Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Fourth Division
from the Circuit Court of Clay County, Missouri The Honorable
Janet L. Sutton, Judge
Before: Karen King Mitchell, Chief Judge Presiding, Thomas N.
Chapman, Judge, and Cory L. Atkins, Visiting Judge
N. CHAPMAN, JUDGE
Medical Protective Company (MedPro) appeals from the judgment
of the Circuit Court of Clay County in favor of Karen Peoples
(Peoples) in the sum of $79, 922.50, enforcing a child
support lien on the personal injury proceeds previously paid
by MedPro to her ex-husband, Reynold Peoples (Ex-husband). In
its sole point on appeal, MedPro asserts that the trial court
erred because Peoples failed to meet the requirements under
§ 454.518 RSMo necessary to attach a child support lien
to the proceeds of the lawsuit that had been filed by
Ex-husband and because her compliance with the requirements
of § 454.519 (respecting liens on negligence or personal
injury demands or rights of action) was not sufficient.
Finding no error, we affirm.
dissolution of their marriage in 1998, Ex-husband was ordered
to pay Peoples $350 per month for child support, beginning on
August 1, 1998. Ex-husband has never made a child support
payment. In 2010, while an inmate in the Jefferson City
Correctional Facility, Ex-husband suffered an arterial
embolism, which ultimately resulted in the amputation of his
left leg. On February 22, 2013, Ex-husband filed a medical
malpractice lawsuit against Dr. Miguel Paniagua, alleging
negligence in the treatment of the arterial embolism.
Peoples's attorney, Michael Shipley, mailed a letter to
Dr. Paniagua's attorney, John Roark, notifying him that
Peoples held a child support lien (then in the amount of $54,
967.50) upon any claim for negligence or personal injury that
Ex-husband might have asserted against Dr. Paniagua (the Lien
Letter). Shipley attached a copy of Peoples's
"Judgment Order of Dissolution of Marriage" as well
as an affidavit attesting to the amount of Ex-husband's
child support arrearage. The Lien Letter directed Roark to
forward the correspondence to Dr. Paniagua's professional
liability insurer, MedPro. Shipley sent the Lien Letter
pursuant to § 454.519, which provides a means to assert
a child support lien on negligence or personal injury
"demands or rights of action" by certified letter
sent to the tortfeasor or his attorney.
September of 2015, Ex-husband's medical malpractice
lawsuit was settled for $100, 000. As part of the release
agreement, Ex-husband "covenant[ed] to pay and satisfy
any valid lien or right of reimbursement in full...".
MedPro paid the entirety of the settlement proceeds to
Ex-husband and his attorney. MedPro was aware of the Lien
Letter, but paid no portion of the settlement proceeds to
petitioned the circuit court to order MedPro to reimburse her
for the full amount of her child support lien against
Ex-husband. In its Answer, MedPro argued (as it does on
appeal) that Peoples's lien notice was ineffective
because she had not filed the notice of lien in the court
where Ex-husband had filed his personal injury claim, and had
thus failed to comply with the requirements set forth under
§ 454.518 (which allows a child support obligee to
attach a lien to the proceeds of a lawsuit by filing notice
of the lien in the court where the suit is pending).
case was submitted on a joint stipulation of facts,
depositions of the parties' counsel, and trial briefs.
The circuit court entered judgment in favor of Peoples,
finding that she was permitted to provide notice of her lien
to MedPro under either § 454.518 or § 454.519. The
Court determined that Peoples's lien was valid and
enforceable because she had complied with the requirements of
§ 454.519; and entered judgment in her favor and against
MedPro in the sum of $72, 922.50, together with statutory
interest at 9% per annum. MedPro timely appeals.
sole point on appeal, MedPro argues that the circuit court
erred in entering judgment in favor of Peoples because it
misapplied the law in finding that she could assert her child
support lien, after suit had been filed, by complying with
the requirements of § 454.519 (by certified letter to
the tortfeasor or counsel) instead of the requirements of
§ 454.518 (by filing notice of her lien in the court
where the suit had been filed).
an appeal from a court-tried civil case, 'the trial
court's judgment will be affirmed unless there is no
substantial evidence to support it, it is against the weight
of the evidence, or it erroneously declares or applies the
law.'" Hill v. Missouri Dep't of
Conservation, 550 S.W.3d 463, 466-67 (Mo. banc 2018)
(quoting White v. Dir. of Revenue, 321 S.W.3d 298,
307-08 (Mo. banc 2010)). "When a case is tried on
stipulation of facts, the only issue on appeal is whether the
trial court drew the proper legal conclusions from the
stipulated facts." Hess v. Proffer, 87 S.W.3d
432, 433 (Mo. App. E.D. 2002).
circuit court's determinations of questions of law are
subject to de novo review." Hill, 550
S.W.3d at 467. Statutory interpretation is a question of law
that a reviewing Court therefore reviews de novo.
Spradling v. SSM Health Care St. Louis, 313 S.W.3d
683, 686 (Mo. banc 2010). "The statutory provisions for
enforcement of child support orders must be liberally
construed to comply with the spirit or reason behind them,
resolving all reasonable doubts in favor of ...