Coster v. Coster, 1-1082A293

Citation452 N.E.2d 397
Decision Date09 August 1983
Docket NumberNo. 1-1082A293,1-1082A293
PartiesSharon COSTER, Respondent-Appellant, v. Benny W. COSTER, Petitioner-Appellee.
CourtCourt of Appeals of Indiana

Page 397

452 N.E.2d 397
Sharon COSTER, Respondent-Appellant,
Benny W. COSTER, Petitioner-Appellee.
No. 1-1082A293.
Court of Appeals of Indiana,
First District.
Aug. 9, 1983.

Page 398

Stephen R. Heimann, Michael A. Mullett, Columbus, for respondent-appellant.

Page 399

Harold A. Harrell, William K. Steger, Bunger, Harrell & Robertson, Bloomington, for petitioner-appellee.

NEAL, Judge.


Respondent-appellant Sharon Coster (Wife) appeals from a decree of the Monroe Superior Court dissolving her marriage to petitioner-appellee Benny W. Coster (Husband) and ordering child support for their minor child. The issues presented for review concern pretrial discovery, disposition of the marital assets, and the order of child support.

We affirm.


The parties were married on October 10, 1954. Husband filed his petition for Dissolution of Marriage on September 21, 1977. The Decree of Dissolution was entered on August 2, 1982, following the trial, which had been continued eight times and which was finally held on June 8 and 9, 1982, following three pretrial hearings on discovery issues.

Three children were born of the marriage. At the time of the final hearing, the only remaining minor had just completed his first year as an undergraduate student at Indiana University. During the marriage, Husband was employed as an agent of State Farm Insurance Company. Wife did not work outside of the home; however, she did aid Husband in conducting the social activities of his insurance agency.

The entire marital estate was acquired by the parties during the marriage, neither party receiving significant assets by gift or inheritance. Husband exercised sole control over the parties' finances during the marriage. Pending final dissolution of the marriage, much controversy arose over the value of the marital assets. This led to the prolongment of pretrial discovery on this issue, which discovery was terminated by the trial court's order of March 11, 1982.

In its formal Decree of Dissolution, the trial court awarded Wife the residence and its contents, free of the mortgage obligation; two automobiles; attorney's fees; stock; and an amount of cash to be paid, in part, by installments. In addition, Wife retained custody of the minor child while Husband was ordered to pay all insurance, college and living expenses incurred by the son, so long as he remained a full-time college student. Husband was awarded the business property and equipment, Florida real estate, assorted personal property, and his Individual Retirement Account.


Wife presents three issues for review:

I. Whether the trial court abused its discretion by terminating discovery four and one half years after the Petition for Dissolution was filed;

II. Whether the trial court erred in ordering the disposition of the marital assets without disclosing the bases on which the award rested, and in failing to make specific findings of fact and conclusions of law; and

III. Whether the trial court's disposition of the marital assets amounted to an abuse of discretion.


Issue I. Termination of discovery

Wife alleges the trial court erred in ordering all discovery terminated on March 11, 1982. An examination of the record reveals that Wife initiated discovery on November 9, 1977, less than two months after Husband petitioned for dissolution of the marriage. In response to her requests, information was provided by Husband over the next four years. Husband answered each set of interrogatories propounded by Wife; he provided a financial statement compiled by a certified public accountant, and nearly 150 envelopes containing detailed explanations of his periodic employment compensation. He met with Wife's attorney at his office to go over the agency's

Page 400

finances, and testified at the pretrial discovery hearings and the trial.

Husband's employer, State Farm Insurance, yielded data showing Husband's past and present earnings through his employment as an agent of State Farm. This information was to be used in determining the future value of the agency to Husband. Although his employment contract stipulated, and the Vice President of State Farm testified, that Husband had no saleable or vested interest in the agency and that the agency should be valued at zero on a financial statement, Wife persisted in her requests for further information. This perseverance grew out of her belief that the future value of the agency was a factor to be considered in the division of the marital property.

