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Law School Case Brief

J.C.W. v. Wyciskalla - 275 S.W.3d 249 (Mo. 2009)


Because the authority of a court to render judgment in a particular case is, in actuality, the definition of subject matter jurisdiction, there is no constitutional basis for a third jurisdictional concept called "jurisdictional competence" for statutes that would bar litigants from relief. Elevating statutory restrictions to matters of "jurisdictional competence" erodes the constitutional boundary established by Mo. Const. art. V, as well as the separation of powers doctrine, and robs the concept of subject matter jurisdiction of the clarity that the constitution provides. If "jurisdictional competence" is recognized as a distinct concept under which a statute can restrict subject matter jurisdiction, the term creates a temptation for litigants to label every statutory restriction on claims for relief as a matter of jurisdictional competence. Missouri courts should confine their discussions of circuit court jurisdiction to constitutionally recognized doctrines of personal and subject matter jurisdiction; there is no third category of jurisdiction called "jurisdictional competence."


Respondent Jason L. Wyciskalla filed several motions to prevent the relocation of J.C.W. and T.D.W., his minor children, with their mother, appellant Kelly Webb. He also sought modification of the parties' consent order, sole legal and joint physical custody, and a reduction of his child support obligation. The Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Missouri, vested joint legal and physical custody in both parents and eliminated the Wyciskalla's child support obligation. Webb appealed. On review, Webb asserted that because Wyciskalla owed more than $ 10,000 in arrearages at the time of filing, he was prohibited by Mo. Rev. Stat. § 452.455.4 (2000) from filing a petition for modification of child custody or support without posting a bond. She argued that the trial court, therefore, erred in granting relief to Wyciskalla.


Did the trial court err in granting the Wyciskalla's motions?




The state supreme court found that because neither party requested a recalculation of arrearages in their pleadings, neither party presented evidence at the modification hearing regarding the amount of arrearages owed by Wyciskalla. Thus, without specific evidence regarding the arrearage calculation, the trial court's conclusion that Wyciskalla owed nothing in child support arrearage was unsupported by the evidence. Without sufficient evidence to determine the amount of arrearages owed by Wyciskalla, the supreme court could not determine whether his motion to modify was barred by § 452.455.4 in the absence of a bond. Because it was unclear from the record whether § 452.455.4 applied, the supreme court could not consider Wyciskalla's challenge to the constitutional validity of the statute. Thus, Wyciskalla's challenge to the statute was not ripe, the judgment of the circuit court was vacated, and the case was remanded to determine whether the challenged statute applied.

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