The Courts’ Rulings Are Final! Or Are They?

In cases of Juvenile misconduct, juvenile courts are charged with administering care, guidance and control that is conducive to a child’s welfare and the best interests of the state. If a minor is dissatisfied with the legal outcome of a juvenile proceeding, they may choose to appeal the ruling. However, an appeal must follow a final judgment, decree, or order from the juvenile court.

By: Harry Bell

P.D.E. v. Juv. Officer, 669 S.W.3d 129, 130 (Mo. 2023) (en banc)

I.              Introduction

            If a child is formally accused of misconduct, they are introduced to the juvenile court system.[1]  Courts with jurisdiction over these cases are tasked with administering “care, guidance and control as will conduce to the child’s welfare and the best interests of the state.”[2]  A minor, like in any civil case, may appeal a final ruling from a juvenile or family court.  In P.D.E v Juv. Officer, 699 S.W.3d 129, 130, the Supreme Court of Missouri considered the requirements for juvenile appeals and what constitutes a “final” ruling or judgment.

II.              Facts and Holding

            A Juvenile Officer alleged in an amended petition that P.D.E (“Juvenile”) unlawfully entered a building owned by Mount Vernon Church and damaged it in concert with other individuals.[3]  The Callaway County family court held an adjudication hearing on January 26, 2021 regarding the amended petition.[4]  There, Juvenile’s counsel notified the court of Juvenile’s admission to the accusations in the amended petition.[5]  The family court ultimately entered an order holding that the Juvenile Officer’s allegations were true beyond a reasonable doubt.[6]  At a dispositional hearing, held on March 2, 2021, the court ordered Juvenile to pay restitution “in an amount to be determined.”[7]  The restitution hearing occurred on July 13, 2021 at which point, the Juvenile Officer sought restitution in the amount of $4,000.[8]  Juvenile requested a reduction in restitution damages.[9]  However, after deliberation, the court set the restitution amount at $4,000 on October 6, 2021.[10]

            Subsequently, Juvenile filed a notice of appeal and sought review of the adjudication hearing and the disposition order.[11]  On a transfer to the Supreme Court of Missouri, the Court considered whether Juvenile’s appeal was procedurally untimely, given that the window for filing an appeal in juvenile court is thirty days from a “final judgment, order, or decree.”[12]  With issues of restitution being unresolved at the dispositional hearing, the Court was faced with determining the finality of the disposition order.[13]  Ultimately, the Court held that the order was final, notwithstanding the undetermined amount to be paid in restitution.[14]

III.              Legal Background

            Juvenile or family courts have exclusive original jurisdiction in proceedings “involving any child who is alleged to have violated a state law or municipal ordinance, or any person who is alleged to have violated a state law or municipal ordinance prior to attaining the age of eighteen years.”[15]

            A juvenile proceeding is civil in nature and bifurcated into two phases.[16]  First, the juvenile must attend an adjudication hearing.[17]  The court conducts this hearing to “determine what allegations in the petition or motion to modify are admitted by the juvenile and receive evidence on the allegations that have not been admitted.”[18]  Second, a dispositional hearing is held.[19]  At this hearing, the court “shall receive evidence and, in accordance with the best interests of the juvenile, determine and make findings on the legal and physical custody of the juvenile and on the services required to reunify the family.”[20]

            In the instance that the court rules against the juvenile in these proceedings, there are a litany of actions it may take to remedy any harm done to the complaining party.[21]  One such action includes an order requiring the child “to make restitution or reparation for the damage or loss caused by [their] offense.”[22]  Lastly, upon a final judgment, order, or decree, the juvenile is given thirty days to appeal the findings of the court that presided over the aforementioned bifurcated proceedings.[23]  All judgments, orders, and decrees must be final, meaning that “all the issues before the court have been disposed of and nothing is left for determination.”[24]

IV.              Instant Decision

            In P.D.E. v. Juv. Officer, the Supreme Court of Missouri held that subsequent to the dispositional hearing by the lower court, all statutory requirements under Chapter 211 and requirements of the Missouri Rules of Practice and Procedure in Juvenile Courts and Family Court Divisions were satisfied.[25]  As a result, the lower court’s orders/judgments were final and ripe for appellate review after the dispositional hearing.  Thus, the juvenile’s notice of appeal in October 2021 was untimely.[26]

A.    Majority Opinion

            The majority ruled that the lower court abided by the directives outlined in the Missouri Statutes and Rules of Practice/Procedure.[27]  First, the court noted that the statute does not expressly define “final judgment, decree, or order.”[28]  However, it stated that “finality” in a juvenile court differs from the meaning of finality in an ordinary civil case.[29]  The court cited an appellate decision to support its rationale.[30]  The referenced caselaw states that the standard for a “final” judgment in a juvenile matter differs from that under general civil law.[31] “The very nature of a juvenile proceeding entails an ongoing case which does not result in a ‘final’ order, as that term is generally defined.”[32]  The court opined that because juvenile cases are ongoing and subject to modification, a final judgment, decree, or order is not “final” in actuality.[33]  Next, the court ruled that neither the Missouri Rules of Practice and Procedure or Chapter 211 require a specific restitution amount to be determined in a disposition hearing, and the lower court had no obligation to settle on an amount at that phase of the proceeding.[34]  Lastly, the court pointed out that dilatory decision making in these circumstances is not beneficial for the welfare of the child and it hinders efficient resolution of the Juvenile Officer’s claim.[35]

