Div. of Child Support Enforcement, Hill, v. Hill

Decision Date22 May 2001
Docket NumberWD58578
PartiesState of Missouri, ex rel., Division of Child Support Enforcement, and Brett C. Hill, a Minor, by Alexa Hightower as next friend, and Alexa Hightower, Respondent, v. Marc E. Hill, Appellant. WD58578 Missouri Court of Appeals Western District 0
CourtMissouri Court of Appeals

Appeal From: Circuit Court of Jackson County, Hon. William F. Mauer

Counsel for Appellant: Troy L. Daugherty

Counsel for Respondent: Clinton Adams, Jr.

Opinion Summary: Marc E. Hill appeals the dismissal of his motion for relief from a paternity judgment entered in December 1990. On appeal, he claims that his motion was not barred by the applicable statute of limitations.

Division One holds: The trial court erred in dismissing Mr. Hill's motion for relief from the paternity judgment on the basis that it was barred by the five-year statute of limitations. His motion was not one to declare the nonexistence of the father and child relationship under section 210.826.1, RSMo Supp. 1988, because he was not a "presumed" father as that term was defined in section 210.822.1(1), (2), or (3), RSMo Supp. 1988. Therefore, the statute of limitations contained in section 210.826.1(2), RSMo Supp. 1988, does not govern. Rather, the trial court should have treated Mr. Hill's motion as an independent action in equity to set aside the judgment on the basis of extrinsic fraud pursuant to Rule 74.06(d), because the allegations in Mr. Hill's motion sufficiently pled an equitable claim for relief from the judgment on this basis.

Patricia Breckenridge, Judge

Marc E. Hill appeals the dismissal of his motion for relief from a paternity judgment. On appeal, he claims that his motion was not barred by the applicable statute of limitations. Because this court finds that the trial court erred in not treating Mr. Hill's motion as an independent suit in equity to set aside the paternity judgment on the basis of extrinsic fraud, the judgment of the trial court dismissing his motion is reversed and the cause is remanded.

Factual and Procedural Background

In December 1990, the Director of the Missouri Division of Child Support Enforcement (Director) entered a "Judgment and Order-Paternity" finding that Mr. Hill was the father of Brett C. Hill, born August 22, 1988. The judgment was based upon Mr. Hill's signed statement in which he agreed that he was Brett's natural father and that he owed an obligation to pay child support for Brett. This judgment was subsequently filed in the Jackson County Circuit Court. In June 1995, the Director ordered Mr. Hill to pay child support for Brett in the amount of $275 per month, provide health insurance for Brett, and be responsible for paying 100% of Brett's medical expenses not covered by insurance. Simultaneously, the Director entered an order directing that Mr. Hill's income be withheld to satisfy the child support obligation. These orders were also filed in the Jackson County Circuit Court.

On March 10, 1999, Mr. Hill filed a motion for relief from the December 1990 paternity judgment. In his motion, he alleged that he had recently submitted himself and Brett to paternity testing, and the paternity test conclusively established that he was not Brett's father. Mr. Hill alleged that Brett's mother, Alexa Hightower, had fraudulently misrepresented to the Director, the court, and Mr. Hill at the time the December 1990 paternity judgment was entered that Mr. Hill was Brett's father. Specifically, he alleged that prior to the entry of the December 1990 consent judgment, Ms. Hightower misrepresented to the Director, the court, and Mr. Hill that she had submitted Brett to paternity testing, and that the test had established that Mr. Hill was Brett's father. Mr. Hill claimed that he consented to the 1990 paternity judgment because of Ms. Hightower's misrepresentation regarding the results of the alleged paternity test. Mr. Hill asked the court to vacate the December 1990 paternity judgment pursuant to Rule 74.06(b) on the basis of fraud, misrepresentation, and the misconduct of the adverse party, Ms. Hightower.

Mr. Hill subsequently filed a motion for summary judgment. In his motion, he alleged that there were no genuine issues of material fact, and that he was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on his motion for relief from the December 1990 paternity judgment. Again, he asked that the court vacate the paternity judgment on the basis of fraud, misrepresentation, and Ms. Hightower's misconduct.

Ms. Hightower then filed a motion to dismiss Mr. Hill's motion for relief from the paternity judgment. In her motion, Ms. Hightower argued that the trial court should dismiss Mr. Hill's motion on three bases: (1) the motion was time-barred under section 210.826, RSMo Supp. 1988, of the Uniform Parentage Act because that statute required that an action to declare the nonexistence of the presumed father's father-child relationship be brought no later than five years after the child's birth, and the child turned five on August 22, 1993; (2) Mr. Hill had no cause of action under section 210.826 because that statute applied only to presumed fathers as defined in section 210.822, and Mr. Hill did not meet any of the definitions of a "presumed" father, but rather was an "adjudged" father; (3) principles of res judicata and collateral estoppel applied to bar any litigation after the December 1990 paternity judgment on the issue of Brett's paternity.

