Bingley v. Bingley

Decision Date30 October 2009
Docket NumberNo. 02A03-0904-CV-187.,02A03-0904-CV-187.
Citation915 N.E.2d 1006
PartiesAnne M. BINGLEY, Appellant-Respondent, v. Charles B. BINGLEY, Appellee-Petitioner.
CourtIndiana Appellate Court

Stephen P. Rothberg, Fort Wayne, IN, Attorney for Appellant.

Lindsey A. Grossnickle, Bloom Gates Sigler & Whiteleather, LLP, Columbia City, IN, Attorney for Appellee.


BROWN, Judge.

Anne Bingley appeals the trial court's order as to division of assets in the dissolution of her marriage to Charles Bingley. Anne raises a single issue, which we revise and restate as whether the trial court erred in concluding that Charles's employer-paid post-retirement health insurance premiums were not a marital asset subject to division. We affirm.

The relevant facts follow.1 Charles was a seventy-five year old man and was retired from Navistar Corporation at the time of filing. Charles was a participant in a defined benefit pension, and in addition to a monthly stipend, Charles received "an addition/supplemental [sic] benefit as a Navistar retiree in the form of payment by Navistar of [his] health insurance premiums which said payments by Navistar shall continue for the balance of [his] life."2 Appellant's Appendix at 17. The payments are "a non-elective benefit deriving to [Charles] as a Navistar retiree and [are] not subject to divestiture, division, or transfer." Id. Charles could not have elected to receive a larger monthly pension in lieu of the premium payments.

Charles filed for dissolution of his marriage from Anne on May 9, 2006. At the dissolution proceeding, it was disputed whether to include the payments for Charles's health insurance premiums in the pot of marital assets. Anne offered an exhibit to demonstrate that, pursuant to actuarial principles, the premium payments had a present value of $101,556.

On September 15, 2008 the trial court entered its Decree of Dissolution of Marriage. The trial court, citing Metro. Life Ins. Co. v. Tallent, 445 N.E.2d 990 (Ind. 1983), determined that the "benefit is not marital property." Appellant's Appendix at 25. Anne filed a motion to correct error, and a hearing was held on March 6, 2009. On March 26, 2009, the trial court entered an order on the motion which again declared that the health insurance premium payments by Navistar should not be counted as a marital asset.

The sole issue is whether the trial court erred in concluding that Charles's employer-paid post-retirement health insurance premiums were not a marital asset subject to division. In this case, the trial court entered findings of fact and conclusions thereon. However, the record does not reflect a request for such findings by either party. Where the trial court enters specific findings of fact and conclusions sua sponte, we apply a two-tiered standard of review: first, we determine whether the evidence supports the findings, and second, whether the findings support the judgment. Fowler v. Perry, 830 N.E.2d 97, 102 (Ind.Ct.App. 2005); see also Helm v. Helm, 873 N.E.2d 83, 87 (Ind.Ct.App.2007). "The trial court's findings and conclusions will be set aside only if they are clearly erroneous, i.e., when the record contains no facts or inferences supporting them." Fowler, 830 N.E.2d at 102. A judgment is clearly erroneous "if the findings do not support the conclusions of law or the conclusions of law do not support the judgment." Bizik v. Bizik, 753 N.E.2d 762, 766 (Ind.Ct.App. 2001), trans. denied. "A general judgment entered with findings will be affirmed if it can be sustained on any legal theory supported by the evidence." Mullin v. Mullin, 634 N.E.2d 1340, 1341 (Ind.Ct.App. 1994); see also Mitchell v. Mitchell, 695 N.E.2d 920, 923 (Ind.1998) (holding that we "may affirm the judgment on any legal theory supported by the findings"). "We do not defer to conclusions of law, however, and evaluate them de novo." Freese v. Burns, 771 N.E.2d 697, 700 (Ind.Ct.App. 2002), trans. denied.

This case requires us to interpret Ind.Code § 31-9-2-98. "The first step in interpreting any Indiana statute is to determine whether the legislature has spoken clearly and unambiguously on the point in question." Citizens Action Coal. of Ind., Inc. v. PSI Energy, Inc., 894 N.E.2d 1055, 1063 (Ind.Ct.App.2008) (quoting St. Vincent Hosp. & Health Care Ctr., Inc. v. Steele, 766 N.E.2d 699, 703-704 (Ind.2002)), reh'g denied. If a statute is unambiguous, we must give the statute its clear and plain meaning. Id. A statute is unambiguous if it is not susceptible to more than one interpretation. Id. However, if a statute is susceptible to multiple interpretations, we must try to ascertain the legislature's intent and interpret the statute so as to effectuate that intent. Id. We presume the legislature intended logical application of the language used in the statute, so as to avoid unjust or absurd results. Id.

