Lee v. Lee, No. 98-716.

Docket NºNo. 98-716.
Citation2000 MT 67, 299 Mont. 78, 996 P.2d 389
Case DateMarch 16, 2000
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Montana

996 P.2d 389
2000 MT 67
299 Mont. 78

Shawn LEE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
Lisa Kerry LEE, a.k.a. Lisa Kerry Johnson, Defendant and Appellant

No. 98-716.

Supreme Court of Montana.

Submitted on Briefs June 6, 1999.

Decided March 16, 2000.


996 P.2d 390
996 P.2d 391
996 P.2d 392
Lisa K. Johnson, Lolo, Montana, pro se

Richard R. Buley, Tipp and Buley, Missoula, Montana, for Respondent.

Justice JAMES C. NELSON delivered the Opinion of the Court.

¶ 1 Lisa Kerry Lee, a.k.a. Lisa Kerry Johnson (Johnson), appeals from a judgment issued by the Twenty-First Judicial District Court, Ravalli County, in favor of Shawn R. Lee (Lee). The June 15, 1998 judgment awarded Lee $12,178 pursuant to Johnson's and Lee's 1996 dissolution decree, offset maintenance owed by Lee, and further adjudged Johnson guilty of contempt, and ordered her to serve 24 hours in the Ravalli County Jail.

¶ 2 We affirm, and remand for the determination of fees and costs.

Factual and Procedural Background

¶ 3 This matter came before the Ravalli County District Court on June 2, 1998, for a show cause hearing on Lee's motion that Johnson should be found in contempt for her failure to comply with a 1996 dissolution decree. Following the hearing, the court on July 15 issued a $12,178 judgment in favor of Lee. The money judgment included an offset for maintenance that Lee owed Johnson. Under Lee's and Johnson's 1996 dissolution decree, Lee was responsible for annual maintenance payments of $100 for five years, as well as $686 in back-due temporary maintenance payments. The court also held Johnson in direct contempt for her "deceitful pleadings filed in this matter and for her deceitful omission," and sentenced her to 24 hours in the Ravalli County jail.

¶ 4 The contempt order as well as the money judgment resulted from Johnson selling a horse and a horse trailer that should have been transferred to Lee, keeping the proceeds, and subsequently not informing Lee, Lee's counsel, her own counsel, the District Court, or this Court, that she had done so— all the while assuring or leading the respective tribunals to believe that the property would not be sold.

¶ 5 The events that culminated with the above judgment and finding of contempt can be traced to March 19, 1996, when the same court issued a final decree of dissolution in the marriage of Lee and Johnson. The couple had been separated since 1994; Johnson currently resides in Missoula County, Montana, and Lee resides in California.

¶ 6 As part of the distribution of the marital estate, the court ordered that Johnson return within 30 days to Lee a quarter horse purchased in 1986 and a horse trailer purchased in 1990. The horse was worth approximately $6,500 at the time, and the trailer, although not given a specific value, had been purchased for $6,900. Unbeknownst to Lee or the court, however, Johnson had already sold the horse and kept the proceeds, which she claimed were applied to "house payments" and "outstanding bills." The

996 P.2d 393
court's dissolution decree determined that at the time Johnson was earning $1,600 a month as a business manager

¶ 7 On April 19, 1996, Johnson filed a notice of appeal to this Court. On May 10, 1996, Lee filed a motion with the District Court to enforce judgment and requested a writ of assistance in an effort to compel Johnson to turn over the horse and horse trailer.

¶ 8 On June 18, 1996, Johnson, who was then unemployed, filed a motion for stay of execution of judgment pending appeal. In her supporting affidavit, she claimed that the items she had not turned over to Lee, the horse and the trailer, were "the only assets of substance that remain in my hands since separation." She further claimed that the items were "irreplaceable and not subject to ready valuation" and that the items "will be cared for during this appeal." On that same day, Lee renewed his request for writ of assistance in compelling Johnson to turn over the horse and trailer.

¶ 9 The court denied Johnson's motion for a stay of execution and granted Lee's request for a writ of assistance on July 29, 1996. Johnson subsequently filed a motion and brief for stay of judgment with this Court on August 7, 1996. Johnson renewed her assertion that the horse and the trailer would be "cared for during this appeal." Further, she stated:

The horse means a great deal to Johnson and it could possibly be lost forever without this Court's relief....[T]he horse trailer and the horse will not decline in value. Lisa would keep the horse and the horse trailer in a condition that would preserve their value. The Respondent would not be harmed or prejudiced by a stay pending appeal.

