Robinson v. Robinson

Decision Date19 February 2016
Docket NumberNo. 20140470–CA.,20140470–CA.
Parties Michael S. ROBINSON, Appellant and Cross-appellee, v. Debra J. ROBINSON, Appellee and Cross-appellant.
CourtUtah Court of Appeals

F. Kevin Bond, Salt Lake City, and Budge W. Call, for Appellant.

Dean C. Andreasen, Salt Lake City, and Diana Telfer, for Appellee.

Judge MICHELE M. CHRISTIANSEN authored this Opinion, in which Judge GREGORY K. ORME concurred. Judge STEPHEN L. ROTH concurred in Parts I, II, XI, and XII, and concurred in the result, without opinion, in Parts III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, and X.



, Judge:

¶ 1 Michael S. Robinson (Husband) appeals from the district court's handling and eventual grant of both a motion to dismiss and a motion for summary judgment in favor of defendants Debra J. Robinson (Wife), Natalie D. Larson, Matthew R. Larson, Kelly D. Larson, Derrick D. Larson, and Kaisa Cardall. Wife cross-appeals the district court's denial of an award of attorney fees. We affirm.

¶ 2 This piece of satellite litigation orbits Husband and Wife's contentious divorce. See generally Robinson v. Robinson, 2016 UT App 32, 368 P.3d 147

; Robinson v. Jones Waldo Holbrook & McDonough, 2016 UT App 34, –––P.3d ––– –; Robinson v. Robinson, 2010 UT App 96, 232 P.3d 1081.

¶ 3 After filing for divorce in February 2007, Husband and Wife attempted to disentangle the real property interests within their marital assets. On November 2, 2007, Husband and Wife came to a stipulated property settlement agreement (the Stipulation). See Robinson v. Robinson, 2016 UT App 32, ¶ 2, 368 P.3d 147

(discussing the terms of the Stipulation). Husband later moved to set aside the Stipulation, alleging that performance of his part of the Stipulation was impossible, that there had been a mutual mistake, and that Wife had fraudulently induced Husband to enter the Stipulation. The district court denied Husband's motion and incorporated the Stipulation into a decree of divorce entered on December 31, 2008. Husband appealed the denial of his motion, arguing impossibility and mutual mistake, but he did not raise a claim of fraud in the inducement. See generally Robinson v. Robinson, 2010 UT App 96, 232 P.3d 1081

. This court affirmed. See generally id.

¶ 4 On September 7, 2011, Husband filed this civil action alleging fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, conversion, and civil conspiracy. His fraud and breach of fiduciary duty claims related to three causes of action, all of which sought relief primarily in the form of a declaration that the Stipulation and divorce decree were void. The complaint named as defendants Wife, three of her adult children, her daughter-in-law, and a friend of the daughter-in-law (collectively, Defendants).1 Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment based on res judicata, waiver, and the assertion that some of the issues were duplicative of those in the ongoing divorce case. Defendants also filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds that the complaint failed to plead fraud with particularity and failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The motion to dismiss also asserted that some of the causes of action pleaded by Husband were barred by the statute of limitations.

¶ 5 At the hearing, Husband argued that his September 2011 complaint had been timely filed because he had not discovered Wife's fraud and breach of fiduciary duty until October 2008. He further argued that his complaint was "in the nature of a rule 60(b), Utah Rules of Civil Procedure

, motion for relief from a judgment based on fraud." He also argued that "time deadlines did not apply to rule 60(b) motions."

¶ 6 The district court adopted Defendants' statement of undisputed material facts, accepted as true Husband's statement of facts pertaining to the motion to dismiss, and noted that Husband was "a sophisticated businessman." The court rejected Husband's argument relating to rule 60(b)

, concluding that the complaint had been filed as a separate action and not as a rule 60(b) motion for relief to set aside any final orders made in the Robinsons' ongoing divorce action. The court noted that the applicable rule 60(b) time periods had long since passed and that a meritorious independent action alleging fraud can ultimately relieve the prevailing party from judgment.2 The court ruled that some of Husband's claims were barred by the statute of limitations, that Husband had failed to plead his fraud claims with particularity, and that res judicata also barred the claims. The court granted both the motion to dismiss and the motion for summary judgment. Husband appeals those decisions. Wife cross-appeals the court's denial of her attorney-fee request.

¶ 7 Husband contends that the district court erred in ruling that rule 60(b) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure

did not apply to relieve Husband from the judgment entered against him in the divorce case. We review the district court's interpretation and application of statutes and rules for correctness. See Berneau v. Martino, 2009 UT 87, ¶ 9, 223 P.3d 1128.

