Def. Judgment Survives Shooter’s Incompetency

     KANSAS CITY, Mo. (CN) — A state appeals court upheld a civil summary judgment against a man who shot his two neighbors, finding that the man’s mental incompetency in the criminal trial is not enough to set aside the civil judgment.
     On Jan. 21, 2014, Jeffrey Wahl entered Carl and Pamela Bryant’s home and shot them. Both Bryants suffered life-threatening injuries.
     Later that day, Wahl was arrested and charged with two counts each of First Degree Assault and Armed Criminal Action.
     On Jan. 24, 2014, the Bryants filed a civil lawsuit against Wahl seeking damages from the shootings. Wahl was served with the petition while being held in the Jackson County Detention Center.
     On Feb. 26, 2014, Wahl was determined to be mentally incompetent to stand trial and was ordered to the Department of Mental Health in Fulton, Mo.
     During the course of the civil case, Wahl was served with pleadings at the Jackson County Detention Center and at the Fulton State Hospital. He never responded.
     On May 27, 2014, a trial court granted a default judgment against Wahl for $5 million. Following the judgment, the Bryants executed on $90,938 in funds confiscated from Wahl’s home when he was arrested.
     In April 2015, Wahl filed a motion to set aside the default judgment. He claimed that his mental incompetency was good cause for failing to respond to the civil lawsuit and he argued that the Supreme Court rules that govern default judgments are unconstitutional as applied to him because they provide no additional protections to incompetent persons.
     The trial court rejected the motion, finding that Wahl failed to verify and support his motion with sworn testimony.
     Wahl appealed to the Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District, where on Tuesday a three-judge panel affirmed the trial court’s ruling.
     “While Wahl is correct that a meritorious defense need only be an ‘arguable theory,’ it must have some basis in reality,” Judge Gregory D. Witt wrote. “There was nothing in the Motion or the facts before the trial court to suggest that Wahl’s allegation that discovery may reveal affirmative defenses was anything more than wild speculation.”
     In upholding the constitutionality of the Supreme Court rules regarding default judgments, the appeals court noted that the civil case was heard in a different court than the criminal case and therefore the civil court had no knowledge of Wahl’s incompetency.
     “Wahl’s sole argument as to violation of his constitutional due process and equal protection rights is that Missouri’s default judgment rules do not protect the rights of an incompetent person by requiring the appointment of a guardian prior to entering a default judgment,” Witt wrote. “This is clearly not the case and, as such, his claim is without merit. Wahl fails to address how a trial court is supposed to magically make such a determination of competency when the defending party fails to file an answer or appear before the court.”
     Presiding Judge Karen King Mitchell and Judge Cynthia L. Martin concurred.

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