In the Matter of Catherine Beyersdorfer

Decision Date26 June 2001
Docket NumberWD58816
PartiesIn the Matter of Catherine Beyersdorfer, Incapacitated and Disabled. Gloria Kupneski, Respondent, v. Peter Beyersdorfer, Appellant. WD58816 Missouri Court of Appeals Western District 0
CourtMissouri Court of Appeals

Appeal From: Circuit Court of Clay County, Hon. James E. Welsh

Counsel for Appellant: James Cary Thompson

Counsel for Respondent: John R. Shank

Opinion Summary: Peter Beyersdorfer appeals the judgment of the Probate Division of the Circuit Court of Clay County appointing the respondent, Gloria Kupneski, guardian and conservator of the estate of her daughter and the appellant's wife, Catherine Beyersdorfer, who was found by the court to be totally incapacitated and disabled as a result of an automobile accident.

The appellant raises two points on appeal. In Point I, he claims that the probate court of Clay County erred in failing to transfer Catherine's guardianship and conservatorship proceeding to Ray County, finding that venue was proper in Clay County, because in doing so, it misapplied section 475.035.1, which governs venue for the appointment of a guardian or conservator. In Point II, he claims, in the alternative, that, even if venue was proper in Clay County, the probate court erred in appointing the respondent as Catherine's conservator because the record would not support the requisite finding that her appointment was in the best interests of the estate.

Division III holds: The respondent in this case filed a motion to dismiss on two grounds, which was taken with the case. First, that since the appellant was not a party to this action, he had no right or standing, pursuant to section 512.020, to appeal the probate court's order appointing her guardian and conservator. However, appeals in cases involving an adjudication of the mental condition of any person alleged to be incapacitated or disabled are controlled by section 472.170.1, not section 512.020. Under section 472.170.1, any relative, including a spouse, has standing to appeal a final adjudication of a probate court appointing a guardian and conservator. Given our disposition of the case, the respondent's second ground for dismissal is moot.

Because we find that Point I is dispositive of the appeal, we address it alone. In Point I, the appellant claims that the probate court of Clay County erred in failing to transfer Catherine's guardianship and conservatorship proceeding to Ray County, finding that venue was proper in Clay County, because in doing so, it misapplied section 475.035.1, which governs venue for the appointment of a guardian or conservator. Specifically, the appellant claims that this statute provides for a hierarchical determination of venue. We agree.

Section 475.035.1(1) states that venue shall be "[i]n the county in this state where the . . . alleged incapacitated or disabled person is domiciled." Section 475.035.1(2) then begins, "If the minor or alleged incapacitated or disabled person has no domicile in this state, then . . . ." Giving the language in these sections its plain and ordinary meaning, it is clear and unambiguous that the legislature intended that if the alleged incapacitated or disabled person is domiciled in a county in this state, venue would lie in that county, and the alternative counties of venue provided in section 475.035.1(2) would not lie. Further, section 475.035.1(2) goes on to provide that "if [the minor or alleged incapacitated or disabled person] does not reside in any county, then [venue will lie] in any county wherein there is any property of the minor or alleged incapacitated or disabled person." Thus, we read this statute as establishing a hierarchy such that venue would first lie in the county of domicile; if the person is not domiciled in this state, then in the county of residence; and if the person does not reside in this state, then in the county wherein there was any property of the person.

As to the ambiguity that results from reading section 475.035.1(1) and (2) together with section 475.035.1(3), this ambiguity is a direct result of the fact that subdivision (3) does not contain any language conditioning its application, but rather simply states that venue will lie "[i]n the county, or on any federal reservation within the county, wherein the minor or alleged incapacitated or disabled person or his or her property is found," suggesting that it is to apply without condition or limitation. However, inasmuch as statutes are not read in isolation, and such a reading is contrary to the clear intent of subdivisions (1) and (2), we are convinced that the legislature could not have logically intended for subdivision (3) to apply without being limited by the provisions of subdivisions (1) and (2). As to the other contradiction in section 475.035.1, namely the fact that subdivisions (2) and (3) are contradictory as to when venue is proper in a county wherein the property of the alleged incapacitated or disabled person can be found, we believe that the plain intent and apparent purpose of the legislature to establish a hierarchy of alternative venue sites in proceedings to appoint a guardian or conservator can only be accomplished by modifying the language of subdivision (3) to include conditional language such as that found in subdivisions (1) and (2) and striking the language, "or his or her property," as improvidently inserted surplusage. Accordingly, subdivision (3) would be read as providing that venue would lie in a county in which the alleged incapacitated or disabled person can be found, provided it is first determined that he was not domiciled in this state; was not a resident of this state; and had no property in this state.

