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Wallace v. Frazier

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Second Division

April 3, 2018

TERRY WALLACE, Respondent,
v.
MARJORIE FRAZIER, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri The Honorable Jalilah Otto, Judge

          Before James Edward Welsh, P.J., Alok Ahuja, and Anthony Rex Gabbert, JJ.

          OPINION

          James Edward Welsh, Presiding Judge

         Marjorie Frazier appeals the circuit court's judgment in favor of her former landlord, Terry Wallace, in his action against her for rent and possession, in which the court awarded Wallace $1, 807 in rent, late fees, attorney's fees, and costs. Due to substantial deficiencies in Frazier's appellate brief which prevent us from determining what her actual claims of trial court error are, we dismiss her appeal.

         Discussion

         Frazier appears pro se in this appeal. We hold pro se appellants to the same procedural rules as attorneys; we do not grant them preferential treatment regarding compliance with those rules. Kim v. Kim, 431 S.W.3d 524, 525 (Mo. App. 2014). "Compliance with Rule 84.04 briefing requirements is mandatory in order to ensure that appellate courts do not become advocates by speculating on facts and on arguments that have not been made." Summers v. Mo. Dep't of Corr., 459 S.W.3d 922, 923 (Mo. App. 2015). An appellant's failure to substantially comply with Rule 84.04 "preserves nothing for our review" and constitutes grounds for dismissal of the appeal. Id. This is particularly true where, as here, "we cannot competently rule on the merits of [the appellant's] argument without first reconstructing the facts . . . and then refining and supplementing [her] points and legal argument." Kim, 431 S.W.3d at 525.

         This Court struck Frazier's initial brief for numerous violations of Rule 84.04. Frazier was given fifteen days to file an amended brief to correct those violations. Her amended brief still fails to adequately comply with Rule 84.04's requirements for the contents of briefs.

         Frazier's "Statement of Facts" lacks specific page references to the legal file or transcript in violation of Rule 84.04(c). In addition, Rule 84.04(c) requires the appellant to provide "a fair and concise statement of the facts relevant to the questions presented for determination without argument." Frazier does not provide a fair and concise statement of the facts necessary to resolve the claims that she purportedly attempts to raise in her appeal. "The primary purpose of the statement of facts is to afford an immediate, accurate, complete and unbiased understanding of the facts of the case." Nicol v. Nicol, 491 S.W.3d 266, 268 (Mo. App. 2016). Frazier fails to fulfill this purpose. Her "facts" are aimed primarily at restating her version of events and arguing, based on her version of events, that the trial court erred in ruling against her. Thus, Frazier fails to provide a "fair and concise" statement of the facts necessary to resolve the issues "without argument, " as required by Rule 84.04(c). This failure, in itself, is a sufficient basis to dismiss the appeal. See Kim, 431 S.W.3d at 525.

         Frazier's "Points Relied On" also fail to comply with Rule 84.04.[1] Rule 84.04(d)(1) requires that each point: "(A) Identify the trial court ruling or action that the appellant challenges"; "(B) State concisely the legal reasons for the appellant's claim of reversible error"; and "(C) Explain in summary fashion why, in the context of the case, those legal reasons support the claim of reversible error." Rule 84.04(d)(1) instructs that:

The point shall be in substantially the following form: "The trial court erred in [identify the challenged ruling or action], because [state the legal reasons for the claim of reversible error], in that [explain why the legal reasons, in the context of the case, support the claim of reversible error]."

         "Abstract statements of law, standing alone, do not comply with this rule." Rule 84.04(d)(4). Here, Frazier's points do not "state concisely the legal reasons for [her] claim of reversible error, " nor do they "explain in summary fashion why, in the context of the case, those legal reasons support the claim of reversible error." Rule 84.04(d)(1)(B) and (C).

         The purpose of the points relied on is "to give notice to the opposing party of the precise matters which must be contended with and to inform the court of the issues presented for review." Treaster v. Betts, 297 S.W.3d 94, 95 (Mo. App. 2009). As this Court has explained:

Compliance with Rule 84.04 briefing requirements is mandatory in order to ensure that appellate courts do not become advocates by speculating on facts and on arguments that have not been made. Deficient points relied on force the appellate court to search the argument portion of the brief or the record itself to determine and clarify the appellant's assertions, thereby wasting judicial resources, and, worse yet, creating the danger that the appellate court will interpret the appellant's contention differently than the appellant intended or his opponent understood.

Id. Frazier's points are so inadequate that we would have to essentially guess what the point is and then sift through the record to find support for the perceived point. See Kim, 431 S.W.3d at 526. "We would, in effect, be assuming the role of appellant's advocate, which is an inappropriate role for [this] court." Id. It is improper for us "to speculate as to the point being raised by the appellant and the supporting legal justification and circumstances." Summers, 459 S.W.3d at 923. Points that do not comply with the dictates of ...


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