Chandler v. Chandler

Citation991 S.W.2d 367
Decision Date15 April 1999
Docket NumberNo. 08-97-00484-CV,08-97-00484-CV
PartiesRichard L. CHANDLER, Appellant, v. Rachel CHANDLER, William R. Copeland, and Weldon S. Copeland, Jr., Appellees.
CourtCourt of Appeals of Texas

William R. Copeland, El Paso, for Appellees.

Richard L. Chandler, Lubbock, for Appellant.

Before Panel No. 2 BARAJAS, C.J., McCLURE, and CHEW, JJ.



Richard Chandler ("Richard"), appeals from a summary judgment in favor of Rachel Chandler, William R. Copeland, and Weldon S. Copeland, Jr., Appellees, and a permanent injunction and permanent order to cease and desist. Finding no error, we affirm.


The litigation between Richard and Rachel Chandler spans some nineteen years and, at a minimum, some ten lawsuits in both state and federal courts scattered from El Paso to Lubbock to Austin. The driving issue, from Richard's perspective, is whether Rachel is entitled to an interest in his military retirement benefits. The underlying issue for our consideration is whether the Chandler marriage was valid or void. Because of the multiplicity of lawsuits and their resulting entanglement, we first provide a detailed chronology of events.

The Chandler Marriage and Divorce

On June 29, 1942, Rachel married Pablo Torres Tovar in Mexico. While she claimed to have divorced him, there is no recorded divorce decree on file in Mexico. Rachel and Richard married on October 17, 1949, in Juarez, Mexico. On May 28, 1980, a final decree of divorce, entered in Cause No. 77-1540, dissolved the marriage. Pursuant to the decree, Rachel was awarded the following:

The Court having found that [Richard] is retired from the United States Army and is currently receiving United States Army retirement pay on a monthly basis, and that such retirement pay constitutes vested contingent community property, [Rachel] is therefore awarded the sum of FOUR HUNDRED FIFTY DOLLARS ($450.00) per month from [Richard]'s monthly retirement pay if, as and when such benefits are paid to [Richard] and [Richard] shall hereafter remit to [Rachel] the sum of FOUR HUNDRED FIFTY DOLLARS ($450.00) from such retirement benefits, and [Richard] is hereby constituted a trustee for the purpose of receiving said sum of money hereinabove awarded to [Rachel] and [Richard] shall immediately upon receipt thereof, and not more than five (5) days after such receipt, remit said sum to [Rachel].

The Bill of Review

In June of 1981, Richard learned that Rachel may not have been divorced from Pablo Torres Tovar. As a result, he ceased paying any portion of the retirement benefits to Rachel as required under the decree. In August 1983, Rachel, through her attorneys, successfully applied to the United States Army Finance and Accounting Center (USAFAC) for direct payment of the benefits awarded to her. When the Army refused Richard's request that the direct payment be discontinued, Richard filed a bill of review, which although originally and mistakenly docketed under the divorce Cause No. 77-1540, was subsequently redocketed as Cause No. 87-5225. Specifically, Richard alleged:

[Richard] was prevented from asserting his right to a greater share of the parties' estate than that awarded to him pursuant to the above-described agreement and judgment by [Rachel]'s fraud in securing the agreement and [Richard]'s consent to entry of the judgment. Specifically, [Rachel], knowing that her representations and statements were false and with the intent to defraud [Richard], continually, through the entire duration of the purported marriage to [Richard], represented to [Richard] that she had been married (prior to the purported marriage to [Richard] ), but had, in fact, received a divorce from her prior husband. In reliance on these representations, [Richard] entered into the purported marriage with [Rachel]. Contrary to [Rachel]'s representations, [Rachel] was previously married to another individual in Zacatecas, Mexico, which marriage was never dissolved by divorce, annulment, or death of either parties [sic]. As a result, the purported marriage between [Richard] and [Rachel] is void and of no effect.

He then sought the following relief:

[Richard] requests that the Court set aside and cancel the settlement agreement signed by [Richard] and [Rachel] for the reasons set forth above; that the Court set aside the judgment rendered on May 28, 1980, which incorporated the terms of the property settlement agreement; and that the Court order a division of the estate of the parties in a manner that the Court deems just and right.

Despite his specific allegation that the marriage was void, Richard did not seek a declaratory judgment that the marriage was void. The only relief he requested was that the property settlement agreement be set aside and the property redivided. This omission will become significant, as we will detail.

