Christian Health Care v. Little

Citation145 S.W.3d 44
Decision Date27 August 2004
Docket NumberNo. 25865.,No. 25852.,25852.,25865.
PartiesCHRISTIAN HEALTH CARE OF SPRINGFIELD WEST PARK, INC., a Missouri Corporation, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. Carolyn V. LITTLE, as Guardian and Conservator for Mabel Young and George Young, Defendants-Appellants.
CourtCourt of Appeal of Missouri (US)

Appeal from the Circuit Court, Associate Division, Greene County, Mark A. Powell, J Robert W. Stillings, Springfield, MO, for appellants.

David R. Adair, John E. Price, Springfield, MO, for respondent.


Christian Health Care of Springfield West Park, Inc. ("CHC") sued Carolyn Little, in her capacity as Guardian and Conservator of the Estate of Mabel Young ("Conservator"), and George Young ("George") to recover amounts due for nursing home services provided by CHC to Mabel Young ("Mabel").1 After a bench trial, the court entered judgment in favor of CHC and against Conservator and George, who were held jointly and severally liable for damages, attorney fees and prejudgment interest totaling $15,026.67. Conservator and George (referred to collectively as "Appellants") appealed from the judgment.

Appellants' consolidated appeals present four points for our determination. One point challenges the admission of an exhibit into evidence; the other three attack, in various respects, the sufficiency of the evidence to support the trial court's judgment. While we conclude none of Appellants' points have merit, the judgment is in error insofar as it purports to authorize enforcement of the judgment against Conservator by circuit court execution. Therefore, modification of the judgment in this single respect is required.

I. Standard of Review

In this court-tried case, our review is governed by Rule 84.13(d).2 We must affirm the trial court's judgment unless it is not supported by substantial evidence, it is against the weight of the evidence, or it erroneously declares or applies the law. Murphy v. Carron, 536 S.W.2d 30, 32 (Mo. banc 1976); Ridgway v. TTnT Development Corp., 126 S.W.3d 807, 812 (Mo.App.2004).3

With respect to issues of law, we independently evaluate the conclusions of law the trial court draws from its factual findings. Don King Equipment Co. v. Double D Tractor Parts, Inc., 115 S.W.3d 363, 368-69 (Mo.App.2003). Furthermore, we are primarily concerned with the correctness of the trial court's result, not the route taken by the trial court to reach that result. Business Men's Assur. Co. of America v. Graham, 984 S.W.2d 501, 506 (Mo. banc 1999). Therefore, the judgment will be affirmed under any reasonable theory supported by the evidence, even if the reasons advanced by the trial court are wrong or insufficient. Id.; Professional Laundry Management Systems, Inc. v. Aquatic Technologies, Inc., 109 S.W.3d 200, 203 (Mo.App.2003).

With respect to issues of fact, we review the evidence and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the judgment and disregard all contrary evidence and inferences. Arndt v. Beardsley, 102 S.W.3d 572, 574 (Mo.App.2003). We defer to the trial court's determination of witness credibility and recognize that the court is free to accept or reject all, part, or none of the testimony presented. Sanders v. Insurance Co. of North America, 42 S.W.3d 1, 8 (Mo.App.2000). Our summary of the evidence, which is set forth below, has been prepared in accordance with these principles.

II. Facts and Procedural History

In July 1999, Balanced Care Corporation operated three nursing home facilities. One such facility, known as Balanced Care West, was located at 3403 West Mount Vernon in Springfield, Missouri.

George and Mabel are husband and wife. On July 26, 1999, Mabel became a resident at Balanced Care West. On that date, an admission agreement was executed. The agreement was between Balanced Care West, Mabel and George. In the agreement, Mabel was referred to as "Patient," and George was referred to as "Responsible Party." The third page of this agreement has four signature lines designated for the respective uses of the patient, responsible party, facility representative and a witness. The name of "Mabel `June' Young" was printed in handwriting on the first line.4 The name of George Young was signed on the second line. Laura K. Alepio, an admissions coordinator at the nursing home, signed her name as facility representative on the third line. The fourth line for the witness was left blank. The agreement stated that "both the PATIENT and RESPONSIBLE PARTY are liable jointly and severally for all charges incurred." The agreement also obligated Mabel and George "[t]o pay all costs, expenses and reasonable attorney's fees, whether suit be brought, in the event these must be expended in the collection of any and all sums due and owing by the PATIENT and RESPONSIBLE PARTY to the facility."