B.    Dissenting Opinion

            In the dissenting opinion, Judge Breckenridge reiterated that a final judgment means that no issues are left for future determination.[36]  The dissent argued that the majority misapplied the law when stating that the meaning of “final” is dissimilar to its meaning in ordinary civil litigation.[37]  The dissent noted that the case law cited by the majority was not insinuating that there need not be a final judgment, decree, or order.[38]  Rather, it simply clarified that a juvenile court maintains jurisdiction over a case even after final judgment is ordered.[39]  Judge Breckenridge stressed that the case law referenced by the majority emphasizes that “continuing jurisdiction over a child [] does not defeat a right to appeal” from a final order.[40]  The dissent acknowledged the legitimacy of the majority’s concern that prompt closure of a case may be beneficial for the welfare of the child and speedy resolution of a Juvenile Officer’s petition.[41]  However, the dissent suggests that these considerations should not lead to a disregard for procedural requirements.[42]  The dissent is adamant that the statute unequivocally permits a juvenile to appeal a “final” order resolving the juvenile officer’s delinquency petition.[43]  Judge Breckenridge found that a “final” order was not issued until October 6, 2021, when the restitution amount was determined.[44]

V.              Comment

            The majority’s ruling in this case was contrary to the law regarding the appellate process and may lead to negative outcomes moving forward.  The majority claims that due to the lower court’s ability to maintain jurisdiction over a matter and modify existing orders, the statute does not actually require finality in judgment orders.[45] This is simply incorrect. The statutory language states:

            An appeal shall be allowed to the child from any final judgment, order or decree made under the provisions of this chapter and may be taken on the part of the child by its parent, guardian, legal custodian, spouse, relative or next friend. An appeal shall be allowed to a parent from any final judgment, order or decree made under the provisions of this chapter which adversely affects him. . . [46]

            Even if, as the majority points out, the statute is silent as to the meaning of the word “final,” an ordinary meaning should be applied.  In ordinary civil cases, for a judgment to be final, it must “dispose of all parties and all issues in the case, leaving nothing for final determination before it is final and appealable.”[47]  Here, the issue of restitution was not fully determined until October 6, 2021.[48]  The allotted thirty days for filing a notice of appeal should not have been initiated after the disposition date of March 2.  The majority’s blatant disregard for the statute’s plain language may lead courts down a slippery slope and infringe on the rights of juveniles who are charged with misconduct.  If the court is able to overlook the commonly held legal definition of the term “final” in the juvenile context, what impact would that have on appellate procedure in an ordinary civil proceeding?  Would courts be able to claim that cases have been adjudicated and finalized while issues have been left for determination? An accused right to appeal should attach after all matters have been decided by a court.

VI.              Conclusion

            Civil procedure failed the Juvenile in this case. The court’s ruling sets precedent that runs afoul of the understood law regarding appellate procedure. Stripping the meaning of the word “final” in this legal context could lead to infringement of rights of the accused and cause confusion amongst the courts adjudicating issues pertaining to appellate review.


[1] “Child means any person under eighteen years of age.” Mo. Rev. Stat. § 211.021.2.

[2] Mo. Rev. Stat. § 211.011.

[3] P.D.E. v. Juv. Officer, 669 S.W.3d 129, 130 (Mo. 2023) (en banc).

[4] Id. at 131.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id. at 131–33.

[14] Id.

[15] Mo. Rev. Stat. § 211.031.1(3).

[16] See Mo. R. Prac. P. Juv. Ct. & Fam. Ct. 128.02; Mo. R. Prac. P. Juv. Ct. & Fam. Ct. 128.03.

[17] Mo. R. Prac. P. Juv. Ct. & Fam. Ct. 128.02.

[18] Id.

[19] Mo. R. Prac. P. Juv. Ct. & Fam. Ct. 128.03.

[20] Id.

[21] Mo. Rev. Stat. § 211.181.3.

[22] Mo. Rev. Stat. § 211.181.3(7).

[23] Mo. Rev. Stat. § 211.261.1.

[24] In re M.P.R., 381 S.W.3d 392, 393 (Mo. App. 2012).

[25] P.D.E. v. Juv. Officer, 669 S.W.3d 129, 133 (Mo. 2023) (en banc).

[26] Id.

[27] Id.

[28] Id.

[29] Id. at 132.

[30] Id. (referencing N.D. v. B.J.D., 857 S.W.2d 835, 842 (Mo. App. 1993)).

[31] Id.

[32] Id.

[33] Id. at 133–34.

[34] Id.

[35] Id.

[36] Id.

[37] Id. at 136.

[38] Id.

[39] Id.

[40] Id. (referencing N.D. v. B.J.D., 857 S.W.2d 835, 842 (Mo. App. 1993)).

[41] Id. at 140–41.

[42] Id.

[43] Id.

[44] Id.

[45] Id. at 133–34.

[46] Mo. Rev. Stat. § 211.261.1.

[47] P.D.E. v. Juv. Officer, 669 S.W.3d 129, 136 (Mo. 2023) (en banc) (referencing T.G. v. T.G., 455 S.W.2d 3, 7 (Mo. App. 1970)).

[48] Id. at 131.