Pellet v. Pellet

Decision Date27 May 2022
Docket NumberS-21-0204
Citation2022 WY 65
CourtWyoming Supreme Court

Appeal from the District Court of Teton County The Honorable Timothy C. Day, Judge

Representing Appellant: Devon P. O'Connell, Dustin J Richards, and Crystal Dawn Stewart of Pence and MacMillan LLC. Argument by Ms. O'Connell.

Representing Appellee: John Graham and Julie A. O'Halloran of Geittmann Larson Swift LLC. Argument by Mr. Graham.



[¶1] Benoit Pellet ("Husband") appeals several orders entered by the district court in his divorce proceedings with Anita "Nini" Pellet ("Wife"). He argues the district court erred by enforcing the parties' Mediated Settlement Agreement ("MSA") and incorporating its terms into a decree of divorce. Husband further claims the district court erred when it denied his motion for sanctions for Wife's alleged failure to disclose assets, and when it denied his motion to dismiss for forum non convieniens. We affirm.


[¶2] Husband presents three issues on appeal, which we restate as follows:

1. Did the district court err when it found the MSA was binding and enforceable?
2. Did the district court abuse its discretion when it found Husband's motion for sanctions was moot?
3. Did the district court abuse its discretion when it denied Husband's motion to dismiss for forum non conveniens?

[¶3] The parties were married on September 5, 1992, in Scarborough, Maine, and they have three adult children. For the first twenty years of their marriage, the parties resided primarily in France, but they also spent time at a residence they purchased in 2008 in Scarborough, Maine. In 2012, the parties moved to Jackson, Wyoming, and purchased a home in 2015. The parties also purchased an apartment in Paris France, in 2018. Although the apartment was purchased with proceeds generated from the sale of jointly owned property, Husband unilaterally placed the apartment under the ownership of a French corporation named SCI Les Triples.[1] Husband and the parties' three adult children own interests in the SCI.

[¶4] The parties separated on May 8, 2019. After the separation, Husband moved back to France and resided in the Paris apartment. Wife filed for divorce on August 2, 2019, in Teton County, Wyoming. On November 19, 2019, Husband filed a motion to dismiss the complaint alleging he had not been properly served. Wife asked for additional time to accomplish proper service. The district court granted Wife an additional sixty days to serve Husband. Wife took steps to serve husband in accordance with the French Civil Code and the Hague Convention.

[¶5] On April 2, 2020, Husband filed a second motion to dismiss the complaint, arguing he still had not been properly served. This motion also asked the district court to dismiss the action on the grounds of forum non conveniens. Husband alleged France was the more appropriate forum because the parties executed a contract in France in 2018, called a "matrimonial property regime," whereby they agreed to utilize French law in matters of property distribution.[2] Husband alleged the case would proceed more efficiently in France because there would be fewer errors due to faulty translation or misinterpretation of French law. Husband indicated he had initiated a divorce proceeding in France on February 6, 2020, and a hearing was set in that case on May 27, 2020.

[¶6] In her response to the second motion to dismiss, Wife asserted she had properly served Husband. She set forth a detailed analysis of why Wyoming was a more convenient forum than France. She alleged the parties had significant contacts with Wyoming, and the case should remain in her chosen forum. Although she acknowledged the parties signed the matrimonial property regime agreement in France, she asserted the document did not have to be interpreted or enforced by a French court.

[¶7] The district court denied the second motion to dismiss in part, finding service was properly accomplished under French law and the Hague Convention. The district court reserved ruling on the inconvenient forum portion of the motion and set a status conference to discuss the French divorce case. At the status conference, the parties informed the district court the hearing in the French divorce action had been postponed until November or December 2020. The district court requested additional briefing on the effect of the matrimonial property regime agreement.

