Gutierrez v. Gutierrez, 2016–CA–00129–SCT

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
Citation233 So.3d 797
Docket NumberNO. 2016–CA–00129–SCT,CONSOLIDATED WITH NO. 2016–CA–00393–SCT,2016–CA–00129–SCT
Parties Clayton Frank GUTIERREZ v. Trisha GUTIERREZ Clayton Frank Gutierrez v. Trisha Gutierrez
Decision Date15 June 2017

233 So.3d 797

Clayton Frank GUTIERREZ

Clayton Frank Gutierrez
Trisha Gutierrez

NO. 2016–CA–00129–SCT

Supreme Court of Mississippi.

June 15, 2017





¶1. On December 4, 2014, this Court issued its opinion in Gutierrez v. Gutierrez , 153 So.3d 703 (2014), in which it affirmed the chancellor's judgment in part and reversed it in part, remanding the case for the resolution of three overarching issues. Clayton Gutierrez now appeals the chancellor's decisions concerning the issues on remand, as outlined in the chancery court's September 22, 2015, December 29, 2015, and February 26, 2016, orders. In all, Clayton alleges five errors. Finding that the court neither abused its discretion nor erred in its decision, this Court affirms the chancellor's judgments on the matter.


¶2. After twenty-two years of marriage, Trisha Gutierrez filed for divorce from her husband in March 2010. Shortly thereafter, Clayton Gutierrez (Clay) responded with a counterclaim for divorce. Initially, both parties asserted various fault grounds for their petitions, though the couple eventually settled on an irreconcilable-differences divorce. The parties quickly agreed to custody and visitation arrangements for their three children, leaving the division of marital assets and liabilities and spousal support as the only matters to be resolved. To date, the primary source of disagreement in this cause surrounds the division of the parties' second mortgage,1 the award of alimony, and a judgment for contempt.

Procedural History

¶3. Since 2010, this matter has proceeded through two trials, review by the Supreme Court, and multiple chancery court hearings, judgments, orders, and revised orders. This represents the third appeal to this Court on the matter, all of which have been presented by Clay.2

¶4. Clay's first appeal was decided by this Court on December 4, 2014. Gutierrez v. Gutierrez , 153 So.3d 703 (Miss. 2014). There, Clay presented four issues, each addressing the chancellor's evaluation of the marital property and debt. Gutierrez , 153 So.3d at 707. To address those issues, this Court reviewed the chancellor's April 23, 2013, Corrected Final Judgment on Divorce, which granted the parties' petition, adopted their child-custody and visitation agreements, and detailed the chancellor's division of marital assets and liabilities. Finding the chancellor

233 So.3d 803

made no error in his valuation, this Court affirmed the chancery court's assessment of Clay's interests in three individual companies; though the Court remanded on issues concerning the calculation and distribution of assets and liabilities, as well as the chancellor's findings on alimony, contempt, and attorney's fees. Gutierrez , 153 So.3d at 714. On remand, the chancery court addressed these concerns in the following three judgments.

September 22, 2015, Judgment : Second Mortgage Distribution

¶5. Through its 2014 decision, this Court requested that the chancery court provide a more definite explanation and finding regarding the second-mortgage debt. Gutierrez , 153 So.3d at 709. In doing so, the Court recognized (1) that Clay, individually, maintains the legal and financial obligation under the note; (2) Trisha was not a maker of the note and did not sign it;3 (3) and at that point in the litigation, the holder of the note had yet to make a demand for the deficiency. The Court then asked two questions of the chancellor: first, if the holder obtains a deficiency judgment, what are the respective obligations of the parties regarding repayment? Next, as a party not obligated under the note, can Trisha be held legally responsible for the deficiency if Clay cannot pay?

¶6. In its September 22, 2015, M.R.C.P. 54(b) Certified Judgment,4 the chancery court sought to clarify its original ruling and refine its determination regarding the second mortgage and the subsequent assessment of alimony. First, the court determined that including the liability for the second-mortgage debt in the distribution of the assets would be inequitable because the bank had yet to collect actively on the note.5 Because the court could not speculate that the bank eventually would initiate collection efforts, or predict if the debt would be settled in the future for less than the amount owed, the chancellor decided to refrain from charging the amount to either party. Rather, he amended his original decision and removed the debt allocated to both Trisha's and Clay's respective columns. The court then provided for joint responsibility between the two parties, making each accountable for one-half of any payment made toward the debt. The court recognized that, while Clay retains the sole legal liability to Wells Fargo, his obligation is contingent and unliquidated.

