FROM LIVINGSTON CIRCUIT COURT HONORABLE C. A. WOODALL, III,
JUDGE ACTION NO. 17-CI-00014
FOR APPELLANTS: Wesley A. Hunt Marion, Kentucky
FOR APPELLEE: William F. McGee, Jr. Smithland, Kentucky
BEFORE: CLAYTON, CHIEF JUDGE; COMBS AND JONES, JUDGES.
Louise Marshall and Martha Wilke appeal from the Livingston
Circuit Court's denial of their motion to hold this case
in abeyance and to grant Martha Dianne Marshall's motion
to dismiss. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.
Helen Louise Marshall is the mother of decedent, Robert L.
Marshall. Appellant Martha Wilke is his sister. We refer to
them collectively as "Decedent's Family."
Decedent's Family filed this action to contest the
validity of his October 29, 2016, remarriage to Appellee,
Martha Dianne Marshall (Wife), with whom Decedent had
cohabited since their divorce. The solemnization of the
marriage occurred at his hospital bedside, and it was duly
officiated before two witnesses. After his return home from
the hospital on November 16, 2016, the newlyweds applied for
a marriage license with the Livingston County Clerk's
Office. All parties purportedly signed the license, and it
was filed the next day.
of the complaint of Decedent's Family sought a
declaration of rights as to the validity of the marriage,
asserting its invalidity due to the couple's failure to
strictly comply with marriage license requirements pursuant
to KRS402.080 as interpreted in Pinkhasov v.
Petocz, 331 S.W.3d 285 (Ky. App. 2011). Count II of the
complaint alleged that Decedent was mentally incapacitated at
the time of the marriage and that Wife fraudulently induced
him into entering into the marriage.
Wife filed her answer, Decedent's Family moved for
judgment on the pleadings. The trial court's order denied
the motion, finding that Decedent's Family did not have
standing to file on Decedent's behalf. The trial court
allowed the action to continue, indicating the possibility
that Decedent's Family might have standing in its own
right. The trial court then entered a new order clarifying
its first ruling and dismissing Count I for lack of standing.
Family moved to alter, amend, or vacate the clarified order
and moved to hold the proceedings in abeyance pending the
resolution of their separate action contesting Decedent's
last will and testament. Wife responded by moving to dismiss for
lack of standing pursuant to KRS 403.120. The trial court
denied Decedent's Family's motion to hold in abeyance
and dismissed the case. This appeal followed.
standard of review of a motion to dismiss for failure to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted is well
established. CR 12.03. "In ruling on a motion to
dismiss, the pleadings should be liberally construed in the
light most favorable to the plaintiff, all allegations being
taken as true." Morgan v. Bird, 289 S.W.3d 222,
226 (Ky. App. 2009). "The court should not grant the
motion unless it appears the pleading party would not be
entitled to relief under any set of facts which could be
proved in support of his claim." Pari-Mutuel
Clerks' Union of Kentucky, Local 541, SEIU, AFL-CIO v.
Kentucky Jockey Club, 551 S.W.2d 801, 803 (Ky. 1977).
When, as here, factual findings are not at issue, we must
review the legal conclusions of the trial court de
novo. We owe no deference to the trial court's
ruling. Pinkhasov, 331 S.W.3d at 291. Statutory
interpretation is purely a legal matter and is reviewed
de novo. See, e.g., Commonwealth v.
McBride, 281 S.W.3d 799, 803 (Ky. 2009) ("The
construction and application of statutes is a matter of law.
Therefore, this Court reviews statutes de novo
without deference to the interpretations adopted by lower
courts."). Courts must interpret statutes according to
their plain meaning. Id.
sole issue presented in this case is whether a third party
has standing to collaterally attack a marriage under Kentucky
law. If third parties do not have standing, Decedent's
Family cannot attack his marriage to Wife as invalid due to
failure to follow KRS 402.080 -- nor as invalid due to
incompetence, impairment, or fraudulent under KRS 403.120. If
Decedent's Family does not have standing to contest
Wife's marriage to Decedent, Kentucky law presumes
validity unless Wife herself -- either on her own behalf or
as executrix of Decedent's estate -- contests the
marriage. Under the facts presented in this case, we conclude
that the third parties collectively attacking this marriage
lack standing to do so.
has a strong public policy in favor of upholding marriage.
Pinkhasov, 331 S.W.3d at 293. The law presumes
validity, and a party to the marriage must overcome that
presumption before contesting it. Id. at 293-94.
Under the facts before us, the parties, who had never
separated after their divorce, sought a legally valid civil
marriage and ultimately completed all steps required to
comply. Therefore, any third party attacking the marriage
must meet specific statutory criteria in order to carry out
statutory requirements enacted by the Kentucky legislature
regulating the establishment of a legally valid civil
marriage within the Commonwealth are concise and
unambiguous." Pinkhasov, 331 S.W.3d at 293. In
discussing statutory interpretation, "our duty is to
ascertain and give effect to the intent" of the
legislature. Beckham v. Board of Education of Jefferson
County, 873 S.W.2d 575, 577 (Ky. 1994). In so doing, it
is not our function "to add or subtract from the
legislative enactment nor discover meaning not reasonably
ascertainable from the language used." Id.
"When the words of the statute are clear and unambiguous
and express the legislative intent, there is no room for
construction or ...