Traudt v. Traudt, 21-AP-200

Docket Nº21-AP-200
Citation2022 VT 58
Case DateNovember 04, 2022
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Vermont

2022 VT 58

Scott Traudt
v.
Victoria Traudt

No. 21-AP-200

Supreme Court of Vermont

November 4, 2022


On Appeal from Superior Court, Orange Unit, Family Division February Term, 2022 Thomas A. Zonay, J.

Stacey Adamski of Adamski Law, PLLC, Castleton, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Todd C. Steadman of Davis Steadman Percy &Sluka, LLC, White River Junction, for Defendant-Appellee.

PRESENT: Reiber, C.J., Carroll and Cohen, JJ., and Grearson and Morris, Supr. JJ. (Ret.), Specially Assigned.

COHEN, J.

¶ 1. Plaintiff Scott Traudt appeals the family division's order granting defendant Victoria Traudt's motion to enforce a provision in the parties' 2010 divorce order that required plaintiff to refinance the mortgage on the marital home and pay defendant $25,000. Plaintiff argues that defendant is barred from enforcing the judgment by the eight-year statute of limitations for actions on judgments set forth in 12 V.S.A. § 506. The family division found that the statute of limitations did not apply because plaintiff had acknowledged the debt within the limitations period. We affirm.

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¶ 2. The family division made the following findings in its order. Plaintiff and defendant divorced in September 2010. As part of the stipulated final divorce order, plaintiff was awarded the marital home in Strafford, Vermont. The order contained the following provision: "[Plaintiff] shall have one year from Sept. 1, 2010 to refinance the marital residence to have [defendant]'s name removed from the mortgage and to pay [defendant] $25,000.00 for her interest in the property." The order stated that if plaintiff did not comply, defendant was awarded the house and would have three years to refinance and pay plaintiff $25,000. Plaintiff failed to refinance the home or pay defendant by the required date.

¶ 3. In March 2012, the parties agreed to amend the final divorce order to give plaintiff until September 1, 2012, to refinance and pay defendant the required amount. Their stipulation was entered as an order of the court. Plaintiff did not refinance or pay defendant.

¶ 4. On March 10, 2015, the parties executed an agreement to extend and modify the amended order. The agreement allowed defendant to claim the parties' daughter as a dependent on her tax returns to compensate her for having paid off a 2006 tax debt owed by plaintiff. The agreement also stated that defendant "agrees to extend the required $25,000 as compensation for her interest in the [marital] property . . . until October 31, 2016." Plaintiff drafted the agreement and signed it. He provided it to defendant and she signed it and returned it to him. The parties intended to file the agreement with the court, but never did so. Plaintiff never refinanced or paid defendant as required, and defendant did not attempt to take possession of the home.

¶ 5. In June 2020, plaintiff moved to enforce the property settlement in the final divorce order. He asserted that he had been approved for refinancing to remove defendant's name from the mortgage but that defendant refused to sign over her interest in the home unless he paid $25,000 at the time of the refinancing. He argued that nothing in the order required him to pay that amount at or before the time of refinancing, and that he no longer owed defendant $25,000 because he had paid her "thousands of dollars" since 2010. He asked the family

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division to order defendant to sign over the property to him and to determine what he still owed defendant.

¶ 6. Defendant responded with her own motion to enforce the property settlement. She argued that the amounts plaintiff paid her were for their daughter's benefit and were not intended to satisfy his obligation under the property settlement. Defendant stated that she had refused to sign off on plaintiff's recent refinancing attempt because he would not provide her with the loan application, payoff amount, or settlement statement. She asked the court to deny plaintiff's claims for relief and enforce the decree by awarding possession of the home to her.[1]

¶ 7. Plaintiff moved to dismiss defendant's motion to enforce the property settlement, arguing that it had been more than eight years since the final divorce order and therefore defendant was barred from enforcing the judgment under 12 V.S.A. § 506. He asserted that the home was now his sole property. Defendant argued in opposition that the parties had modified the original order twice, extending the time for plaintiff to refinance and pay defendant until 2012 and then 2016, and plaintiff had filed her motion to enforce within eight years of the latter date. Defendant further argued that the limitations period had been tolled because plaintiff had acknowledged the debt.

¶ 8. Following a hearing at which both parties testified, the court issued a written order granting defendant's motion to enforce the property settlement.[2] The court concluded that the 2010 divorce order operated as a debt on judgment and that the 2012 and 2015 agreements did not operate to renew the final order. The statute of limitations for enforcing the final order

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therefore expired in September 2018, well before defendant filed her motion to enforce. However, the court determined that plaintiff had acknowledged the debt in the 2012 amended order and the 2015 agreement signed by the parties, and by repeatedly attempting to refinance and offering to defendant to resolve the dispute. The court concluded that plaintiff's acknowledgment of the debt within the limitations period removed the statutory bar. It accordingly ordered plaintiff to complete refinancing to remove defendant's name from the mortgage and to pay defendant $25,000 by December 31, 2021. If plaintiff failed to comply, the home was to be sold and the proceeds divided in accordance with the 2010 order. Plaintiff appealed.

¶ 9. On appeal, plaintiff asserts that the property provisions in the 2010 divorce order are no longer enforceable because defendant did not renew the judgment within eight years. According to plaintiff, neither the 2012 stipulation nor the 2015 agreement operated as a "new promise" acknowledging the debt, and plaintiff's other actions during the limitations period did not constitute acknowledgments because they were not made in a signed writing. Finally, he contends that the court impermissibly modified the property settlement by ordering the parties to sell the home and split the proceeds if plaintiff did not pay defendant by the end of 2021. We conclude that none of these arguments have merit and therefore affirm.

¶ 10. Whether defendant's attempt to enforce the 2010 divorce order was barred by the statute of limitations is a question of law that we review without deference to the family division. See Blake v. Petrie, 2020 VT 92, ¶ 7, 213 Vt. 347, 245 A.3d 768 (stating that this Court's review of whether motion to enforce property-division order was barred by 12 V.S.A. § 506 was "nondeferential and plenary").

¶ 11. Vermont has an eight-year statute of limitations for actions on judgments. 12 V.S.A. § 506 ("Actions on judgments and actions for the renewal or revival of judgments shall be brought by filing a new and independent action on the judgment within eight years after the

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rendition of the judgment, and not after."). A judgment ordinarily cannot be enforced after eight years unless it is renewed by filing "a new and independent suit" in the civil division. Nelson v. Russo, 2008 VT 66, ¶ 6, 184 Vt. 550, 956 A.2d 1117. In general, "[t]he failure to timely renew a judgment time-bars an action seeking collection on the judgment." Blake, 2020 VT 92, ¶ 8. We have held that the statute of limitations and the renewal requirement set forth in 12 V.S.A. § 506 apply to property-settlement judgments issued by the family division. Id. ¶¶ 21-23.

¶ 12. Here, the family division properly concluded that the judgment that caused the statute of limitations to begin running in this case was the 2010 final divorce order, because "[i]t...

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