Pruitt v. Pruitt, 29331

CourtUnited States Court of Appeals (Ohio)
Writing for the CourtEPLEY, J.
Citation2022 Ohio 2058
PartiesANDREA M.K. PRUITT Plaintiff-Appellee v. JACOB W. PRUITT Defendant-Appellant
Decision Date17 June 2022
Docket Number29331

2022-Ohio-2058

ANDREA M.K. PRUITT Plaintiff-Appellee
v.

JACOB W. PRUITT Defendant-Appellant

No. 29331

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Second District, Montgomery

June 17, 2022


Appeal from Common Pleas Court - Domestic Relations Division Trial Court Case No. 2018-DR-752

TERRY W. POSEY, Atty. Reg. No. 0039666, Attorney for Plaintiff-Appellee

CHERYL R. WASHINGTON, Atty. Reg. No. 0038012, Attorney for Defendant-Appellant

OPINION

EPLEY, J.

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{¶ 1} Jacob W. Pruitt ("Jacob") appeals from a final judgment and decree of divorce issued by the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas, Domestic Relations Division. He challenges the trial court's division of the parties' marital property and debt, its grant of custody of the couple's minor son to his former wife, Andrea M.K. Pruitt ("Andrea"), and its parenting time order. For the following reasons, the trial court's judgment will be affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the matter will be remanded for further proceedings consistent with the opinion.

I. Facts and Procedural History

{¶ 2} Jacob and Andrea married in Dover, Delaware, on June 23, 2012. Both had previously been married, and each had a daughter from the prior relationship. Together they had a son, J.P., who was born in Delaware in March 2014. After Jacob separated from the military in 2016, the family moved to Dayton, Ohio, and purchased a home on Taylorsville Road. Andrea moved from the marital residence on July 2, 2018.

{¶ 3} The next month, Andrea filed a complaint for divorce; Jacob filed an answer and counterclaim for divorce. Both parties sought custody of J.P. and requested temporary child support. While their requests for a temporary custody order were pending, Andrea denied her husband access to J.P.

{¶ 4} On December 5, 2018, after a hearing, a magistrate issued a decision finding that it was J.P.'s best interest for Andrea to have parenting time from noon on Wednesdays until 6:00 p.m. on Saturdays and for Jacob to have parenting time from 6:00 p.m. on Sundays until noon on Wednesdays. The parties would "alternate Saturday and

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will coordinate Saturday schedule to coincide with his/her Saturday work schedule." The decision ordered, however, that Jacob was to have J.P. from Saturdays at 6:00 p.m. to Wednesdays at noon. The magistrate declined to issue a custody order in the hopes that the absence of a custody order would prevent denial of access to the child. Based on the parties' financial information, no child support or spousal support was ordered.

{¶ 5} The trial court adopted the magistrate's decision without objection from the parties. During the pendency of the divorce, the parties conducted parenting time with the alternating Saturday/Sunday schedule mentioned in the magistrate's decision. Tr. 56-57, 254.

{¶ 6} Final hearings on the complaint and counterclaim were held on September 29, 2020, and June 8, 2021. The parties stipulated to several items: the date of the marriage; the date of separation, which would be used as the termination of marriage date; their incompatibility; their residency in the county for at least six months prior to the filing of the pleadings; Jacob would retain the marital residence on Taylorsville Road; there were no retirement benefits at issue; neither party would receive spousal support and the trial court would not retain continuing jurisdiction over that issue; Andrea would return "gun logs" (itemized lists of the family's guns) to Jacob; each party would keep their own bank accounts; and each party's income was $55, 000 for purposes of calculating child support. They indicated that there was no agreement on automobiles and firearms, but all other personal property had been divided. In their pretrial statements, both parties expressed a desire for sole custody of J.P. with a standard order of visitation for the other parent.

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{¶ 7} The parties testified on their own behalf. In addition, Andrea offered the testimony of her father and stepmother, and Jacob presented the testimony of a next-door neighbor, his stepfather, his girlfriend, and his step-grandfather (his stepfather's stepfather). Andrea also called the court's family investigator as a witness. The witnesses and exhibits focused on the ownership of numerous guns and automobiles, items that Andrea had taken from the Taylorsville residence during the pendency of the divorce action, the debt on Jacob's credit cards, Andrea's claiming J.P. as a dependent for tax purposes during the separation, and parenting matters.

{¶ 8} On October 7, 2021, the trial court issued a decision addressing the disputed matters, during which it detailed the parties' conflicting testimony on those issues. The court awarded custody of J.P. to Andrea and granted Jacob parenting time generally in accordance with the standard parenting time order. With respect to the credit cards, the trial court ordered Jacob to be responsible for all of the credit card debt except for $1, 500 that was used to pay for appliances for Andrea. The trial court declined to make an order regarding the prior tax returns, stating that "[t]he court is not sure what remedy Jacob is asking for regarding the fact that Andrea claimed the minor child on her tax returns in 2018 and 2019[.]" Decision as amended on Oct 28, 2021. The parties were to claim J.P. as a tax dependency exemption on alternating years going forward. The trial court's decision did not address the items that Andrea took from the marital residence.

