In re Doud, No. 120,897
|23 December 2020
|480 P.3d 800
|In the MATTER OF the MARRIAGE OF Deborah S. DOUD, Appellant, AND William M. MODRCIN Jr., Appellee.
|Kansas Court of Appeals
Ronald W. Nelson, of Ronald W. Nelson, PA, of Overland Park, for appellant.
Gregory A. Dean, of Overland Park, for appellee.
Before Bruns, P.J., Warner, J., and Burgess, S.J.
Under Kansas law, a person who has obtained a final judgment must take steps to enforce or collect upon that judgment within a certain time; otherwise, the party's enforcement rights are extinguished. But these enforcement rights only arise when a judgment is final —i.e., definitively decides the merits of all pending claims. Until that time, a court always has the power to revisit and modify its previous rulings.
The case before us arises at the intersection of these principles. Deborah Doud and William Modrcin were divorced in 2007. In 2008, the district court entered two orders dividing most of their property. But in accordance with the parties' mediation agreement, the court left the division of their furniture and other items of personal property unresolved. The primary question before us is whether the court had the power to enforce the 2008 property-distribution orders in 2015, or whether—as the district court ruled—the passage of time rendered the 2008 orders unenforceable as a matter of law or equity.
We hold that because the 2008 orders left questions unresolved, they were not final judgments under Kansas law. Thus, the district court erred when it found the orders were unenforceable. Neither do we find the district court's conclusion persuasive that laches bars Doud's claims, as the court failed to consider Doud's legal right to pursue relief. We therefore reverse that portion of the district court's decision and remand this case so the court may consider the merits of Doud's requests. But we agree with the district court that it had the authority to divide other property, the parties' joint University of Kansas Williams Education Fund account, in light of the changing circumstances since the parties' divorce. We thus affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand with directions.
Doud and Modrcin were divorced in 2007. Their divorce involved a bifurcated proceeding; after the court entered their divorce decree, the former spouses attended a mediation in an effort to resolve lingering custody questions and how their various property should be divided. As a result of the mediation, Doud and Modrcin signed a settlement agreement that created various duties and obligations. In July 2008, the district court entered a journal entry that largely incorporated the terms of that agreement. This appeal concerns two portions of that July 2008 journal entry: the division of the parties' personal property and the disposition of their University of Kansas Williams Education Fund (Williams Fund) account.
To divide their personal property, Doud prepared a list of the important pieces of marital and nonmarital personal property. Based on that list, the parties identified items each would receive. But the list did not include all of the former spouses' property, leaving unassigned miscellaneous furniture, Christmas decorations, and various pieces of Jayhawk memorabilia. The journal entry therefore included the following order as to how that unlisted property would be divided:
The journal entry further indicated that the district court would "reserve jurisdiction over the division of the household furniture and furnishings, family photos and videos if the parties are unable to resolve the division and copying of those items."
It is unclear from the record whether either party contacted the court about the unresolved items of personal property. But the court did not issue any additional orders on the matter after the July 2008 journal entry, nor did it indicate that the remaining matters of property distribution had been resolved.
As for their Williams Fund account, the court's journal entry indicated Doud and Modrcin agreed to continue holding that account jointly instead of dividing it. The journal entry, in accordance with the parties' agreement, stated that the parties would each contribute half of their agreed-upon annual contribution. The journal entry noted the court would "retain[ ] jurisdiction to resolve this issue if the parties are unable to agree upon an annual contribution amount" and established the procedure for addressing such disagreements. The journal entry also stated the court would "retain[ ] jurisdiction to resolve any disputes regarding these agreements, including those arising should the Williams Fund and/or Ticket Office be unable to implement this agreement."
Less than two weeks after the district court issued the July 2008 journal entry, Modrcin filed a motion to alter or amend the court's order. He asked the court to revisit, among other matters, the Williams Fund arrangement, indicating the journal entry did not accurately reflect the parties' intended handling of that account. After a hearing, the court altered its previous disposition in an October 2008 journal entry. The October 2008 journal entry clarified that Doud and Modrcin would alternate receipt of Williams Fund correspondence on an annual basis (and keep the other person informed of any information received) and discussed the distribution of football and basketball tickets and seat locations at those games. At the end of the October 2008 journal entry, the court indicated that "in all other respects the Journal Entry of July 23, 2008 shall remain in full force and effect as the final judgment of the Court."
Other than a stipulated order to direct the new ownership of certain bank accounts, nothing was filed and no appearances were made in the parties' divorce case for the next 6 1/2 years. Then in July 2015, Doud filed a motion to enforce the 2008 journal entries. She alleged Modrcin violated the court's order in four ways: failing to pay his share of their children's college expenses, delaying in removing her name from the mortgage, refusing to discuss the distribution of unlisted personal property, and failing to pay his share of the annual Williams Fund contribution.
Modrcin responded by arguing the July 2008 journal entry had been extinguished and could no longer be enforced as a matter of law. He pointed out that Doud had not attempted to enforce the order in the five years after it had been entered, and she had not revived that order in the following two years. Alternatively, he argued that the equitable principle of laches barred enforcement of the order since so much time had passed.
The district court initially ruled that the July 2008 journal entry was not a final judgment, so Doud's ability to enforce that order had not been extinguished. Modrcin moved the court to reconsider its ruling, arguing the journal entry had extinguished and laches precluded enforcement. But in the event the court found that it could enforce or modify its previous order, he asked the court to divide the Williams Fund account instead of having the parties share a joint account.
Having found the October 2008 journal entry was a final, enforceable judgment, the court turned to the question of dormancy. The court found that neither party had sought to enforce the judgment in the five years after it had been entered, nor had anyone filed a renewal affidavit under K.S.A. 60-2403. The court concluded the October 2008 judgment became dormant in October 2013. And because neither party sought to revive that judgment—a specific, statutory procedure—in the two years that followed, the judgment had been extinguished and could no longer be executed upon. Finally, the court observed that "[e]ven if dormancy had not precluded relief, the doctrine of laches would have" as a result of the "unreasonable and unexplained ... lapse of time" between the October 2008 journal entry and Doud's effort to enforce that judgment in July 2015.
Since the journal entry had been extinguished, the court denied Doud's college expense, unlisted property, and mortgage claims. But the court found it could reach the merits of the...
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