394 P.3d 517 (Alaska 2017), S-16061, Easley v. Easley

Docket Nº:Supreme Court S-16061, S-16131, 7165
Citation:394 P.3d 517
Opinion Judge:BOLGER, Justice.
Party Name:KEVIN M. EASLEY, Appellant and Cross-Appellee, v. TAMMY M. EASLEY, Appellee and Cross-Appellant
Attorney:Daniel I. Pace, Pace Law Offices, Anchorage, for Appellant/Cross-Appellee. Jeffrey J. Jarvi, Anchorage, for Appellee/Cross-Appellant.
Judge Panel:Before: Stowers, Chief Justice, Winfree, Maassen, Bolger, and Carney, Justices.
Case Date:April 07, 2017
Court:Supreme Court of Alaska

Page 517

394 P.3d 517 (Alaska 2017)

KEVIN M. EASLEY, Appellant and Cross-Appellee,

v.

TAMMY M. EASLEY, Appellee and Cross-Appellant

Supreme Court Nos. S-16061, S-16131, No. 7165

Supreme Court of Alaska

April 7, 2017

Page 518

Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, Catherine M. Easter, Judge. Superior Court No. 3AN-07-06831 CI.

Daniel I. Pace, Pace Law Offices, Anchorage, for Appellant/Cross-Appellee.

Jeffrey J. Jarvi, Anchorage, for Appellee/Cross-Appellant.

Before: Stowers, Chief Justice, Winfree, Maassen, Bolger, and Carney, Justices.

OPINION

Page 519

BOLGER, Justice.

I.

INTRODUCTION

In a 2008 divorce decree based on a settlement agreement, an ex-husband was ordered to sell the marital home and thereafter pay his ex-wife her share of the estate. But by 2015 he had not yet done so. The superior court ordered the ex-husband to sell the home in 90 days and entered judgment against him after the deadline passed. The ex-husband now appeals on due process and equity grounds, and the ex-wife appeals seeking prejudgment interest, attorney's fees, and costs. Because both parties' arguments lack merit, we affirm the superior court's order.

II.

FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

Tammy Easley filed for divorce from Kevin Easley in 2007 after more than a decade of marriage. Paragraph 21(b) of their 2008 divorce decree, which was based on a settlement agreement, required Kevin to pay Tammy $325,000 after selling the marital home. The settlement structure made the sale of the home a condition precedent to the disbursement of most of Tammy's share of the estate.1 Paragraph 22 of the decree required Kevin to pay Tammy $3,500 in spousal support each month until the sale.

As early as 2009, however, Kevin realized that the marital home had substantially declined in value. That year he filed an Alaska Civil Rule 60(b) motion for relief from judgment asserting a mutual mistake of fact regarding the valuation of the home. The motion was denied, but Kevin still delayed selling the home. Accordingly, in the summer of 2014 the court requested briefs and oral argument regarding whether to read into the decree a term setting a date certain for sale of the home. Following the hearing the court decided not to set a date at that time. But later that year the case was transferred to a new judge, and at a December hearing the parties again discussed the issue. Ultimately, at a " motion hearing" in June 2015, the court revisited the issue sua sponte, decided that " seven

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years is reasonable," and ordered Kevin to sell the home within 90 days, at which point Tammy would be entitled to the $325,000 owed to her regardless of whether the sale was made.

Kevin moved for reconsideration, objecting to the order on due process and equity grounds. The court denied the motion, noting that it could " think of no circumstances under which it would be reasonable to require a financially disadvantaged divorcee to wait seven years (or more) before receiving financial recompense for her fair share of an estate that her former spouse has, in near entirety, continued to possess." The court further emphasized that Kevin " was given ample notice and opportunity to be heard." After 90 days passed and the home was not sold, Tammy moved for entry of judgment without opposition from Kevin. In October 2015 the court entered judgment against Kevin in the amount of $325,000 but denied Tammy's motion for prejudgment interest, attorney's fees, and costs.

Kevin now appeals, arguing that he was not given notice or an opportunity to be heard regarding the sale of the marital home and the interpretation of the decree, and that he was prejudiced by this lack of due process. In the alternative Kevin argues that equity requires offsetting the amount he owes Tammy by the amount of spousal support he has paid over the years. Tammy also appeals, arguing that she is entitled to prejudgment interest, attorney's fees, and costs.

III.

DISCUSSION

A.

Kevin's Due Process And Equity Arguments Are Meritless.

1.