{¶ 9} Counsel for Andrea was ordered to prepare a final judgment and decree of divorce consistent with the court's decision and the parties' agreements. A final judgment and decree of divorce was issued on November 16, 2021. Jacob appeals from

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the trial court's judgment, raising five assignments of error. We will address them in an order that facilitates our analysis.

II. Property Division

{¶ 10} Jacob claims that the trial court erred in its division of marital property in three respects. In his first assignment of error, he asserts that his wife engaged in financial misconduct by taking marital property from the residence and that the trial court erred in failing to compensate him for those items. The fourth assignment of error raises that the trial court should have granted him credit for Andrea's claim of the dependent tax exemption for each year during their period of separation. The fifth assignment of error claims that the trial court erred in its allocation of marital debts, namely the debt on Jacob's credit cards.

{¶ 11} Andrea asks that we overrule Jacob's challenges to the property distribution as moot on the ground that he waived his right to appeal the division of property by voluntarily satisfying that portion of the trial court's judgment. Alternatively, Andrea disputes that any error occurred. Jacob has not filed a reply brief or otherwise responded to Andrea's mootness argument.

A. Mootness

{¶ 12} Before addressing the merits of Jacob's first, fourth, and fifth assignments of error, we must address whether the issues are now moot.

{¶ 13} "The role of courts is to decide adversarial legal cases and to issue judgments that can be carried into effect." Cyran v. Cyran, 152 Ohio St.3d 484, 2018-Ohio-24, 97 N.E.3d 487, ¶ 9, citing Fortner v. Thomas, 22 Ohio St.2d 13, 14, 257 N.E.2d 371 (1970);

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State v. Smith, 2d Dist. Montgomery No. 27981, 2019-Ohio-3592, ¶ 8. Under the mootness doctrine, American courts will not decide cases where an actual legal controversy no longer exists between the parties. Id., citing In re A.G., 139 Ohio St.3d 572, 2014-Ohio-2597, 13 N.E.3d 1146, ¶ 37. "Issues are moot when they lack practical significance and, instead, present academic or hypothetical questions." Dibert v. Carpenter, 2018-Ohio-1054, 98 N.E.3d 350, ¶ 30 (2d Dist.), citing State ex rel. Ford v. Ruehlman, 149 Ohio St.3d 34, 2016-Ohio-3529, 73 N.E.3d 396, ¶ 55.

{¶ 14} A court may consider extrinsic evidence from outside the record to determine mootness. State ex rel. Cincinnati Enquirer v. Dupuis, 98 Ohio St.3d 126, 2002-Ohio-7041, 781 N.E.2d 163, ¶ 8; Townsend v. Antioch Univ., 2d Dist. Greene No. 2008-CA-103, 2009-Ohio-2552, ¶ 8.

{¶ 15} As a general rule, the voluntary satisfaction of a judgment renders an appeal from that judgment moot. Blodgett v. Blodgett, 49 Ohio St.3d 243, 245, 551 N.E.2d 1249 (1990). "Where the court rendering judgment has jurisdiction of the subject-matter of the action and of the parties, and fraud has not intervened, and the judgment is voluntarily paid and satisfied, such payment puts an end to the controversy, and takes away from the defendant the right to appeal or prosecute error or even to move for vacation of judgment." Id., quoting Rauch v. Noble, 169 Ohio St. 314, 316, 159 N.E.2d 451 (1959), quoting Lynch v. Lakewood City School Dist. Bd. of Edn., 116 Ohio St. 361, 156 N.E. 188 (1927), paragraph three of the syllabus. "The reason for the general rule is that reversing a trial court judgment following full voluntary payment would not offer an appellant any relief." Dibert at ¶ 30, citing Poppa Builders, Inc. v. Campbell, 118 Ohio App.3d 251, 253, 692 N.E.2d 647 (2d Dist.1997).

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{¶ 16} An appellant's satisfaction of a judgment is not considered involuntary even when it is made due to collection efforts (such as garnishment of wages), the appellant's financial circumstances, or other economic considerations. Taylor v. Johnson, 2d Dist. Montgomery No. 28242, 2019-Ohio-2132, ¶ 10, citing Blodgett and Poppa Builders. (Other citations omitted.) In Blodgett, the Ohio Supreme Court held that the wife's acceptance of the full amount of the marital award and her signing a satisfaction of judgment terminated her appeal from the judgment and decree of divorce, despite her claims that she felt compelled to accept the payments because she could not afford to wait for the outcome of the appeal.

{¶ 17} We have stated, however,...

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