The Eastern District State Court of Appeals handed down a ruling March 19 in the Jeff Palmore litigation over funeral charges, ruling in favor the city of Pacific, sexton Alan Bruns and R. H. Bruns Vault Company.
The appeals ruling lets stand the 2008 small claims court ruling against R. H. Bruns Vault Company.
Essentially the case ended where it began in small claims court, according to Todd Hamby, Palmore’s attorney.
“The appeals court ruled that the small claims court judgment was controlling,” Hamby said. “We feel vindicated that basically the court acknowledged that the city overcharged Jeff (Palmore).”
In that case, Palmore sued the city, Bruns and the Bruns Vault Company, which Alan Bruns owns and operates, for $225 for an overcharge in a grave opening fees.
Small Claims Court Judge Stanley Williams dismissed the case against the city and the sexton, but ruled that R.H. Bruns Vault Company had to pay Palmore $225.
Under city ordinance, only the sexton can open a grave in either of the city-owned cemeteries. The fee for the disputed charge was paid to the sexton’s company, R. H. Bruns Vault Company.
Following the small claims trial, Bruns filed for a trial de novo — a circuit court trial — on behalf of R. H. Bruns Vault Company so he could appeal the small claims court ruling.
Franklin County Circuit Court dismissed Bruns’ appeal because an individual does not have the standing under Missouri law to request a trial for a corporation.
Palmore asked the court to reverse the dismissal so the case could go forward. He amended his claim to include overcharges in two additional funerals and charges for two grave spaces that he said his clients already owned, taking his total claim to $1,375.
The trial court Judge John Berkemeyer dismissed the case, ruling that Bruns’ application for a trial was not valid and that Palmore’s additional claim involved a matter that had already been adjudicated in small claims court.
The appeals judges affirmed Judge Berkemeyer’s ruling, saying the trial de novo was void and that the small claims ruling became final 10 days after it was entered.
Mayor Herb Adams said he views the ruling as a victory for the city since all judges involved dismissed the claims against the city and the sexton.
Adams said he would not comment on what happened in court between two parties — Bruns Vault Company and Jeff Palmore/Bell Funeral Home.
Speaking at the March 19 board of aldermen meeting, Palmore claimed that the appeals court ruling was a victory for him, but said the win was “bittersweet.”
He said he wanted the court to hear arguments on the merits of the case, not the legal technicalities.
Palmore has approximately one month to decide whether to accept the appeals court judgment or to ask that the case be transferred to the Missouri Supreme Court for reconsideration.