MFA Co-op. Ass'n of Ash Grove v. Elliott, 9111

CourtCourt of Appeal of Missouri (US)
Writing for the CourtHOGAN; TITUS, C.J., and STONE
Citation479 S.W.2d 129
PartiesMFA COOPERATIVE ASSOCIATION OF ASH GROVE, Missouri, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Willie ELLIOTT, Defendant-Respondent, and Thelma Elliott, his wife, Defendant.
Docket NumberNo. 9111,9111
Decision Date29 March 1972

O. J. Taylor, Neale, Newman, Bradshaw, & Freeman, Springfield, for plaintiff-appellant.

Robert Stemmons, Mt. Vernon, for defendant-respondent.

HOGAN, Judge.

Plaintiff instituted this action in an effort to recover an unpaid balance of $6,540.18 for goods (mostly feed) sold and delivered to defendants. Defendants answered by pleading (1) a general denial; (2) partial breach of warranty, by way of recoupment; and (3) a three count affirmative counterclaim, the substance of which was that plaintiff had furnished defendants with impure and unwholesome cattle feed which had caused defendants' cattle to develop scours, from which several died and several more lost weight and diminished in value. Defendants prayed damages in the sum of $15,000 on their counterclaim.

On trial, the case was developed in considerable detail, but an extensive recitation of the facts is unnecessary for our purposes. Plaintiff's evidence was that defendant Willie Elliott began buying feed and other supplies on a running open account in 1961. Mr. Elliott had 'paid up fairly regularly in '61 and '62 and then in 1963, early in the year,' he began to get behind . Plaintiff introduced copies of purchase tickets, 307 in all, showing Mr. Elliott's purchases and payments from January 3, 1963, to August 6, 1968. According to Mr. Stark, plaintiff's manager, the whole balance due to the date of trial was $6,540.18, which with interest at the rate of six per cent amounted to a total of $8,178.72. Mr. Stark testified that the charges made for the feed purchased were fair and reasonable. It was shown on Mr. Stark's cross-examination that defendant Thelma Elliott had been charged with only one purchase--a hair dryer--during the whole period involved, and that her name did not appear on the plaintiff's records, although she did charge certain items to her husband's account from time to time. Plaintiff's position was that defendants' plea in recoupment and their joint assertion of a counterclaim precluded them from denying joint liability, but there was no direct evidence indicating what items--other than the hair dryer--had been ordered or purchased by Mrs. Elliott, nor was there any direct proof that she had received any benefit from her husband's livestock operation. Mrs. Elliott's testimony was that she worked in Springfield, and when she was asked '. . . do you have much of anything to do with the livestock operation out on your farm (at Ash Grove),' she answered, 'I have nothing to do with it.'

It was also brought out on Mr. Stark's cross-examination that plaintiff had received a complaint about some feed from Mr. Elliott and that Mr. Stark and a 'field man' from MFA ahd gone to the Elliott farm on July 15, 1968, to investigate the complaint. They examined the feed, found that some of it was stale, and advised Mr. Elliott to mix it with some fresh feed. According to Mr. Stark, the feed was 'musty smelling' but not moldy. There was other evidence from the plaintiff's witnesses concerning the composition of the feed, the process by which it was manufactured, and the nature of Mr . Elliott's complaint, but again it is unnecessary to state that evidence in detail.

The gist and substance of the defendants' evidence was that in July 1968, Mr. Elliott was dealing in registered cattle and had some registered heifers on his farm near Ash Grove. The heifers weighed about 800 pounds apiece. Mr. Elliott was considering a 'production sale' because the heifers were fat and in excellent condition. Finding that he was out of feed, Mr. Elliott ordered feed from the plaintiff, which was delivered on a Friday. This feed had a distinct odor, noticeable several feet from the barn to which it was delivered. Mr. Elliott was obliged to use the malodorous feed 'that night' (Friday) because 'the other stores were closed and it was that or they had to do without.' The next morning he again fed his heifers the same feed, and '(f)iver o'clock Sunday morning they had the scours.' Later, when Mr. Elliott examined the feed, 'it showed sign of a mold which in similar comparison would be that that forms on light bread. I mean it would be--well, I don't know how to describe it, hairy or fuzzy or wooly, if you like to use that word.' When the feed was broken up, '(y)ou would notice a little protrusion that would seem to be (growing) from (the) lump as you would break it apart.' As noted, the cattle which ate this feed developed scours and '(that) lasted until five of 'em died . . . (and) it was the last of November of the first of December before they began any improvement in the others.' Mr. Elliott complained to the plaintiff and asked Mr. Stark to have some of the impure feed analyzed. Stark refused, stating that an analysis was unnecessary because 'he (Stark) could tell by smellin' it that there wasn't nothing wrong with the feed outside of it was fermented.' Stark suggested that the fermented feed be mixed with other, fresh feed, which was delivered. Thereafter, Mr. Elliott purchased no feed from the plaintiff.

