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Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority of The City of St. Louis v. Reverse Mortgage Solutions, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Third Division

August 29, 2017

LAND CLEARANCE FOR REDEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY OF THE CITY OF ST. LOUIS Respondent,
v.
REVERSE MORTGAGE SOLUTIONS, INC., et al., Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis 1522-CC11386& 1522-CC11386-35 Honorable David L. Dowd

          Gary M. Gaertner, Jr., Presiding Judge.

         Introduction

         Reverse Mortgage Solutions, Inc. (RMS) appeals the judgment of the trial court distributing a condemnation award pertaining to real property taken by the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority of the City of St. Louis (LCRA) and encumbered by a mortgage deed held by RMS. Because the trial court's judgment is not final for purposes of appeal under Section 523.053, [1] we dismiss.

         Background

         In December of 2015, LCRA filed a petition in eminent domain seeking to condemn several parcels of real property, including Parcel 17, the property at issue in this appeal. The trial court issued its condemnation order for the property on January 29, 2016. The trial court appointed a panel of commissioners to assess damages for the property taken. On May 11, 2016, the commissioners awarded damages of $80, 000 for Parcel 17. LCRA and RMS filed exceptions to the award on May 31, 2016, and June 7, 2016, respectively. On June 23, 2016, LCRA tendered payment for Parcel 17 to the registry of the trial court in the amount of $100, 706.85, which represented the $80, 000 award plus $20, 000 for homestead value, as required by Section 523.001, and interest.

         On July 22, 2016, RMS moved to distribute the award for Parcel 17, requesting $98, 106.16 of the award in payment toward the mortgage debt encumbering the property. After a hearing, the trial court issued its distribution judgment. The trial court found there were liens on Parcel 17 in favor of the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District (MSD) and the City of St. Louis Collector of Revenue, and the trial court distributed $924.74 and $145.31 to these parties, respectively. The trial court distributed $13, 000 of the condemnation award to RMS, finding that RMS and Maria Mitchell (Mitchell), who co-owned Parcel 17 with three other family members, had negotiated to settle the mortgage debt for that amount.[2] The trial court also found that Mitchell was entitled to the $20, 000 homestead allowance included in the award because she had been living in the residence on the property. The trial court additionally awarded $2, 000 to Mitchell's attorney and divided the remaining funds among the four co-owners of Parcel 17 as follows: $34, 159.20 to Mitchell, and $10, 159.20 each to John Frazier, Vernon Frazier, and Shanta Kyles. After such distribution, the trial court added the following: "Fee simple owners (Mitchell, John Frazier, Vernon Frazier, and Shanta Kyles) are each entitled to 25% of the proceeds on any final distribution after a trial of exceptions." This appeal follows.

         Discussion

         As a threshold matter, we are obligated to examine our jurisdiction sua sponte. Brown v. Lawless, 230 S.W.3d 343, 344 (Mo. App. E.D. 2007). The right to appeal is statutory. Comm. for Educ. Equal, v. State, 878 S.W.2d 446. 450 (Mo. banc 1994). Here, Section 523.053 governs the appealability of condemnation award distributions. Subsection 2 mandates the following within thirty days of any motion for distribution:

[T]he court having jurisdiction of said cause shall determine the percentage of the award to which each party having an interest therein is entitled. Any party aggrieved of the determination of interests made by the court shall have the right of appeal therefrom, and the same shall be considered as a final judgment for such purposes.

         Section 523.053.2. Before reaching the merits, we must determine whether the trial court's judgment here is final under this statute, and the parties dispute what Section 523.053 requires.

         In interpreting statutes, our primary task is to discern the intent of the legislature, giving the language used its plain and ordinary meaning. State ex rel. Womack v. Rolf, 173 S.W.3d 634, 638 (Mo. banc 2005) (quoting Jones v. Dir. of Revenue, 860 S.W.2d 335, 337 (Mo. banc 1993)). While there is no Missouri Supreme Court precedent interpreting Section 523.053, the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District has held the plain language of Section 532.053.2 contemplates that a trial court must designate percentages of the total award to each interested party. State ex rel. Mo. Highway & Transp. Comm'n v. Gillespie. 86 S.W.3d 459, 465 (Mo. App. W.D. 2002).

          We agree that the plain language of this subsection requires the trial court to determine each party's interest by percentage in relation to the total award. Additionally, the purpose for doing so can be seen in the next subsection of Section 532.053:

The respective interests of all parties in the award made as a result of the condemnation action . . . shall be final and shall extend by percentage to any additional compensation awarded or any reduction of the award thereafter made, ...

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