Dickinson v. Ronwin

Decision Date31 October 1996
Docket NumberNos. 20589,s. 20589
Citation935 S.W.2d 358
CourtMissouri Court of Appeals
PartiesRobert P. DICKINSON and Janet K. Dickinson, and Legal Aid Society of Polk County, Inc., Plaintiffs-Respondents, v. Edward RONWIN, Arkiana, an Iowa General Partnership, and Richard W. Maes and Carol Maes, Defendants-Appellants. & 20691.

Edward Ronwin, Beaver Creek, MN, pro se.

Robert C. Oberbillig, Des Moines, Iowa, Debra L. Moore, Sunrise Beach, MO, for plaintiffs-respondents.

PER CURIAM.

In this consolidated appeal, Edward Ronwin (Ronwin), Richard W. Maes and Carol Maes (collectively referred to as "Maes") appeal from an adverse judgment by which a transfer of Ronwin's interest in a partnership to the Maes was set aside as fraudulent; Ronwin appeals from a $25,000 judgment for punitive damages; and the Maes appeal from the dismissal of their counterclaims for slander of title and fraud. In this opinion, Ronwin and the Maes will sometimes be referred to collectively as "Appellants."

The instant dispute had its genesis in a suit filed in Iowa by National Child Care, Inc. (a corporation in which Ronwin was the sole shareholder) against Robert P. Dickinson and Janet K. Dickinson (the "Dickinsons"). Trial of that case began on May 20, 1991 and concluded on May 30 when the trial court directed a verdict for the Dickinsons. On September 27, 1991, the Iowa trial court entered a $20,000 judgment in favor of the Dickinsons against Ronwin, and a $10,000 judgment against Ronwin in favor of the Legal Aid Society (Legal Aid) as sanctions in connection with the Iowa suit. 1

The Dickinsons and Legal Aid commenced efforts to collect the judgments, which included pursuing Ronwin to South Dakota and Minnesota. In 1993, those efforts moved to Missouri when they registered the judgments in this state. In July, 1993, they filed suit in Camden County against Ronwin and Arkiana, an Iowa general partnership, alleging that Arkiana was the owner of certain Camden County real estate (Lot 38-C). They sought a judgment declaring that Ronwin was the sole remaining partner in Arkiana, that the partnership had been dissolved, and ordering execution against Lot 38-C to satisfy their judgment.

The Maes were subsequently joined as defendants, and an amended petition was filed adding a count for fraudulent transfer in which it was alleged that Ronwin had transferred his interest in Arkiana to the Maes with the intent to hinder, delay or defraud his creditors. Maes filed counterclaims alleging fraud and slander of title. All of the claims except the original declaratory judgment action were severed for trial at a later time. The declaratory judgment action was heard on April 18, 1994 and resulted in a judgment holding that Arkiana was an existing partnership, but that Ronwin had transferred all of his interest in that partnership to Maes in May, 1991. 2

In May, 1995, trial was held on Dickinsons' and Legal Aid's claim against Ronwin for fraudulent transfer, and on Maes' counterclaims against Dickinsons and Legal Aid for fraud and slander of title. The following is the pertinent factual history relating to those claims.

Arkiana began with a partnership agreement between Ronwin and Melvin Lynn, Jr. in May, 1982. Apparently, the sole asset of Arkiana was Lot 38-C, which consisted of 22 acres on the Lake of the Ozarks with 450 feet of lake frontage. In June, 1985, Lynn transferred all of his interest in Arkiana to Ronwin. At the same time, Ronwin sold Maes a 5% interest in the partnership for $5,000. In July, 1988, Maes purchased another 5% for $6,500. The testimony indicated that Ronwin and Maes had been close friends for several years.

Ronwin testified that he orally agreed to transfer his remaining 90% interest in Arkiana to Maes on May 4 or 5, 1991, approximately two weeks before trial of the case against the Dickinsons was to commence in Iowa. Ronwin later signed an unacknowledged document entitled "Conveyance Of Partnership Interest" which stated that he was thereby transferring and conveying all of his interest in Arkiana to Maes. The document was dated May 29, 1991, the day before the Iowa trial court directed a verdict for Dickinsons. In support of their claim that Ronwin intended to defraud them by transferring his 90% interest in Arkiana, the Dickinsons and Legal Aid presented evidence that this transfer occurred after Ronwin was told that sanctions would be sought against him at the conclusion of the Iowa trial.

