Flandermeyer v. Bonner

Decision Date21 November 2006
Docket NumberNo. 103,509.,103,509.
Citation2006 OK 87,152 P.3d 195
PartiesDouglas FLANDERMEYER, Petitioner, v. The Honorable Stephen BONNER, Associate District Judge of the District Court of Cleveland County, Respondent, and Tracey Flandermeyer, Real Party in Interest.
CourtOklahoma Supreme Court

¶ 0 The Real Party in Interest, Tracy Flandermeyer (wife) initiated divorce proceedings against the Petitioner, Douglas Flandermeyer (husband). The trial, which was anticipated to take a day, was instead held over the course of a year. At the last scheduled hearing, the husband moved for a mistrial and requested a new trial, insisting that the piecemeal hearing process violated his due process rights guaranteed by the Okla. Const. art 2, § 7 and the right to a speedy and certain remedy provided by the Okla. Const. art 2, § 6. The trial court denied the request and the husband filed an application for extraordinary relief with this Court. We determine that conducting a trial in a serial fashion implicates fundamental fairness, due process, and the right to a speedy and certain remedy. However, under the facts presented, because it appears that the delays were more attributable to the actions of the petitioner than those of the trial court, the application to assume original jurisdiction and the petition for writ of prohibition and/or mandamus is denied.

ORIGINAL JURISDICTION ASSUMED; WRITS OF PROHIBITION AND MANDAMUS DENIED.

David L. Thomas, J. David Terrell, Oklahoma City, OK, for Petitioner.

George H. Brown, Oklahoma City, OK, for Real Party in Interest.

KAUGER, J.

¶ 1 This application to assume original jurisdiction and petition for writ of prohibition and/or mandamus was brought by the petitioner (husband) after his divorce proceedings were rescheduled and heard piecemeal over a period of a year. We agree with the petitioner that holding a trial in a serial fashion implicates fundamental fairness, due process, and the right to a speedy and certain remedy.1 However, under the facts presented, because it appears that the delays were more attributable to the actions of the petitioner, than those of the trial court, the application to assume original jurisdiction and the petition for writ of prohibition and/or mandamus is denied.

DISPUTED FACTS

¶ 2 On December 29, 2004, Tracey Flandermeyer (wife) initiated divorce proceedings in the District Court of Cleveland County. On January 3, 2005, the Petitioner, Douglas Flandermeyer (husband) filed his answer and cross petition. The husband's counsel filed a Resolution Conference Statement on April 11, 2005, which indicated that the length of the trial would be one (1) day. The trial was set for May 12, 2005.

¶ 3 Because the husband failed to comply with the court's Resolution Conference Order and failed to respond to wife's discovery requests prior to the trial, the district court ordered that the husband could not call his witnesses to testify at trial and could not offer to admit any of his exhibits. However, the court gave the parties another opportunity to produce and exchange exhibits.

¶ 4 On May 12, 2005, the trial began, but the matter was not concluded in one day. Instead, the trial court continued the matter until October 7, 2005. The wife was prepared for trial on October 7, 2005; however, the husband's counsel informed the court that he had a scheduling conflict and could not proceed. The trial was reset to October 13, 2005, but the matter was not concluded on that day due in part to the husband's failure to exchange or produce exhibits. The trial court again reset the matter for January 20, 2006.

¶ 5 Before the January trial date, the husband hired new counsel, and at the January, 20, 2006, hearing, his lawyer spent most of the time covering issues which had been discussed before. When he was questioned on previous matters, the husband allegedly recanted his prior testimony, requiring the wife to produce a witness to refute the husband's statements. Due to this repetitive testimony, the trial was not finished on this date. It was tentatively reset to February 3, 2006. On February 3, 2006, another case took the entire day, and the trial was reset to May 25, 2006.

¶ 6 On May 25, 2006, all parties and counsel appeared to proceed on what was expected to be the final day of trial. The only remaining witness was the wife. However, the husband's counsel moved for a mistrial arguing that because the trial had been conducted in a piecemeal fashion over an entire year, his rights to due process were denied. The trial court denied the motion. The husband's counsel then requested that the case be stayed pending the filing of the husband's pleadings with this Court and the district court granted the request. The husband filed his application for extraordinary relief with this Court on June 30, 2006.