On August 27, 1996, this Court granted Johnson's motion for a stay of judgment based on her assurances, ordering that "the horse and trailer now in the appellant's possession may not be sold during the pendency of this appeal."

¶ 10 This Court issued its decision on May 13, 1997, affirming the District Court's findings of fact, conclusions of law, and final decree and other orders issued in this matter. See In re Marriage of Lee (1997), 282 Mont. 410, 938 P.2d 650. Apparently, while the appeal was before this Court, Johnson sold the horse trailer on May 2, 1997, although she claimed that the sale did not actually occur until after this Court's decision was handed down. In June, Lee renewed his effort to execute on the horse and trailer, and filed a show cause motion for contempt.

¶ 11 On July 29, 1997, Johnson served Lee with a notice of automatic stay, subsequent to her filing a Chapter 7 petition for bankruptcy. In turn, Lee was compelled to bring action in the bankruptcy proceedings in order to claim that Johnson's debt subject to the dissolution decree was not dischargeable. On December 17, 1997, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Montana issued a judgment in favor of Lee, concluding that the dissolution decree debt owed to him, namely the horse and trailer, was non-dischargeable, under 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(15).

¶ 12 Once the bankruptcy court issued its "discharge of debtor" on March 18, 1998, which terminated the automatic stay, Lee filed another show cause motion to hold Johnson in contempt and for an "examination of judgment debtor" on April 21, 1998. He specifically requested that the court determine why Johnson should not be held in contempt for failing to turn over the horse and trailer, and that she respond to questions concerning her assets. Further, he requested that the court determine if any debts that Lee owed Johnson had been discharged. In his supporting affidavit, Lee stated that at the September 4, 1997 meeting of creditors involved with Johnson's bankruptcy proceedings, she had testified that she had in fact transferred title to the horse to a third party and had sold the trailer.

¶ 13 The District Court ordered on May 4, 1998, that a show cause hearing take place on June 5, 1998. This date was eventually rescheduled for June 2, 1998.

¶ 14 Following the hearing, the District Court found that Johnson had, indeed, sold the horse on March 1, 1996, prior to the March 19 decree of dissolution ordered by the court. The court further found that Johnson sold the horse trailer sometime in

996 P.2d 394
May of 1997, during which time she was under an order from this Court not to dispose of either the horse or the trailer

¶ 15 The court concluded that Johnson should be held in direct contempt for her "deceitful omission" in not at any time explaining to the court or Lee that she had first sold the horse and then the horse trailer. The court stated that it did not find Johnson's "explanations for her contemptuous actions genuine, compelling, or excusable, and therefore found her to be guilty of direct contempt and under § 3-1-519, MCA, properly punished her by imprisoning her in the Ravalli County jail for 24 hours."

¶ 16 In calculating the money judgment, the court determined that the horse was worth $6,500, pursuant to the 1996 dissolution decree, and the trailer was worth $4,500, which apparently was the sum Johnson received in 1997. Further, the court determined that as a result of Johnson's bankruptcy action, approximately $3,000 in credit card debt, which had been assigned to Johnson under the 1996 dissolution decree, had been discharged. Because the credit card debt was under jointly held accounts, however, this debt had shifted to Lee, in contravention of the court's 1996 decree. Thus, the court required that Johnson compensate Lee for this obligation as well. From this total, the court then deducted approximately $1,800, offsetting amounts that Lee owed Johnson for maintenance, and that Johnson had previously paid to Lee. The court arrived at a figure of $12,178, representing a fixed sum that Johnson owed Lee pursuant to their dissolution decree. Both parties stipulated to this amount in court. Finally, the court denied attorney fees to Lee, concluding that Johnson did not have any present ability to pay.

¶ 17 Following the foregoing disposition, on June 8, 1998, Lee received $5,000 from a bonding company resulting from Johnson's sale of the horse trailer. In pursuing sale of the trailer, which Johnson and Lee held jointly, she arranged for her father, a public notary, to notarize Lee's signature without Lee's knowledge that the trailer would be sold. Johnson's father's bonding company subsequently paid a claim made by Lee. Johnson raised this issue during the hearing and moved to amend judgment, claiming the $12,178 judgment in favor of Lee should be offset by this amount. Additionally, Johnson claimed that the judgment should also be offset by $3896.93, which represented the amount of her credit card debt discharged as a result of the bankruptcy proceedings that the court had reapplied to her obligation to Lee. This motion was deemed denied by the District Court as of October 3, 1998.

