Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, First Division
from the Circuit Court of Platte County, Missouri The
Honorable Thomas Clark Fincham, Judge
Before: James Edward Welsh, P.J., Anthony Rex Gabbert, and
Edward R. Ardini, Jr., JJ.
Edward Welsh, Presiding Judge
Summers ("Mother") appeals the circuit court's
judgment granting James Gwyn's ("Father's")
motion to dismiss her petition to set aside an earlier
judgment which established Father's paternity of the
couple's two children. We affirm.
and Father raised their two children together in one
household until the parties separated. Thereafter, the
children have resided with Father. On December 28, 2011,
Father filed a "Petition for Declaration of Paternity,
Child Support, Custody and Visitation." Father alleged
in his petition that he is the biological father of the two
children. In Mother's answer and counter-petition, she
also alleged that Father is the children's biological
father. Throughout the original litigation, neither party
questioned Father's paternity as to the children. No
scientific paternity tests were performed because the
parties, by their pleadings, deemed it unnecessary.
December 24, 2012, the circuit court issued an "Amended
Judgment Decree of Paternity, Custody and Child Support,
" in which it adjudged and decreed that Father is the
biological and natural father of the parties' two minor
children. The judgment awarded the parents joint physical and
joint legal custody, established a parenting plan under which
Father's home was designated as the children's
mailing address for educational purposes, and ordered Mother
to pay $296 per month in child support.
September 2014, Mother filed a "Petition to Set Aside
Judgment Pursuant to Section 210.854 RSMo" seeking to set
aside the 2012 Judgment. Mother claimed in her petition that
the children were not the biological children of Father, and
she asked the court to order paternity testing, declare that
Father is not the children's father, and extinguish all
current and past due child support arrearages assessed
responded by filing a motion to dismiss Mother's petition
on the basis that Mother lacked standing under section
210.854 to challenge his paternity because the statute
provides a cause of action only to a parent who is
challenging their own parental relationship with the
circuit court heard arguments on Father's motion to
dismiss, and the hearing was continued for additional
briefing. At the conclusion of the reconvened hearing, the
court orally granted Father's motion to dismiss stating
that the statute's purpose is to "get relief for a
party paying support for children [who are] not theirs."
The court later entered a written judgment dismissing
sole point on appeal, Mother contends that the circuit court
erred in dismissing her petition to set aside the earlier
judgment pursuant to section 210.854, "because section
210.854 is not gender specific in that a correct statutory
interpretation of the statute allows either party who is
paying child support to challenge paternity."
review of the trial court's grant of a motion to dismiss
is a question of law which we review de novo.
City of Lake Saint Louis v. City of O'Fallon,
324 S.W.3d 756, 759 (Mo. banc 2010); Thomas v.
Denney, 453 S.W.3d 325, 329 (Mo. App. 2014). In
assessing the propriety of a dismissal, we review the grounds
raised in the motion to dismiss. In re Estate of
Austin, 389 S.W.3d 168, 171 (Mo. banc 2013). "If
the motion to dismiss should have been sustained on any
meritorious ground alleged in the motion, the ruling of the
trial court will be affirmed." Farm Bureau Town
& Country Ins. Co. of Mo. v. Angoff, 909 S.W.2d 348,
351 (Mo. banc 1995).
to Mother, section 210.854 presents a conflict by using both
gender neutral and gender specific language. She asserts that
the "proper statutory interpretation" of section
210.854, is that it is "gender neutral, " and that
"any person whom [sic] has a judgment rendered against
them, i.e., a finding of paternity and issuance of a
judgment of child support, should have the standing ...