BUCKLEY (CONNIE ELISE) VS. MORGAN (JOCELYN), ET AL.Annotate this Case
RENDERED: OCTOBER 24, 2008; 2:00 P.M.
NOT TO BE PUBLISHED
Commonwealth of Kentucky
Court of Appeals
CONNIE ELISE BUCKLEY, AKA
CONNIE ELISE BUCKLEY SNODDY
APPEAL FROM FAYETTE CIRCUIT COURT
HONORABLE SHEILA R. ISAAC, JUDGE
ACTION NO. 07-CI-00641
JOCELYN MORGAN; MATTHEW SNODDY;
AND JOSHUA SNODDY
** ** ** ** **
BEFORE: NICKELL AND THOMPSON, JUDGES; ROSENBLUM,1 SPECIAL
THOMPSON, JUDGE: Connie Elise Buckley Snoddy (Buckley) appeals from a
judgment of the Fayette Circuit Court granting partial judgment on the pleadings to
Retired Judge Paul W. Rosenblum sitting as Special Judge by assignment of the Chief Justice
pursuant to Section 110(5)(b) of the Kentucky Constitution.
Jocelyn Morgan, Matthew Snoddy, and Joshua Snoddy in a breach of contract
action. For the reasons stated herein, we affirm.
On August 27, 2006, Timothy K. Snoddy was tragically killed in the
Comair plane crash in Lexington, Kentucky. Two days later, Snoddy’s three
children, Jocelyn, Matthew, and Joshua filed a civil action to obtain control of their
father’s body and burial arrangements from Buckley. Prior to his untimely death,
Snoddy filed a divorce action against his estranged wife, Connie Buckley. On
September 7, 2006, Buckley and the children entered into a written agreement
settling their case.
The parties’ written contract provides, in pertinent part, the following:
1. In accordance with the Agreement entered into by the
parties in Fayette Circuit Court Action No. 06-CI-03690,
the remains of Timothy K. Snoddy shall be released by
the Fayette County Coroner to his surviving spouse,
Connie Elise Buckley Snoddy. Mrs. Buckley Snoddy has
exclusive rights to determine method of disposition of the
remains, to make all funeral arrangements including
choice of funeral home, to choose the officiant who may
preside over a graveside ceremony at burial, and to
choose burial site at Lexington Cemetery. Any
headstone placed at the burial site at Lexington Cemetery
shall bear only the name of Timothy K. Snoddy.
Subsequently, at Snoddy’s burial site, Buckley placed a
headstone inscribed with the following:
UNDER THE SHADOW OF
DEC. 24, 1954
AUG. 27, 2006
IN LOVING MEMORY OF
MY HUSBAND, OUR SON,
OUR DAD & OUR GRANDPA
The reverse side of the headstone is inscribed with the
I ASSURE YOU THOSE WHO
LISTEN TO MY MESSAGE
AND BELIEVE IN GOD WHO
SENT ME HAVE ETERNAL LIFE
THEY WILL NEVER BE
CONDEMNED FOR THEIR SINS
BUT THEY HAVE ALREADY
DEATH INTO LIFE
BELOVED HUSBAND, WITH YOU LIES BURIED
MANY BRIGHT HOPES AND DREAMS.
Due to their belief that the inscription on the headstone breached the
contract, on February 6, 2007, the children filed an action seeking, inter alia, its
removal under the terms of the contract. The children contended the parties’
written contract provided that the headstone could only be inscribed “Timothy K.
Snoddy.” They contended that any other inscription was in breach of the contract.
Connie Buckley denied that she breached the contract and argued for a different
Thereafter, the children moved the trial court for a partial judgment on
the pleadings. Ruling that the language inscribed on the headstone breached the
parties’ written contract, the trial court granted partial judgment to the children and
ordered the removal of the headstone. After Buckley’s motion to alter, amend, or
vacate was denied, this appeal followed.