233 So.3d 804

The court held that making both parties equally responsible for any payment amount negotiated, settled, or other wise agreed to provides for joint responsibility without charging the amount to either party. The court then readopted and reincorporated its previous distribution of the remaining assets and liabilities from its April 23, 2013, Judgment, taking all other issues under advisement.

December 29, 2015, Judgment : Contempt and Attorney's Fees

¶7. Following the September 2015 Judgment, each party filed a motion questioning or disputing the chancellor's findings. The December 29, 2015, Judgment addressed both motions in turn, along with questions regarding claims of contempt in 2012 and 2015.

¶8. The chancellor first addressed Clay's post-trial motion, which argued that the court had failed to address all issues on remand together. Clay claimed that this Court requires matters of equitable distribution and alimony to be considered together, rather than in the isolation of an Rule 54(b) certified judgment. He argued that, as a result, the chancellor's ruling directly conflicted with the Court's requests on remand. Next, Clay claimed that the chancellor's removal of the second mortgage from the marital estate and the allocation of joint payment responsibility to the parties ignored the requests of this Court by assessing the debt as a liability to both parties. Clay requested the chancery court set aside the Rule 54(b) Certified Judgment and leave him solely responsible for the debt and diminishing assets. He contends that this decision would conform with this Court's mandate while significantly decreasing the lump-sum alimony award to Trisha from $215,138.50 to $33,136.6

¶9. The court quickly dismissed Clay's motion, maintaining the position that "the contingent nature of the loan, while a marital debt, would make it inequitable to include the liability in the equitable distribution of the assets." The court then readopted its original Armstrong7 analysis, removing the contingent Wells Fargo debt and reincorporating its previous equitable distribution of the remaining marital assets and liabilities.

¶10. Next, the chancellor reviewed Trisha's Rule 59 Motion, which asserted that the Court's September 2015 Judgment failed to set forth a starting point for lump-sum alimony payments. While the previous judgment reincorporated the analysis in the April 23, 2013, Corrected Final Judgment, including the amount of payments to be made and the duration of payment activity, the information therein did not identify when those payments were to begin. The chancellor recognized this oversight and determined that payments would begin February 1, 2016, continuing each year thereafter, until the amount was paid in full.

¶11. Last, the chancellor addressed claims of contempt from 2012 and 2015.

233 So.3d 805

The first of the contempt issues—Contempt 2012—was addressed by this Court in 2014 and primarily concerned Clay's failure to pay debts and expenses as ordered by the court on May 4, 2010, and July 8, 2011. In Gutierrez , this Court held that the chancellor's March 23, 2012, Contempt Judgment focusing on the court's May 2010 and July 2011 temporary orders was "manifestly in error." Gutierrez , 153 So.3d at 713. The Court found that the July 2011 "temporary order created several obvious ambiguities regarding Clayton's continuing support obligations." Gutierrez , 153 So.3d at 715. Those ambiguities created confusion which "arguably excused Clayton from continuing to pay Trisha's monthly expenses, or, at the very least, make the $750 monthly ‘other support’ payments." Gutierrez , 153 So.3d at 713. Although Clay admitted his failure to pay for some of Trisha's valid monthly expenses, this Court reversed the chancery court's contempt judgment and award of attorney's fees and remanded the issue for the chancery court to resolve the ambiguity in its previous orders and determine Clay's actual deficiency. Gutierrez , 153 So.3d at 714. In a succinct, two-paragraph response, the chancery court merely acknowledged the issue in this order and reassessed Trisha's award, amending it to reflect the additional amount owed from March 2012, along with...

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    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • June 4, 2020
    ...will not be reversed if the findings of fact are supported by substantial credible evidence in the record." Gutierrez v. Gutierrez , 233 So. 3d 797, 806 (Miss. 2017) (internal quotation mark omitted) (quoting Henderson v. Henderson , 757 So. 2d 285, 289-90 (Miss. 2000) ). But "[i]f we find ......
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    ...appellate court] will not reverse a chancellor's finding where it is supported by substantial credible evidence. Gutierrez v. Gutierrez , 233 So.3d 797, 815 (¶ 46) (Miss. 2017) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).DISCUSSIONI. Inability to Pay as a Contempt Defense ¶ 8. English ......
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    • Court of Appeals of Mississippi
    • July 27, 2021
    ...that whether to award alimony and the amount to be awarded are largely within the discretion of the chancellor." Gutierrez v. Gutierrez , 233 So. 3d 797, 811 (¶33) (Miss. 2017) (quoting Creekmore v. Creekmore , 651 So. 2d 513, 517 (Miss. 1995) ). "Alimony is considered only after the marita......
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    • Court of Appeals of Mississippi
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