Jiggetts v. Jiggetts, 012221 MDSCA, 1961-2019

Docket Nº:1961-2019
Opinion Judge:BEACHLEY, J.
Party Name:KEVIN JIGGETTS v. MICHELLE JIGGETTS
Judge Panel:Reed, Beachley, Adkins, Sally D. (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.
Case Date:January 22, 2021
Court:Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

KEVIN JIGGETTS

v.

MICHELLE JIGGETTS

No. 1961-2019

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

January 22, 2021

Circuit Court for Charles County Case No. 08-C-11-001765

Reed, Beachley, Adkins, Sally D. (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.

OPINION [*]

BEACHLEY, J.

In his quest to undo a provision in a 2011 separation agreement that required him to pay his former spouse one-third of any net proceeds he received from a personal injury case, in March 2019 appellant Kevin Jiggetts filed a petition to vacate the divorce judgment and set aside the separation agreement. Relevant to this appeal, Mr. Jiggetts first claimed that the divorce order did not constitute a final judgment because the court reserved on the issue of child support. Alternatively, he asserted that, even if the judgment were final, it was subject to revision pursuant to Maryland Rule 2-535(b) because the court's failure to establish child support in the divorce decree constituted an "irregularity" within the meaning of the Rule. The circuit court granted Michelle Jiggetts's motion to dismiss, leading to this appeal. We shall affirm the circuit court's judgment.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The facts are essentially undisputed. The parties married in 1995, separated in 2010, and were granted an absolute divorce by the Circuit Court for Charles County in 2012. The divorce decree entered on March 6, 2012, incorporated without merger the parties' "Voluntary Separation and Property Settlement Agreement" (the "separation agreement") that purported to resolve all issues arising out of their marriage.

Paragraph 20 of the separation agreement addressed Mr. Jiggetts's personal injury claim against the Islamic Republic of Iran emanating from injuries he received as a result of the Beirut barracks bombings in 1983. Paragraph 20 provides: Wife shall receive one-third (1/3) of the net proceeds received by Husband from the case captioned Carolyn Davis v. Islamic Republic of Iran, Case Number 07-1302, filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. Husband agrees that he shall execute any documents necessary and present said documents to Fay Kaplan Law, PA, 777 Sixth Street, NW, 4th FL, Washington, DC 20001 and/or its successors or assigns, in order to guarantee payment to Wife of her one-third (1/3) interest as set for[th] herein.

On March 30, 2012, Mr. Jiggetts was awarded $32, 578, 016 in compensatory and punitive damages against the Islamic Republic of Iran. In December 2016, Mr. Jiggetts received $1, 590, 354.06, which represented the first payment he received on the judgment.

After initially filing a contempt petition in January 2017, Ms. Jiggetts thereafter filed an amended petition for contempt in which she sought to hold Mr. Jiggetts in contempt for failing to pay her one-third of the proceeds he received on the judgment against the Iranian government as well as his share of educational expenses for the parties' daughter as required by Paragraph 14 of the separation agreement. The court ultimately found Mr. Jiggetts in contempt, directing entry of a $25, 400 judgment against Mr. Jiggetts for unpaid education expenses and a $500, 000 judgment for his failure to pay Ms. Jiggetts one-third of the proceeds he received on the Iran judgment. Because Mr. Jiggetts promptly paid the $125, 000 court-ordered purge, the court deemed the award for educational expenses satisfied and entered a judgment against Mr. Jiggetts in the amount of $400, 400 for the balance due on the payment related to the Iran judgment.

In September 2018, Ms. Jiggetts sought to enforce the judgment in the Superior Court of Ventura County, California.1 That led to Mr. Jiggetts filing in the Circuit Court for Charles County a "Petition to Vacate Order Dated March 5, 2 2012, Set Aside Separation Agreement and for Other Relief." After a hearing, the circuit court issued a written opinion granting Ms. Jiggetts's motion to dismiss.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

We have explained the appropriate standard of review from the grant of a motion to dismiss as follows: "The proper standard for reviewing the grant of a motion to dismiss is whether the trial court was legally correct. In reviewing the grant of a motion to dismiss, we must determine whether the complaint, on its face, discloses a legally sufficient cause of action." In reviewing the complaint, we must "presume the truth of all well-pleaded facts in the complaint, along with any reasonable inferences derived therefrom." "Dismissal is proper only if the facts and allegations, so viewed, would nevertheless fail to afford plaintiff relief if proven."