[¶8] On August 17, 2020, the district court denied Husband's motion to dismiss and concluded the matrimonial property regime agreement did not contain a forum selection clause, Wyoming courts were capable of applying French law, and the case should remain in Wife's chosen forum. Husband appealed the district court's order, but his appeal was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.[3]

[¶9] The parties agreed to mediation. The mediation date was changed multiple times because Husband retained new counsel and claimed Wife had not disclosed key financial information about her interest in her family's trusts. The mediation was held on February 17-19, 2021, and, after a two-and-a half-day mediation, the parties executed the MSA, which was signed by both parties and their respective attorneys, on February 19, 2021. The MSA stated:

This Agreement resolves all outstanding issues in the civil case pending in the Ninth District Court of Fremont [sic] County as Civil No. 18043. The terms of this Agreement are binding on Nini and Benoit. Both parties recognize the terms of this Agreement are enforceable under W.R.C.P. 40. Both parties were represented by legal counsel and had enough time to consider all terms, consult with their respective attorneys about all terms, and enter into the Agreement freely and voluntarily.

The MSA was executed as "a full, final and binding settlement agreement."

[¶10] The MSA divided the parties' real property specifying Husband "shall receive" the apartment in Paris, France, and Wife "shall receive" the Maine and Wyoming residences. The MSA also divided the parties' personal property, bank accounts, investment accounts, and airline miles. Because Wife received two pieces of real property, she was required to make a substantial cash equalization payment to Husband. The MSA declared each party would be "solely responsible for taxes, including capital gain taxes, related to the assets awarded to him and her[.]" The MSA allowed Husband to reside in the Maine residence until October 2021, except for the last two weeks of July and the first two weeks of August.

[¶11] Wife's attorney was assigned to prepare a final marital settlement agreement incorporating the terms of the MSA. However, the MSA stated if the parties could not agree on a final form for the agreement within thirty days, "this document shall serve as the Agreement of the parties and may be used by either party to facilitate final resolution of the case including a request to incorporate the terms of this Agreement in a final Judgment and Decree of Divorce."

[¶12] Shortly after the mediation, Husband contacted Wife claiming the Paris apartment portion of the MSA had "enormous problems" under French law. He asserted the Paris apartment could not be transferred to him as his separate property without the consent of the parties' adult children, and the children had informed him they would not consent to the transfer or sale of the apartment. He also alleged he would incur unanticipated tax consequences if the Paris apartment was sold. Because of these alleged problems, Husband refused to sign a final settlement agreement or a stipulated divorce decree.

[¶13] On April 6, 2021, Wife asked the district court to enter a decree of divorce that divided the parties' marital property in accordance with the MSA.[4] She informed the district court the parties were unable to agree on the final form of a settlement agreement or a stipulated decree. Wife asserted Husband was attempting to void the MSA by contacting the parties' adult children after the mediation and instructing them to withhold their consent to the transfer or sale of the Paris apartment. Wife asked the district court to enforce the MSA and enter a decree of divorce that incorporated its terms.

[¶14] On April 20, 2021, Husband asked the district court to vacate the MSA and find it was void due to mutual mistake, fraud, impracticability, or commercial frustration.[5]Husband alleged Wife misrepresented during mediation the children would consent to the transfer of the Paris Apartment, and he relied on this representation when he signed the MSA. He asserted there was no meeting of the minds because of this misrepresentation, and the MSA was unenforceable. Husband requested an evidentiary hearing on his motion.

[¶15] In response, Wife admitted she spoke with one of the children during the mediation, and based on that conversation, she represented there was support for Husband having the exclusive use of and rights over the Paris apartment. She argued Husband was precluded from asserting mutual mistake impracticability, or commercial frustration to void the MSA because he instructed the children to refuse their consent. Wife alleged Husband made incorrect statements about the ownership structure of the SCI, and he had "misrepresent[ed] the rights and ownership of the Paris apartment." She explained an SCI is very similar to a limited liability company, except an SCI distinguishes between current interest owners and future interest owners. When Husband created the SCI, he elected to identify himself as the sole current interest owner and their adult children as the future...

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