Tribble v. Chuff, Case No. 08-10813.

Decision Date28 July 2009
Docket NumberCase No. 08-10813.
Citation642 F.Supp.2d 737
PartiesMary Anne TRIBBLE, Plaintiff, v. Philip CHUFF, Jr. and Carpenters Pension and Annuity Fund of Philadelphia and Vicinity, Defendants. and Carpenters Pension and Annuity Fund of Philadelphia and Vicinity, Cross-plaintiff/counter-plaintiff, v. Mary Anne Tribble, Counter-defendant, Philip Chuff, Jr., Cross-defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Michigan

John A. Streby, Flint, MI, for Plaintiff/Counter-defendant.

Rochelle J. Thompson, Flint, MI, Hope L. Calati, Sachs Waldman, Detroit, MI, for Cross-plaintiff/counter-plaintiff/Cross-defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

DAVID M. LAWSON, District Judge.

The plaintiff, Mary Anne Tribble, commenced this action in this Court in an effort to collect funds that she claims are owed to her by her former husband, Phillip Chuff, Jr., by virtue of a child support order entered in a Michigan divorce case. The case found its way into federal court because the funds were held by the Carpenters Pension and Annuity Fund of Philadelphia and Vicinity (the Fund), an entity governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1001, et seq., which deposited those funds with our clerk under an interpleader order.

Tribble and Chuff were married in Michigan in 1971. They had three children and moved to Pennsylvania, where apparently they separated. Tribble returned to Michigan with the children and commenced a support proceeding against Chuff, who remained in Pennsylvania; Tribble later filed for divorce. Due to the operation of certain uniform support statutes, support orders were entered in both Michigan and Pennsylvania, but over the years, inconsistent orders were entered by courts in those two states, giving rise to an underlying dispute over the amount of arrearage, if any, Chuff owes Tribble for child support for their children, who have long since attained majority. Tribble filed a motion for summary judgment, which was argued in open court on February 4, 2009. Chuff opposed the motion. To some extent, both parties ask this Court to resolve the dispute over two states' support orders. The Court believes it may not resolve that contest, but it will and does determine the appropriate disposition of the Fund's money that has been deposited under the interpleader order. The Court finds that the rules of claim preclusion compel a determination that the so-called "18-month rule," 29 U.S.C. § 1056(d)(3)(H), does not compel a return of the deposited funds to Chuff; the September 2004 order entered by the Genesee County, Michigan circuit court qualifies as a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO); and the funds on deposit, therefore, are owed to the plaintiff, Mary Anne Tribble. However, the relief defendant Chuff seeks in his counterclaim is barred under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and rules of res judicata or claim preclusion, and the Court has no jurisdiction to determine the propriety of future payments from the Fund. Therefore, the Court will grant in part the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment; order the money on deposit to be disbursed to the plaintiff, subject to the Fund's opportunity to file a renewed motion for attorney's fees; deny the motion in all other respects; and dismiss the defendant's counterclaim.

I.

As mentioned above, Mary Anne Tribble and Phillip Chuff, Jr. were married in Michigan in 1971. Between 1971 and 1977, three children were born, and the couple moved to Pennsylvania. Early in 1977, Tribble moved back to Michigan with the children, and she filed a complaint for child support under the Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act (URESA), codified in the Michigan code as Michigan Compiled Laws §§ 780.151-780.183. See 1952 Pub. Act No. 8, amended by 1985 Pub. Act No. 172. That complaint was transmitted to officials in Pennsylvania, and an order for child support was entered by a Pennsylvania court. Later that year, Tribble filed an action for divorce in Michigan, which was inadvertently dismissed during the parties' reconciliation attempt, but which eventually resulted in a judgment following a trial in December 1978. The March 1979 judgment called for a child support payment from Chuff of $156 per week for the three minor children.

Over the years, the parties have argued over which state's support orders control. This dispute has been fueled by the inconsistent orders entered in each state. For instance, on October 31, 1977, the Genesee County, Michigan court entered an order in the divorce case for temporary child support of $45 per week. However, on November 12, 1977, the Bucks County, Pennsylvania court entered an order for child support in the amount of $33.20 per week. Meanwhile, Tribble engaged in efforts in Michigan through the uniform statutes to collect the child support awarded in the divorce judgment. On May 8, 1986, Tribble filed a support complaint in Genesee County seeking payment of the $152 per week plus arrearages. In mid-1986, the Genesee County prosecutor forwarded the complaint to Bucks County, Pennsylvania officials, who treated it as a request for an increase in amount of support from the earlier order of $33.20 per week. Then, in October 30, 1986, a Genesee County official accepted an offer to increase child support to $70 per week.

There were other orders entered in both states over the years, but the two states' support orders were never harmonized. On April 29, 1994, Albert Fonash, Director of the Domestic Relations Office of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, sent a document to Friend of Genesee County that states:

Enclosed please find a copy of Vacate Support Order regarding the aboved captioned parites. [sic] Please be advised that we are closing our case effective June 4, 1994 with NO ARREARS OR OVERPAYMENT ON THE ACCOUNT. We advise your office to COMPLY with this Order and do the same.

