Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Fourth Division
from the Circuit Court of Cole County, Missouri The Honorable
Jon E. Beetem, Judge
Before: Mark D. Pfeiffer, Chief Judge, and Lisa White
Hardwick and Edward R. Ardini, Jr., Judges
D. Pfeiffer, Chief Judge
Missouri Department of Social Services, Children's
Division ("Children's Division"), appeals from
the judgment of the Circuit Court of Cole County, Missouri
("circuit court"), which concluded as a matter of
law that the Children's Division exceeded its authority
and ordered the Children's Division to remove Michael
Owen's ("Owen") name from the Central
Registry. Because the Children's Division was
acting within its statutory authority to conduct
investigatory proceedings relating to a report of child abuse
against a Missouri child committed outside the State of
Missouri, we reverse the circuit court's judgment and
remand for further proceedings consistent with our ruling
and Procedural History
2015, K.O. and E.O., minor children, sisters, and Missouri
residents, visited their father in Nebraska. K.O. was then
thirteen years old. During their visit to Nebraska, their
uncle, Owen, came to see them. Owen is a Nebraska resident.
Owen, who knew that his nieces were Missouri residents, is
alleged to have sexually abused K.O. when he came to visit
his nieces during the Nebraska visit.
alleged abuse of K.O. was first reported in Missouri. On
August 31, 2015, Missouri's Child Abuse Neglect Hotline
received a call alleging that Owen had sexually abused K.O.
and that the alleged incident had occurred in Nebraska. The
Children's Division responded by conducting an
investigation. The Children's Division notified Owen in
September that he had been named as the alleged perpetrator
of sexual abuse. In November, the Children's Division
notified Owen that the result of its investigation was that
the Children's Division had determined by a preponderance
of evidence that Owen had sexually abused K.O. and that Owen
had the right to an independent review of the decision by
filing a timely request for administrative review or direct
judicial review. Owen requested administrative review of the
Children's Division's investigation by Missouri's
Child Abuse and Neglect Review Board ("CANRB"). On
July 25, 2016, CANRB notified Owen that, after reviewing the
information Owen and the Children's Division had
provided, CANRB upheld the Children's Division's
finding; and that Owen's name had been entered in
Missouri's Central Registry.
Thereafter in September 2016, Owen filed a petition for trial
de novo of the CANRB decision. Prior to trial, Owen
filed a pre-trial motion seeking the circuit court's
declaration of law that the Children's Division lacked
"jurisdiction" to administratively investigate
Owen's out-of-state conduct perpetrated upon a minor
child having permanent residency in the State of Missouri and
to, ultimately, add his name to Missouri's Central
Registry. As relief, Owen requested the circuit
court to enter judgment on the pleadings, dismiss the
Children's Division investigatory proceedings, and order
Owen's name removed from the Central
Registry. The circuit court concluded as a matter of
law that the proceedings conducted by the Children's
Division were not authorized by statute or otherwise, granted
Owen's motion, and entered judgment in favor of
Owen-specifically directing that Owen's name be removed
from the Central Registry.
Children's Division timely appealed.
trial de novo, although in theory an appeal of the
administrative hearing, is an original proceeding and is not
an exercise of review jurisdiction." C.S. v. Mo.
Dep't of Soc. Servs., 491 S.W.3d 636, 643 (Mo. App.
W.D. 2016) (internal quotation omitted). "When the
determination of the [Children's Division] is challenged
and the alleged perpetrator seeks de novo judicial
review in the circuit court, that court conducts a fresh
hearing on the matter and is not limited in any way by the
previous decisions of the [Children's Division]."
Petet v. State, Dep't of Soc. Servs., Div. of Family
Servs., 32 S.W.3d 818, 821 (Mo. App. W.D. 2000).
"In that de novo review proceeding, the alleged
perpetrator is afforded the opportunity for a full hearing on
all issues." Id. However, "[i]ssues
involving the interpretation of statutory language are
questions of law, not judicial discretion." Id.
at 822. Where a circuit court has granted judgment on the
pleadings as a matter of its interpretation of the law, such
"grant of judgment on the pleadings is reviewed de
novo" by the appellate courts. Bell v.
Phillips, 465 S.W.3d 544, 547 (Mo. App. W.D. 2015)
(internal quotation omitted).
Children's Division raises two points on appeal,
asserting in both that the circuit court erred in concluding
as a matter of law that the Children's Division did not
have authority to place a non-Missouri resident on
Missouri's Central Registry when the non-resident
allegedly sexually abused a Missouri child outside the
boundary of Missouri. In the Children's Division's
first point, it claims that its authority to do so is plainly
authorized by the Missouri Child Abuse Act and is fully
consistent with the requirements of due process. In its
second point, it claims that Owen waived his right to object
to the Children's Division's authority to conduct the
subject investigatory proceedings because Owen failed to
timely raise the defense of personal jurisdiction and,
instead, actively consented to the jurisdiction of Missouri
forums. We conclude the first point is dispositive of the