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Henry v. Piatchek

Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc

August 13, 2019

PAUL PIATCHEK, et al., Respondents, DARRELL WILLIAMS, SR., Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis The Honorable Rex M. Burlison, Judge.

          Laura Denvir Stith, Judge.

         Darrell Williams Sr. appeals from the circuit court's overruling of his Rule 74.06(b) motion to set aside the dismissal of a wrongful death suit filed by his deceased son's grandmother and the overruling of his motion to intervene in that suit. Because he failed to comply with Rule 52.12 governing intervention and his motion was never ruled on prior to the grandmother's voluntary dismissal of her suit, he never became a party to the grandmother's suit. Rule 74.06(b) does not authorize a non-party to file a motion to set aside the judgment. Moreover, there was no judgment to be set aside because the grandmother voluntarily dismissed her suit and that dismissal took effect immediately upon filing, without order of the court, under Rule 67.02(a). Accordingly, the circuit court did not err in overruling Williams' motion to set aside the dismissal of the grandmother's suit.


         In November 2009, the police shot and killed Darrell Williams[1] after a high-speed chase. Because of the circumstances of the chase, members of Darrell's family were suspicious of wrongdoing by the police. Darrell's grandmother, Delores Henry, quickly filed a petition alleging wrongful death in January 2010. In her petition, Ms. Henry claimed she was Darrell's "next of kin," but that was not the case. Darrell was also survived by his father, Darrell Williams Sr., and his mother, Kathryn Love. The parties agree that, because Darrell's mother and father were alive, under section 537.080, [2] his grandmother was not a proper plaintiff to bring the wrongful death suit. But the grandmother nonetheless filed suit, perhaps because both parents were incarcerated at the time of Darrell's death. The defendants filed an answer to the grandmother's petition, and the case proceeded without addressing her authority to bring suit under section 537.080.[3]

         Beginning in August 2010, six months after the grandmother filed her suit, and periodically over the next nine months, while incarcerated on unrelated crimes, Mr. Williams sent the court at least six letters. Identifying himself in the letters as Darrell's father, on August 30, 2010, he asked whether a complaint had been filed for his son's death and, if it had, whether the circuit court could provide him with a copy; on November 12, 2010, he asked for a copy of the docket sheet and the contact information for Ms. Henry's attorney; on November 22, 2010, and again on December 16, 2010, he said he wanted to become a plaintiff and asked for the current discovery; and on February 25, 2011, he requested the docket sheet. The record shows each of Mr. Williams' letters was docketed, and the circuit court sent Mr. Williams some of the information he had requested.

         Finally, in May 2011, Mr. Williams sent the circuit court a handwritten letter attaching a handwritten motion to join in the grandmother's suit. The motion had the caption to the grandmother's case and, in full, stated:

Comes now, plaintiff Darrell Williams, pro se, requesting to become a plaintiff in cause #1022-CC00155, for the following reason:
Plaintiff Darrell Williams Sr[.], is the father of the deceased Darrell Williams Jr.
Wherefore plaintiff requests that this motion be granted.

         While Mr. Williams' motion conveyed his desire to become a plaintiff and should have been understood as an attempt to intervene, it failed to comply with the requirements of Rule 52.12(c), which provides:

A person desiring to intervene shall serve a motion upon all parties affected thereby. The motion shall state the grounds therefor, and shall be accompanied by a pleading setting forth the claim or defense for which intervention is sought. The same procedure shall be followed when a statute of this state gives a right to intervene.

         Mr. Williams did not serve his motion on the other parties to the lawsuit, nor was it accompanied by a pleading setting out the claim for which intervention was sought, as required by Rule 52.12(c).

         The father did not attempt to correct the deficiencies in his motion in the succeeding three years in which the grandmother's suit was pending prior to April 2014, when, shortly before trial was to occur, the grandmother voluntarily dismissed her suit. Her voluntary dismissal became effective upon filing under Rule 67.02.[4] The father did not argue to the circuit court that he still had a live claim due to his pending motion to intervene, nor did he attempt at any time to get a ruling on the motion or otherwise correct the motion's deficiencies or object to the voluntary dismissal or attempt to appeal it.[5]

         By the time the grandmother dismissed her lawsuit, the three-year statute of limitations on the wrongful death claim had run. § 537.100.1. But Rule 67.02(c) provides that a voluntary dismissal under Rule 67.02(a) is without prejudice, and under section 537.100, the grandmother had one year in ...

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