Wells v. Wells, No. 23336.

CourtSupreme Court of South Dakota
Writing for the CourtKONENKAMP, Justice.
Citation2005 SD 67,698 N.W.2d 504
PartiesDolly Mae WELLS, Plaintiff and Appellee, v. William W. WELLS, Defendant and Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. 23336.
Decision Date01 June 2005

698 N.W.2d 504
2005 SD 67

Dolly Mae WELLS, Plaintiff and Appellee,
v.
William W. WELLS, Defendant and Appellant

No. 23336.

Supreme Court of South Dakota.

Considered on Briefs March 21, 2005.

Decided June 1, 2005.


698 N.W.2d 506
Lawrence E. Long, Attorney General, Pierre, South Dakota, H. Richard Churchwell, Special Assistant Attorney General, Rapid City, South Dakota, Attorneys for plaintiff and appellee

Terry L. Pechota, Rapid City, South Dakota, Attorney for defendant and appellant.

KONENKAMP, Justice.

[¶ 1.] In this appeal, an Indian tribal member residing on a reservation seeks relief from a 1991 state court judgment awarding child support. He contends that the judgment is void for lack of personal and subject matter jurisdiction. The circuit court refused to vacate the judgment. Because the father fully litigated the question of jurisdiction before the judgment was entered and then abandoned his appeal, we affirm the circuit court's ruling that the 1991 judgment is res judicata.

Background

[¶ 2.] William W. Wells and Dolly Mae Wells were married in May 1980, in Pierre, South Dakota. They lived together on the Crow Creek Reservation in Buffalo County. Both are enrolled members of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe. In April 1987, no longer able to endure William's domestic abuse, Dolly fled the reservation with their five children. She was pregnant at the time with the parties' sixth child. She and the children eventually took up residence in Rapid City.

[¶ 3.] William started a divorce action in the Crow Creek Sioux Tribal Court. Under the tribal code, personal service of the summons and complaint was required. Because William did not know where Dolly went after leaving the reservation, he was unsuccessful in arranging to serve her personally.

[¶ 4.] In August 1987, Dolly brought a divorce action against William in circuit court in Pennington County. William then served her attorney by mail with a copy of his summons and complaint. The tribal court accepted this as adequate service, entered a default divorce decree against Dolly, and awarded William custody of the children.

[¶ 5.] In September 1987, Dolly was able to obtain service on William through the Buffalo County Sheriff's Office. William was served the divorce summons and complaint while he was residing on the Crow Creek Reservation. He appeared specially in circuit court to contest the sufficiency of service. The circuit court dismissed Dolly's action because the Buffalo County Sheriff had no jurisdiction to serve an enrolled member of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe on the reservation.

[¶ 6.] In March 1988, Dolly brought a new divorce action against William in circuit court. In this second suit, William was served by a tribal policeman whose return of service stated that he was an enrolled member of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe. In another special appearance, William again moved to dismiss the case, arguing that the marriage had already been dissolved and that the circuit court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the case. The circuit court denied William's motion, finding that the tribal court divorce decree could not be recognized because of William's failure to personally serve Dolly in accordance with the tribal code. The court found that it had concurrent subject matter jurisdiction with the tribal court.

[¶ 7.] On intermediate appeal, this Court affirmed: the tribal court divorce

698 N.W.2d 507
decree did not warrant recognition through principles of comity, and the circuit court had subject matter jurisdiction of the divorce proceedings. Wells v. Wells, 451 N.W.2d 402 (S.D.1990). Left undecided were questions of jurisdiction for purposes of awarding child custody, alimony, and child support. Dolly then continued with her divorce action against William in state court. The circuit court granted a divorce to Dolly in July 1991. She was awarded custody of the children, and William was ordered to pay child support of $650.00 per month

[¶ 8.] On September 17, 1991, William filed a pro se notice of appeal in state court. In his docketing statement, he asserted, among other things, that the circuit court lacked personal jurisdiction over him and subject matter jurisdiction over the action. William abandoned his appeal, however, when he never ordered a transcript and failed to file and serve a brief. On November 14, 1991, his appeal was dismissed.

[¶ 9.] When, in 2003, the South Dakota Department of Social Services, Office of Child Support Enforcement, began seeking past due child support on Dolly's behalf, William moved to vacate the 1991 judgment under SDCL 15-6-60(b)(4). At that time, his child support arrears were nearly $80,000. (They now exceed $100,000.) In his motion, dated April 11, 2003, William argued that the portion of the judgment pertaining to child support was void due to the lack of personal and subject matter jurisdiction. According to William, the circuit court "had no jurisdiction to impose any personal judgment upon [him] in that action on the ground and for the reason that at all relevant times [he] was an enrolled member of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe residing upon the Crow Creek Reservation, Indian Country...."

