Gakuba v. Gakuba, 1170

CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland
Docket NumberNo. 1170,1170
Decision Date10 July 2020


No. 1170


September Term, 2018
July 10, 2020

Circuit Court for Baltimore County
Case No. 03-C-94-1519


Berger, Nazarian, Arthur, JJ.

Opinion by Nazarian, J.

* This is an unreported opinion, and it may not be cited in any paper, brief, motion, or other document filed in this Court or any other Maryland Court as either precedent within the rule of stare decisis or as persuasive authority. Md. Rule 1-104.

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Alla P. Gakuba ("Alla") and Chrysologue Gakuba ("Chrysologue")1 divorced twenty-five years ago. After a period of dormancy, the litigation came back to life over Chrysologue's failure (or refusal) to pay alimony and for Alla's health insurance coverage. The current round arises from Alla's success, indeed over-success, in garnishing Chrysologue's accounts to collect arrearages. Alla now appeals an order of the Circuit Court for Baltimore County finding that she had been overpaid for alimony arrearages and health insurance premiums she had garnished from Chrysologue's domestic investment accounts, finding that Chrysologue no longer could be ordered to pay her health insurance costs, and awarding $525 in attorneys' fees to Chrysologue after a discovery dispute. We affirm.


Alla and Chysologue divorced in 1995. There was a flurry of litigation in the years after, an interregnum between 2001 and 2015, and renewed litigation since, primarily (as here) over Chrysologue's failure to pay alimony and for Alla's health insurance. Our March 21, 2017 opinion addressed much of the factual background and procedural history,2 and we pick the story up there.

A. Chrysologue's Over-Payment Of Arrearages To Alla.

On February 29, 2016, the circuit court ordered Chrysologue to pay Alla $25,200 for fourteen months of unpaid alimony. Chrysologue still didn't pay and the court held a

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contempt hearing on June 21, 2016. When he failed to appear, the court found him in contempt, ordered a writ of body attachment, and outlined his debts at the time: (1) $32,400 for alimony arrears through June 1, 2016 (18 months' worth); (2) $3,213.90 for unpaid health insurance premiums through June 1, 2016; and (3) $1,670 in fees and costs related to the 2016 proceedings. Between March and May 2017, the court entered additional judgments against Chrysologue for $18,000 in unpaid alimony due from July 1, 2016 through April 30, 2017, $2,397 for unpaid insurance premiums through April 30, 2017, and $1,774 in costs and fees. Combined, and accounting for post-judgment interest, Chrysologue's outstanding judgments totaled $60,669.53. Alla garnished Chrysologue's bank accounts to collect the debt, and the court approved a garnishment of Chrysologue's Social Security benefits to cover his monthly indefinite alimony obligation of $1,800.

Chrysologue was taken into custody for contempt on September 25, 2017. At his bail review hearing, he presented a check he had written to Alla for $25,200 on April 25, 2017 in partial satisfaction of his alimony debt (although the court had updated that arrearage to $32,400 for more missed payments).3 He offered further evidence that he had overpaid for his debts through bank account garnishments: one of his banks had paid Alla $38,275.05 and another bank paid her $38,705.05.4 Combined, he had paid her

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$102,180.10. The court found that Chrysologue had complied with its June 21, 2016 order and released him. The court issued orders of satisfaction for the outstanding judgments on October 23, 2017.

Alla and Chrysologue filed several motions relating to Chrysologue's debts, ongoing discovery disputes, and Alla's health insurance coverage.5 They appeared for a motions hearing on April 6, 2018, "[t]he gravamen of [which] was the allegation that [Alla] over-garnished [Chrysologue's] funds to satisfy the four judgments entered in her favor . . . ." The court, relying on calculations submitted by Chrysologue's counsel, found that Chrysologue owed Alla "a total of $60,669.53 in judgments and post-judgment interest as of April 1, 2018 . . . ." It found "credible [Chrysologue's] evidence in support of the payments made and amounts garnished for the benefit of [Alla]," and determined that she received the funds from the three payments.

The court also accepted Chrysologue's calculation of additional outstanding alimony owed from May 1, 2017 and May 10, 2018, a total of $4,072.14.6 Chrysologue's

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outstanding balance on the four judgments, $60,669.53, plus the additional alimony amount of $4,072.14, combined for a total debt obligation of $64,741.67. "Subtracting the amounts due [$64,741.67] from the amounts paid and garnished [$102,180.10]" resulted in a finding that Alla "over-garnished [Chrysologue's] accounts by $37,438.43."