On October 5, 1983, USAFAC sent a letter to Rachel advising her that because of the pending bill of review action, all monies owed to her under the decree would be escrowed until the litigation was concluded. For reasons unexplained in the record, the bill of review sat on the docket for some six and a half years. On April 6, 1990, the court entered an "Order Granting Partial Motion for Summary Judgment [sic]." This order provided:

After viewing the evidence and upon conclusion of the arguments of counsel, the Court finds that the Petitioner, RICHARD L. CHANDLER, has established a prima facia case of a meritorious defense to the cause of action alleged to support the Judgment.

IT IS, THEREFORE, ORDERED that Petitioner's Partial Motion for Summary Judgment is granted as to the issue of a prima facia meritorious defense.

The court finds that the Petitioner is entitled to a trial on the merits of those issues in his Original Petition for Bill of Review and the Answer thereto filed by the Respondent, as those pleadings may be amended prior to trial.

The case proceeded to a jury trial on March 18, 1991. The charge inquired:

Do you find that prior to the marriage of Richard L. Chandler in question in this case, Rachel Chandler knowingly made false representations as to material facts to Richard Chandler with the intent to induce him to enter into that marriage and that Richard Chandler suffered a pecuniary loss as a proximate cause of his reliance on the representations?

You are instructed that when answering this question you are to limit your considerations to Rachel Chandler's representation, if any, that she had been divorced from Pablo Torres Tovar.

The jury answered "No." The court entered a take-nothing judgment on Richard's bill of review action. Richard appealed the judgment, and this court affirmed. Chandler v. Chandler, 842 S.W.2d 829 (Tex.App.--El Paso 1992, writ denied). The mandate issued September 10, 1993.

The Litigation Explosion

Undeterred, Richard attacked on multiple fronts. Armed with the partial summary judgment we have already referenced, he visited with the legal assistance office of Reece Air Force Base. On December 14, 1993, a legal assistance attorney wrote to USAFAC advising them that

Mr. Chandler was granted a Motion for Summary Judgment in which the court found as fact that Rachel Chandler entered in marriage with Richard Chandler without divorcing her first husband. Under Texas law, a marriage is void if either party was previously married and the prior marriage is not dissolved. Vernon's Texas Codes Annotated, Family Code Section 2.22, Acuna v. Sullivan, 765 F.Supp. 510 (1991). Property acquired during a putative marriage in Texas is not community property. Chapman v. Chapman, 11 Tex.Civ.App. 392, 32 S.W. 564. Therefore there is no basis upon which to make a community property division. It should be further noted that in the original divorce decree served on the Army that a specific finding of marriage is not made. Thus, the Army has no factual basis upon which to invoke the Former Spouses Protection Act and make any direct payments to the former Rachel Chandler.

Thereafter, in September of 1994, Richard, by this time a resident of Lubbock, filed suit against Rachel in Lubbock County seeking a declaratory judgment that the marriage and divorce decree were void. The suit asserts "that the order granting partial summary judgment fully adjudicated the suit to declare the parties' marriage void and the legal effect of such judgment is to render [Rachel] either a meretricious or putative former spouse neither of which status [sic] would have interest in the community property named in the decree of divorce." The trial court granted Rachel's motion to transfer venue and the case was filed under Cause Number 96-4533 in the 205th District Court of El Paso County.

On November 16, 1994, Richard filed suit in Cause No. 87-5225 in the 41st District Court of El Paso County seeking a declaratory judgment that the divorce decree and take-nothing judgment in the bill of review litigation were void. 1 The same day, in Cause No. 77-1540 in the 41st District Court, he filed a motion for clarifying order, seeking an order requiring Rachel to revoke her application for direct payment of the military retirement benefits. 2 These pleadings give rise to the judgment from which Richard appeals. However, because a permanent injunction is at issue, we pause to note the filing of still other lawsuits.

In 1995, Richard filed suit against Rachel and USAFAC in Austin, Travis County, Texas. This suit was ultimately transferred back to El Paso County on a change of venue and was docketed as Cause No. 95-12922 in County Court at Law Number Four. It likewise sought a declaratory judgment as to the validity of the marriage, the rights of the parties under the property settlement agreement and under the Uniformed Services Former Spouses' Protection Act (USFSPA). 3 At the Army's request, the suit was removed to federal court. A United States District Judge for the Western...

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