On the basis of his 32 years' experience in the cattle business and study undertaken since November 1968, Mr. Elliott was allowed to testify, over plaintiff's strenuous objection, that the feed he received on July 15, 1968, was impure and unwholesome and had caused five of his heifers to die and nine more to lose weight and value. He was also allowed to testify that before they became ill the heifers were worth $1,000 each. The cattle which became ill but recovered had an average value of $168.00. Mr. Elliott had, therefore, by his own testimony, suffered a loss of $12,488.00, not including the cost of treating the cattle which became ill but did not die. This, in brief resume , was the evidence presented.

At the close of the plaintiff's case, defendant Thelma Elliott moved 'to dismiss' the plaintiff's claim as to her on the ground that no account had been proven against her. Plaintiff again argued that defendants' joint answer and joint assertion of a counterclaim amounted to a judicial admission that both were liable for the whole account. The trial court, treating the motion as a motion for directed verdict and stating that it was 'not sure about the matter,' denied the motion. At the close of the defendants' case, the plaintiff moved in writing for a directed verdict in favor of the plaintiff on its claim and in favor of plaintiff on the defendants' counterclaim. This motion was also denied. Some rebuttal testimony was heard, and both parties renewed their motions for directed verdict at the close of all the evidence, defendants supplementing their earlier motion by moving for a directed verdict on their affirmative counterclaim. Both motions were again denied, and the cause was submitted on plaintiff's claim and defendants' counterclaim. The jury was instructed on and given forms of verdict for use on both the claim and the counterclaim. After some deliberation, the jury returned the following verdict:

'We, the undersigned jurors, find the issues in favor of the defendants and against the Plaintiff on defendants' counterclaim, and we assess the defendants damages at $12,100.00, with the stipulation that the defendants pay their account with Farmers Exchange of Ash Grove, Missouri, thru (sic) July 15, 1968 including interest.'

This verdict was signed by nine members of the jury and was ordered received and filed by the court.

Thereafter, and within the time specified for filing aftertrial motions, plaintiff filed a motion for judgment in accordance with its motion for directed verdict on its claim, and for a directed verdict for plaintiff and against defendants on the counterclaim, combining those motions with a motion for new trial as permitted by Rule 72.02. 1 The trial court denied the motion for new trial and denied the motion for a directed verdict on defendants' counterclaim, but entered judgment for the plaintiff against both defendants in the sum of $6,429.35 together with interest in the sum of $1,769.23. The judgment further provided that defendants have and recover the sum of $12,100.00 from plaintiff, both judgments to bear interest from the date of rendition of the jury's verdict. Plaintiff has appealed; defendants have not.

A number of points have been made and argued in this court, but no mention or complaint has been made of the form of the verdict nor of the procedure by which the final judgment was entered. The case is most unusual; in the course of a reasonably diligent research, we have found no other case procedurally comparable. While we cordially agree with the general rule that the only points for consideration on any appeal are those properly briefed in accordance with Rule 83.05, Pruellage v. De Seaton Corporation, Mo., 380 S.W.2d 403, 405(3); Ambrose v M.F.A. Co-Operative Ass'n of St. Elizabeth, Mo., 266 S.W.2d 647, 648--649(1), it is nevertheless basic and fundamental that an appeal lies only from a final judgment disposing of all parties and all issues in the case. Deeds v. Foster, Mo., 235 S.W.2d 262, 265(4). Except to the extent that entry of a judgment by the court may be authorized by Rule 72.02 when no verdict was returned by the jury, the verdict is the sole basis of the judgment to be entered in...

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