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State ex rel. Chevra Kadisha Cemetery Association v. Clark Reno

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Writ Second Division

August 15, 2017

STATE OF MISSOURI ex rel. CHEVRA KADISHA CEMETERY ASSOCIATION, Relator,
v.
HONORABLE GLORIA CLARK RENO Circuit Judge, Division 19, Twenty-First Judicial Circuit, Respondent.

         Writ of Prohibition Circuit Court of St. Louis County Cause No. 13SL-CC02815

          LAWRENCE E. MOONEY, JUDGE

         The Chevra Kadisha Cemetery Association seeks a Writ of Prohibition to prohibit the circuit court from taking any farther action after the circuit court held the cemetery in contempt for refusing to allow the disinterment of Gregoriy Bozenson. We issued a preliminary order in prohibition. Because the cemetery is not a party, we now make that order permanent.

         Gregoriy Bozenson was a Ukrainian-born mathematics and science teacher who arrived in St. Louis in 1993. On March 5, 2012 he entered into and executed a contract for cremation services with American Mortuary and Cremation Service, LLC. The mortuary agreed to cremate the remains of Mr. Bozenson upon his death. The cremains were then to be shipped to Mr. Bozenson's heirs, for interment next to Mr. Bozenson's late wife in the Ukraine. Mr. Bozenson's sole heirs, a daughter, Izabella Zantariia, and two grandchildren, Svetlana Kolova and Vadym Zantariia, live in Germany and the Ukraine.

         Mr. Bozenson died on September 25, 2012, The mortuary, however, did not cremate Mr. Bozenson's remains. Instead, the mortuary and the Ahavas Chesed Society arranged for Mr. Bozenson to be interred in a pauper's grave at the cemetery.[1] Burial occurred without the knowledge or consent of Mr. Bozenson's heirs.

         Mr. Bozenson's heirs and Jay B. Umansky, the purported personal representative of Mr. Bozenson's estate, sued the mortuary in February of 2014, seeking damages for breach of contract.[2] They also requested that the circuit court grant them the right of sepulcher as to Mr. Bozenson's remains.[3] The circuit court granted this request, and on March 5, 2015, ordered that the remains of Mr. Bozenson be disinterred at the plaintiffs' expense, and then turned over to Mr. Umansky for transport to the Ukraine for interment.[4] The plaintiffs and the mortuary settled the breach-of-contract claim.[5]

         The circuit court issued writs of execution on two separate occasions, July 15, 2015 and August 25, 2016. Each writ directed the cemetery to make Mr. Bozenson's remains available to plaintiffs for disinterment and transfer to the Ukraine for burial. The cemetery did not allow the disinterment.

         In May of 2017, on plaintiffs' motion, the circuit court ordered the cemetery to show cause why it had failed to comply with the disinterment order and attempts at execution, and why it should not be held in contempt under Rule 74.07. The circuit court heard arguments and took the matter under submission, The cemetery then filed its petition for writ of prohibition. On July 7, 2017, the circuit court held the cemetery in contempt of court for failing to comply with the court's orders. The circuit court ordered the cemetery to make the remains of Mr. Bozenson available to plaintiffs for disinterment within fourteen days. If the cemetery failed to do so, the court ordered the cemetery fined $2, 500 per day until such time as the cemetery made the remains of Mr. Bozenson available to plaintiffs for disinterment. This Court issued a preliminary order in prohibition and stayed the contempt order. We dispense with further briefing and oral arguments as permitted by Rule 84.24(i).

         Discussion

         This Court has the authority to "issue and determine original remedial writs." Mo. Const. art. V, sec. 4.1; State ex rel. Merrell v. Carter, 518 S.W.3d 798, 799 (Mo. banc 2017); St. Louis Cty. Bd of Election Commissioners v. McShcme, 492 S.W.3d 177, 180 (Mo. App. E.D. 2016). "A writ of prohibition is appropriate: (1) to prevent the usurpation of judicial power when a lower court lacks authority or jurisdiction; (2) to remedy an excess of authority, jurisdiction or abuse of discretion where the lower court lacks the power to act as intended; or (3) where a party may suffer irreparable harm if relief is not granted." State ex rel. Strauser v. Martinez, 416 S.W.3d 798, 801 (Mo. banc 2014). This Court will exercise its discretionary authority to issue a writ of prohibition when the facts and circumstances demonstrate unequivocally that an extreme necessity for preventive action exists. State ex rel Ballenger v. Franklin, 114 S.W.3d 883, 885 (Mo. App. W.D. 2003); State ex rel. Snider v. Flynn, 926 S.W.2d 891, 894 (Mo. App. E.D. 1996). Such a situation exists here. In holding the cemetery in contempt, the circuit court has ruled against an entity that is not a party. Preventative action is warranted and necessary.

         Rule 74.07 provides in part that '[i]f a judgment directs a party ... to perform any other specific act and the party fails to comply ... the court may direct the act to be done .... The court may also adjudge the party in contempt." Rule 74.07 (Emphasis supplied).[6] The circuit court held the cemetery in contempt for failing to abide by the court's March 5, 2015 disinterment order. That order is only binding on the parties to the order and those in privity with them. Strauss v. Ayres, 87 Mo. 348, 350 (Mo. 1885); Green v. Fred Weber, Inc., 254 S.W.3d 874, 884 (Mo. banc 2008). The circuit court entered the disinterment order in an action between the heirs and the mortuary. The cemetery was not a party to that action. Nor can it be said that the cemetery was in privity with either the heirs or the mortuary.[7] No such contention is made and the record does not support such a conclusion. The cemetery is thus not bound by the disinterment order. A trial court's judgment does not bind one not before the court. Pauli v. Spicer, 445 S.W.3d 667, 676 (Mo. App. E.D. 2014); Epstein v. Villa Dorado Condo. Ass'n, Inc., 316 S.W.3d 457, 461 (Mo. App. E.D. 2010). It is a violation of due process for a judgment to be binding on a litigant who was not a party or a privy and therefore has never had an opportunity to be heard." Parklam Hosiery Co. v. Shore, 439 U.S. 322, 327 n.7 (1979). Here, the cemetery is not a party or otherwise bound by the disinterment order. Thus, the trial court did not have jurisdiction over the cemetery and it cannot be held in contempt for failing to abide by that order.[8]

         The circuit court exceeded its authority. We make our preliminary order in prohibition permanent. The circuit judge is directed to vacate her order of July 7, 2017 and deny without prejudice the motion to hold the cemetery in contempt.[9]

          GARY M GAERTNER, JR., J. and ANGELA T. ...


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