Bushnell v. Bushnell

Decision Date11 December 1984
Citation472 N.E.2d 240,393 Mass. 462
PartiesMargaret BUSHNELL v. Daniel BUSHNELL.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court

Alan A. Green, Hyannis (Mark D. Carchidi, Hyannis, with him), for plaintiff.

Gerald D. McLellan, Boston, for defendant.

Before WILKINS, LIACOS, NOLAN, LYNCH and O'CONNOR, JJ.

LYNCH, Justice.

This is an action brought pursuant to G.L. c. 273A, the Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act. 1 The plaintiff, a Pennsylvania resident, filed a petition for nonsupport in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania against the defendant, a resident of Barnstable County. Pursuant to the act, the petition was forwarded to the Barnstable Division of the District Court, where summary judgment was entered for the defendant after an ex parte hearing on the validity of the marriage between the parties. Subsequently, the judge allowed the plaintiff's motion for relief from judgment pursuant to Mass.Dist.Mun.Cts.R.Civ.P. 60(b) (1975), and stayed further proceedings so that the defendant could bring an action in the Probate Court or the Superior Court to determine the validity of the marriage. The defendant appealed this ruling to the Appellate Division, which decided that the District Court had jurisdiction to determine the validity of the marriage. In addition, the Appellate Division decided that the original judgment had been erroneously vacated by the allowance of the plaintiff's motion for relief from judgment, and therefore, implicitly, that the stay of proceedings was improper. The Appellate Division then remanded the case to the District Court and ordered the entry of judgment dismissing the plaintiff's petition on the merits.

The plaintiff argues on appeal that the Appellate Division exceeded its authority by deciding questions not properly reported to it, and asks that the District Court's order vacating the judgment be reinstated. We affirm that portion of the Appellate Division's order holding that the District Court has jurisdiction to determine the validity of a marriage in an action brought pursuant to G.L. c. 273A, and that the judge's order to stay the proceedings was improper. We reverse that portion of the order that reinstated the original judgment for the defendant. We therefore remand the case to the District Court for further proceedings to determine whether the marriage was valid, and, if so, the amount of support, if any, to which the plaintiff is entitled.

We summarize the relevant facts. The defendant and one Isabelle Bushnell were married in 1938, and subsequently they became Massachusetts domiciliaries. On May 29, 1981, a complaint for divorce between the defendant and Isabelle Bushnell was entered in the Probate and Family Court for Barnstable County, and a separation agreement between the parties was approved pursuant to G.L. c. 208, § 1A. On June 3, 1981, the defendant and the plaintiff flew to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, where the defendant received a divorce from Isabelle Bushnell and married the plaintiff on the same day. After residing in Pennsylvania with the plaintiff for a short time, the defendant returned to reside in Massachusetts with Isabelle Bushnell. On September 25, 1981, the divorce complaint between the defendant and Isabelle Bushnell was dismissed at their request.

The plaintiff filed a complaint for nonsupport in the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County, Pennsylvania, on September 9, 1981. The complaint was forwarded to the Barnstable Division of the District Court pursuant to 42 Pa.Cons.Stat.Ann. § 6754 (Purdon 1982), 2 where the defendant entered a special appearance and filed a motion to dismiss and a motion for summary judgment. After an ex parte hearing on these motions, the judge granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment, holding that no marriage existed between the parties.

After the appeal period had run, 3 the plaintiff appeared in the District Court seeking relief from the judgment under rule 60 (b). The judge granted this motion, and, because he believed the District Court lacked jurisdiction to determine the validity of the marriage, he stayed proceedings so that the parties could adjudicate this issue in the Probate Court or the Superior Court. The Appellate Division set aside the judge's rulings and ordered the initial judgment to be reinstated.

1. Subject matter jurisdiction. The plaintiff contends that the Appellate Division exceeded its proper scope of review by deciding that the District Court had subject matter jurisdiction to determine whether the marriage between the parties was valid. The plaintiff argues that the Appellate Division should have considered only whether the judge had abused his discretion by granting the plaintiff's motion for relief from judgment. We conclude that the plaintiff construes the reported issue too narrowly.

