Long v. Cross Reporting Service, Inc., WD 61272.

Decision Date25 February 2003
Docket NumberNo. WD 61272.,WD 61272.
Citation103 S.W.3d 249
PartiesElgie L. LONG, Sr., et al., Appellants, v. CROSS REPORTING SERVICE, INC., et al., Defendants, Funeral Directors Service, Inc.; Carol Franke Walsh; and William Stephen Nixon, Respondents.
CourtMissouri Court of Appeals

Dennis J. Campbell Owens, Albert W.L. Moore, Jr., Kansas City, MO, for Appellants.

Kendall Paul Day, Kansas City, MO, for William Stephen Nixon.

Carol F. Walsh, Kansas City, MO, for Carol Walsh and Funeral Directors Service.


THOMAS H. NEWTON, Presiding Judge.

The Long Family ("appellants") seeks a review of the trial court's judgment, which dismissed their petition and awarded sanctions against their attorney.


The underlying Petition, upon which the instant matter is based, is a suit initiated by appellants in 1997 seeking damages for the loss of a watch owned by Garold Long, deceased. That Petition alleged that Funeral Directors Service, Inc., Kansas City Funeral Directors, Inc., and Thaddeus Lee Rogers ("Respondents") were liable for the loss of this watch because it was lost while respondents had the care of Garold Long's body preparing for his funeral. This lawsuit was brought on behalf of appellants by two attorneys ("lead counsel" and "secondary counsel") who practice in the Kansas City area.

The merits of this case were never heard, however, because the trial court dismissed the Petition with prejudice. That dismissal was appealed before this Court, and we affirmed the trial court's dismissal of the Petition. See Long v. Funeral Dirs. Serv., Inc., 96 S.W.3d 885 (Mo.App.W.D.2002).

During the pre-trial stages of that lawsuit, a discovery dispute arose that led to the new petition. This dispute involved the medical history of the deceased and was related to the deceased's HIV status (which still remains an unresolved question to this day). The Honorable W. Stephen Nixon ruled against appellants on that issue. In this Petition, it was alleged that the Jackson County Circuit Court (Division 5), the Honorable W. Stephen Nixon presiding, "failed and refused to enforce §§ 191.6561 and 196.657 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri [that pertain to the disclosure of medical records regarding an individual's HIV status], the Missouri discovery rules and the Constitutions of Missouri and the United States of America." Accordingly, this suit sought an injunction and damages against Judge Nixon. This suit also named a host of other parties including the following: Cross Reporting Service, Inc.; William V. Denton; Poe & Company Electronic Reporting; Funeral Directors Service, Inc.; Thaddeus Lee Rogers; Kansas City Funeral Directors, Inc.; Carol Frankie Walsh, Esq.; Sue Langston-Ames; Rhonda S. Loepke, Esq.; and Ivra Cross.

Respondents filed individual motions to dismiss the Petition. The trial court dismissed appellants' Petition against Judge Nixon in a written order on November 21, 2001, and found that Judge Nixon was shielded by judicial immunity. Following this ruling, appellants filed a Motion for Dismissal Without Prejudice as to the remaining defendants on January 23, 2002, which was subsequently granted by the trial court.

During this litigation on the pleadings, the respondents filed separate motions for sanctions against appellants' attorneys as listed on the Petition. On December 28, 2001, the trial court issued a written order granting the motion, as it pertained to Carol Franke Walsh and Funeral Directors Service, Inc., for sanctions against the attorneys as listed on the instant Petition. On January 23, 2002, the trial court held an evidentiary hearing on Judge Nixon's motion for sanctions, and, on January 25, 2002, the trial court issued a written order granting this motion for sanctions in favor of Judge Nixon.

On the issue of damages in regard to the sanctions, the trial court set a separate hearing to resolve that dispute. On February 26, 2002, the trial court issued a written judgment awarding sanctions against appellants' lead counsel, in the sum of $14,264.80 to Carol Walsh and Funeral Directors Services, Inc., and $7,188.01 to Judge Nixon. Furthermore, on the basis of the evidence at the hearing, the trial court amended its December 28, 2001, order of sanctions against appellants' secondary counsel. During that evidentiary hearing, it was not disputed that the secondary counsel did not authorize his name on the pleadings. Moreover, lead counsel admitted that he did so without secondary counsel's authorization. Accordingly, the award of sanctions issued by the trial court was amended to reflect liability for attorney's fees against lead counsel only.

This appeal followed.2

Appellants bring two points on appeal. In Point I, it is asserted that the trial court erred "in dismissing the claims against the respondents because the appellants stated a valid cause of action in the plain language of the law [that] supports the appellants' claims against respondents." In Point II, it is further argued that the trial court erred "in awarding sanctions against [appellants' attorney], in favor of Judge Nixon, Attorney Walsh, and Funeral Directors Service, Inc., because [the attorney] did not violate Rule 55.03,3 in that the plain language of existing law warrants the claims raised by [attorney's] petition, and the appellants' claim for injunctive relief had a cognizable legal basis under § 191.656."