Mr. Hill filed suggestions in opposition to Ms. Hightower's motion to dismiss. In his suggestions, Mr. Hill argued that the limitation in section 210.826.1, RSMo Supp. 1988, did not apply to bar his cause of action because the statute was amended in 1993 to abolish the five-year statute of limitations, and the amendment became effective prior to Brett's turning five years old. Mr. Hill also contended that he had standing to bring an action to declare the non-existence of the father and child relationship under section 210.826 because he met the definition of a "presumed" father under section 210.822. Finally, Mr. Hill argued that the principle of res judicata did not apply to bar his claim because of Ms. Hightower's fraud in obtaining the December 1990 judgment.

In response, Ms. Hightower filed a supplemental motion to dismiss Mr. Hill's motion. In her supplemental motion, Ms. Hightower argued that the 1993 amendment to section 210.826 became effective after Brett's fifth birthday and, therefore, the 1988 version, with its five-year statute of limitations, applied. Ms. Hightower also added a fourth basis for dismissing Mr. Hill's motion, which was that Mr. Hill's motion was untimely filed under Rule 74.06(c). Ms. Hightower argued that Mr. Hill was seeking to vacate the December 1990 paternity judgment on the bases of fraud, misrepresentation, or other misconduct of an adverse party under Rule 74.06(b), and Rule 74.06(c) requires that any motion to vacate a judgment or order on those bases must be made "not later than one year after the judgment or order was entered." Since Mr. Hill's motion was made more than eight years after the entry of the December 1990 paternity judgment, Ms. Hightower asked that the court dismiss his motion.

On January 21, 2000, the court entered a judgment overruling, among other motions, Mr. Hill's motion for summary judgment. The judgment read as follows:

JUDGMENT

Respondent/Movant's MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT OR, IN THE ALTERNATIVE, MOTION FOR INTERLOCUTORY ORDER OF DEFAULT FOR FAILURE TO FILE AN ANSWER OR IN THE ALTERNATIVE, MOTION FOR INTERLOCUTORY ORDER OF DEFAULT FOR FAILURE TO SUBMIT TO BLOOD TESTS coming on for hearing, the Court reviewing suggestions in support, suggestions in opposition and the respondent's reply suggestions. Reluctantly, the Court must overrule respondent's motion for summary judgment, for interlocutory order of default and also for interlocutory order of default for failure to submit to blood tests. The Statute in question's effective date was August 28, 1993. The child in question here came within the old Statute. This Court, therefore, has no jurisdiction with respect to the paternity issue. The Court notes, however, that the respondent does have a cause of action for fraud against the petitioner if in fact the facts alleged herein are true.

/s/ ______________

Mr. Hill filed this appeal.

The January 21, 2000 Judgment was Final and Appealable

In phrasing all four of his points on appeal, Mr. Hill alleges error in the trial court's overruling his motion for summary judgment on his motion for relief from the December 1990 paternity judgment. The denial of a motion for summary judgment is not an appealable order. Betts-Lucas v. Hansen, 31 S.W.3d 484, 485 (Mo. App. 2000). This is because the denial of a summary judgment motion is not a final judgment. Gorman v. Farm Bureau Town & Country Ins. Co., 977 S.W.2d 519, 527 (Mo. App. 1998). At oral argument, both parties asserted, however, that the ruling appealed from in this case did more than just overrule Mr. Hill's motion for summary judgment. The parties contended that the ruling implicitly granted Ms. Hightower's motion to dismiss and, therefore, the ruling constitutes a final and appealable judgment.

When undertaking to understand the meaning of a judgment, this court makes its own independent assessment, since "[c]onstruction of a court order is a question of law." Jacobs v. Georgiou, 922 S.W.2d 765, 769 (Mo. App. 1996). "The general rules of construction for written instruments are used to construe court judgments." Dover v. Dover, 930 S.W.2d 491, 495 (Mo. App. 1996). Thus, the test for whether an ambiguity exists is whether the judgment "is reasonably susceptible to different constructions." See Disabled Veterans Trust v. Porterfield Constr., Inc., 996 S.W.2d 548, 552 (Mo. App. 1999). In construing an ambiguous judgment, this court's task "is to ascertain the intention of the [trial] court in entering the order." Jacobs, 922 S.W.2d at 769. The words and clauses used in a judgment are to be...

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