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Gwyn v. Summers

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, First Division

March 21, 2017

JAMES GWYN, Respondent,
v.
LISA SUMMERS, Appellant.

         Appeal 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.

          James Edward Welsh, Presiding Judge

         Lisa 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.

         Background

         Mother 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.

         On 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.

         In September 2014, Mother filed a "Petition to Set Aside Judgment Pursuant to Section 210.854 RSMo"[1] 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 against her.

         Father 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 child.

         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 Mother's petition.

         Discussion

         In her 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."

         Our 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).

         According 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 ...


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