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Tan-Tar-A Estates, L.L.C. v. Steiner

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Southern District, First Division

July 31, 2018

TAN-TAR-A ESTATES, L.L.C., Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
NEIL B. STEINER, and DEBORAH G. STEINER, Defendants-Appellants.

          APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF CAMDEN COUNTY Honorable Peggy D. Richardson

          DON E. BURRELL, P.J.

         Neil and Deborah Steiner ("Appellants"), proceeding pro se, attempt to appeal a judgment entered against them in favor of Tan-Tar-A Estates, L.L.C. ("Respondent"). Because Appellants' failure to comply with the mandatory briefing requirements of Rule 84.04[1] materially impedes impartial review, we must dismiss the appeal.

         Background

         Respondent filed a declaratory judgment action against Appellants, seeking a declaration that Respondent was the owner of certain improvements to real property located on Tan-Tar-A Estates Lot #310, Osage Beach, Camden County, Missouri ("the Property").[2] The trial court granted Respondent's motion for summary judgment and entered a judgment that declared Respondent the owner of the improvements ("the judgment").

         Analysis

         Pro se litigants are required to follow the same appellate rules as parties represented by lawyers. Reliable Roofing, LLC v. Jones, 302 S.W.3d 232, 234 (Mo. App. S.D. 2009). While we recognize the challenges facing pro se litigants, we cannot bend those rules to benefit non-lawyers. Id. As our Supreme Court stated in Thummel v. King, 570 S.W.2d 679, 686 (Mo. banc 1978):

It is not the function of the appellate court to serve as advocate for any party to an appeal. . . . When counsel fail in their duty by filing briefs which are not in conformity with the applicable rules and do not sufficiently advise the court of the contentions asserted and the merit thereof, the court is left with the dilemma of deciding that case (and possibly establishing precedent for future cases) on the basis of inadequate briefing and advocacy or undertaking additional research and briefing to supply the deficiency. Courts should not be asked or expected to assume such a role.

         This requirement of neutrality also prevents us from becoming an advocate on behalf of parties not represented by counsel.

         In this appeal, the following deficiencies materially impede impartial review.

• The Statement of Facts violates Rule 84.04(c), which requires a fair and concise statement of the facts relevant to the questions presented for determination without argument and with specific page references to the relevant portions of the record on appeal. Appellants' brief meets neither of these requirements. Their two-page statement of facts contains no record citations and recites a purported procedural history that fails to include any facts relevant to the issues on appeal. Standing alone, a violation of Rule 84.04(c) constitutes grounds for dismissal of an appeal. Washington v. Blackburn, 286 S.W.3d 818, 820 (Mo. App. E.D. 2009).
• Points Relied On serve the "threshold function of giving notice to the party opponent of the precise matters which must be contended with and answered." Thummel, 570 S.W.2d at 686. Here, all of Appellants' points[3] violate Rule 84.04(d)(1) because they fail to state the legal reasons for the claim of reversible error and to explain why, in the context of the case, those legal reasons support the claim of reversible error. Washington, 286 S.W.3d at 821 (a point relied on that does not comply with the Rule preserves nothing for appeal).
• Appellants' argument section fails to comply with Rule 84.04(e), which requires an appellant to state the standard of review and support factual assertions with specific page references to the relevant portion of the record on appeal. The argument section must also explain why, in the context of the case, the law supports the claim of reversible error. Id. Here, Appellants' three-page argument meets none of these requirements. It does not: (1) provide the governing standard of review for summary judgments; (2) follow the points relied on; or (3) provide any references to the record on appeal.
• Rule 84.04(h) requires a party's brief to be accompanied by an appendix that contains, as relevant here: (1) the judgment, order, or decision in question; and (2) the complete text of all statutes claimed to be controlling in resolving a point ...

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