Fund's Ans., Ex. 7. Also in 1994, Tribble signed a stipulation to vacate a support order of $20 per week for one of the children and agreed that no arrearage was due on that order. The Genesee County court also dismissed support actions without prejudice to collecting arrearages.

Meanwhile, the children were growing up. The youngest child attained majority on April 10, 1994. Apparently the parties were getting older as well, since Mr. Chuff became eligible to receive a pension from the interpleader defendant, Carpenters Pension and Annuity Fund of Philadelphia and Vicinity in the amount of $3,845.88 per month. None of these events resolved the dispute over the arrearages, however. In 2004, the Genesee County court issued an order for Chuff to show cause why he should not be held in contempt for failing to comply with the child support order in the judgment of divorce. At the show cause hearing on July 28, 2004, Chuff paid $11,041.27 to the Genesee County Friend of the Court against the arrearage owed Tribble for back child support. Then on September 10, 2004, the Genesee County court entered an income withholding order directing the Fund to withhold $473.50 per month from Chuff's pension and pay it to the Friend of the Court for Tribble's benefit. On October 20, 2004, the Fund sent Chuff a letter stating that the September 2004 income withholding order constituted a QDRO, but in November 2004, Chuff sent a letter to administratively appeal that determination. Then on January 25, 2005, the Fund sent letters stating that it "will delay a determination on Mr. Chuff's appeal until receipt by the Fund Office of documentation indicating that all appropriate action has been taken in this matter." Fund's Ans., Ex. 10.

Chuff then turned to the Michigan court for relief and filed a motion to terminate arrearages in the Genesee County circuit court. He also sought an order requiring the Fund to hold in escrow the amount subject to the income withholding order until the dispute over the arrearage could be resolved. The latter request was granted via Genesee County circuit court order on February 27, 2007:

This matter having come before the Court on motion of the Defendant, and the parties, and testimony having been presented in open Court, NOW, THEREFORE,

IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that all monies withheld by Friend of the Court, Carpenter Pension and Annuity Plan of Philadelphia and Vicinity or any other source of Mr. Chuff's income for purposes of child support withholding, via Qualified Domestic Relations Order or any other income withholding order, shall be held in escrow by the withholding party during the pendency of this action and until further order of this Court.

Pl's Mot., Ex. F.

Three audits were performed on April 17, 2007 by the Genesee County Friend of the Court. The first audit was based on an accounting that the Friend of the Court apparently believed was erroneous; it showed that the defendant owed $54,916.68 by 1994 in support and $63,172.67 in surcharges since that time, which after credit for payments received reflected a total outstanding balance of $100,115.43. Chuff's Ans., Ex. JJ. The Friend of the Court representative explained that the account should have applied only the Michigan court orders and ignored those from Pennsylvania; under that method, the obligation was $61,988.06 for support, $94,113.92 for surcharges, for a total of $156,101.98. Ibid. Finally, an audit was prepared applying the Pennsylvania orders, which showed that the defendant overpaid approximately $17,401.92. Ibid.

In the state court, Chuff maintained that the order entered by the Pennsylvania court in the URESA action governs because it was entered first in time, as now provided by the superseding interstate support legislation known as the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act. See 1996 Pub. Act No. 310, Mich. Comp. Laws §§ 552.1101-552.1901. Apparently relying on Michigan Compiled Laws section 552.1224, Chuff argued that the ...

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4 cases
  • Hartford Life Ins. Co. v. Solomon
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Illinois
    • November 16, 2012
    ...relief to one of the interpleader claimants. Bianchi does not provide any guidance on that issue. Hartford also cites Tribble v. Chuff, 642 F.Supp.2d 737 (E.D.Mich.2009), which is closer to our facts. In that case, the court concluded that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over the defe......
  • Mchenry v. Burch
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Kansas
    • June 1, 2011
    ...of the probate exception, which prohibits federal jurisdiction over claims pending in probate court).6 See also Tribble v. Chuff, 642 F. Supp.2d 737, 747-48 (E.D. Mich. 2009) (district court dismissed counter-claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rooker-Feldman and analyzed d......
  • Midland Nat'l Life Ins. Co. v. Blocker
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Western District of Michigan
    • August 23, 2012
    ...court has the discretion to award costs and attorney fees to the stakeholder in an interpleader action."); Tribble v. Chuff, 642 F. Supp. 2d 737, 754-55 (E.D. Mich. 2009). Equitable principles favor an award of attorney's fees where the interpleading party is "(1) a disinterested stakeholde......
  • McHenry v. Burch, CIVIL ACTION No. 08-2622-KHV
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Kansas
    • August 16, 2011
    ...of the funds in accord with the order of the DistrictCourt of Wyandotte County, Kansas, Case No. 06P268. See Tribble v. Chuff, 642 F. Supp.2d 737 (E.D. Mich. 2009).3 IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that Colgate-Palmolive Company's Motion To Vacate And To Continue Interpleader Proceedings (Doc. #81)......

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