Wallis-Buxton v. Buxton, 22-AP-037

Citation22-AP-037
Case DateJuly 14, 2022
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Vermont

Alison Wallis-Buxton
v.

Garrison H. Buxton

No. 22-AP-037

Supreme Court of Vermont

July 14, 2022


In the case title, an asterisk (*) indicates an appellant and a double asterisk (**) indicates a cross-appellant. Decisions of a three-justice panel are not to be considered as precedent before any tribunal.

APPEALED FROM: Superior Court, Windham Unit, Family Division CASE NO. 243-11-16 Wmdm Trial Judge: Katherine A. Hayes

ENTRY ORDER

In the above-entitled cause, the Clerk will enter:

In this post-divorce dispute, husband appeals from the trial court's order granting wife's motion to enforce the property division in part and awarding wife a portion of her attorney's fees. We affirm.

The parties were divorced in July 2019. The trial court issued a decision regarding the division of property as part of its final divorce order, which this Court affirmed. Wallis-Buxton v. Buxton, No. 2019-363, 2020 WL 1694879 (Vt. Apr. 3, 2020) (unpub. mem.), https://www.vermontjudiciary.org/sites/default/files/documents/eo19-363.pdf [https://perma.cc/79UL-G5CX]. That order included a detailed list of some 150 items awarded to wife that she believed remained at the marital residence-now husband's home. The court initially required wife to collect these items within thirty days of the divorce order, but this deadline was extended at wife's request numerous times, due partly to pandemic restrictions and partly to ongoing disputes and lack of cooperation between the parties. The parties engaged in motion practice and at least four mediation sessions relating to the logistics of dividing property to comply with the divorce order. Wife eventually obtained much of the personal property she was awarded.

However, wife filed the instant motion to enforce in February 2021, claiming that she had still not been able to retrieve many valuable items that were in husband's possession, including both tangible property and electronically stored information. She also sought to recover $5217 in attorney's fees incurred toward attempting to enforce the property division.

The court held a hearing in June 2021. The parties presented extensive and conflicting testimony about their respective efforts to locate wife's items of property and return them to her. Husband claimed that he had made reasonable efforts to find what items he could, and had returned them to wife. Wife disputed this assertion and testified to numerous instances of husband obstructing or making difficult a thorough search.

1

Wife emphasized the importance of certain missing pieces of artwork and her mother's table. Husband testified that the artwork was likely stored in one of four large cargo containers at the home, which were damaged by flooding. He testified that he had performed a cursory search of the containers but could not find wife's artwork. Wife suggested that husband was simply choosing not to either look for the art or permit her to do so. The court found that husband "made it very clear in his testimony that he did not want [wife] to set foot on his property again and had made every effort to prevent her from doing so during the period when she was trying to collect the property that was awarded to her."

The court granted wife's motion in part.[*] As relevant here, it ordered that wife be allowed one final and limited opportunity to visit the home to search for and collect tangible personal property. The order specified that the visit would be limited to three hours; that wife must be accompanied by a sheriff's deputy and may be accompanied by up to two other people to assist her in moving items; and that wife must be allowed to open and examine the cargo containers and walk through the house and other buildings, but that she could not open any closed containers, drawers, or the like. The court also found that husband had been "unnecessarily obstructive in the process of arranging the transfer of the concrete personal property." Accordingly, it ordered that husband pay $1000 of wife's attorney's fees.

Husband moved for reconsideration, arguing that: a three-hour search was a violation of his and their child's privacy; any search was unsafe because of the COVID-19 pandemic and because wife had allegedly abused husband in the past; the court's order was vague and overbroad; wife had unclean hands; and an award of attorney's fees was not warranted because husband complied with all court orders. The court ordered wife to include in her responsive filing a specific list of items she wished to search for at husband's home, which she did. The court denied the motion for reconsideration but modified its order to limit wife's search to only the specific items identified in her opposition memorandum.

On appeal, husband advances essentially the same...

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