In Point One, appellants argue that the trial court erred in dismissing the Petition. In reviewing the trial court's grant of a motion to dismiss "we engage in an essentially de novo review of an issue of law." In re Swearingen, 42 S.W.3d 741, 745 (Mo.App. W.D.2001). We assume all facts alleged are true and construe the allegations favorably to the plaintiff. Id. Ultimately, "we review the petition to determine whether it invokes principles of substantive law and whether the facts alleged, if proven, would entitle the plaintiff to relief." Id. at 746.

In actuality, Point I raises the limited question of whether the trial court erred in dismissing the Petition as it relates to Judge Nixon. As previously mentioned, after the trial court ruled that appellants did not bring a viable suit against Judge Nixon, appellants filed a motion voluntarily dismissing the suit as it pertained to the remaining defendants.4 The trial court dismissed, in its November 21, 2001, order, appellants' petition against Judge Nixon on the basis that "judges acting within their official capacity are immune from civil liability." (citing Nelson v. McDaniel, 865 S.W.2d 747, 748 (Mo.App. W.D.1993)). It is true that "[a] judge with subject matter jurisdiction has judicial immunity from all actions taken, even when acting in excess of his jurisdiction." State ex rel. Raack v. Kohn, 720 S.W.2d 941, 944 (Mo. banc 1986). "Judicial immunity exists not for the protection or benefit of a malicious or corrupt judge, but for the benefit of the public, in whose interest it is that the judges should be at liberty to exercise their functions with independence and without fear of consequences." Id. (citations and quotations omitted).

The basis of appellants' suit against Judge Nixon was that he violated the provisions of §§ 191.656 and 191.657 because he "was unauthorized to order disclosure of this HIV related information," and, therefore, Judge Nixon's judicial immunity had been abrogated by his conduct as a judge. What this "HIV related information," as the appellants call it, consists of is still a mystery to this date. As the trial court states in its judgment, at no time have the appellants alleged that the deceased, Garold Long, was in fact HIV positive. Instead, in their brief before this Court, appellants argue that "WTI using the phrase `an individual's HIV infection status,' the Missouri General Assembly's plain language indicates that an individual is protected from disclosure of the fact he or she is positive or negative." (emphasis added). Although we hold reservations as to whether this broad interpretation of the statute is accurate (that those not infected with HIV somehow have a protectable right under the relevant statute), we need not address that issue. Under our standard of review, the sole question presented for review is whether, assuming arguendo Judge Nixon somehow misapplied the statute in the pre-trial stages of appellants' suit against the funeral home, that error by Judge Nixon would justify legal action notwithstanding the well developed doctrine of judicial immunity? After reviewing the well-established case law on this issue, we must answer that question in the negative.

The United States Supreme Court, in Pierson v. Ray, discussed the doctrine of judicial immunity in the following passage:

Few doctrines were more solidly established at common law than the immunity of judges from liability for acts committed within their judicial jurisdiction. ... This immunity applies even when the judge is accused of acting maliciously and corruptly.... It is a judge's duty to decide all cases within his jurisdiction that are brought before him, including controversial cases that arouse the most intense feelings in the litigants. His errors may be corrected on appeal, but he should not have to fear that unsatisfied litigants may hound him with litigation charging malice or corruption. Imposing such a burden on judges would contribute not to principles and fearless decision-making, but to intimidation.

386 U.S. 547, 553-554, 87 S.Ct. 1213, 18 L.Ed.2d 288 (1967) (citations and quotations omitted). It cannot be questioned that Missouri courts have embraced these propositions of law wholeheartedly. "So long as a judge does not act wholly without jurisdiction, judicial immunity protects him or her...

To continue reading

Request your trial
8 cases
  • White v. White
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals
    • June 23, 2009
    ...not to plead further[.]" Doe v. Visionaire Corp., 13 S.W.3d 674, 676 (Mo.App. E.D. 2000); see also Long v. Cross Reporting Servs., Inc., 103 S.W.3d 249, 252-53 n. 4 (Mo.App. W.D.2003). Thus, the dismissal of Leslea's petition is appealable even though it was without III. Standard of Review ......
  • Mottl v. Lawyer Trust Account Foundation
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals
    • March 23, 2004
    ...case. Id. (quoting Nazeri, 860 S.W.2d at 306). An order granting a motion to dismiss is reviewed de novo. Long v. Cross Reporting Serv., Inc., 103 S.W.3d 249, 252 (Mo.App. W.D.2003), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 124 S.Ct. 471, 157 L.Ed.2d 374 (2003). All factual allegations are assumed to be......
  • Edwards v. Gerstein, No. WD 66678 (Mo. App. 12/26/2006)
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals
    • December 26, 2006
    ...de novo. Mottl v. Mo. Lawyer Trust Account Found., 133 S.W.3d 142, 145 (Mo. App. W.D. 2004) (citing Long v. Cross Reporting Serv., Inc., 103 S.W.3d 249, 252 (Mo. App. W.D. 2003)). Quasi-Judicial Immunity and Official In their motion to dismiss, the Board members argued they were entitled to......
  • Dorsch v. Family Medicine, Inc.
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals
    • January 25, 2005
    ...The decision of a trial court to impose sanctions is reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard. Long v. Cross Reporting Serv., 103 S.W.3d 249, 254 (Mo.App. W.D.2003). "An abuse of discretion occurs when the court's order is clearly against the logic of the circumstances and is so arbit......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT