Sauzer-Johnsen v. Sauzer, SAUZER-JOHNSE

Citation544 N.E.2d 564
Case DateOctober 12, 1989
CourtCourt of Appeals of Indiana

Page 564

544 N.E.2d 564
Kristen S. SAUZER-JOHNSEN, Respondent-Appellant,
Frank J. SAUZER, Jr., Petitioner-Appellee.
No. 64A03-8808-CV-262.
Court of Appeals of Indiana,
Third District.
Oct. 12, 1989.

Page 565

Kenneth D. Reed, Abrahamson, Reed, Adley & Enslen, Hammond, for respondent-appellant.

Max Cohen, Cohen and Thiros, Peter L. Benjamin, Merrillville, for petitioner-appellee.

GARRARD, Presiding Judge.

This case is an appeal from the order of the Commissioner of the Porter County Superior Court setting aside the property settlement agreement executed by Frank J. Sauzer, Jr., appellee-petitioner (hereinafter Frank) and Kristen S. Sauzer-Johnsen, appellant (hereinafter Kristen).

Kristen asks us to decide three issues:

1. Whether the trial court's order setting aside the property settlement agreement was a final, appealable order.

2. Whether the trial court erred in admitting polygraph examinations into evidence.

3. Whether the commissioner had proper jurisdiction and authority to preside over the trial below.

We affirm the order of the Porter County Superior Court.


Frank and Kristen were married on November 29, 1969. Their marriage began to deteriorate in 1981. Kristen began seeing

Page 566

Bernard Johnsen, a police officer and self-described karate expert. She invited Johnsen to the couple's residence on numerous occasions. On one occasion, Johnsen allegedly performed a karate demonstration on Frank by knocking a knife from Frank's hand and told him, "Blink and you will die in the dark." Despite Frank's protest, Kristen again invited Johnsen to their residence in September, 1982. On this occasion Johnsen allegedly threatened to kill Frank if he did not give Kristen what she wanted in the property settlement. Johnsen told Frank he carried a "drop gun" that he could use in the event he killed someone without justification. Kristen told Frank that Johnsen was her "muscle," her "pet cop" who would "get him" if Frank did not give her all the property she demanded.

In May, 1983, Kristen allegedly ordered Frank to use attorney Nick Anast to file the dissolution papers and threatened that Johnsen would "get him" if Frank didn't comply. Frank had never retained Anast before that time. Anast arrived at Frank's place of business with dissolution papers prepared for his signature. No discovery or appraisals were used. The threats to Frank continued after the dissolution papers were filed. In August, 1983, Kristen presented a typewritten document purporting to be a property settlement agreement to Frank and "ordered" him to copy it into his own handwriting, to make it appear that the document was Frank's idea.

On October 11, 1983, a final dissolution hearing was held and the custody, support and property settlement agreement was incorporated into the dissolution decree. The property settlement agreement provided that Frank would pay Kristen $33,000 per year, tax-free, for the remainder of her life; $70,000 by August, 1984; and $300,000 by October, 1985. Frank contends that the present value of the property to be given Kristen was $721,500 at an 8% discount rate, and that his net worth on May 18, 1983, was $473,962 (Appellee's Brief, pp. 18-19).

The threats allegedly continued after the decree. On March 13, 1985, Kristen sought to enforce the decree by petition for citation and asserted inter alia that Frank was in arrears $2,842.34 in child support. On March 18, 1985, Frank filed a petition for relief from judgment, alleging that he had been coerced into entering into the property settlement agreement, that it was impossible to perform his part of the agreement, and that the terms of the agreement were so unconscionable and grossly inequitable as to render Frank's performance impossible and manifestly unfair. Kristen moved to dismiss on the ground that Frank's motion was barred by the one-year limitation of TR 60(B). The trial court denied her motion, holding that allegations of undue influence, coercion and duress come within the purview of IC 31-1-11.5-17(a). On May 27, 1988, after a bench trial before the Porter County Court Commissioner, the court entered an order setting aside the property settlement agreement as the product of an involuntary and non-free will act of Frank Sauzer. Kristen's motion to correct errors was denied.



Whether the trial court's order setting aside the property settlement agreement was a final judgment from which an appeal can be taken.

Frank contends that the order setting aside the property settlement agreement was an interlocutory order, requiring trial court certification pursuant to Appellate Rule 4(B)(6) in order to appeal. He contends that the petition to revoke the property disposition sufficiently alleged fraud so as to come within the exception to IC 31-1-11.5-17, amended by Acts 1987, P.L. 289, Sec. 1, which states:

"The orders as to property disposition ... may not be revoked or modified, except in the case of fraud which ground shall be asserted within two (2) years of said order." (emphasis added)

IC 31-1-11.5-17(a). Such an order would not be a final order. A final order or judgment:

Page 567

... must be one which finally determines the rights of the parties involved; or if it does not, it is still appealable if it disposes of a distinct and definite branch of the proceedings, leaving no further question for future determination by the Court as to that particular issue. [citation omitted].

Geib v. Estate of Geib (1979), 182 Ind.App. 377, 378-79, 395 N.E.2d 336, 337. The trial court's order would ordinarily not be final because it did not redistribute the property. See Marianos v. Marianos (1982), Ind.App., 431 N.E.2d 530; Soil v. Soil (1936), 102 Ind.App. 112, 1 N.E.2d 311. Because it has not been certified for appeal by the trial court, this court could dismiss the appeal. 1

Kristen contends the order was final because Frank's petition did not allege fraud. If Frank did not allege fraud sufficiently to put his petition within the scope of IC 31-1-11.5-17(a), his petition to set aside the property settlement was a motion for relief from judgment under TR 60(B)(3). A ruling denying or granting a motion under TR 60(B) is a final appealable order. TR 60(C).

Resolution of this question depends upon our resolving the question of whether...

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