McClelland v. Williamson

Decision Date04 January 1982
Docket NumberNo. 12092,12092
Citation627 S.W.2d 94
PartiesEliza Maye McCLELLAND and Herschel Butler, Plaintiffs-Respondents, v. Bill WILLIAMSON, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtMissouri Court of Appeals

W. Swain Perkins, Thayer, for plaintiffs-respondents.

Russell A. Ward, Hyde, Purcell, Wilhoit, Edmundson & Merrell, Poplar Bluff, for defendant-appellant.

TITUS, Judge.

Plaintiff Maye McClelland owned a 402 acre farm on which grew walnut and oak trees. Her brother, plaintiff Herschel Butler, maintained five colonies of bees on the farm. Ralph Underwood owned 460 acres lying immediately south of plaintiff Maye McClelland's farm. Defendant, a veteran airplane pilot, operated a aerial crop dusting and chemical defoliant business. In June 1976, Underwood hired defendant to aerially apply chemical defoliant to timber growing on his property and defendant spent parts of three days on the task. Claiming that defendant had negligently permitted the defoliant to spread onto the 402 acre farm, plaintiffs sued for damages allegedly resulting to their trees and bees. The case was court-tried and the court, in its "Conclusions of Law" found "that defendant negligently and carelessly conducted a spraying operation" and as a direct result plaintiff Maye McClelland suffered $17,500 in damages and plaintiff Herschel Butler was damaged in the amount of $900. Judgment was entered accordingly and defendant appealed.

In this court-tried case "(o)ur review is governed by Rule 73.01, V.A.M.R., as set forth in Murphy v. Carron, 536 S.W.2d 30 (Mo. banc 1976), and we are not to disturb the lower court's judgment unless it is against the weight of the evidence, is not supported by substantial evidence, or erroneously declares or applies the law. Before we conclude a judgment in a court-tried case is against the weight of the evidence we must entertain a firm belief the judgment is wrong. And, we are to give due regard to the opportunity to the trier of fact to have adjudged the credibility of the witnesses. The trial court's resolution of conflicting evidence is to be accorded due deference by the reviewing court. Trenton Trust Co. v. Western Sur. Co., 599 S.W.2d 481 (Mo. banc 1980)." Commerce Bank of Poplar Bluff v. Bulger, 614 S.W.2d 768, 769(1-3) (Mo.App.1981). Furthermore, the trial judge has leave to believe all, part or none of the testimony of any witness (Long v. Lincoln, 528 S.W.2d 512, 513 (Mo.App.1975) ) and where there is a conflict in the testimony, we assume the trial court believed the testimony consistent with its findings. Chicago Title Ins. Co. v. First Missouri Bank of Jefferson County, 622 S.W.2d 706, 707 (Mo.App.1981).

Among defendant's points relied on in this appeal are complaints of the trial court's failure to make specific findings of fact upon several enumerated factual issues in the case. Plaintiffs in their brief counter with the assertion that the findings of fact and conclusions of law by the trial court were made by it voluntarily and not by request. Therefore, plaintiffs say, defendant may not complain of the failures of which he now contends and that voluntary findings and conclusions are not reviewable here and present no questions for our consideration. If plaintiffs' assertions were true their pronouncements would be correct. Key v. Gregory, 553 S.W.2d 329, 333(4) (Mo.App.1977). However, plaintiffs are mistaken. On page 183 of the transcript on appeal, defendant's counsel is shown, at the conclusion of all of the evidence, as stating to the court: "We would request ... the Court to make findings of fact and conclusions of law." This, in our opinion, constituted a general request for findings as required by former Rule 73.01(1)(b), V.A.M.R.