¶ 18 Johnson appeals the judgment of the District Court as well as the denials of her motions to amend...

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25 practice notes
  • Murphy Homes, Inc. v. Muller, No. 05-237.
    • United States
    • Montana United States State Supreme Court of Montana
    • June 12, 2007
    ...unfounded and intended to cause delay or unless counsel's actions otherwise constitute an abuse of the judicial system. Lee v. Lee, 2000 MT 67, ¶ 66, 299 Mont. 78, ¶ 66, 996 P.2d 389, ¶ 66 (citing In re Marriage of Moss, 1999 MT 62, ¶ 41, 293 Mont. 500, ¶ 41, 977 P.2d 322, ¶ ¶ 91 As we note......
  • Fouts v. Mont. Eighth Judicial Dist. Court, OP 21-0568
    • United States
    • Montana United States State Supreme Court of Montana
    • January 18, 2022
    ...P.3d 380 (standard of review of contempt order "is whether substantial evidence supports the judgment of contempt"); Lee v. Lee , 2000 MT 67, ¶¶ 20 and 57, 299 Mont. 78, 996 P.2d 389 (court acts "within its jurisdiction" if it acts within subject matter jurisdiction, has......
  • Fouts v. Mont. Eighth Judicial Dist. Court, OP 21-0568
    • United States
    • Montana United States State Supreme Court of Montana
    • January 18, 2022
    ...P.3d 380 (standard of review of contempt order "is whether substantial evidence supports the judgment of contempt"); Lee v. Lee, 2000 MT 67, ¶¶ 20 and 57, 299 Mont. 78, 996 P.2d 389 (court acts "within its jurisdiction" if it acts within subject matter jurisdiction, has ......
  • Fouts v. Mont. Eighth Judicial Dist. Court, OP 21-0568
    • United States
    • Montana United States State Supreme Court of Montana
    • January 18, 2022
    ...P.3d 380 (standard of review of contempt order "is whether substantial evidence supports the judgment of contempt"); Lee v. Lee, 2000 MT 67, ¶120 and 57, 299 Mont. 78, 996 P.2d 389 (court acts "within its jurisdiction" if it acts within subject matter jurisdiction, has p......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
25 cases
  • Murphy Homes, Inc. v. Muller, No. 05-237.
    • United States
    • Montana United States State Supreme Court of Montana
    • June 12, 2007
    ...unfounded and intended to cause delay or unless counsel's actions otherwise constitute an abuse of the judicial system. Lee v. Lee, 2000 MT 67, ¶ 66, 299 Mont. 78, ¶ 66, 996 P.2d 389, ¶ 66 (citing In re Marriage of Moss, 1999 MT 62, ¶ 41, 293 Mont. 500, ¶ 41, 977 P.2d 322, ¶ ¶ 91 As we note......
  • Fouts v. Mont. Eighth Judicial Dist. Court, OP 21-0568
    • United States
    • Montana United States State Supreme Court of Montana
    • January 18, 2022
    ...301, 55 P.3d 380 (standard of review of contempt order "is whether substantial evidence supports the judgment of contempt"); Lee v. Lee , 2000 MT 67, ¶¶ 20 and 57, 299 Mont. 78, 996 P.2d 389 (court acts "within its jurisdiction" if it acts within subject matter jurisdiction, has personal ju......
  • Fouts v. Mont. Eighth Judicial Dist. Court, OP 21-0568
    • United States
    • Montana United States State Supreme Court of Montana
    • January 18, 2022
    ...301, 55 P.3d 380 (standard of review of contempt order "is whether substantial evidence supports the judgment of contempt"); Lee v. Lee, 2000 MT 67, ¶¶ 20 and 57, 299 Mont. 78, 996 P.2d 389 (court acts "within its jurisdiction" if it acts within subject matter jurisdiction, has personal jur......
  • Fouts v. Mont. Eighth Judicial Dist. Court, OP 21-0568
    • United States
    • Montana United States State Supreme Court of Montana
    • January 18, 2022
    ...301, 55 P.3d 380 (standard of review of contempt order "is whether substantial evidence supports the judgment of contempt"); Lee v. Lee, 2000 MT 67, ¶120 and 57, 299 Mont. 78, 996 P.2d 389 (court acts "within its jurisdiction" if it acts within subject matter jurisdiction, has personal juri......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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