This appeal arises from the action of the trial court in granting motions to dismiss plaintiffs' amended petition without leave to amend. Plaintiffs are owners of various lots in Valle Lake Subdivisions One, Two and Three in Jefferson County, a lake and recreation development. Defendant Lucas Construction Company (hereinafter Lucas or defendant) was the owner and developer of these subdivisions. Thelma Lucas is not identified in the petition, no allegations refer to her, no relief is sought against her and no reference has been made to her in the briefs filed here. The trial court's action in granting her motion to dismiss was proper, and any claim to the contrary by plaintiffs has been abandoned.
Plaintiffs sought to bring this action in their individual capacities and as representatives of the property owners in the three subdivisions to require defendant to call for an election of trustees, to account for funds received and expended by defendant from a maintenance fund and for judgment in favor of the trustees for any amount the court finds against defendant. The maintenance fund resulted from assessments of the property owners of the subdivisions, which assessments were authorized by recorded restrictions governing the subdivisions. The amended petition alleged that by virtue of the restrictions defendant was "a trustee by operation of law in their (sic) fiduciary capacity in the collection of assessments up to ninety cents per front foot of lots within said subdivisions." It then alleged that defendant had collected assessments, that demand had been made upon it for an accounting of the funds collected, that defendant had failed and refused to account.
The original petition was filed September 3, 1968, the amended petition on April 26, 1969. The original petition and amended petition differ only as to the class action allegations. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the original petition and on May 20, 1969, filed the motion to dismiss the amended petition which was granted on June 9, 1969. By letter of April 15, 1969, Lucas notified the lot owners of its intention to exercise an option to convey contained in the restrictions. Trustees were elected in accord with that conveyance provision and on June 5, 1969, defendant quitclaimed to the trustees all its right, title and interest in and to the parkways, walkways, lots, water systems and improvements and all or any rights (except as a lot owner) it might have in the subdivision.
The restrictions were not attached to either the original or amended petition although they were referred to in both. Following argument of the motion to dismiss the original petition, defendant filed a memorandum in support of the motion to which was attached the restrictions. The
Plaintiffs sought the election of trustees or in default of that, appointment of trustees by the court. That relief is no longer necessary as trustees have been elected. That portion of plaintiffs' petition is moot. State ex rel. Weber v. Vossbrink, Mo.App., 333 S.W.2d 298. But plaintiffs also sought an accounting and a money judgment of any amount found owing in favor of the trustees and against Lucas. If plaintiffs are entitled to seek an accounting, and if defendant must account, the right to an accounting and the obligation to account does not end because defendant has by its own act ceased being a trustee or fiduciary. Engelsmann v. Holekamp, Mo., 402 S.W.2d 382; Civic League of St. Louis v. City of St. Louis, Mo., 223 S.W. 891. The obligation of a fiduciary is not to be so lightly shed, nor are the protections to the cestui que so fragile that they may be destroyed by this unilateral action of the trustee.
Nor does the fact that the newly-elected trustees are not parties make the relief sought of an accounting impossible of accomplishment. Rule 52.06, V.A.M.R. provides that parties may be dropped or added by order of the court on motion of any party or of its own initiative at any stage of the action. At the time this suit was originally filed there were no elected trustees who could be made parties and when the amended petition was filed that was still true. The elected trustees can be added after remand. No event has occurred which makes a decision of defendant's obligation to account unnecessary. The motion to dismiss for mootness is denied.
We turn to the merits of the appeal. The trial court gave no reasons for granting the motion to dismiss and the motion contained only the general ground of failure to state a cause of action. If the facts pleaded, and the reasonable inferences to be drawn therefrom, looked at most favorably from plaintiffs' standpoint, show any ground for relief then the amended petition should not have been dismissed.
