Chen v. Hoeflinger, 28808.

CourtCourt of Appeals of Hawai'i
Citation279 P.3d 11,127 Hawai'i 346
Docket NumberNo. 28808.,28808.
Parties Hui Z. CHEN, Plaintiff–Appellee/Cross–Appellant, v. Thomas J. HOEFLINGER, Defendant–Appellant/Cross–Appellee.
Decision Date09 March 2012

127 Hawai'i 346
279 P.3d 11

Hui Z. CHEN, Plaintiff–Appellee/Cross–Appellant,
Thomas J. HOEFLINGER, Defendant–Appellant/Cross–Appellee.

No. 28808.

Intermediate Court of Appeals of Hawai‘i.

March 9, 2012.
As Corrected March 12, 2012.

279 P.3d 15

Paul K. Hamano, on the briefs, for Defendant–Appellant/Cross–Appellee.

Hui Z. Chen, on the briefs, Pro Se Plaintiff–Appellee/Cross Appellant.


Opinion of the Court by REIFURTH, J.

127 Hawai'i 350

The Family Court of the Third Circuit ("Family Court") entered a Divorce Decree on July 17, 2006 ("Decree") dissolving the marriage between Plaintiff–Appellee Hui Z. Chen ("Chen") and Defendant–Appellant Thomas J. Hoeflinger ("Hoeflinger"). This

127 Hawai'i 351
279 P.3d 16

appeal relates to the subsequent proceedings dividing the parties' property pursuant to Hawaii Revised Statutes ("HRS") §§ 580–47(a)1 and 580–562 .

Hoeflinger appeals from the June 18, 2007 Decision ("Decision"), the October 2, 2007 Judgment ("Judgment"), and various other pre-judgment orders issued by the Family Court.3 Chen filed a cross-appeal, which we deem to have been abandoned.4

Hoeflinger argues that this court lacks appellate jurisdiction because (1) there is no final appealable order because the Family Court did not divide all of the parties' property and debts, and (2) the Judgment is void because it was issued after the Family Court's jurisdiction over the parties' property had expired.

In the alternative, Hoeflinger challenges several findings of fact and conclusions of law

127 Hawai'i 352
279 P.3d 17

in the Decision and Judgment. He asserts that the Family Court erred by (3) holding that the June 6, 2001 post-nuptial agreement between Chen and Hoeflinger ("Post–Nuptial Agreement") was void ab initio, (4) finding that he wasted marital assets and deducting the value of the waste from his post-marital share, and (5) finding that the parties formed a premarital economic partnership.

Hoeflinger also claims that the Family Court erred by (6) denying his motion to disqualify Judge Yoshioka and by allowing other Family Court judges to preside in the case after Judge Yoshioka recused himself and all other Family Court judges, and (7) denying his ex parte motion to expedite the hearing on his motion for reconsideration while granting two continuances, despite the limited time available to complete the case.

We vacate findings of the Family Court related to the waste of marital assets, the enforceability of the parties' Post–Nuptial Agreement, one related adjustment, and one related distribution. We remand for further findings on the issue of the unconscionability of the Post–Nuptial Agreement and for recalculation and redistribution of the assets. We affirm in all other respects.


A. Chronology of the case

Chen and Hoeflinger married in the People's Republic of China ("PRC") on March 1, 1995. The couple moved to Hawai‘i in 2000. Chen filed a complaint for divorce in the Family Court on November 4, 2005, and the Decree was issued on July 17, 2006. The Decree explicitly reserved jurisdiction in the Family Court over "all issues pertaining to spousal support and alimony, property division and allocation of debts...."

At trial on the post-Decree issues, Chen testified that she moved in with Hoeflinger in July 1992 and lived with him until he left China for the United States in November 1995. According to Chen, prior to their marriage but while living together, she and Hoeflinger were sexually intimate and she helped pay for the couple's everyday expenses. Evidence was presented that in September 1995, Hoeflinger gave as gifts $29,000.00 to his children and $65,000.00 to three business acquaintances who assisted with business transactions in China. Hoeflinger introduced the notarized Post–Nuptial Agreement, which provided, in relevant part, that Chen would transfer her one-half undivided interest in the marital residence ("Marital Residence") to Hoeflinger in the event of divorce.

The trial on the post-Decree issues ended on March 19, 2007. On June 18, 2007, the Family Court issued the Decision which concluded, in part, that: (1) Chen and Hoeflinger formed a pre-marital economic partnership beginning in July 1992; (2) Hoeflinger wasted $94,000.00 and that value was deductible from Hoeflinger's share of the marital estate ("Finding 12"); (3) Hoeflinger wasted $94,000.00, which, when offset by his $18,348.79 in Category 1 assets, left Hoeflinger responsible for $75,651.21 in wasted assets ("Finding 18"); and (4) the Post–Nuptial Agreement was unenforceable "due to the absence of knowledge as to the scope and value of [Hoeflinger's] assets, and because it was unconscionable" ("Findings 34 and 35").

The Decision contained an order ("Order") which awarded each party "one-half 1/2 of the remaining assets of the parties consisting of $859,791.81 now in [Hoeflinger's] control, and the $31,046.60 in Fidelity Investments Accounts disposed off [sic] or held by [Chen]," subject to certain adjustments. Among other things, the adjustments required Hoeflinger to pay Chen $37,825.00, or approximately one-half of the $75,651.21 of marital waste ("Adjustment ‘A"’). The Family Court also ordered Hoeflinger to transfer his title to the Marital Residence to Chen and deducted its value, $368,000.00, from Chen's share of Category 5 assets ("Distribution ‘i"’). The Family Court expressly denied "[a]ll other claims, counter-claims, or cross-claims of the parties not specifically addressed[.]"

