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After My Truong's home was foreclosed on, a trustee's sale was held, and Fannie Mae purchased Truong's home. Despite the sale, Truong continued to maintain possession of his home. Fannie Mae filed a petition for unlawful detainer. The circuit court granted Fannie Mae's motion for summary judgment and awarded Fannie Mae $6,000 in damages. Truong appealed, challenging the constitutional validity of Mo. Rev. Stat. 534.010, among other things. The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal for lack of appellate jurisdiction, holding that Truong's failure to apply for a trial de novo pursuant to Mo. Rev. Stat. 512.180.1, prior to seeking relief in the Supreme Court, deprived the Court of the authority to adjudicate his claims.Receive FREE Daily Opinion Summaries by Email
SUPREME COURT OF MISSOURI
MY QUANG TRUONG,
Appeal from the Circuit Court of Jefferson County
The Honorable Ray Dickhaner, Judge
Opinion issued March 6, 2012
My Truong (hereinafter, “Truong”) appeals the grant of summary judgment in
favor of Fannie Mae on its unlawful detainer action. Truong raises five points on appeal.
Truong’s first three points challenge the constitutional validity of section 534.010, RSMo
2000, 1 on equal protection, substantive due process, and procedural due process grounds.
Truong’s remaining points attack inconsistencies among the statute, the rules of civil
procedure, and case law. Truong’s failure to apply for a trial de novo pursuant to section
512.180.1, prior to seeking relief in this Court, deprives this Court of the authority to
adjudicate his claims. The appeal is dismissed for lack of appellate jurisdiction.
All statutory references are to RSMo 2000 as updated by RSMo Supp. 2010.
Factual and Procedural History
Truong purchased a home in Imperial, Missouri, in March 2006 and executed a
deed of trust in connection with the purchase that was duly recorded. In early 2010,
Truong encountered difficulty in paying his mortgage.
Truong entered into a loan
modification agreement with his lender in an effort to become current under his mortgage
obligation. Truong left the United States to visit Vietnam in August 2010 and did not
return until September 9, 2010. In his absence, he received several letters at his home.
Two letters were dated August 4, 2010.
One letter contained a permanent loan
modification approval. The second letter contained a notice of default. A letter dated
August 9, 2010, was a notice of foreclosure. A letter dated August 17, 2010, provided
notice of a trustee’s sale.
On September 10, 2010, one day after Truong returned home and received the
letters, the trustee’s sale took place. Fannie Mae was the successful purchaser of the
property and obtained a trustee’s deed for Truong’s property. Despite the sale, Truong
continued to maintain possession of his home.
On September 22, 2010, Fannie Mae filed its petition for unlawful detainer,
asserting it had the legal right of possession to the property and that Truong unlawfully
and wrongfully possessed the property. The petition alleged Fannie Mae had been
damaged for lost rents and profits. Fannie Mae filed a motion for summary judgment
against Truong, along with a statement of uncontroverted facts. Truong filed his answer,
raised affirmative defenses and counterclaims, and requested a jury trial.
answer included all of the constitutional and procedural claims he raises on appeal.
A hearing on the motion for summary judgment was held January 18, 2011. Prior
to the hearing, Truong filed a motion in opposition to Fannie Mae’s summary judgment
motion, a statement of uncontroverted facts, and a response denying several of Fannie
Mae’s uncontroverted facts. Truong raised constitutional and procedural claims during
the hearing and asserted he was the rightful owner of the property because he was current
on his mortgage payments. Fannie Mae argued the injection of the facts concerning title
and loan modification issues went beyond the scope of the unlawful detainer action and
should not be considered.
The associate circuit judge was mindful of the statutory requirements for an
unlawful detainer action but expressed concern about the fairness of the proceedings
given the recent economic climate. The judge stayed the proceedings for thirty days so
that Truong could file the appropriate action in circuit court challenging title to his home.
When Truong’s counsel indicated she was “not sure how this will work on appeal,” the
associate circuit court stated, “Well, like I said earlier, it’s still an unlawful detainer
[action]. And you don’t have any appeal to the Court of Appeals. You’ve got a de novo
right, and you’re going to have to post a bond to keep possession.” Truong did not file
any action in civil court during the thirty day stay.
On February 28, 2011, the associate circuit judge granted Fannie Mae’s motion for
summary judgment, denied Truong’s constitutional and procedural challenges, and
awarded Fannie Mae $6,000 in damages. Fannie Mae obtained possession of Truong’s
home on March 31, 2011. Instead of applying for a trial de novo in the circuit court,
Truong filed a notice of appeal with this Court. This appeal follows.
Standard of Review
This Court is a court of limited appellate jurisdiction. Mo. Const. art. V, sec. 3;
Alumax Foils, Inc. v. City of St. Louis, 939 S.W.2d 907, 910 (Mo. banc 1997). It is
incumbent upon this Court to examine its jurisdiction sua sponte. Spicer v. Donald N.
Spicer Revocable Living Trust, 336 S.W.3d 466, 468 (Mo. banc 2011). If this Court
lacks jurisdiction to entertain an appeal, the appeal must be dismissed.
Lensmeyer, 158 S.W.3d 218, 222 (Mo. banc 2005).
Fannie Mae argues this Court should dismiss this appeal for two reasons. Since
Fannie Mae’s first argument is dispositive, the second ground for dismissal need not be
addressed. Fannie Mae argues Truong’s failure to apply for a trial de novo in the circuit
court deprives this Court of the authority to hear his appeal directly.