Finally, in arguing against an interpretation of the statute finding a hierarchy for determining venue, the respondent points out that in 1999, this statute was amended to add section 475.035.1(4), which reads: "In a county of this state which is within a judicial circuit which has prior and continuing jurisdiction over the minor pursuant to subdivision (1) of subsection 1 of section 211.031, RSMo." In this regard, the respondent asserts, "[b]y clear expression, the Legislature has determined that venue may be in more than one county." We disagree. Our reading of subdivision (4) indicates that it is clear and unambiguous on its face, that with respect to guardianship and conservatorship proceedings involving minors under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court, venue is proper either in a county determined pursuant to the hierarchy of subdivisions (1), (2) and (3) or in a county as determined in subdivision (4). As such, we recognize that the language of subdivision (4) creates an exception to the hierarchy of the first three subdivisions, but it does not persuade us that it evinces an intent not to create the hierarchy, given the obvious contradictions between subdivisions (1) and (2) and subdivision (3).

Given our interpretation of the statute, Judge Maloney, having found on May 9, 2000, that Catherine's domicile was in Ray County at the time the probate proceeding in question was filed, should have granted the appellant's motion to transfer the proceeding to Ray County. Thus, the Probate Division of the Circuit Court of Clay County, thereafter, lacked authority to take any further action in the case other than to transfer it to Ray County. As such, the proceeding before Judge Welsh on July 5, 2000, and his orders resulting therefrom were null and void, requiring us to reverse and remand so that the case can be transferred to Ray County.

Ulrich, P.J., and Newton, J., concur.

Edwin H. Smith, Judge

Peter Beyersdorfer appeals the judgment of the Probate Division of the Circuit Court of Clay County appointing the respondent, Gloria Kupneski, guardian and conservator of the estate of her daughter and the appellant's wife, Catherine Beyersdorfer (Catherine), who was found by the court to be totally incapacitated and disabled as a result of an automobile accident.

The appellant raises two points on appeal. In Point I, he claims that the probate court of Clay County erred in failing to transfer Catherine's guardianship and conservatorship proceeding to Ray County, finding that venue was proper in Clay County, because in doing so, it misapplied section 475.035.1,1 which governs venue for the appointment of a guardian or conservator. In Point II, he claims, in the alternative, that, even if venue was proper in Clay County, the probate court erred in appointing the respondent as Catherine's conservator because the record would not support the requisite finding that her appointment was in the best interests of the estate.

We reverse and remand.Facts

The appellant and Catherine were married on April 8, 1987. There was one child born of the marriage, Katrina Beyersdorfer. At all times after their marriage, the appellant and Catherine lived together as husband and wife. During the ten years prior to Catherine's accident, they resided together at 16351 Joy Drive, Lawson, Ray County, Missouri. The residence was a mobile home, which they owned.

On February 1, 2000, Catherine was seriously injured in a car-train collision at a railroad crossing in Clay County. The couple's daughter, Katrina, was killed in the collision. As a result of the accident, Catherine sustained a severe head injury, which resulted in brain damage and other bodily injuries. Catherine was taken to North Kansas City Hospital for emergency treatment and care. She remained in a coma there for some time. After awakening from the coma, she was transferred to the Mid-America Rehabilitation Institute in Overland Park, Kansas. At some point, she was transferred to St. Luke's Northland Hospital located in Smithville, which is in Clay County. Catherine was released sometime in mid-May 2000 and went to live with the respondent, whose residence was located in Clay County.

In mid-March 2000, the appellant rented a two-bedroom apartment in Clay County, signing a one-year lease in both his and Catherine's...

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