Pearce v. Pearce, 011619 AKSC, S-16755

Docket Nº:S-16755
Party Name:TATIYANNA PEARCE, n/k/a TATIYANNA VENABLE, Appellant, v. ALEXANDER PEARCE, Appellee.
Attorney:Adam Gulkis, The Law Office of Adam Gulkis, Anchorage, for Appellant. Maurice N. Ellis, Law Office of Maurice N. Ellis, Anchorage, and Herbert M. Pearce, Law Office of Herbert M. Pearce, Anchorage, for Appellee.
Judge Panel:Before: Stowers, Chief Justice, Winfree, Maassen, Bolger, and Carney, Justices.
Case Date:January 16, 2019
Court:Supreme Court of Alaska
 
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TATIYANNA PEARCE, n/k/a TATIYANNA VENABLE, Appellant,

v.

ALEXANDER PEARCE, Appellee.

No. S-16755

Supreme Court of Alaska

January 16, 2019

UNPUBLISHED See Alaska Appellate Rule 214(d)

Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, No. 3 AN-17-00473 CI Anchorage, Mark Rindner, Judge.

Adam Gulkis, The Law Office of Adam Gulkis, Anchorage, for Appellant.

Maurice N. Ellis, Law Office of Maurice N. Ellis, Anchorage, and Herbert M. Pearce, Law Office of Herbert M. Pearce, Anchorage, for Appellee.

Before: Stowers, Chief Justice, Winfree, Maassen, Bolger, and Carney, Justices.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND JUDGMENT

[*]

I. INTRODUCTION

The superior court held a hearing on a wife's petition for a long-term domestic violence restraining order against her husband. After granting the order, and at the parties' request, the court turned to their pending divorce. The parties reached a settlement agreement on the record for the division of their marital property.

The wife later filed a motion for the attorney's fees incurred in the domestic violence protective proceedings. The superior court determined, however, that the parties had intended their settlement to resolve all outstanding issues, including the attorney's fees claim in the domestic violence proceedings, and it denied the motion for attorney's fees. The wife appealed.

On review of the hearing testimony, we conclude that the parties' agreement addressed only their property dispute and did not preclude the wife's claim for attorney's fees in the domestic violence protective proceedings. We therefore reverse and remand for further proceedings on the attorney's fees claim.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

A. Facts

Alexander Pearce and Tatiyanna Venable were married in September 2016. In February 2017 Tatiyanna petitioned for a domestic violence protective order, alleging that Alexander had shoved her against a chair during an argument, thrown her to the floor and held her there, and refused to let her leave their apartment. A magistrate judge issued a 20-day temporary protective order and scheduled a hearing to be held a few weeks later on a long-term order. In the meantime, Alexander filed a complaint for divorce.

The domestic violence case was administratively reassigned to the superior court judge handling the divorce. The court held the hearing on Tatiyanna's request for a long-term protective order over two days in March and April. On the second day, April 7, the court made its oral decision on the record, finding by a preponderance of the evidence that Alexander had committed an assault against Tatiyanna; it therefore granted the long-term protective order.

By agreement of the parties, the court then turned its attention to the divorce case and specifically the division of marital property. The parties held little property in common and were able to agree to its disposition on the record. The court questioned both parties to make sure they understood the terms of their agreement, then concluded that the agreement was "a fair and equitable way to divide the marital estate." The court invited Tatiyanna's counsel to "file the divorce decree and the findings" and announced its intention to "close out these two cases."

Three days later Tatiyanna filed a motion seeking $4, 229.75 in attorney's fees for the domestic violence protective proceedings. Alexander opposed the motion, arguing that the parties' agreement was a "global settlement agreement resolving all [of the] outstanding issues that existed between them," including any outstanding claims for fees. The superior court agreed with Alexander, finding that "both parties testified that they had reached an agreement the purpose of which was to resolve all issues in this case" and that the claim for attorney's fees for the domestic violence protective proceedings had thus been resolved by agreement.

Tatiyanna appeals from the order denying attorney's fees.

III.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

We review a trial court's interpretation of a settlement agreement "using contract principles, and the proper meaning of a contract is a legal question, which we review de novo."1 But "[w]hen the [trial] court considers extrinsic evidence, we review its factual determinations for clear error and inferences for substantial evidence."2

IV.

DISCUSSION

A. The Record Does Not Support A Finding That Tatiyanna Intended The Parties' Property Settlement To Resolve Her Claim For Attorney's Fees For The Domestic Violence Protective Proceedings.

A petitioner who successfully obtains a long-term domestic violence protective order generally has a claim for the attorney's fees incurred in obtaining it.[3] The central issue in this appeal is whether Tatiyanna's claim for those fees was resolved by the parties' settlement of the property issues in the divorce.

1. The superior court's order denying attorney's fees

In its order denying Tatiyanna's claim for attorney's fees, the superior court described the domestic violence protective proceedings and the parties' agreement to also attempt to resolve their property issues. The court explained...

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