ST. LOUIS — A Missouri appeals court has made permanent a preliminary ruling in a judge substitution case.
The Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District found that St. Charles County Circuit Court Judge Matthew Thornhill lacked the authority to deny a plaintiff's request for a change of judge.
Acuity, a Mutual Insurance Company, had sought to substitute Thornhill in a case involving default judgment entered in its favor and against Troop Brothers Inc., according to the ruling issued April 11.
Acuity received default judgment on April 18, 2016, more than a month after defendant Troop Brothers had been served with Acuity's petition for recovery, the ruling said.
Later, Troop Brothers filed for and was granted a motion to set aside the judgment on Aug. 8.
Months passed and the case was not set for trial but Troop Brothers' motion hearing was set for Jan. 9.
Three days before the motion hearing, Acuity filed for change of judge, which Thornhill denied, the ruling said.
Acuity argued that a state statute identified as 517.061 in part allows a party to apply for a change of judge or venue no later than five days before the date set for trial.
The judge, however, argued that the statute cited by Acuity needed to be "read in harmony" with Rule 51.05(b), which "permits a change of judge when the application is filed within sixty days from service of process of thirty days from the designation of the trial judge, whichever time is longer," according to the ruling.
Thornhill rejected Acuity’s request for substitution, stating that it was "filed out of time."
The Court of Appeals sided with Acuity.
"Relator (Acuity) properly cited 517.061 as the law applicable to its application for change of judge in this case and Respondent (Thornhill) lacked the authority to deny it," the ruling said.