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Meadowfresh Solutions USA, LLC v. Maple Grove Farms, LLC

Supreme Court of Missouri

August 13, 2019

MEADOWFRESH SOLUTIONS USA, LLC, Respondent,
v.
MAPLE GROVE FARMS, LLC, LEON RINEHART, TED DAHLSTROM, CAROL DAHLSTROM, CURTIS HALL, LISA HALL, and KYLE BOUNOUS, Appellants.

          APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF GREENE COUNTY The Honorable Jason R. Brown, Judge

          GEORGE W. DRAPER III, CHIEF JUSTICE.

         Maple Grove Farms, LLC, Leon Rinehart, Ted Dahlstrom, Carol Dahlstrom, Curtis Hall, Lisa Hall, and Kyle Bounous (hereinafter, and collectively, "Maple Grove") sought to appeal the circuit court's order overruling their "Motion for Order Revoking, or in the Alternative, Modifying and Changing Interlocutory Order Appointing Receiver." The Missouri Court of Appeals, Southern District, dismissed Maple Grove's appeal because the order was not denominated a judgment pursuant to Rule 74.01(a). This Court holds the circuit court's order was appealable pursuant to sections 515.665 and 512.020(2), RSMo 2016.[1] This Court further holds the circuit court's order did not have to be denominated a judgment pursuant to Rule 74.01(a) for an appeal to be taken because it was an interlocutory order that did not fully resolve at least one claim and did not establish all of the rights and liabilities of the parties with respect to that claim. The case is retransferred to the Southern District for it to review the underlying merits of the circuit court's order as asserted in Maple Grove's remaining points on appeal.

         Factual and Procedural History

         In October 2011, Maple Grove was formed for the purpose of owning and operating a dairy farm in Barry County, Missouri. Meadowfresh Solutions USA, LLC (hereinafter, "Meadowfresh") was formed simultaneously to own a majority membership in Maple Grove. Meadowfresh subsequently sued Maple Grove and sought the appointment of a receiver for Maple Grove. The circuit court sustained Meadowfresh's motion. Maple Grove filed a "Motion for Order Revoking, or in the Alternative, Modifying and Changing Interlocutory Order Appointing Receiver." The circuit court issued an order overruling Maple Grove's motion. This order was not denominated a judgment.

         Maple Grove filed a timely notice of appeal, relying on section 515.665, which provides, "Orders of the court pursuant to sections 515.500 to 515.665 are appealable to the extent allowed under existing law, including subdivision (2) of section 512.020." Section 512.020(2) explicitly permits an aggrieved party to appeal any "[o]rder refusing to revoke, modify, or change an interlocutory order appointing a receiver …." The Southern District dismissed Maple Grove's appeal, finding the circuit court's order overruling Maple Grove's motion to revoke the receivership appointment was not denominated a judgment pursuant to Rule 74.01(a). The Honorable Nancy Steffen Rahmeyer dissented and certified this case for transfer to this Court pursuant to Rule 83.03.

         Standard of Review

         This Court has exclusive appellate jurisdiction over certain cases. See Mo. Const. art. V, sec. 3. This Court also has authority to "finally determine all causes coming to it from the court of appeals, whether by certification, transfer or certiorari, the same as on original appeal." Mo. Const. art. V, sec. 10. Hence, this Court must determine whether the circuit court's order overruling a motion to revoke a receivership appointment is an appealable order to invoke appellate jurisdiction.

         "In all appeals, this Court is required to examine its jurisdiction sua sponte." In re Marriage of Werths, 33 S.W.3d 541, 542 (Mo. banc 2000). "In Missouri, the right to appeal is purely statutory, and 'where a statute does not give a right to appeal, no right exists.'" Fannie Mae v. Truong, 361 S.W.3d 400, 403 (Mo. banc 2012) (quoting Farinella v. Croft, 922 S.W.2d 755, 756 (Mo. banc 1996)). This Court has long held "[a]ppeals are favored in the law and statutes granting appeals are liberally construed." O'Malley v. Cont'l Life Ins. Co., 75 S.W.2d 837, 839 (Mo. banc 1934); Ins. Co. of State of Pa. v. Dir. of Revenue, 269 S.W.3d 32, 37 (Mo. banc 2008).

         Analysis

         Maple Grove argues the circuit court's order overruling its motion to revoke the receivership appointment was an appealable, interlocutory order that did not have to be denominated a judgment before it could be appealed. Maple Grove urges this Court to adopt a "substance over form" analysis that would require an examination of the content, substance, and effect of the circuit court's order to determine whether it constitutes a judgment before requiring it to be denominated as such for purpose of appeal. Maple Grove maintains such an examination reveals the circuit court's order was interlocutory and, therefore, did not need to be denominated a judgment before an appeal could be taken pursuant to sections 515.665 and 512.020(2).

         This Court recently clarified the "persistent confusion surrounding the issues of what a judgment is, what form it takes, and when it is entered." State ex rel. Henderson v. Asel, 566 S.W.3d 596, 598 (Mo. banc 2019). In Henderson, the relator sought to compel a circuit court to denominate its dismissal order as a judgment so the relator could appeal. Id. at 598. This Court found "[a] judgment is a legally enforceable judicial order that fully resolves at least one claim in a lawsuit and establishes all the rights and liabilities of the parties with respect to that claim." Id. "Judgments are a subset of orders generally." Id. at 599. "[B]ecause the foregoing definition of judgment depends upon the court's purpose and intent, a judgment must be denominated 'judgment' and signed by the judge to avoid any confusion about whether the court intended to enter a judgment." Id. This Court found, because the circuit court's dismissal order intended to resolve all of the relator's claims against all of the defendants, it was a judgment and must be denominated as such. Id.

         This Court applied these same concepts in cases prior to Henderson. In Sanford v. CenturyTel of Missouri, LLC, 490 S.W.3d 717, 722 (Mo. banc 2016), this Court held an order denying arbitration did not constitute a final judgment because the order did not present a final determination of the rights of the parties or dispose of all of the issues. Similarly, in Ndegwa v. KSSO, LLC, 371 S.W.3d 798, 801 (Mo. banc 2012), this Court stated a circuit court's determination that an order constituted a judgment for purpose of appeal was "not dispositive; instead it is the content, substance, and effect of the order that determines finality and appealabilty." (quoting Gibson v. Brewer, 952 S.W.2d 239, 244 (Mo. banc 1997)) (internal quotation and alterations omitted)). In Lake v. McCollum, 257 S.W.3d 614, 616 n.5 (Mo. banc 2008), this Court admonished, "In order to avoid confusion, circuit courts should reserve the terms 'judgment' and 'decree' for those rulings or orders intended to be final appealable judgments" in which they no longer wish to retain jurisdiction over the issue or claim. (Emphasis added).

         By contrast, an interlocutory order "is an order that is not final and decides some point or matter between the commencement and the end of a suit but does not resolve the entire controversy." Buemi v. Kerckhoff, 359 S.W.3d 16, 20 (Mo. banc 2011). "[A]n interlocutory order is, by definition, not 'final' because Rule 74.01(b) provides that it remains modifiable and, therefore, '[a]t any time before final judgment a court may open, amend, reverse, or vacate an interlocutory order." Sanford, 490 S.W.3d at 719-20 (quoting Nichols ...


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