Three pretrial hearings were conducted on the discovery of Husband's compensation from, and interest in, his State Farm Insurance agency. At each hearing the trial court attempted to ascertain which data not already provided Wife and her financial expert was necessary to their accurate valuation. Husband and State Farm's Vice President testified repeatedly that Husband's only profit from the agency, present or anticipated, derived from a percentage commission of the actual premiums paid by insureds to the company. Each hearing culminated in a debate; Husband and State Farm stating that Wife possessed all information relevant to a valuation of Husband's expected profits through the agency, Wife's financial expert insisting he needed more specific policy information to determine Husband's future interest in the agency.

We note at the outset that our Ind. Rules of Procedure, Trial Rule 26 is patterned after the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure relating to Discovery; therefore, authorities on the latter are relevant in construing our Indiana rule. Rembold Motors, Inc. v. Bonfield, (1973) 155 Ind.App. 422, 293 N.E.2d 210. Discovery must be accorded a broad and liberal scope to provide all parties with information essential to the proper litigation of all relevant issues, to eliminate surprise, and to promote settlement. Matter of Hawaii Corporation v. Crossley, (1980) 88 F.R.D. 518. However, "discovery, like all matters of procedure, has ultimate and necessary boundaries." Hickman v. Taylor, (1947) 329 U.S. 495, 507, 67 S.Ct. 385, 391, 91 L.Ed. 451. The trial court has broad discretion in ruling on issues of discovery and this court will only interfere where an abuse of discretion is apparent. Campbell v. Eli Lilly and Company, (1980) Ind.App., 413 N.E.2d 1054. It is within the discretion of the trial court to place bounds on the extent of discovery. Goldman v. Checker Taxi Company, (7th Cir.1963) 325 F.2d 853. Thus, the trial court may require discovery be completed by a certain date to prevent delay of the trial. Kelberine v. Societe Internationale, (D.C.Cir.1966) 363 F.2d 989, cert. denied 385 U.S. 989, 87 S.Ct. 595, 17 L.Ed.2d 450. The trial court may refuse to continue a trial date in order that further discovery can be conducted. MacKay v. American Potash & Chemical Co., (9th Cir.1959) 268 F.2d 512. Inherent in the trial court's power to prescribe the terms and conditions of discovery is the discretion to change or modify its orders as subsequent events may warrant. Martin v. Reynolds Metals Corporation, (9th Cir.1961) 297 F.2d 49. For example, the trial court may deny a request for further discovery on an issue, where it determines information sufficient to prepare a party's case on that issue has been exchanged, see United States v. 412.93 Acres of Land, (3rd Cir.1972) 455 F.2d 1242; or where it determines that the information sought has already been provided through prior discovery proceedings. Marcovich Land Corporation v. J.J. Newberry Company, (1980) Ind.App., 413 N.E.2d 935; Sue v. Chicago Transit Authority, (7th Cir.1960) 279 F.2d 416.

In practice, the broad discretion allotted the trial court in ruling on discovery matters, coupled with the harmless error doctrine, will bar reversal except in the unusual case. Swanner v . United States, (5th Cir.1969) 406 F.2d 716. There will be no reversal of a trial court discovery order without a showing of prejudice by the

Page 401

moving party. NLRB v. Seine and Line Fishermen's Union of San Pedro, (9th Cir.1967) 374 F.2d 974, cert. denied 389 U.S. 913, 88 S.Ct. 239, 19 L.Ed.2d 261. See Ind. Rules of Procedure, Trial Rule 61. In a divorce case, this court held that the trial court's denial of a motion to compel the wife to answer the husband's interrogatories more fully was not an abuse of discretion. Kujaca v. Kujaca, (1973) 159 Ind.App. 6, 304 N.E.2d 870. The husband claimed the answers were made in bad faith, were incomplete, and evasive. However, even if this was true, the husband made no showing of prejudicial error and, thus, reversal of the trial court was not warranted.

Following the rationale of the above decisions, we find no abuse of discretion in this trial court's termination of all discovery 53 months after the inception of the suit. Discovery had been an on-going affair for nearly five years. Perusal of the trial court docket sheet and Wife's exhibits at trial show that Wife had obtained eight continuances and a knee-high stack of information pertaining to the dissolution during that time. The trial court could readily have concluded that Wife had superfluous data covering Husband's financial interest in his State Farm Insurance agency with which to prepare her case.

Wife argues that even if it would have been within the trial court's discretion to bar further discovery on one issue, it was reversible error to terminate all discovery following the third pretrial...

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