Buckley argues that the parties’ written contract, regarding the
permissible inscription for the headstone, was ambiguous because it was subject to
multiple interpretations. Therefore, she contends that the partial judgment was
improperly granted because the trial court failed to consider her alternative
interpretation as a defense to the plaintiffs’ breach of contract claim. We disagree.
A judgment on the pleadings should only be granted if it appears that
the nonmoving party cannot prove any set of facts that would entitle her to relief.
City of Pioneer Village v. Bullitt County, 104 S.W.3d 757, 759 (Ky. 2003). The
moving party must admit the truth of the nonmovant's factual allegations and their
fair inferences and the untruth of his own allegations which have been denied by
the nonmoving party. Archer v. Citizens Fidelity Bank & Trust Company, 365
S.W.2d 727, 729 (Ky. 1963). If the motion for a judgment on the pleadings is
made by a plaintiff, the motion must be denied if any defense might be sufficient to
defeat the plaintiff’s claim. Bennett v. Bennett, 477 S.W.2d 799, 801 (Ky. 1972).
An unambiguous written contract must be strictly enforced according
to the plain meaning of the terms stated in the agreement without resorting to
extrinsic evidence. Allen v. Lawyers Mut. Ins. Co. of Kentucky, 216 S.W.3d 657,
659 (Ky.App. 2007). Even if one of the contracting parties may have intended a
different result, a contract cannot be interpreted in discordance with the plain
meaning of the terms of the contract. Abney v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 215
S.W.3d 699, 703 (Ky. 2006). The interpretation of contracts, including
determining the existence of ambiguities, is a question of law and is subject to de
novo review. Cantrell Supply, Inc. v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 94 S.W.3d 381, 385
Based on the terms of the written contract, the trial court’s ruling that
the parties’ contract prohibited the inscription of any words other than “Timothy K.
Snoddy” was correct as a matter of law. The written contract mandates, in no
uncertain terms, that “[a]ny headstone placed at the burial site at Lexington
Cemetery shall bear only the name of Timothy K. Snoddy.” The plain and
ordinary meaning of the terms of this contract prevents the inscribing of additional
language on Snoddy’s headstone. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. v. Nolan, 10
S.W.3d 129, 131 (Ky. 1999). Finally, despite Buckley’s argument that her
interpretation of the contract was not properly considered, courts cannot create
ambiguities where none exist even if a more palatable outcome results. First Com.
Bank of Prestonsburg v. West, 55 S.W.3d 829, 836 (Ky.App. 2000).
Buckley next contends that the trial court’s interpretation was
erroneous because the interpretation creates an absurd result. According to
Buckley, Lexington Cemetery requires a headstone to contain at least the
decedent’s name and date of death. Therefore, Buckley argues that the trial court’s
interpretation of the contract, permitting only the inscription of the decedent’s
name, leads to the absurd conclusion of preventing the placement of any
headstone. Contending that this result is unreasonable, Snoddy contends that her
interpretation should have been permitted. We disagree.
The fact that a contract cannot be fully performed because of a
mistaken belief regarding an existing fact does not require that the contract be
given no effect. The trial court’s statements at the hearing regarding bringing the
headstone in compliance with cemetery policy indicates that the parties’ contract
was formed under a mutual mistaken belief that a headstone inscribed with only a
name would be sufficient for placement at the cemetery. Under these
circumstances, a court usually remedies mistakes by rescinding or reforming the
contract under its equitable powers. Bradshaw v. Kinnaird, 319 S.W.2d 475, 477
(Ky. 1959). In this case, the trial court may use its equitable powers to make a
minor reformation by permitting the inscription of Snoddy’s date of death to
comply with the cemetery’s headstone policy. Hodges v. Todd, 698 S.W.2d 317,
320 (Ky.App. 1985).
For the foregoing reasons, the judgment of the Fayette Circuit Court is
BRIEFS FOR APPELLANT:
BRIEF FOR APPELLEES:
Bruce A. Rector
Joyce A. Merritt