In Missouri, the right to appeal is purely statutory, and “where a statute does not
give a right to appeal, no right exists.” Farinella v. Croft, 922 S.W.2d 755, 756 (Mo.
banc 1996). After entry of judgment in an unlawful detainer action, section 534.380
provides, “Applications for trials de novo and appeals shall be allowed and conducted in
the manner provided in chapter 512, RSMo.”
Section 512.180 governs the relief
available to a party aggrieved by a judgment in a civil case tried before an associate
circuit judge and provides two forms of relief. First, section 512.180.1 states, “Any
person aggrieved by a judgment in a civil case tried without a jury before an associate
circuit judge ... shall have the right of a trial de novo in all cases tried ... under the
provisions of chapters 482, 534, and 535, RSMo.” Second, section 512.180.2 provides,
“In all other contested civil cases tried with or without a jury before an associate circuit
judge … any person aggrieved by a judgment rendered in any such case may have an
appeal upon that record to the appropriate appellate court.”
Truong believes this Court has original, exclusive appellate jurisdiction to
adjudicate this issue because his appeal is a constitutional challenge to the validity of the
unlawful detainer statutes.
Undoubtedly, this Court has exclusive jurisdiction to
determine the constitutional validity of a state statute pursuant to article V, section 3 of
the Missouri Constitution. Franklin County ex rel. Parks v. Franklin County Com’n, 269
S.W.3d 26, 29 (Mo. banc 2008). However, “proper appeal from a judgment entered by
an associate circuit judge rests on the facts and not on labels.” Farinella, 922 S.W.2d at
757 (quoting Federated Mortgage & Investment Co. v. Jones, 850 S.W.2d 113, 115 (Mo.
App. W.D. 1993)). This Court must conduct a fact-specific inquiry to ascertain if the
facts bring the case within section 512.180.1 or section 512.180.2. Id. Then it can be
determined whether the case is properly before this Court.
The primary rule of statutory construction is to ascertain the intent of the
legislature from the language used, to give effect to the intent if possible, and to consider
the words in their plain and ordinary meaning. Riverside-Quindaro Bend Levee Dist. v.
Intercontinental Engineering Mfg. Corp., 121 S.W.3d 531, 533 (Mo. banc 2003). A plain
reading of the express statutory language of section 512.180.1 requires the aggrieved
party to apply for a trial de novo when there is a judgment entered in a civil case tried
without a jury before an associate circuit judge under the provisions of chapters 482, 534,
and 535, RSMo. It is undisputed Truong was aggrieved by the associate circuit division’s
judgment entered against him in Fannie Mae’s unlawful detainer action, which is
governed by chapter 534.
What is disputed is whether the unlawful detainer action was “tried” for purposes
of section 512.180.1. Truong asserts the case was not “tried” because he requested a jury
trial but did not receive one because the associate circuit judge entered summary
judgment in Fannie Mae’s favor. As a result, Truong believes the appropriate remedy
was to file a direct appeal instead of an application for a trial de novo.
Within the context of section 512.180, a case is “tried” when there is a full
disposition of issues in the case, whether disposed of on issues alleged in the pleadings or
on the basis of preliminary motions. See Prosser v. Derickson, 1 S.W.3d 608, 609 (Mo.
App. W.D. 1999) (case dismissed with prejudice was “tried” and sole recourse was
application for a trial de novo pursuant to section 512.180.1), and Tittsworth v. Chaffin,
741 S.W.2d 314, 316-17 (Mo. App. S.D. 1987) (case was “tried” when dismissed for
failure to prosecute and remedy was application for a trial de novo).
Here, the associate circuit judge granted Fannie Mae’s motion for summary
judgment, which fully disposed of the unlawful detainer action and denied Truong’s
constitutional and procedural claims. Thus, the case was “tried” without a jury for
purposes of section 512.180. Cf. S & P Properties, Inc. v. Bannister, 292 S.W.3d 404,
409 (Mo. App. E.D 2009) (case not “tried” when summary judgment did not dispose of
damages issue in unlawful detainer action).
Therefore, applying the clear statutory
language of section 512.180.1, Truong was required to apply for a trial de novo, not seek
an appeal to this Court.
We acknowledge Truong has been dispossessed of his home and firmly believes
he can demonstrate his legal right to possession is superior to that of Fannie Mae. In light
of this assertion, this Court laments the harshness of this result. Unlawful detainer
proceedings are summary in nature and the ordinary rules and proceedings of other civil
actions do not apply.
S & P Properties, 292 S.W.3d at 408; Lake in the Woods
Apartment v. Carson, 651 S.W.2d 556, 558 (Mo. App. E.D. 1983). However, this Court
is required to apply the clear statutory language of section 512.180.1 in determining what
Truong’s appropriate remedy was when seeking review of the associate circuit judge’s
Truong’s failure to avail himself of the appropriate remedy is fatal to his
appeal with this Court. “An appeal without statutory sanction confers no authority upon
an appellate court except to enter an order dismissing the appeal.” Farinella, 922 S.W.2d
at 757-58. The appeal is dismissed.
GEORGE W. DRAPER III, JUDGE
Russell, Breckenridge, Fischer, Stith
and Price, JJ., concur; Teitelman, C.J.,
dissents in separate opinion filed.