Due process

Kevin argues that the superior court violated his due process rights " when it failed to give him notice and an opportunity to be heard pertaining to the sale of the marital home and the intent of the parties regarding the equitable distribution of marital property." Kevin's due process rights would be violated if the superior court did not provide him with adequate notice and an opportunity to be heard and if Kevin suffered actual prejudice as a result.2 " Whether the superior court violated a party's due process rights is a question of law, which we review de novo." 3

We conclude that Kevin received adequate notice and an opportunity to be heard and thus do not reach the prejudice argument. Kevin's version of events -- in which he was " ambushed" by a sudden order to sell the marital home -- omits important aspects of the procedural history. The record reveals that Kevin had notice of and was given numerous opportunities to be heard regarding the issue of enforcing the settlement agreement. As early as 2009, Kevin had argued that the marital home could not be sold for its appraised value when he unsuccessfully asserted that a mutual mistake of fact underlay the settlement agreement.4 Then after a summer 2014 hearing regarding whether the divorce decree required Kevin to sell the home by a certain date, the court issued an order stating that it " finds there is no basis for the court to take any action at this time regarding the sale of the marital home." But at two hearings in December 2014 and June 2015, a new judge considered whether circumstances regarding continued litigation and the long delay in selling the home made necessary a date certain for the sale, and the court ultimately decided to order Kevin to sell the home and pay Tammy her share of

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the estate. At the 2015 hearing, Kevin's attorney protested that the previous judge " ruled that there is no definitive date certain on the divorce decree," and the court responded that it was " making a decision right now." 5 The attorney made no further objection to the resolution of this issue during the proceeding. Kevin also had an opportunity to make his offset argument in response to Tammy's motion for judgment, but he did not file any opposition.6 After so many opportunities to be heard, Kevin's argument that his due process rights were violated must fail.

Furthermore, we have held that adequate notice gives " an aggrieved party opportunity to present a case and have its merits fairly judged." 7 We have previously found due process satisfied when an ex-husband alleged that he believed a hearing would only be about visitation but instead resulted in a modification of physical custody.8 We stated that the ex-husband in that case " had notice" that the ex-wife " sought equal time with the children" because she had made such a statement in filings and testimony, and he had shown he was aware of her intentions in his filings in opposition.9 The facts are similar here: Because of the previous back-and-forth between the parties on the issue of enforcement of the divorce decree, Kevin lacked neither notice of Tammy's desire to be paid her share of the estate nor an opportunity to oppose her arguments.10 We therefore conclude that Kevin was afforded adequate due process.

2.

Equity

As an alternative to his due process arguments, Kevin argued in his motion for reconsideration and repeats on appeal that he is entitled to offset the property distribution payments by the total amount he has paid in spousal support, around $294,000 as of July 2015.11 We review a settlement agreement using contract principles, and the proper meaning of a contract is a legal question, which we review de novo.12

Kevin is not entitled to offset his spousal support payments against the property distribution payment. The divorce decree provided for marital property and spousal support in separate provisions, and, as the superior court explained, the " spousal support was not couched as, or otherwise implied to be, a component of the property

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distribution." 13 One provision required Kevin to sell the marital home and " [u]pon sale of the property . . . pay $325,000 to Tammy." A second provision stated that " until the marital home is sold and Tammy Easley receives her share of the proceeds, Kevin Easley shall pay $3,500 per month to Tammy Easley as spousal support." Nothing in that language entitles Kevin to offset the spousal support he has paid to Tammy against the $325,000 she was entitled to receive upon sale of the home. Kevin agreed to undertake the responsibility of selling the home, and he agreed to pay $3,500 a month in spousal support until he did so. The spousal support payments were not a substitute for the value of the marital home. Rather, they took the form of an interim monthly award due until Tammy received her distribution from the sale of the home. We therefore conclude that Kevin is not entitled to offset the property distribution payments by the total amount he has paid in spousal support.

B.

Tammy's Prejudgment Interest, Attorney's Fees, And Costs Arguments Are Also Meritless.

1.

Prejudgment interest

Tammy argues that she is entitled to prejudgment interest to compensate her for the delay between the 2008 divorce decree entitling her to $325,000 upon sale of the marital home and the 2015 judgment awarding her $325,000 from Kevin. The superior court did not award Tammy prejudgment interest, reasoning that " [n]othing in the divorce decree or the negotiated settlement indicates that [she] is entitled to such payments."

" Prejudgment interest in a divorce case is within the broad discretion of the trial court and is...

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