Pauli v. Spicer, No. ED 101231.

CourtCourt of Appeal of Missouri (US)
Writing for the CourtPHILIP M. HESS, Judge.
Citation445 S.W.3d 667
PartiesDebra S. PAULI and Steven G. Spicer, Appellants, v. Gwen SPICER, Respondent.
Docket NumberNo. ED 101231.
Decision Date14 October 2014

445 S.W.3d 667

Debra S. PAULI and Steven G. Spicer, Appellants
Gwen SPICER, Respondent.

No. ED 101231.

Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, Division Two.

Oct. 14, 2014.

445 S.W.3d 669

Gregory G. Fenlon, Fenlon & Fenlon, Clayton, MO, for Appellants.

Ronald S. Ribaudo, The Ribaudo Law Firm, Ballwin, MO, for Respondent.



In this declaratory judgment action, Debra Pauli and Steven Spicer (Plaintiffs) seek to set aside as and void the St. Louis Circuit Court's January 22, 2008 judgment (2008 judgment), which effectively quieted title to certain real property in Gwen Spicer (Defendant).1 After a bench trial, the trial court entered a judgment in favor of Defendant, which denied Plaintiffs the declaratory relief requested and had the effect of making the 2008 judgment binding on Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs raise four points on appeal, claiming that the trial

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court's judgment is erroneous because: (1) Plaintiffs were “necessary and indispensable” parties to the prior quiet title action, but were never made parties to that lawsuit, and the 2008 judgment is, therefore, void; (2) Plaintiffs, as non-parties to the quiet title action, are not bound by the 2008 judgment because they were neither identified nor served in that action; (3) the trial court entered the 2008 judgment against the Donald N. Spicer Revocable Living Trust (Trust), which is a “non-suable entity” and, thus, the 2008 judgment is void; and (4) the trial court erred by failing to rule on Plaintiff Pauli's request for findings of fact. Because Plaintiffs were necessary and indispensable parties to the prior quiet title action, but were never made parties to that action, the 2008 judgment is void. Accordingly, we reverse and remand.

Factual Background

Because the facts pertinent to this case have already been summarized in previous litigation, we quote the relevant portions of that background here:

Several years after [Defendant] and Donald Spicer (“Donald”) were married, they purchased real property located at 5367 Southview Hills Court in St. Louis, Missouri. Marital difficulties ensued, causing [Defendant] to move into a separate home, while Donald continued to reside on the property.
On or about May 31, 2007, Donald executed a General Warranty Deed, purportedly conveying a one-half undivided interest in the property unto the [Trust] dated February 7, 2002. Donald died July 3, 2007, while he and [Defendant] were still lawfully married. Per the [T]rust provisions, [Plaintiff] ... Spicer became the successor trustee of the trust. [Spicer v. Donald N. Spicer Revocable Living Trust, 336 S.W.3d 466, 467 (Mo. banc 2011) (footnote omitted) (hereinafter “Spicer I .”).]

After Donald's death, counsel for the Trust held a meeting where counsel informed Plaintiffs and Defendant that Donald had conveyed his one-half interest in the marital home to the Trust.