We have not previously addressed whether post-retirement health insurance premium payments paid for by a former employer qualify as marital asset "property" under Ind.Code § 31-9-2-98. However, our case law provides us with relevant principles that we shall apply to the instant question. For the purposes of dissolution proceedings, Indiana defines "property" as:

[A]ll the assets of either party or both parties, including:

(1) a present right to withdraw pension or retirement benefits;

(2) the right to receive pension or retirement benefits that are not forfeited upon termination of employment or that are vested (as defined in Section 411 of the Internal Revenue Code) but that are payable after the dissolution of marriage; and

(3) the right to receive disposable retired or retainer pay (as defined in 10 U.S.C. 1408(a)) acquired during the marriage that is or may be payable after the dissolution of marriage.

Ind.Code § 31-9-2-98(b) (emphasis added). For marital assets that are not divisible, it is proper for a trial court to "divide the property in a just and reasonable manner by ... setting the property or parts of the property over to (1) of the spouses and requiring either spouse to pay an amount, either in gross or in installments, that is just and proper...." Ind.Code § 31-15-7-4(b)(2).

Anne appears to argue that the health insurance premium payments fall under subsection (2) as a retirement benefit not forfeited upon the termination of employment. "Vested pension rights have been described as `intangible assets of a spouse which have been earned during the marriage, either through the contributions of the spouse which otherwise would have been available as assets during the marriage, or through contributions of the employer which constitute deferred compensation.'" In re Marriage of Preston, 704 N.E.2d 1093, 1097 (Ind.Ct.App.1999) (quoting 2 HOMER H. CLARK, JR., THE LAW OF DOMESTIC RELATIONS IN THE UNITED STATES § 16.6, at 208 (2d ed.1987)).

Anne cites to several Indiana cases which have found pension benefits to be marital assets. In Hill v. Hill, at issue was husband's $2,600 per month pension payments. 863 N.E.2d 456, 459-460 (Ind. Ct.App.2007). We summarily held that "[a]s Husband is currently receiving payments from his pension plan, he clearly has `a present right to withdraw pension or retirement benefits' under [Ind.Code § 31-9-2-98(b)(1)]," and that therefore the pension constituted a marital asset. Id. at 461. Similarly, in In re Marriage of Nickels, we held that wife's pension, which was valued at $544 per month, was subject to distribution. 834 N.E.2d 1091, 1097 (Ind.Ct.App.2005). Anne also cites Hendricks v. Hendricks, which subjected the portion of pension payments which had accrued during the marriage to marital distribution. 784 N.E.2d 1024, 1027 (Ind. Ct.App.2003). See also Wyzard v. Wyzard, 771 N.E.2d 754, 757 (Ind.Ct.App. 2002) (husband's vested pension benefits, totaling between $340,897.49 and $518,174, were subject to marital distribution); In re Marriage of Preston, 704 N.E.2d at 1097-1098 (husband's retirement benefits, including a monthly annuity for life, was a marital asset).3

The trial court determined that Charles's employer-paid health insurance premiums were not a marital asset subject to division. We agree. The cases cited by Anne are all similar in that they involve monthly monetary payments made directly to the pension-holding spouse. Here, Charles's benefit was not payable to him. Further, Charles could not elect to have his stipend increased in lieu of the premium payments; rather, the benefit was non-elective and not subject to divestiture, division or transfer.

We find two cases read in tandem to be particularly instructive on this issue. First, both parties discuss Gnerlich v. Gnerlich, 538 N.E.2d 285 (Ind.Ct.App. 1989), trans. denied. In Gnerlich, husband received disability benefits from his former employer which he contended were erroneously included in the marital estate. Gnerlich, 538 N.E.2d at 285-286. Husband "became entitled to these benefits because he made monthly contributions ... through a disability retirement plan offered through his employer...." Id. at 286. We affirmed the trial court's inclusion of the benefit in the marital estate, holding that "[t]he value of William's disability pension is readily ascertainable and susceptible to division." Id. at 288.

More recently we again looked at disability benefits in Antonacopulos v. Antonacopulos, 753 N.E.2d 759 (Ind.Ct.App. 2001). In Antonacopulos, we examined Leisure v. Leisure, 605 N.E.2d 755 (Ind. 1993), in which the Indiana Supreme Court "included ... a discussion of Gnerlich and thereby implicitly limited our holding in Gnerlich." Antonacopulos, 753 N.E.2d at 761. We noted that "the benefits in Gnerlich were a marital asset subject to distribution because, in order to obtain the insurance policy coverage, the husband used marital assets to make the monthly payments, thus depriving the family of the use of those funds." Id.

The underlying principle applied in Gnerlich and Antonacopulos is that insurance policy coverage as a part of...

To continue reading

Request your trial
3 cases
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court
    • September 30, 2010
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court
    • September 29, 2010
    ...Life Ins. Co. v. Tallent, 445 N.E.2d 990, 991 (Ind.1983). Anne appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. Bingley v. Bingley, 915 N.E.2d 1006 (Ind.Ct.App.2009). We granted transfer, thereby vacating the decision of the Court of Appeals. Bingley v. Bingley, 929 N.E.2d 785 (Ind.2010) (table......
  • Donovan v. Grand Victoria Casino & Resort
    • United States
    • Indiana Appellate Court
    • October 30, 2009

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT