In Schnurbusch v. West Plains Regional Animal Shelter et al., after a trial court had dismissed a case for failure to state a claim, the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case, because the trial court dismissed the case based on evidence outside of the pleadings without having before it a fully developed summary judgment-type record.
Schnurbusch initially arose from claims by a landscaping company and its owners against a city for failing to enforce its zoning laws against an animal shelter and the resulting alleged nuisance. The dispute with the city involved a protracted court battle spanning several years, a jury trial, and an appeal, and the filing of a separate lawsuit against the animal shelter. The parties filed many motions and cross-motions, including a motion to dismiss by the animal shelter which attached three exhibits. The trial court granted the motion and dismissed the petition, relying on the exhibits attached to the motion.
The plaintiffs appealed the trial court’s decision to dismiss their petition arguing that Rule 55.27(a) required that it treat the animal shelter’s motion like a summary judgment motion under Rule 74.04. The Court of Appeals agreed in clear and forceful terms, relying on well-established precedent that once a trial court considers materials outside of the pleadings in ruling on a motion to dismiss, it automatically gets converted into a motion for summary judgment. Thus, the trial court erred by failing to compel the parties to comply with the procedural requirements of Rule 74.04. The Court of Appeals also reiterated that the procedural requirements of Rule 74.04 are strict and must be followed, which was not done in this case. Here, there was no statement of uncontroverted material facts or legal memorandum explaining why summary judgment should be granted. Indeed, the Court of Appeals found no evidence that the trial court gave the plaintiffs a chance to present additional materials facts to controvert the exhibits presented by the animal shelter. Thus, the Court found there was no Rule 74.04 record for its review, and sent the case back to the trial court for further proceedings under Rule 74.04.
The lesson of Schnurbusch is clear: the procedure of Rule 55.27(a) for handling a motion to dismiss that brings in matters outside of the pleadings is not discretionary with the trial court, and a trial court’s failure to require the parties to comply with the procedure of Rule 74.04 as stated in that rule will result in reversal.