After Mabel was admitted to Balanced Care West, she resided there 24 hours per day and was provided with a room, bedding, laundry service, meals, snacks, assistance with activities of daily living (e.g., dressing, bathing, grooming), recreational activities, medications and nursing services. Medicaid paid a portion of the charges for Mabel's care, and the remainder of the charges were paid privately by Mabel and George. In January 2000, CHC purchased Balanced Care Corporation and thereby came to own all of its nursing home facilities, including Balanced Care West where Mabel was a resident.

In 2002, Mabel's account with CHC fell into arrears. On February 19, 2002, Greene County Public Administrator Carolyn Little was appointed as Mabel's guardian and conservator by the probate division of the Circuit Court of Greene County, Missouri. On February 27, 2002, CHC filed a two count petition against Mabel and George in the associate division of the Circuit Court of Greene County, Missouri. Count I pled a breach of contract theory against Mabel for not complying with the terms of the agreement requiring her to pay her outstanding account balance of $9,514.00. Further, CHC alleged that the agreement had been assigned to it by Balanced Care. Count II pled a breach of guarantee theory against George for failing to pay the account balance himself as required by the terms of the agreement. In addition, each count sought to recover court costs, attorney fees, prejudgment and post judgment interest. A copy of the agreement was attached to the petition, which was verified by an authorized representative of CHC.

On May 24, 2002, CHC filed a motion to substitute parties. This motion was granted on September 20, 2002. On October 10, 2002, CHC filed a second amended petition with leave of court. The second amended petition, which named Conservator and George as defendants, was pled in three counts. Counts I and III realleged the aforementioned breach of contract and breach of guarantee theories of recovery. Count II asserted an alternative quantum meruit theory to recover the reasonable value of the goods and services provided to Mabel by CHC. The second amended petition was not verified, but a copy of the agreement was attached as an exhibit.

George and Conservator filed a joint answer to the second amended petition. In the answer, George admitted that he executed the agreement. Conservator denied, for lack of knowledge, whether Mabel "entered into" the agreement; however, Conservator did not specifically deny that Mabel executed the agreement or assert lack of mental capacity to contract as an affirmative defense. The only affirmative defenses asserted were the following: (1) Balanced Care West was not a legal entity authorized to do business in Missouri, so it could not have entered into a valid contract; and (2) the trial court lacked personal jurisdiction over the person of Mabel Young.

The trial took place on July 18, 2003. CHC's proof was presented through the testimony of Robin Epson, the administrator of the facility where Mabel resided. During Epson's testimony, CHC offered a copy of the admission agreement in evidence as Exhibit 1. Relying on the best evidence rule, Appellants objected to the introduction of the exhibit because it was not the original document. The trial court asked CHC to lay some additional foundation prior to ruling on the admissibility of Exhibit 1. Epson testified the exhibit was an unaltered, accurate copy of the agreement. Although the original document should exist in CHC's financial file, Epson had not looked in the file to see whether the original agreement was still there. The trial court then overruled Appellants' renewed "best evidence" objection.

Epson testified that Mabel was still a resident at the CHC facility at 3403 West Mount Vernon as of the date of trial and owed $9,349 on her account. The trial court admitted Exhibits 2 and 3, which were Mabel's account histories from Balanced Care and CHC. These histories listed the various goods and services provided to Mabel, which Epson testified were reasonable and necessary for Mabel's care. Epson also testified that CHC had incurred $6,110 in attorney fees in prosecuting its collection suit to recover the amount due for Mabel's care. The court admitted a redacted billing statement from CHC's attorneys to support the request for attorney fees.

The final exhibit offered by CHC was its Exhibit 7, a copy of the purchase agreement between CHC and Balanced Care Corporation. This document apparently contained language assigning Balanced Care Corporation's admission agreements to CHC. CHC laid a foundation that: (1) Epson had personal knowledge of the sale; (2) Exhibit 7 was a true and accurate copy of the original document; and (3) she could identify the signature of CHC's president, Alan Kilgore, on the document. Appellants objected to the admission of Exhibit 7 because it was not properly authenticated and its admission...

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