Prior Quiet Title Action


[Defendant] filed a petition to quiet title on August 21, 2007, naming the [T]rust as the sole defendant. The petition, in essence, sought to have the deed canceled, alleging that [Defendant] and Donald had purchased the home as tenants by the entirety and, upon Donald's death, she lawfully became the sole and fee simple owner of the property. Further, [Defendant] maintained that she had never executed a marital waiver, consent, conveyance or the like in connection with the property. Counsel [for the Trust] entered and filed an answer on the [T]rust's behalf, stipulating to the bulk of [Defendant]'s petition, but contending that the deed effectively operated as a unilateral termination of the tenancy by the entirety.
Three months later, [Defendant] filed a motion for summary judgment, praying that the deed be canceled.... The trial court granted [Defendant]'s motion on January 22, 2008, ordering the deed be canceled....
Sixteen days later, the trustee [Plaintiff Spicer], who was not named in the pleadings, filed a “Motion of Trustee, Appearing by Special Appearance, to Set Aside Judgment and to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction”.... [Plaintiff Spicer's] Motion asserted that “the only defendant before the [c]ourt is the [T]rust....” As such, [Plaintiff Spicer's] Motion argued that the [T]rust was not a legal entity capable of being sued and
445 S.W.3d 671
that the failure to either name the trustee or the beneficiaries as parties, [i.e., Plaintiffs,] who the trustee alleged were necessary parties, was a jurisdictional defect in the case.
On February 25, 2008, 34 days after ... entry [of the 2008 judgment], the court granted the Trustee's Motion to set aside [the 2008 judgment], but declined to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction. Additionally, the court ordered [Defendant] to amend her pleadings to include the trustee. After [Defendant] filed amended pleadings to include the trustee and certain beneficiaries of the trust, the case proceeded.
Just before trial was to commence, attorneys for both sides engaged in a series of settlement negotiations. Although a purported settlement was reached between the attorneys, [Defendant] denied its validity. [Plaintiff Spicer] and [other beneficiaries] filed a motion to enforce the alleged settlement. After an evidentiary hearing, the trial court found that the parties had reached a valid settlement. Accordingly, on June 24, 2009, the trial court ordered the parties to sign a consent order and judgment. [Spicer I, 336 S.W.3d at 467–68.]

Spicer I

Defendant appealed the trial court's June 24, 2009 judgment. The Supreme Court granted transfer and, in Spicer I, held that the 2008 judgment was the final judgment in the quiet title action and concluded that it must dismiss the appeal because that judgment was not timely appealed. Spicer I, 336 S.W.3d at 467. The Court explained that the trial court had no authority to set aside the 2008 judgment when it did so on February 25, 2008 because, at that point (more than thirty days after entry of the 2008 judgment), the trial court had lost jurisdiction over the case. Id. at 470 (citing Rule 75.01 and 81.05(a)(1)). The Court rejected the claim that Plaintiff Spicer's motion to dismiss constituted an authorized after-trial motion that operated to extend the trial court's jurisdiction in excess of thirty days because, under the court rules, such motions must be filed by a party. Spicer I, 336 S.W.3d at 470. Because Plaintiff Spicer was not a party to the quiet title action, the Court concluded that Plaintiff Spicer's motion had not triggered the extension of jurisdiction permitted by Rule 81.05(a)(2), and the trial court's 2008 judgment became final after thirty days of its entry, making all orders entered thereafter void. Spicer I, 336 S.W.3d at 470–71. The Court also dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction because notice of appeal from the 2008 judgment was filed in excess of a year after the judgment became final. Id. at 471–72.2

Subsequent Declaratory Judgment Action

Approximately one month after the Supreme Court's decision in Spicer I, Plaintiffs filed the instant declaratory judgment action seeking an order and judgment that the 2008 judgment is void and without force and effect.3 The petition specifically alleged:

445 S.W.3d 672
22. In [the prior quiet title] lawsuit, the trial court entered [the 2008 judgment] cancelling the deed from Donald ... to the Trust.

23. At the time the [2008 judgment was] entered, only the Trust was a named party and defendant.
24. A trust is not a suable entity.
25. Plaintiffs ... were not parties to the lawsuit when the judgment was entered.
26. Plaintiffs ... should have been parties to the lawsuit as they were necessary and indispensable parties.
27. The court realized the absence of the plaintiffs and set aside [the 2008 judgment] but by the time the trial court recognized its error, the trial court had lost jurisdiction to correct the erroneous judgment.
28. The ... [2008 judgment] is and void as a matter of law.

After a bench trial in January 2013, at which Plaintiffs and Defendant testified, the trial court denied Plaintiffs the requested relief. The trial court's judgment provided:

Neither plaintiff was a party to the [2008 judgment]. Plaintiffs herein assert they have not had their day in Court regarding whether the General Warranty Deed ... validly operated to give them an interest in the [subject] property. This exact issue was considered by Judge Ross in his [2008 judgment]. Judge Ross found the ... General Warranty Deed could not operate to change the joint tenancy with right of survivorship character of the ... property. Whether Plaintiffs could have had

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