It is clear from the judge's findings that his basis for staying the proceedings was his belief that the District Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to determine the validity of a marriage in a proceeding commenced under G.L. c. 273A. 4 The Appellate Division is required to consider questions of law reported to it, James J. Derba, Inc. v. Hamilton Serv., Inc., 355 Mass. 127, 130, 243 N.E.2d 178 (1969), and has the duty to consider legal questions necessarily attendant to those reported. See Henry L. Sawyer Co. v. Boyajian, 303 Mass. 311, 312, 21 N.E.2d 536 (1939). In the circumstances of this case, the Appellate Division could not have properly reviewed the judge's ruling without deciding whether the judge was correct in concluding that he lacked jurisdiction to consider the marriage's validity. The issue reported to the Appellate Division was precisely this question of jurisdiction, and the Appellate Division properly reached this issue.

Having determined that the issue of jurisdiction was properly before the Appellate Division, we next address the plaintiff's argument that the Appellate Division erred in deciding that the District Court had the requisite subject matter jurisdiction to decide whether the marriage of the parties was valid. This contention is anchored on G.L. c. 207, § 14, governing actions concerning marriage and divorce, and on G.L. c. 208, § 6, which places jurisdiction of such actions in the Superior and Probate Courts. 5 The Appellate Division rejected this argument, holding that, although the District Court does not have general jurisdiction to determine the validity of marriages and divorces, it does have jurisdiction over those matters incidental to its jurisdiction under G.L. c. 273A, § 6. 6 We agree with the Appellate Division that the District Court does have jurisdiction over such matters.

In G.L. c. 273A, § 10, the District Court is given the authority to order support if "the court finds a duty of support" imposed by law. Our duty is to interpret these words according to the intent of the Legislature. Commonwealth v. Graham, 388 Mass. 115, 119, 445 N.E.2d 1043 (1983). Board of Educ. v. Assessor of Worcester, 368 Mass. 511, 513, 333 N.E.2d 450 (1975). For a District Court judge to determine, in accordance with the statute, whether a duty of support exists, it must be determined whether there is a basis for that support, that is, whether a valid marriage exists between the parties. The relation between these two determinations is illustrated by this court's language in French v. McAnarney, 290 Mass. 544, 195 N.E. 714 (1935): "The moment the marriage relation comes into existence, certain rights and duties necessarily incident to that relation spring into being. One of these duties is the obligation imposed by law upon the husband to support his wife." Id. at 546, 195 N.E. 714. 7 Since the duty of support arises out of the existence of a valid marriage, we hold that the District Court has the implied power to determine that fact in cases brought under G.L. c. 273A. 8

This conclusion is buttressed by our decision in Police Comm'r of Boston v. Municipal Court of the Dorchester Dist., 374 Mass. 640, 374 N.E.2d 272 (1978). In that case, we held that the Juvenile Court has the implied power to expunge police records as an ancillary part of its jurisdiction over juvenile issues. Id. at 665-668, 374 N.E.2d 272. We held that "in the appropriate circumstances, courts may consider and decide matters 'ancillary or incidental to, or growing out of, the main action' which, as original causes of action, would not be within the jurisdiction of the court." Id. at 665 n. 18, 374 N.E.2d 272, quoting Morrow v. District of Columbia, 417 F.2d 728, 737-738 (D.C.Cir.1969). The concept of implied or ancillary jurisdiction is not a new one in this Commonwealth. In Wade v. Lobdell, 4 Cush. 510, 512 (1849), this court held that the Probate Court could decide questions incidental to a subject over which it had jurisdiction, even if it lacked independent jurisdiction over the incidental matter. 9 See Commonwealth v. New York Cent. & H.R. R.R., 206 Mass. 417, 429, 92 N.E. 766 (1910) ("a grant of jurisdiction carries with it by implication power to use the necessary means to exercise and enforce that jurisdiction").

Our decision today is also consistent with our prior interpretations of G.L. c. 273A. In M-------- v. W--------, 352 Mass. 704, 706, 227 N.E.2d 469 (1967), the defendant asserted that the District Court did not have jurisdiction to determine paternity in an action commenced under G.L. c. 273A. Rejecting that contention, we held that the District Court must have jurisdiction to determine paternity "as a basis of finding a 'duty of support.' " Id. at 711, 227 N.E.2d 469. 10 The great majority of State courts faced with the paternity question have also resolved it in this manner. 11

Furthermore, our holding comports with the Legislature's directive in G.L. c. 273A, § 17, to construe this statute to make it "substantially uniform" with the laws of other States. Addressing the same issue we...

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    • United States
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    ...to receive support from two individuals. Glazer v. Silverman, 354 Mass. 177, 180, 236 N.E.2d 199 (1968). See Bushnell v. Bushnell, 393 Mass. 462, 467, 472 N.E.2d 240 (1984) ("duty of support arises out of the existence of a valid Clearly, then, the conclusion in Keller I cannot fairly be sa......
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