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State ex rel. Wratchford v. Fincham

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District

July 5, 2017

STATE OF MISSOURI ex rel. DONALD OREL WRATCHFORD, DANA D. RUHL, and DAVID L. WRATCHFORD, Relators,
v.
THE HONORABLE THOMAS C. FINCHAM, Respondent.

         Original Proceeding on Petition for Writ of Prohibition

          Before Writ Division: Alok Ahuja, P.J., and Victor C. Howard and Karen King Mitchell, JJ.

          ALOK AHUJA, JUDGE

         Relators Donald Orel Wratchford, Dana D. Ruhl, and David L. Wratchford filed a petition for a writ of prohibition to prevent Respondent Judge Thomas C. Fincham from proceeding further in a civil suit currently pending against them in the Circuit Court of Platte County. In the underlying action the plaintiff alleges that the Relators are in possession of assets of their deceased parents, which should be made available to discharge the parents' debts for nursing home care. Relators argue that the claims asserted against them are for discovery of assets, which must be pursued in the probate division of the circuit court, and that Respondent was therefore required to dismiss the underlying civil action. We issued a preliminary writ, which we now make permanent.

         Factual Background

         The Relators are the children of husband and wife Donald Lee Wratchford and Mona S. "Bobbie" Wratchford, both of whom are now deceased ("Parents"). The underlying action was filed in the circuit court by PGVN, LLC, doing business as Garden Valley Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. Garden Valley operates a nursing home in Kansas City.

         In its Second Amended Petition, Garden Valley alleges that Donald Lee Wratchford died on September 18, 2015, and that Mona Wratchford died on December 4, 2016. The petition alleges that, before they passed away, Parents resided in Garden Valley's nursing home, and incurred charges for medical and residential care which have not been paid. Garden Valley alleges that, as of the date of Mona Wratchford's death, Parents had incurred total unpaid charges of $76, 032.12.

         The Second Amended Petition alleges that Relator Donald Orel Wratchford ("Orel") acted as the attorney-in-fact for both Parents since their execution of powers of attorney in 2013. The petition alleges that, in his role as attorney-in-fact, Orel failed to use Parents' assets to pay their expenses, but instead took possession of those assets, and used certain of those assets to pay his personal expenses. The petition alleges that Orel "has funds belonging to or that should belong to [Parents] or their Estates in his possession or under his control and has failed and continues to fail to use those funds to pay for the necessary medical services rendered to them." The petition also alleges that any property of Parents which Orel used for his personal expenses during their lifetimes "should also be an asset of their Estates and available to pay the claims of the creditors of the same."

         The Second Amended Petition further alleges that all three of the Relators are Parents' heirs at law, and are the beneficiaries of "transfer on death" designations attached to Parents' assets. The petition alleges that Relators "claim or have claimed an interest in the cash assets, bank accounts, investment accounts and other accounts which should be an asset of the Estates of [Parents] available to pay the claims of the creditors of the same."

         Garden Valley's Second Amended Petition prays

that the Court discover or allow [Garden Valley] to discover the assets of [Parents] and [Orel] to the extent that he used their assets, determine the ultimate title and right of possession thereto, determine the persons who have an interest in the personal property, and the nature and extent of such interest in the property of the Decedent, to direct the delivery of title and possession of the property to the persons determined to have the right thereto, render judgment in favor of the [Garden Valley] for all losses, expenses and damages, late fees, attorney's fees and costs, for pre and post judgment interest at the highest rate allowed by law, and for such other and further Orders as are just and proper.

         Relators moved to dismiss the claims asserted against them. They argued that, pursuant to § 473.340, RSMo, Garden Valley's claims could be brought solely in a discovery of assets proceeding in the probate division of the circuit court. Relators also argued that Garden Valley lacked standing to assert claims on behalf of Parents or their estates, because Garden Valley was not the personal representative of the estate of either parent. After the circuit court denied the Relators' motion to dismiss, they filed their writ petition in this Court.

         Analysis

         Relators argue that they are entitled to a writ of prohibition ordering Respondent to take no further action in the underlying case, because Garden Valley's claims must be brought in a discovery of assets proceeding in the probate division, and because Garden Valley lacks standing to pursue claims on behalf of Parents or their estates. Because we conclude that Garden Valley's claims must be pursued in a discovery of ...


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