Hoeflinger filed a motion for reconsideration of the Decision on June 28, 2007 ("Motion for Reconsideration"), which presented several of the arguments raised now on appeal. On July 2, 2007, Hoeflinger filed an ex parte motion to expedite the hearing on the Motion for Reconsideration. The Family Court denied the ex parte motion on July 16,

127 Hawai'i 353
279 P.3d 18

2007. On October 2, 2007, the Family Court denied the Motion for Reconsideration, stating that it had "lost jurisdiction to hear matters affecting property division issues" after July 17, 2007, pursuant to HRS § 580–56(d) and Boulton v. Boulton, 69 Haw. 1, 730 P.2d 338 (1986). The Judgment was filed on the same day.

B. Motion to disqualify Judge Yoshioka

On July 11, 2007, Hoeflinger filed a motion to disqualify Judge Yoshioka ("Motion to Disqualify") on the grounds that Chen's counsel, Steven J. Kim ("Attorney Kim"), had been appointed as a per diem judge of the Family Court on April 13, 2007. Hoeflinger's counsel had become aware of Attorney Kim's appointment on May 4, 2007.

In conjunction with the Motion to Disqualify, Hoeflinger submitted an affidavit stating his belief that Judge Yoshioka was biased against him. This belief was purportedly based on "[his] own personal feelings obtained from the case"; the Decision, in which Judge Yoshioka stated that Hoeflinger's testimony was not credible; and the fact that "[Chen's] attorney was appointed as a per diem family court judge to serve in the same court and courtroom as Judge Yoshioka."5 In addition to requesting that Judge Yoshioka be disqualified, Hoeflinger requested that the Order be nullified and that a new judge hear the case de novo.

Judge Yoshioka held a hearing on the Motion to Disqualify on July 20, 2007. At the hearing, Judge Yoshioka explained that he was on a committee that interviewed applicants for per diem judgeships and that the committee submitted recommendations to the chief justice on or about March 19, 2007.

Judge Yoshioka said that he was inclined to deny the motion because Hoeflinger's counsel had received notice of Attorney Kim's appointment long before the Decision was issued and, therefore, waived his right to object. Judge Yoshioka believed that the fact that Attorney Kim was an applicant for a per diem judgeship during the trial did not preclude Judge Yoshioka from hearing the case or rendering a decision.

After further argument, Judge Yoshioka decided that he would not disqualify himself, but that he would conditionally recuse both himself and all third circuit family court judges. Judge Yoshioka qualified his ruling, stating that the Family Court was recused as long as Attorney Kim represented Chen.

Attorney Kim filed a Withdrawal and Substitution of Counsel on August 1, 2007. Deputy Chief Circuit Court Judge Greg K. Nakamura, who intended to assume responsibility for the case upon Judge Yoshioka's conditional recusal of the Family Court, determined that there was no longer any basis for the Family Court to refer the case to a circuit court judge, and so referred the case back to the Family Court for a further hearing on Judge Yoshioka's disqualification.

On August 9, 2007, Judge Ben H. Gaddis presided over a further hearing on the Motion to Disqualify. Judge Gaddis stated his understanding that "Judge Yoshioka was...

To continue reading

Request your trial
38 cases
  • Balogh v. Balogh, SCWC–11–0001074.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Hawai'i
    • August 11, 2014
    ...[other] spouse." See Lewis v. Lewis, 69 Haw. 497, 501, 748 P.2d 1362, 1366 (1988) ; see also Chen v. Hoeflinger, 127 Hawai‘i 346, 356–57, 279 P.3d 11, 21–22 (App.2012).8 Ray 134 Hawai'i 41332 P.3d 643 argues that the ICA applied the wrong legal standard for determining unconscionability. Fo......
  • Arquette v. State, SCWC–11–0000416.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Hawai'i
    • December 14, 2012 appearance of impropriety and ... reasonably cast suspicion on [the judge's] impartiality.’ " Chen v. Hoeflinger, 127 Hawai‘i 346, 362, 279 P.3d 11, 27 (App.2012) (quoting Ross, 89 Hawai‘i at 377, 974 P.2d at 17) (brackets and ellipses in original) (other citation omitted). When the ICA ......
  • Collins v. Wassell, SCWC–30070.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Hawai'i
    • February 28, 2014
    ...on both the financial and nonfinancial aspects of the parties' premarital relationship. See, e.g., Chen v. Hoeflinger, 127 Hawai‘i 346, 279 P.3d 11 (App.2012) ; Aiona–Agra v. Agra, No. 30685, 2012 WL 593105 (App. Feb. 23, 2012) (SDO); Doe v. Roe, No. 28596, 2010 WL 2535138 (App. June 23, 20......
  • Kondaur Capital Corp. v. Matsuyoshi, CAAP-19-0000696
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Hawai'i
    • April 9, 2021
    ...the two-part analysis for addressing the issue of disqualification or recusal, as summarized in Chen v. Hoeflingner, 127 Hawai'i 346, 361, 279 P.3d 11, 26 (2012). See also Arquette v. State, 128 Hawai'i 423, 447, 290 P.3d 493, 517 (2012).6Page 5 Matsuyoshi also argues that "a judge's duty n......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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