Court of Appeals of Missouri, Southern District, First Division
FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF GREENE COUNTY Honorable Jason R.
W. LYNCH, P.J.
State of Missouri appeals the trial court's judgment
denying its petition to enforce a section
537.675 lien, for deposit into the Tort
Victims' Compensation Fund ("TVCF"), that the
State purports to have on punitive damages that were awarded
during the course of the underlying litigation between Dr.
Hyewon Kim ("Dr. Kim") and Mercy Clinic Springfield
Communities ("Clinic") (Dr. Kim and Clinic are
collectively referred to as "Respondents"). Because
this case was resolved by compromise settlement prior to a
"punitive damage final judgment," as that phrase is
expressly, clearly, and plainly defined in section
537.675.1(4), section 537.675.3 expressly exempts this case
from the provisions of section 537.675. We, therefore, affirm
the trial court's judgment.
and Procedural Background
genesis of the underlying litigation was an
employment-termination dispute between Dr. Kim, a radiation
oncologist, and Clinic, Dr. Kim's former employer. Dr.
Kim filed a petition alleging, inter alia, that
Clinic retaliated against her and constructively discharged
her after she reported instances of substandard medical
treatment and Medicare fraud. Clinic denied Dr. Kim's
allegation in its answer and filed counterclaims alleging Dr.
Kim breached her employment contract and unjustly enriched
herself during her employment.
proceeded to trial. On Dr. Kim's constructive discharge
claim, a jury found in favor of Dr. Kim, awarding her $720,
821.00 in compensatory damages and $800, 000.00 in punitive
damages ("the punitive damage award"). On
Clinic's claim for unjust enrichment, the trial court, in
a separate proceeding, found in favor of Clinic, awarding it
$63, 094.00. Judgments were entered in conformity with these
findings (collectively referred to as "the underlying
thereafter timely cross-appealed the underlying claims
judgment. This court consolidated the appeals and affirmed
that judgment in all respects by published opinion in Kim
v. Mercy Clinic Springfield Communities, 556 S.W.3d 613
(Mo.App. 2018). A subsequent motion for rehearing and an
application for transfer to the Supreme Court of Missouri,
filed by Clinic, were denied.
then timely filed an application for transfer directly with
the Supreme Court of Missouri, which was assigned case number
SC96999. On May 1, 2018, the Supreme Court of Missouri denied
transfer. This court subsequently entered, on the following
day, its mandate affirming the underlying claims judgment.
weeks later, the State filed a "NOTICE OF
LIEN" ("the lien notice") in the trial
court in this case, stating, "Pursuant to §
537.675.3, RSMo, the State of Missouri files and gives notice
of its lien for fifty (50) percent of the punitive damage
final judgment entered in this cause for deposit into the
Tort Victims' Compensation Fund."
26, 2018, Respondents entered into a "SETTLMENT
AGREEMENT AND MUTUAL RELEASE OF CLAIMS" ("the
settlement agreement"), which purported to resolve all
underlying claims between Respondents at issue in the case.
the State filed a motion to intervene in the trial court case
and, on the following day, filed a petition seeking to
enforce the lien notice. Respondents filed "Suggestions
in Opposition" to the State's
petition. Following a hearing, the settlement
agreement was submitted to the trial court for in-camera
trial court issued a judgment denying the State's
petition ("the lien petition denial judgment"). In
that judgment, the trial court concluded that there was no
"punitive damage final judgment" because June 26,
2018, the date the settlement agreement was executed, was
within the ninety-day period for filing a petition for writ
of certiorari to the Supreme Court of the United States
State timely appeals the trial court's lien petition
denial judgment, raising two points of asserted trial court
error: (1) under the plain and ordinary language of section
537.675, "a 'punitive damage final judgment,' as
defined by statute, existed when the State asserted its lien,
in that the [underlying claims judgment] was no longer
'subject to review' by any state or federal court at
the time the parties entered into their post-judgment
settlement[;]" and (2) if "the phrase 'no
longer subject to review' in that statute is vague or
ambiguous, which [the ...