he admitted that he had never obtained permits or inspections from the city to confirm that the property was up to code. Scott provided the trial court with almost no receipts evidencing his rental payments or the improvements he claimed to have made to the property.

         Subsequently, the trial court issued its findings of fact, conclusions of law, and judgment, ruling against Scott on all counts of his petition and for King on her counterclaims for unjust enrichment and ejectment.

         Regarding the rental payments, the trial court found Scott's testimony to be "inconsistent, contradictory, and not credible." The trial court found that Scott had been unjustly enriched by occupying the property without paying rent. The trial court determined that the rent due from June 2006 through the date of the order (November 2015) was $28, 500. The trial court further found that only three of Scott's payment receipts, totaling $1, 000 worth of rental payments, were credible. Subtracting the $1, 000 in payments made by Scott, the trial court concluded that Scott owed $27, 500 in back rent.

         Regarding the improvements to the property, the trial court found that Scott had "presented no credible evidence that he brought the Property up to code." Scott, according to the trial court, failed to produce any documents evidencing money spent on the property. The trial court dismissed Scott's evidence supporting his improvements to the property as "inconsistent, unsupported, and/or contradicted by his own 'receipts' and not credible." This appeal follows.

         Points on Appeal

         Scott raises five points on appeal. First, Scott argues that the trial court erred in awarding nine years of unpaid rent to King on her counterclaim for unjust enrichment. Scott posits that this award exceeds the five-year statute of limitations. Second, Scott asserts trial-court error in awarding King prejudgment interest because her counterclaim for unjust enrichment was not liquidated. Scott also alleges trial-court error in Points Three, Four, and Five. However, we dismiss those points for the reasons stated below.

         Discussion

         I. Compliance with Rule 84.04

         Before we address the merits of Scott's claims, King argues that each of Scott's five points on appeal fails to comply with Rule 84.04. Rule 84.04(d)(1) requires each point relied on to: "(A) Identify the trial court ruling or action that the appellant challenges; (B) State concisely the legal reasons for the appellant's claim of reversible error; and (C) Explain in summary fashion why, in the context of the case, those legal ...


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