Higginbotham v. Pub. Serv. Comm'n of Md., 171 Md.App. 254, 264 (2006) (quoting Britton v. Meier, 148 Md.App. 419, 425 (2002)).

I.

The March 6, 2012 Divorce Judgment Constituted a Final Judgment

Relying on Maryland Rule 2-602(a), Mr. Jiggetts claims that the 2012 divorce decree was not a final judgment because the court "reserved" on the issue of child support. He notes that the separation agreement provided that "the issues respecting the support and maintenance of the Child will be resolved by way of the Maryland Child Support Guidelines." Mr. Jiggetts therefore contends that, as a non-final judgment, the court had plenary authority pursuant to Rule 2-602(a)(3) to revise the divorce judgment, specifically Paragraph 20 of the incorporated separation agreement.

We reject Mr. Jiggetts's argument and hold that the 2012 divorce decree constituted a final judgment. Our analysis begins with the principles that inform whether a judgment is final. In Rohrbeck v. Rohrbeck, the Court of Appeals stated, If a ruling of the court is to constitute a final judgment, it must have at least three attributes: (1) it must be intended by the court as an unqualified, final disposition of the matter in controversy, (2) unless the court properly acts pursuant to Md. Rule 2-602(b), it must adjudicate or complete the adjudication of all claims against all parties, and (3) the clerk must make a proper record of it in accordance with Md. Rule 2-601.

318 Md. 28, 41 (1989).

We have no difficulty concluding that the court here intended the divorce decree to be "an unqualified, final disposition" of the case, and that the decree adjudicated "all claims against all parties." Id. It is somewhat incongruous that the court granted the divorce based upon Mr. Jiggetts's complaint, and that his attorney prepared the judgment he now challenges. In his divorce complaint, Mr. Jiggetts requested the following relief: a) an absolute divorce from Ms. Jiggetts; b) an award of primary custody of the minor child in favor of Ms. Jiggetts in accordance with the separation agreement; and c) incorporation, without merger, of the separation agreement in the court's judgment of divorce. After a hearing on February 22, 2012, the family law magistrate recommended that the parties be granted an absolute divorce and that the separation agreement be incorporated, but not merged, into the divorce judgment. Notably, the magistrate expressly stated in his findings and recommendations that "the issue of child support is not being raised by the parties and therefore the issue of child support should be reserved." The divorce "order"-prepared by Mr. Jiggetts's counsel-mirrored the magistrate's recommendation, stating that "since the parties are not raising the issue of child support at this time, the issue shall be reserved." The divorce decree further required Mr. Jiggetts to pay the court costs and ordered "that this case be and hereby is closed for statistical purposes only."

In our view, the language of the divorce decree clearly evinces the court's intention to render an "unqualified, final disposition of the matter in controversy." Not only did the court order Mr. Jiggetts to pay the final costs and "close" the case, it did not schedule any further hearings. Indeed, the case lay dormant for years because neither party raised nor pursued the issue of child support. Accordingly, there was no "claim" for child support for the court to resolve. Thus, the court's judgment represented not only an "unqualified, final disposition" of the case, but it also adjudicated "all claims against all parties."[3] Id. We therefore hold that the 2012 divorce decree constituted a final judgment.

Our holding is consistent with Maryland precedent as well as common practice in our circuit courts. In Davis v. Davis, 335 Md. 699 (1994), the Court was tasked with determining whether a final judgment was entered on February 28, 1990, when the clerk made a docket entry confirming the granting of an "absolute divorce" after the court stated from the bench that the grounds for divorce had been established and it intended to reserve on the issue of marital property. We reprint the trial court's bench comments in Davis:

The Court concludes, based on the testimony, that the plaintiff [Mr. Davis] has established grounds to grant him a divorce absolute on the grounds that the parties have lived separate and apart for the statutory period of more than two years. The Court reserves, however, the authority under the statute to make a marital award, if any, after hearing testimony on the property interest of the parties and that the parties will be entitled at that time to present any testimony that they desire to present on the issues or the factors that are to be considered by the Court in reaching a conclusion as to what award, if any, ought to be made. And those factors are listed in the statute, and therefore all parties are entitled to present any evidence they care to on the issues, including the cause of the breakup of the marriage.

Id. at 703 (alteration in original).

The wife in...

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