B. Chrysologue's Obligation To Pay For Alla's Health Insurance.

After the parties divorced, the court ordered Chrysologue to provide Alla with health insurance or pay for her premiums until she remarried or either of the parties passed away, whichever happened first:

ORDERED that [Chrysologue] shall continue to maintain comparable or the same health insurance coverage (with the same deductible) which was in effect prior to the Judgment of Divorce in October, 1995, on [Alla], at his expense, until October 9, 1997 as was previously ordered in the Judgment of Divorce and thereafter continue to maintain comparable coverage (with the same deductible) for [Alla], at [Chrysologue's] expense until [Alla's] remarriage or the death of either party, whichever event first occurs. If [Alla] relocates to another state, she will secure comparable insurance coverage and [Chrysologue] will pay the premiums thereon. If it is established that [Chrysologue] has cancelled [Alla's] medical insurance, he is ordered to immediately reinstate that insurance and maintain it in full force and effect. . . .

On February 14, 2018, Alla filed a motion to enforce the court's February 12, 2016 order arguing, among other things, that Chrysologue had failed to reinstate her health insurance

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as ordered. In response, Chrysologue argued that he no longer was required to pay Alla's health insurance premiums because there no longer were statutory grounds to support the order. He argued that under Bricker v. Bricker, 78 Md. App. 570 (1989), "a [c]ourt can only grant a divorced spouse medical insurance coverage or expense reimbursement if the prior spouse was covered under a group health insurance contract" under the Maryland Code (1995, 2017 Repl. Vol.), § 11-508(b)(3) of the Insurance Article ("IN"). And because Chrysologue no longer had group insurance coverage after closing his practice, he asserted that didn't need to pay Alla's secondary insurance premiums. He argued further that Alla was Medicare eligible and no longer could receive benefits under IN § 15-408(c)(2). The court agreed:

In Bricker the Court of Special Appeals held that there is no common law basis for the award of health insurance as a component of alimony; therefore a divorced spouse must rely on statutory authority to justify such an award. Section 11-111 of the Family Law article dictates that a court may include health insurance as a component of alimony subject to the requirements of §15-408 of the Insurance article.
Subsection § 15-408(b)(3) of the Insurance Article directs that continuing coverage for a divorced spouse is available only when the insured is covered by a group contract. This is clearly not the case here; [Chrysologue] is retired and no longer covered by the group plan that was in place at the time of the 1997 Order. Furthermore, subsection (c)(2) provides that a divorced spouse loses eligibility for continuing coverage when she becomes entitled to Medicare benefits. In this case, [Alla's] primary insurance coverage is, in fact, Medicare.

The court held that Chrysologue's obligation to pay for Alla's supplemental health insurance terminated on April 1, 2018. It found that Chrysologue still owed $2,491.61 in insurance costs from May 1, 2017 through March 31, 2018, though, and, after deducting

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that amount from Alla's calculated overpayment of $37,438.43, found that Alla owed Chrysologue a total of $34,946.82 in over-garnished funds and post-judgment interest.

C. The Discovery Dispute And Fee Award.

On March 1, 2018, Alla moved for sanctions against Chrysologue and his attorney, arguing primarily that they had acted in bad faith and furthered "unjustified proceedings." In her motion, she requested $216,000 for Chrysologue's "abuse of process" and $100,000 against counsel for Chrysologue for "'abuse of process', for violating the Rules of Professional Conduct, for unpure motives, [and] for filing frivolous motions in bad faith." Chrysologue responded by calling Alla a "vexatious litigant" for "filing numerous pro se pleadings," and asked the court to order Alla to pay attorneys' fees for "the costs of these proceedings." Counsel for Chrysologue attached a letter he sent to Alla as a "good faith attempt" to resolve a discovery dispute in which he asserted that Alla had failed to respond timely to his interrogatories, documents requests, and request for admission of facts. He requested $525 in fees for his time in dealing with the alleged discovery violation.

Chrysologue then filed a separate motion for sanctions arising from Alla's failure to file discovery responses timely. He asserted that he served her with interrogatories, document requests, and requests for admission of facts on February 16, 2018, and sent her a follow-up letter on March 19, 2018. He moved for sanctions three days later, again requesting $525 for the same services described in his response to Alla's motion for sanctions. He added requests for the court to admit all facts set forth in his request for admission of facts, to strike all of Alla's pleadings, and to dismiss all of Alla's pending

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The court addressed all of the motions at the April 6 hearing. The court...

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