Ronwin testified that the consideration for the May, 1991 transfer was $9,500, $5,000 of which he received in cash when the oral agreement was made, $2,500 paid in cash in October, 1991, and $2,000 paid by check in November, 1992. According to Ronwin, the property was then worth $250,000 (it was listed for sale at that amount in November, 1991), but additional consideration for the transfer included the fact that he had stayed at Maes' Arizona home during visits for several years, thereby saving the expense of staying at hotels.

The Maes' counterclaims for slander of title and fraud are based on quitclaim deeds which were attached as exhibits to the Dickinsons' and Legal Aid's petition for declaratory judgment. We need not further develop the facts relating to these counterclaims because of our determination that issues stemming from their resolution have not been adequately preserved and presented for our review.

On July 27, 1995, the trial court, by its judgment, found that Ronwin conveyed his interest in Arkiana with the intent to hinder, delay and defraud creditors, declared the transfer of Ronwin's 90% interest in Arkiana as null and void, charged Ronwin's interest in Arkiana with the Iowa judgments plus interest, and ordered an execution sale. It also entered a $25,000 judgment against Ronwin for punitive damages. In disposing of Maes' counterclaims, the court found that they had failed to prove the elements of fraud and slander of title and dismissed them.

JURISDICTIONAL ISSUE

Before discussing the merits of this appeal, it is first necessary that we consider matters relating to its unique procedural history. After the trial court entered the judgment referred to above (Judgment No. 1), Appellants filed a timely motion for new trial which was argued and taken under advisement on October 10, 1995. On October 25, 1995, the trial court made the following docket entry:

The Court sets aside its judgment of 7-27-95 solely for the reason that the Court's father went into the hospital for emergency surgery that was life threatening. The Court was unable to address the issues on the motions until after the time period would have expired. Therefore, the Court is setting aside the judgment solely for the purpose of being able to consider the motions.

On November 7, 1995, Appellants filed a notice of appeal from the July 27, 1995 judgment (Case No. 20589).

The trial court then entered an Amended Judgment and Order on November 22, 1995 (Judgment No. 2) in which it explained its docket entry and made certain revisions to its original judgment. Appellants also filed a motion for new trial directed to Judgment No. 2. After that motion was overruled, Appellants filed a notice of appeal with reference to Judgment No. 2 (Case No. 20691). There are, therefore, two appeals filed in this case.

The trial court retains control of its judgment and may, upon notice and for good cause, vacate, reopen, correct, amend, or modify it during a period of thirty days following its entry. Rule 75.01. 3 During that thirty-day period, the trial court may, on its own initiative, also order a new trial "for any reason for which it might have granted a new trial on motion of a party...." Id. After the thirty-day period, however, the trial court's jurisdiction over its judgment is confined to the grant of relief sought by a party in an after trial motion and for the reasons presented in that motion. State ex rel. Missouri Highway & Transp. Comm'n v. Christie, 855 S.W.2d 380, 382 (Mo.App.W.D.1993); Kincaid Enterprises, Inc. v. Porter, 812 S.W.2d 892, 895 (Mo.App.W.D.1991); Hopkins v. North American Co. for Life & Health Ins., 594 S.W.2d 310, 317 (Mo.App.S.D.1980).

In the instant case, the order entered by the trial court on October 25 was more than thirty days after it entered Judgment No. 1, and was for reasons not contained in the after trial motion. That order was, therefore, void. Hopkins v. North American Co. for Life & Health Ins., 594 S.W.2d at 317. We treat it as having no legal force or effect, absolutely null, and without legal efficacy. See K & K Investments, Inc. v. McCoy, 875 S.W.2d 593, 596 (Mo.App.E.D.1994). Being void, the court's order did not rule the motion for new trial. Pursuant to Rule 78.06, the motion for new trial is, therefore, considered as having been overruled for all purposes ninety days after it was filed, to wit: November 2, 1995. These circumstances, together with the Appellants' timely notice of appeal from Judgment No. 1, results in that judgment being before this court for review.

Judgment No. 2 was entered more than thirty days after the entry of Judgment No. 1, after Judgment No. 1 became final, and after a timely notice of appeal had been filed. It was, therefore, also void and a nullity. See Mercantile Trust Co. v. Holst, 665 S.W.2d 370, 371 (Mo.App.E.D.1984).

OTHER PRELIMINARY MATTERS

Other preliminary matters must also be discussed. Ronwin, who represented that he is a member of the bar of Iowa, filed a statement with the trial court pursuant to Rule 9.03 in which he identified a Missouri attorney as associate counsel in the case. That attorney later filed an entry of appearance. Because of questions raised by this court at oral argument concerning whether Ronwin could appear on behalf of Maes in addition to himself, he has now filed a motion requesting that we...

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