Defendant's above quoted request must be considered in conjunction with the just cited rule. The rule provides that if requested to do so before final submission, the court shall give a brief opinion containing a statement of the grounds for its decision and the method of determining damages awarded. Under the rule, the court need not make findings on any controverted fact issues except such "as have been specified by counsel." As defendant did not specify any controverted fact issues nor request findings thereon, the trial court may not successfully be charged with error for not making specific findings which were not requested. Snider v. Snider, 570 S.W.2d 770, 774-775(2) (Mo.App.1978). Nevertheless, the last sentence of the rule serves to emasculate that which proceeds it. Even had defendant specifically requested findings on any controverted fact issues, the court's failure to comply would not constitute reversible error for in such a situation "(a)ll fact issues upon which no specific findings are made shall be considered as having been found in accordance with the result reached." First Florida Building, Inc. v. Safari Systems, Inc., 570 S.W.2d 728, 730(1) (Mo.App.1978), and cases there cited.

In an apparent effort not to run afoul of the mandatory requirements of Rule 84.04(d), V.A.M.R., defendant's four points relied on are extremely prolix. Defendant's first two points, which relate only to issues between himself and plaintiff Eliza Maye McClelland, are chiefly concerned with the alleged failure of the trial court to make specific findings of fact and conclusions of law concerning certain controverted fact issues which defendant did not specify in his general request. As just observed, the court was not required to make specific or detailed findings of controverted fact issues under a sweeping request "to make findings of fact and conclusions of law." Also as noted, even if such specific requests had been made but went unanswered, we still must consider all fact issues to have been resolved "in accordance with the result reached." Former Rule 73.01(1)(b), V.A.M.R.

Defendant asseverates in his initial two points that the court nisi erred in not making findings from which the court could determine what damages, if any, plaintiff Eliza McClelland sustained or that her damages resulted from negligently conducting the spraying operations. Further, defendant says, the court made no findings of fact from which specific damages could be determined because it did not find the number of ornamental and shade trees or the number of nonornamental walnut and oak trees that were damaged or the amount said trees were damaged when reduced to a specifically found market value of plaintiff's land. Defendant asserts the court further erred because it failed to find the number of board feet in the damaged trees and the value thereof before and after the spraying and the cost of removing and marketing the trees and the salvage value of the damaged timber.

In its written conclusions of law, the trial court specifically found "that defendant negligently and carelessly conducted a spraying operation ... on the Ralph Underwood Farm ... and that the use of chemical defoliant ... imposes upon the defendant a duty to use said chemical in such a way that innocent parties do not suffer any damage and that in the absence of due care, the defendant becomes liable for any resulting damages and that the plaintiffs herein suffered damages as a direct result of defendant negligently permitting the chemical ... to escape from defendant's possession and control and onto plaintiff's land and as a direct result, Plaintiff Eliza McClelland suffered ... ($17,500.00) in damages and Plaintiff Herschell Butler suffered ... ($900.00) in damages."

To our mind the foregoing constitutes a finding that defendant was negligent and as a direct result thereof plaintiffs were damaged in the sums stated. None of defendant's four points relied on question the amount the trial court found that plaintiff Butler had been damaged. Defendant only objects to the findings and conclusions as they relate to damages awarded plaintiff McClelland. In substance, plaintiffs' expert witness Crigler testified 40 mature walnut trees at a value of $187 each had been damaged and that 310 immature walnut trees, each with a value of $15 had been...

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  • Estate of Dawes, In re
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals
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    ...purely chaff from the true grains contained in the evidence and come by that which is to be properly considered." McClelland v. Williamson, 627 S.W.2d 94, 99 (Mo.App.1982). We have already stated our conclusion that, upon consideration of the matters set out in Creager, 453 S.W.2d at 944, D......
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    ...trier, the testimony of a single witness is sufficient to establish any fact, including the amount of damages.” McClelland v. Williamson, 627 S.W.2d 94, 98 (Mo.App.1982); see also Roark Printing, Inc. v. Worm World, Inc., 974 S.W.2d 613, 615 (Mo.App.1998). Sellers' first complaint is that t......
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