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Bray v. Sexton

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Third Division

December 5, 2017

DUSTIN BRAY, Appellant,
v.
KIMBERLY SEXTON, et al., Defendants, and WELLS FARGO BANK, N.A., Respondent.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis 1622-CC00194 Honorable Robert H. Dierker, Jr.

          ROBERT M. CLAYTON III, Judge

          Dustin Bray ("Plaintiff) appeals the judgment granting Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.'s ("Wells Fargo") motion to dismiss Plaintiffs petition to enforce a mechanic's lien. The trial court dismissed Plaintiffs petition as to Wells Fargo on the grounds Plaintiffs action was not commenced within the six-month statute of limitations set forth in section 429.170 RSMo 2000, [1]because although Plaintiffs petition was filed within the applicable six-month period, the summons for Wells Fargo was not issued within that timeframe. We reverse and remand.

          I. BACKGROUND

         This case concerns the enforceability of a mechanic's lien for labor and materials allegedly furnished by Plaintiff at real property located at 6169 Westminster Place in the City of St. Louis ("the Property"). Plaintiff, a general contractor, alleges in his petition that on December 1, 2008, he entered into a contract with the owners of the Property to provide the labor and materials necessary for the renovation of the Property, and the owners agreed to pay him $178, 000 upon completion of his work. Plaintiff also alleges he completed the renovation work on or before April 27, 2015 and he made a demand for payment of $178, 000, but the owners failed and refused to pay. Accordingly, on July 27, 2015, Plaintiff filed a mechanic's lien against the Property in the Office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis.

         On January 27, 2016, which was exactly six months after his mechanic's lien was filed, Plaintiff filed a petition to enforce his mechanic's lien in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis. The petition was filed against several underlying defendants including the purported owners of the Property and Wells Fargo, which has an interest in the Property pursuant to a deed of trust.[2] The docket sheets indicate that although Plaintiff paid the requisite filing fee for his petition and the petition was accepted and deemed filed on January 27, there was an insufficient filing fee for the issuance of summonses in the amount of $43.00, and the summonses were not issued on January 27. Plaintiff paid the additional $43.00 filing fee on January 28, and the circuit clerk issued the summonses on February 4.

         Subsequently, Wells Fargo filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiffs petition to enforce his mechanic's lien, arguing Plaintiff failed to commence his action within the six-month statute of limitations set forth in section 429.170. In its motion to dismiss, Wells Fargo conceded Plaintiffs petition was filed within the applicable six-month period but argued the action was not timely commenced because the summons for Wells Fargo was not issued within that timeframe. Plaintiff filed a response contending his action was timely filed because an action is commenced upon the filing of a petition alone and his petition to enforce was filed within six months of the filing of his mechanic's lien.

         The Honorable Julian L. Bush and the Honorable Robert H. Dierker, Jr. (collectively "the trial courts") each made a relevant ruling in this case.[3] First, Judge Bush entered an order dismissing Plaintiffs petition as to Wells Fargo, because case law from this Court supported Wells Fargo's position that an action is commenced upon the filing of a petition and the issuance of a summons and because the summons for Wells Fargo was not issued within the six-month statute of limitations set forth in section 429.170. In his order, Judge Bush expressed "doubts as to the[ ] soundness" of the relevant case law from this Court because it ignored the 1972 amendment to Missouri Supreme Court Rule 53.01 and because the Rule currently provides, "[a] civil action is commenced by filing a petition with the court."[4] Nevertheless, Judge Bush's order ultimately dismissed Plaintiffs petition as to defendant Wells Fargo because it was "not for [a trial] court to ignore appellate opinions[.]"

         Plaintiff then filed a motion to reconsider, which was heard and denied by Judge Dierker, who, agreeing with Judge Bush's concerns in his Rule 53.01 analysis, "decided not to vacate Judge Bush's order . . . because the [c]ourt [wa]s convinced the prior order can be certified for immediate appeal, and it [wa]s in the best interests of all parties that the status of the claim against [Wells Fargo] be resolved at the earliest possible time." (emphasis in original). The trial court then noted, "the parties agreed at oral argument that the viability of [P]laintiff s lien ultimately depends on its priority over the deed of trust held by Wells Fargo, " and the court certified the judgment as final and appealable because there was no just reason for delay. This appeal followed.

         II. DISCUSSION

         In Plaintiffs sole point on appeal, he asserts the trial court erred in dismissing his petition as to Wells Fargo on the grounds Plaintiffs action was not commenced within the six-month statute of limitations set forth in section 429.170. For the reasons discussed below, we agree.

         A. The Standard of Review and the Statute of Limitations

         Our Court's review of a trial court's decision granting a motion to dismiss a petition is de novo. McMillan v. Pilot Travel Centers, LLC, 515 S.W.3d 699, 701 (Mo. App. E.D. 2016). Similarly, whether a statute of limitations bars a plaintiffs cause of action is also reviewed de novo. Id.; Davison v. Dairy Farmers of America, Inc., 449 S.W.3d 81, 83 (Mo. App. W.D. 2014).

         Section 429.170, which is the statute of limitations for mechanic's lien cases, provides an action ...


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