It is well established that an action for an accounting does not lie in the absence of some ground of equitable jurisdiction. But that rule does not apply where a fiduciary relationship is established. Engelsmann v. Holekamp, Mo., 402 S.W.2d 382 [3, 4]. The real question here is whether the petition and restrictions would support a factual conclusion that Lucas occupied a fiduciary capacity in respect to the maintenance fund. We hold they do. The provisions of paragraph 12 authorize the assessment "for the upkeep and maintenance of the dams, roads, and other improvements." Title to those areas was to remain in the Corporation subject to the easements and appurtenances in the owners of the lots in the subdivision. The defendant, at its option, could convey its interest in these areas to "three Trustees" for the benefit of the lot owners. The defendant was limited to charging five per cent of the sums expended from the maintenance fund as its management fee.
The existence of a fiduciary relationship is a question of fact. Liddell v. Lee, Mo., 159 S.W.2d 769, 772; State ex rel. to Use of Community Heating and Air Conditioning Co., Inc. v. Schwartz, Mo.App., 452 S.W.2d 243. Courts of equity have consistently refused to set bounds to the circumstances out of which a fiduciary relationship may spring. Here, under the restrictions, Lucas was entitled to collect from the lot owners an amount of money determined by Lucas (with an upper limit), for an express and limited purpose (the maintenance and upkeep of areas used commonly by all lot owners) and which fund Lucas could
Lucas receives the money of the lot owners to be expended solely for purposes of benefit to the lot owners as a whole. The amount to be charged, the persons to be paid to maintain and keep up the common property, the amount to be expended for any particular portion of the upkeep and maintenance are matters within the discretion and control of Lucas, and not within the control of those providing the money.
It is obvious, that as to the maintenance fund, the lot owners necessarily were required to repose confidence and trust in Lucas and that in carrying out its functions under the restrictions Lucas was required to exercise fairness and good faith. These are the hallmarks of a fiduciary relationship. State ex rel. to Use of Community Heating and Air Conditioning Co., Inc. v. Schwartz, supra.
Nor are we impressed with defendant's argument that the words in paragraph 12, "As a part of the consideration for the sale of this lot, the Corporation shall have the right to assess * * *" establishes the relationship as buyer and seller only. The right to assess may arise from the sale, but the restrictions imposed on the use of the money constitutes the seller a fiduciary in regard to the money collected by assessment.
In Engelsmann v. Holekamp, Mo., 402 S.W.2d 382, l. c. 389 [7-11], the obligation or duty to account was set forth as follows:
Plaintiffs pleaded a fiduciary relationship, and the restrictions support such allegations. The duty to account arises from the relationship. Plaintiffs bear the burden of establishing the fiduciary relationship and the failure of defendant to account. They have alleged the fiduciary relationship which finds support in the restrictions. They have alleged the collection of moneys by defendant in its fiduciary capacity and the failure or refusal to account to the lot owners. The petition states a cause of action.
Defendant attacks the petition as inadequately pleading the elements necessary to establish a class action. We need not determine the adequacy of these allegations. Plaintiffs state they bring the action "individually" and as representatives of the class. As beneficiaries of the fiduciary relationship they have the right to seek an accounting in their own right. Engelsmann v. Holekamp, supra, [5, 6]; Oestereich v. Schneider, Mo.App., 187 S.W.2d 756 . It is unnecessary that they bring the action as a class action to obtain the accounting relief they seek. Furthermore, the restrictions specifically provide that "any person having any right, title, or interest in or to any lot in said subdivision shall have the right to take action to enforce these restrictions by any lawful means and in any lawful manner." Plaintiffs have alleged their interest in lots in the subdivision, and may bring this action as individual lot owners.
The plaintiffs' amended petition as to Lucas Construction Co. should not have been dismissed. Respondent's motion to
The foregoing opinion by SMITH, C., is adopted as the opinion of this court. Accordingly, respondent's motion to dismiss the appeal is denied; the order granting the motion to dismiss of Thelma Lucas is affirmed; the order granting the motion to dismiss of Lucas Construction Company is reversed and the cause is remanded.
WOLFE, P. J., and BRADY and DOWD, JJ., concur.