Alexander v. Sagehorn, 11411

Decision Date21 May 1980
Docket NumberNo. 11411,11411
Citation600 S.W.2d 198
PartiesBetty (Sagehorn) ALEXANDER, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. Marvin SAGEHORN, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtMissouri Court of Appeals

David R. Odegard, James, Odegard, Millert & Houdek, Kansas City, Gene S. Martin, Lamar, for plaintiff-respondent.

John R. Miller, Lamar, Vernie R. Crandall, Carthage, for defendant-appellant.

PREWITT, Judge.

Plaintiff filed a petition in equity to set aside the portion of a decree of dissolution of marriage which approved and incorporated a property settlement agreement between plaintiff and her former husband. If it was set aside, plaintiff requested the court to then distribute the marital property of the parties as provided in § 452.330, RSMo Supp.1975. The basis for the relief sought was fraud, due to a misrepresentation by defendant of the value of certain marital property and a claim that defendant had a duty to make a complete disclosure of the value of the marital property to plaintiff, which he did not do. Following the trial, the court set aside that part of the judgment approving and incorporating the property settlement agreement, made a different division of the marital property than was provided in that agreement, and awarded plaintiff attorneys fees.

Defendant contends that plaintiff cannot bring an action in equity as she had an adequate remedy at law for damages, and made no offer to restore defendant to the status quo; that there was insufficient evidence to support the court's action; and that the court erred in awarding plaintiff attorneys fees because there was no statutory authority or contractual provision providing for such fees.

The principal marital asset was 1,840 acres of farm land. Plaintiff testified that after she had retained an attorney and filed a petition for dissolution, she discussed with defendant the value of this land, and he said it "would average out $175.00 an acre". She said this conversation occurred shortly before they agreed to the separation agreement. Defendant denied making any such statement. He was not represented and her attorney had no part in the negotiations of the agreement. The negotiations were between her and defendant, with the aid of a "friend". Plaintiff testified that defendant also told her that the indebtedness on the property was "around two hundred thousand". She said that after receiving this information she calculated the value of the farm properties by taking $175 times 1,840 and then deducted the indebtedness, to receive a "net or equity in the property" of "a little over a hundred thousand". When she thereafter agreed to take fifty thousand dollars as her interest in that land, she did so because she thought that was approximately half of the land's value. The property settlement agreement was signed on October 23, 1975, and the dissolution granted on October 26, 1975. At the time this action was filed she had not received the fifty thousand dollars, although the time for its payment had passed and no extension agreement had been made. In financial statements defendant valued the 1,840 acres, excluding indebtedness on it, at $552,600 on June 17, 1972, and at one million dollars on January 28, 1977. In an "Antenuptial Agreement" dated July 29, 1976, he valued the land at one million, one hundred thousand dollars. An appraisal made March 23, 1977, valued the land at $814,145. The appraiser testified that since October of 1975 the value of such farm properties had increased ten or eleven per cent.

As no findings of fact were requested or made, we presume that the trial court found the facts in accordance with the result reached. Rollins v. Schwyhart, 587 S.W.2d 364, 368 (Mo.App.1979). The credibility of the witnesses is determined by the trier of fact and when there is conflicting testimony, deference is given to the trial court's conclusions. In re Marriage of Reagan, 589 S.W.2d 118, 120 (Mo.App.1979). Under Rule 73.01, V.A.M.R., our review in this court tried case is to sustain the trial court's determination, unless there is no substantial evidence to support it, unless it is against the weight of the evidence, unless it erroneously declares the law, or unless it erroneously applies the law. Murphy v. Carron, 536 S.W.2d 30, 32 (Mo. banc 1976).

A fraud victim may elect to stand upon the contract and sue for damages in a tort action at law, or elect to rescind the contract and sue to have the same cancelled in equity. Hostler v. Holland Furnace Company, 327 S.W.2d 532, 534 (Mo.App.1959). Plaintiff has elected to have the agreement rescinded and we now consider whether there was evidence to support the trial court's determination. The elements to set aside a property settlement agreement are the same as in any action for relief on the grounds of fraud: (1) a representation; (2) its falsity; (3) its materiality; (4) the speaker's knowledge of the falsity; (5) his intent that the statement should be acted upon by the other party in the manner contemplated; (6) that party's ignorance of the falsity; (7) reliance on the truth; (8) the right to rely thereon; and (9) injury. Troxell v. Troxell, 563 S.W.2d 135, 145 (Mo.App.1978).

Element numbered one above has been met. It was disputed whether a representation on value was made, but plaintiff so testified and her testimony would support the court's finding. Statements as to the value of property do not ordinarily constitute fraud, being considered merely an expression of opinion. Shepherd v. Woodson, 328 S.W.2d 1, 6 (Mo.1959). However, such representations may amount to fraud if the representing party has special knowledge and the other is ignorant in respect to the value which is known to the representing party and the representations are made with intention that they be relied on. Id. Also see Troxell v. Troxell, supra. There was evidence that defendant had special knowledge of the value and that the plaintiff was ignorant of the value. It is a fair inference that defendant knew of plaintiff's lack of knowledge as to the land's worth and knew that plaintiff would rely on his representation of its value.

Element number two was shown by the appraisal and defendant's representations as to the value of the land before and after the statement to plaintiff. Element three, materiality, is shown as it is a fair inference from their conduct and conversations that both parties knew that the value...

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    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit
    • July 31, 1984
    ...where "the fraud consists of a positive representation intended to induce the very conduct which then results." Alexander v. Sagehorn, 600 S.W.2d 198, 201 (Mo.App.1980). See United Industrial Syndicate v. Western Auto Supply Co., 686 F.2d 1312, 1318 (8th Cir.1982); Universal C.I.T. Credit C......
  • Wion v. Carl I. Brown & Co.
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    ...of an affirmation of fact to enable redress to one who relied and acted upon the misrepresentation and was injured. Alexander v. Sagehorn, 600 S.W.2d 198, 201 (Mo.App.1980). The Wions do not claim that they were misled and injured by reliance on a false opinion of value asserted as fact. No......
  • Wood v. Wood
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals
    • September 17, 1986
    ...file a separate action for fraud. A fraud victim may elect to sue for damages in a tort action at law or to rescind. Alexander v. Sagehorn, 600 S.W.2d 198, 200 (Mo.App.1980). No reason is advanced, or appears, why a former spouse defrauded by a misrepresentation regarding marital property s......
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    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit
    • October 11, 1995
    ..."the fraud consists of a positive representation intended to induce the very conduct which then results." (quoting Alexander v. Sagehorn, 600 S.W.2d 198, 201 (Mo.App.1980))). It would be inequitable and inconsistent with Missouri law to allow Muegler to avoid liability by a disclaimer after......
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