B.D. v. Mo. Dep't of Soc. Servs., WD84811

CourtCourt of Appeal of Missouri (US)
Writing for the CourtEDWARD R. ARDFNI, JR., JUDGE.
Docket NumberWD84811
Decision Date10 May 2022

IN THE INTEREST OF: B.D., Respondent,


No. WD84811

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Second Division

May 10, 2022


Alok Ahuja, Presiding Judge, Edward R. Ardini, Jr., Judge and Thomas N. Chapman, Judge.


The Missouri Department of Social Services, Children's Division ("Children's Division"), appeals from the judgment of the Family Court Division of the Circuit Court of Jackson County ("juvenile court") ordering the Children's Division to facilitate B.D.'s[1] re-entry into the foster care system and to provide her with financial assistance and other services made available under a federal law expanding foster care benefits during the Covid-19 pandemic. We reverse and remand.


Factual and Procedural Background

B.D. entered foster care in October 2013, when she was fourteen years old. She remained in the foster care system until she reached the age of twenty-one on September 1, 2020, at which point she aged out of the program.

On December 27, 2020, Public Law 116-260, the "Supporting Foster Youth and Families through the Pandemic Act" ("the Federal Act") became law. The Federal Act allowed, among other things, for a person who had been discharged from the foster care system due to age to voluntarily re-enter and receive assistance and services during a defined period due to the Covid-19 pandemic. On April 6, 2021, B.D. filed a petition in the juvenile court seeking an order returning her to the foster care system together with all applicable benefits and services. The petition additionally included a declaratory judgment count seeking a declaration that the Children's Division was required, under the Federal Act, to permit B.D.'s re-entry into the foster care system and to restore all assistance, including financial benefits, she was receiving prior to aging out of foster care. The petition was filed in B.D.'s interest, but did not name any other persons or entities as parties. A family court commissioner issued an order sua sponte denying B.D.'s petition for lack of jurisdiction.

On April 21, 2021, B.D. filed a motion for rehearing under Rule 130.13.[2] On April 28, 2021, the juvenile court, acting through the circuit judge assigned to the Family Court Division, ordered the Children's Division to "file a timely response" to the motion for rehearing. The juvenile court set a hearing on B.D.'s motion for June 1, 2021, and a summons was issued to the


Children's Division to appear before the juvenile court on that date. The June 1st hearing consisted only of arguments from counsel for B.D. and the Children's Division; no testimony was presented, and no exhibits were formally received by the juvenile court. On August 13, 2021, the juvenile court entered its judgment that ordered the Children's Division to facilitate B.D.'s re-entry into the foster care system and to provide her with all applicable benefits and services. The Children's Division appeals.


The Children's Division raises four points on appeal. In its first two points, the Children's Division asserts procedural errors, arguing that the juvenile court denied it the opportunity to adequately respond to and address the merits of B.D.'s allegations in violation of its due process rights and that the juvenile court erred by entering judgment after failing to rule on B.D.'s motion for rehearing within forty-five days of its filing, asserting that the motion was deemed overruled at that point by operation of Rule 130.13 and therefore the "original judgment denying B.D.'s [p]etition must stand." In its third and fourth points, the Children's Division claims the juvenile court erred in awarding benefits and services to B.D., arguing that she was ineligible to receive those benefits under Missouri law and that the Federal Act did not mandate Missouri to provide foster care benefits to individuals who had aged out of the foster care system. Before we can consider these claims of error, however, we must address B.D.'s argument that this Court lacks jurisdiction to hear the Children's Division's appeal.


This Court "'has an obligation, acting sua sponte if necessary, to determine its authority to hear the appeals that come before it.'" L.L. v. D.L., 607 S.W.3d 206, 208 (Mo. App. W.D. 2020) (quoting Glasgow Sch. Dist. v. Howard Cnty. Coroner, 572 S.W.3d 543, 547 (Mo. App. W.D. 2019)).


"'The right to appeal is purely statutory and where a statute does not give a right to appeal, no right exists.'" Id. (quoting State ex rel. Koster v. ConocoPhillips Co., 493 S.W.3d 397, 399 (Mo. banc 2016)).

At the outset, we must acknowledge the unique nature of this case. In one sense, this action has the earmarks of a standard juvenile court action seeking the placement of an individual in the foster care system. However, due to B.D. having previously aged out of the Missouri foster care system, this is not a typical proceeding. Indeed, it is undisputed that, based solely on Missouri law, B.D. was not entitled to re-enter the foster care system due to her age. As a result, the theory put forth in B.D.'s petition turns on a federal law enacted in December of 2020, the applicability of that law to the State of Missouri, and, if applicable to the State of Missouri, the impact of the federal law on B.D.'s ability to re-enter the foster care system despite having aged out. Further compounding the procedural quirks presented by this case is the inclusion of a declaratory judgment count in the petition.

In claiming that the Children's Division is not entitled to appeal the juvenile court's judgment, B.D. argues that the Children's Division was not a party to the underlying action and, even if it were, the Children's Division is not a party permitted to appeal from a juvenile court judgment under section 211.261, RSMo.[3] We first observe that the definition of "party" applicable to juvenile court proceedings specifically encompasses "the children's division in any case in which the division provides services to the juvenile[.]" Rule 110.04.a(20). Regardless, the Children's Division's exclusion from the list of parties permitted to appeal from a juvenile court


judgment under section 211.261, RSMo, is of no consequence. Pursuant to section 512.020(5), RSMo, "[a]ny party to a suit aggrieved by any judgment of any trial court in any civil cause from which an appeal is not prohibited by the constitution, nor clearly limited in special statutory proceedings, may take his or her appeal to a court having appellate jurisdiction from any…[f]inal judgment in the case." The Children's Division is clearly aggrieved by the judgment of the juvenile court as the Children's Division was ordered to facilitate B.D.'s re-entry into the foster care system and to provide financial assistance and services to her. As a result, the Children's Division is authorized to bring this appeal. See In Interest of L.C., 477 S.W.3d 171, 174 (Mo. App. E.D. 2015) (stating that the Children's Division was aggrieved in a case where it was ordered to pay benefits and services to a juvenile's caretaker and thus had standing to appeal under section 512.020, RSMo, even though the Children's Division had no standing to bring the appeal under section 211.261, RSMo).

Point II - Juvenile Jurisdiction under Rule 130.13

Having determined that we have jurisdiction, we turn first to the Children's Division's second point on appeal in which it argues that B.D.'s motion for rehearing was deemed denied by operation of Rule 130.13 after the juvenile court failed to rule on it within forty-five days of its filing and, as a result, the subsequent judgment granting B.D. relief must be vacated and the "[c]ircuit [c]ourt's original judgment denying B.D.'s [p]etition must stand."

We note that the Children's Division's effort to have the "original judgment" reinstated is fundamentally flawed for a simple reason - there was no "original judgment." Due to the unusual procedural path taken by this case, the juvenile court never confirmed the commissioner's order denying B.D.'s petition; and, therefore, the commissioner's order never became the judgment of


the juvenile court. Thus, the only judgment entered by...

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