¶ 8 Husband also contends that the district court erred by granting Wife's motions to dismiss and for summary judgment. "For the purposes of a rule 12(b)(6)

dismissal, we accept the complaint's factual allegations as true." Fidelity Nat'l Title Ins. Co. v. Worthington, 2015 UT App 19, ¶ 7, 344 P.3d 156. "As a result, an appeal from a rule 12(b)(6) dismissal presents only questions of law, and we review the district court's ruling for correctness." Id. We review a district court's legal conclusions and ultimate grant or denial of summary judgment for correctness, after viewing the facts and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Orvis v. Johnson, 2008 UT 2, ¶ 6, 177 P.3d 600.

¶ 9 Wife contends that the district court erred by denying her request for an award of attorney fees. The grant or denial of an attorney-fee award pursuant to a contract is an issue of law that we review for correctness.

See Gardiner v. York, 2006 UT App 496, ¶ 5, 153 P.3d 791

. The grant of an attorney-fee award pursuant to the bad-faith attorney-fee statute requires findings that the underlying claims were meritless and pursued in bad faith. See Utah Code Ann. § 78B–5–825 (LexisNexis 2012) ; Gallegos v. Lloyd, 2008 UT App 40, ¶ 6, 178 P.3d 922. Whether an action or defense is meritless constitutes a legal conclusion that we review for correctness. Gallegos, 2008 UT App 40, ¶ 6, 178 P.3d 922. But the district court's finding as to bad faith is primarily factual, and we review the finding for clear error. Id.

I. Rule 60(b)

Does Not Govern Independently Filed Actions.

¶ 10 Husband first contends that the district erred in ruling that rule 60(b) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure

did not apply to Husband's continued attempts to seek relief from the judgment entered against him in favor of Wife in the divorce case. Rule 60(b) allows a party to file a motion to be relieved "from a final judgment, order, or proceeding" for six statutorily enumerated reasons. Utah R. Civ. P. 60(b). A motion under rule 60(b)"shall be made within a reasonable time and for [certain categories, including fraud], not more than 90 days after the judgment, order, or proceeding was entered or taken." Id.

¶ 11 Husband asserts that, because fraud is generally not a proper basis for a petition to modify a divorce decree, it was appropriate to bring his purported rule 60(b)

motion as an independent action. Husband cites Bayles v. Bayles, 1999 UT App 128, 981 P.2d 403, as support for his suit and his claim that the time limits set forth in rule 60(b) do not apply. There, the court of appeals noted that "a claim of fraud contemplated in the context of [a] divorce is not generally a proper basis for a petition to modify a divorce decree, [and therefore the] only avenue for relief under the facts of [Bayles was] to file an independent action." Id. ¶ 17. This court concluded that "the party asserting a cause of action for fraud after the parties have entered into a stipulation that has been incorporated into an order of divorce contemplating the basis for the fraud claim should either file a Rule 60(b)(3) motion within the three month time limit, or file an independent action." Id. ¶ 20.

¶ 12 Bayles stands for the proposition that a post-divorce fraud cause of action may be brought as a rule 60(b)

motion or filed as an independent action. It does not support Husband's apparent contention that a post-divorce fraud cause of action to relieve one party from a judgment may be filed as a hybrid composed of an independent fraud action stripped of the normally applicable three-year statute of limitations with rule 60(b)'s "reasonable time" limitation grafted on instead. Indeed, the language of rule 60(b) maintains a firewall between independent actions and rule 60(b) motions: "The procedure for obtaining any relief from a judgment shall be by motion as prescribed [by rule 60(b) ] or by an independent action." Utah R. Civ. P. 60(b) (emphasis added).

¶ 13 Because rule 60(b)

motions and independent actions are governed by separate procedural regimes, we conclude that the district court did not err in ruling that the time limit provisions set forth in rule 60(b) did not apply to Husband's independently filed action.

II. The Statute of Limitations Applies to Husband's Complaint.

¶ 14 Apparently claiming that his complaint was actually a hybrid rule 60(b)

motion and independent action,3 Husband contends that "it is not necessary that there be an order or judgment already entered in the independent action for Rule 60(b) to apply." As a result, in Husband's view, "independent actions filed under Rule 60(b)... are not limited by legal time constraints." However, as we have explained, there is no such thing as an independent action filed under rule 60(b). Rather, though an independent action is within the contemplation of the rule, rule 60(b)

does not govern such an action, and the time limitations generally applicable to...

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