¶ 7 IN THE ABSENCE OF DILATORY BEHAVIOR BY THE LITIGANTS, HOLDING A TRIAL IN A SERIAL FASHION IMPLICATES FUNDAMENTAL FAIRNESS, DUE PROCESS, AND THE RIGHT TO A SPEEDY AND CERTAIN REMEDY.

¶ 8 The husband argues that because the district court did not hear this cause on successive days: 1) his procedural due process rights were violated;2 and 2) he was denied the right to a speedy and certain remedy. He requests that this Court order the trial court to declare a mistrial and to conduct a new trial on successive days. The wife counters that: 1) the district court worked with the parties to provide a meaningful trial; 2) the speedy and certain remedy would have been obtained. . . . . . but for the husband's dilatory tactics; and 3) the husband failed to allege or argue that the delay was materially harmful to him.

a. Due Process

¶ 9 The United States Constitution guarantees that no person may be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.3 Similarly, the Oklahoma Constitution provides that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.4 The United States Supreme Court and this Court have both held that the state's participation in any proceeding, the result of which may be the significant restriction of a person's liberty, requires that the person be afforded the protections of due process.5 Due process is implicated in a divorce proceeding.6

¶ 10 Before any deprivation can occur a fundamental requirement of due process must be satisfied: the opportunity to be heard7 in a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner.8 Due process is flexible and calls for such procedural protections as the particular situation demands.9 Before a party's due process rights are violated, it must be shown that the action or error was arbitrary, oppressive and shocking to the conscience of the court.10 Here, the trial court was faced with balancing its obligation to afford both parties due process and dealing with the husband's trial tactics, which according to the trial docket included several contempt citations. Although a divorce proceeding which is adjudicated one day every six months is perilously close to being both unreasonable in time and manner, as well as shocking to the court, we find no due process violation under these facts.

b. Right to a Speedy and Certain Remedy

¶ 11 The right to a speedy and certain remedy without delay, in a civil proceeding, is one of the rights enjoyed by the citizens of this State.11 The Oklahoma Constitution art. 2 § 6 requires that a speedy and certain remedy be afforded for every wrong and for every injury to person, property, or reputation and right and that justice be administered without sale, denial, delay or prejudice.12

¶ 12 In Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 530, 92 S.Ct. 2182, 2192, 33 L.Ed.2d 101 (1972) the United States Supreme Court addressed the right to a speedy trial in the criminal context.13 Barker held that there are four factors to consider in determining whether the right to a speedy trial has been deprived. These include: the length of the delay, the reason for the delay, the defendant's assertion of his right, and the prejudice to the defendant. Barker discussed these factors in a criminal adjudication context.14 However, in Civil Service Commission of the City of Tulsa v. Gresham, 1982 OK 125, ¶¶ 38-40, 653 P.2d 920, this Court applied similar factors to determine whether delays in the Tulsa Civil Service Commission hearing violated the right to a speedy trial of the Okla. Const. art. 2, § 6.15

¶ 13 In Gresham, three policemen appealed a demotion and a ninety-day suspension without pay to the Civil Service Commission. A full day hearing was held on April 18, 1979, during which the City presented its case and rested. The hearing was continued until April 27, 1979, when the defense presented three witnesses. Five days later the hearing was resumed for one day. The hearing was scheduled to resume June 6, but was continued for lack of quorum until June 22. Finally, on September 28, five months later, the Commission announced its decision.

¶ 14 On appeal, the Court in addressing whether holding the hearing in a serial fashion violated the policemen's right to a speedy trial, the Court said:

In Chase v. Watson, Okla. 294 P.2d 801 (1956) (at page 805), we said, `It is not questioned that within the power of court to regulate the conduct of a trial it was largely within the discretion of the court to determine the necessity of recess and to order a recess or postponement of further consideration of the case for a reasonable time.' And in Montgomery v. Moore, Okl., 292 P.2d 1040 (1955) we said with reference to a jury trial which was recessed for a period of nine days: `Such a long postponement in the course of a trial is not to be favored. But it must depend on the circumstances of each case whether such a postponement has any importance on appeal, or what, if any, prejudice resulted from such postponement, or whether the court abused its discretion in permitting or ordering such a postponement.'

The Gresham Court considered: 1) the circumstances of the particular case; 2) whether...

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