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Macke v. Patton

Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc

July 16, 2019

LOREN MACKE, Respondent,
v.
AUSTIN PATTON, Defendant. PAMELA EDEN, Appellant,

          APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF ST. LOUIS The Honorable Jason M. Sengheiser, Judge

          ZEL M. FISCHER, JUDGE

         Pamela Eden appeals the circuit court's distribution of proceeds from Nicklaus Macke's wrongful death settlement, pursuant to §§ 537.080, 537.090, and 537.095.[1] The circuit court apportioned 98 percent of the settlement to Nicklaus' father, Loren Macke, and 2 percent to Eden, Nicklaus' mother. Eden's appeal argues the circuit court abused its discretion in overruling her oral motion for a second continuance and erred in apportioning only a small percent of the wrongful death settlement to her. The circuit court's judgment is affirmed.

         Factual and Procedural History

         Nicklaus Macke (hereinafter, "Nicklaus") was the son of Pamela Eden and Loren Macke (hereinafter, "Macke"). Nicklaus suffered fatal injuries in a motor vehicle collision with defendant Austin Patton in April 2017. At the time of his death, Nicklaus was 25 years old, unmarried and had no children. Macke negotiated a settlement with Patton's insurance company, and the insurance company offered to pay its $500, 000 policy limit in satisfaction of Macke's wrongful death claim against Patton.

         Macke accepted the offer and filed for approval and apportionment of the wrongful death settlement in the circuit court of the city of St. Louis. The circuit court scheduled a hearing on the petition for November 21, 2017. Eden, an Alabama resident, first received notice of the hearing date on October 26, 2017.

         Mere hours before the first scheduled hearing began, Eden telephoned the circuit court requesting a continuance because she was not in Missouri and did not have an attorney. The circuit court granted a one-week continuance and reset the hearing for November 28, 2017. At the beginning of the hearing, Eden's attorney orally requested a second continuance, asserting the need for discovery and additional time to prepare for the hearing. The circuit court overruled the motion, stating:

[O]ff the record I denied the request for the continuance, and I'm going to stick with that ruling finding that Ms. Eden had notice and we were kind enough to put it off for a week last week, and I think eventually we just need to go forward with this and I think that needs to happen today, partially due to the issue of the other parties also having to travel into town.

         During the hearing, the circuit court heard testimony from Macke, Eden, Macke's sister, Macke's wife and Eden's husband. The evidence supporting the judgment was that Macke and Eden divorced shortly after Nicklaus' birth and Macke was granted custody with supervised visitations for Eden. Macke and Nicklaus moved into Macke's mother's house in Marshall, Illinois, where Nicklaus was raised primarily by Macke and Macke's mother, whom Nicklaus called "Mom."

         Though she lived in the area, Eden was absent from Nicklaus' childhood. On occasion, she would show up unannounced to events in Nicklaus' life, including one of his band's concerts, his prom night, and his high school graduation party. But she ultimately played little to no role in his childhood and upbringing.

         When Nicklaus turned 18, he moved away from home. Macke stayed in touch with Nicklaus despite the increased distance between them. Eventually, Macke helped Nicklaus move into a St. Louis condominium. Even though Macke lived two and a half hours away from St. Louis, he and Nicklaus remained in touch and Macke visited him regularly.

         After the hearing, the circuit court entered an order approving the $500, 000 settlement and taking the issue of apportionment and distribution of the settlement amount under advisement. Neither party requested specific findings pursuant to Rule 73.01(c). Several weeks later, the circuit court entered a judgment apportioning $490, 000 of the settlement to Macke and $10, 000 to Eden. The circuit court's judgment included the following language relevant to this Court's review:

The court has considered the testimony of the witnesses, the documentary evidence that each submitted to the court, as well as the oral and written statements of counsel. The court, observed first-hand and evaluated the credibility of the witnesses and determined the weight to be accorded to the testimony and documentary evidence of each. This Court has apportioned the settlement proceeds as set forth in Exhibit A hereto, in proportion to the losses suffered by each party, as determined by the court based on the evidence and in keeping with the factors set forth in the Missouri Wrongful Death statute, RSMo. §§ 537.080, 537.090, 537.095.

         Eden appealed the judgment, and the court of appeals reversed in part and remanded in a published opinion. This Court granted transfer. Mo. Const. art. V, sec. 10.

         Analysis

         Eden presented two separate points relied on in this appeal. The first argues the circuit court erred in overruling her motion for a second continuance. The second argues the circuit court's apportionment of only 2 percent of settlement funds to Eden erroneously applied the law and was against the weight of the evidence.

         Motion ...


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