[¶ 10.] In denying the motion to vacate, the circuit court ruled that the judgment is now res judicata and that, in any event, the exercise of jurisdiction was valid in 1991. On appeal, William argues that the circuit court should have vacated the 1991 judgment when there was no jurisdiction to impose child support on an Indian tribal member who resided within the bounds of the reservation.

Analysis and Decision

[¶ 11.] Ordinarily, questions of jurisdiction can be raised at any time, even sua sponte by this Court. Reaser v. Reaser, 2004 SD 116, ¶ 27, 688 N.W.2d 429, 437 (citations omitted). A judgment rendered without jurisdiction is void. Miller v. Weber, 1996 SD 47, ¶ 13, 546 N.W.2d 865, 868 (citing Crowley v. Trezona, 408 N.W.2d 332, 333 (S.D.1987)). "A judgment which is void is subject to collateral attack both in the State in which it is rendered and in other States." RESTATEMENT (FIRST) OF JUDGMENTS § 11 (1942). The applicability of the doctrine of res judicata is a question of law examined de novo. Banks v. International Union Electronic, Elec., Technical, Salaried and Mach. Workers, 390 F.3d 1049, 1052 (8thCir.2004) (citation omitted).

[¶ 12.] William argues that the circuit court had no jurisdiction to impose child support in the 1991 divorce decree. The circuit court, he asserts, had "no general civil jurisdiction over Indians on reservations within its borders." Because he was domiciled on the reservation at all times, and because he did not conduct any activity within the State of South Dakota, he contends that jurisdiction was lacking and that the circuit court's refusal to vacate the 1991 child support judgment was error.

[¶ 13.] Under SDCL 15-6-60(b), "On motion and upon such terms as are just, the court may relieve a party or his legal

698 N.W.2d 508
representative from a final judgment, order, or proceeding for the following reason[]:... (4) The judgment is void...." Id. (1966). Our standard of review for motions under SDCL 15-6-60(b)(4) is plenary. See Jopling v. Jopling, 526 N.W.2d 712, 714-15 (S.D.1995) (citing Kromer v. Sullivan, 88 S.D. 567, 570, 225 N.W.2d 591, 592 (1975)). William argues that because the judgment is void, he has no responsibility to pay child support imposed on him in the 1991 judgment

[¶ 14.] A void judgment derives from, among other things, a court that had no personal or no subject matter jurisdiction. "If the circuit court lacks jurisdiction over a defendant's person, a judgment or order entered against such defendant is void." Miller, 1996 SD 47, ¶ 13, 546 N.W.2d at 868. "`Subject matter jurisdiction is the power of a court to act such that without subject matter jurisdiction any resulting judgment or order is void.'" City of Sioux Falls v. Missouri Basin Mun. Power Agency, 2004 SD 14, ¶ 10, 675 N.W.2d 739, 742 (quoting Barnes v. Matzner, 2003 SD 42, ¶ 10, 661 N.W.2d 372, 375 (further citations omitted)). William contends that because the circuit court lacked personal and subject matter jurisdiction he may attack the 1991 judgment as void, even now, fourteen years later. We have often said that questions regarding jurisdiction may be raised at any time. Reaser, 2004 SD 116, ¶ 27, 688 N.W.2d at 437 (citation...

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18 practice notes
  • Sousa v. Sousa, No. 19504.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • August 30, 2016
    ...modified the pension distribution. See Broaca v. Broaca, supra, 181 Conn. at 472, 435 A.2d 1016 (Peters, J., dissenting); Wells v. Wells, 698 N.W.2d 504, 510 (S.D.2005). Accordingly, we conclude that the Appellate Court improperly determined that it was “entirely obvious” that Judge Resha l......
  • People ex rel. L.S., No. 23560.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • August 16, 2006
    ...Analysis and Decision 1. Res Judicata [¶ 21.] We review de novo a circuit court's ruling on the issue of res judicata. Wells v. Wells, 2005 SD 67, ¶ 11, 698 N.W.2d 504, 507 (citing Banks v. Int'l Union Elec., Elec., Technical, Salaried and Mach. Workers, 390 F.3d 1049, 1052 (8th Cir.2004) (......
  • In re J.D.M.C., No. 23998.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • September 12, 2007
    ...See also Baldwin v. Iowa State Traveling Men's Ass'n., 283 U.S. 522, 525-27, 51 S.Ct. 517, 518, 75 L.Ed. 1244 (1931); Wells v. Wells, 2005 SD 67, ¶¶ 17-21, 698 N.W.2d 504, 509 (in the context of a party contesting personal and subject matter jurisdiction of a State court in subsequent State......
  • Sousa v. Sousa, SC 19504
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • August 30, 2016
    ...this case when he modified the pension distribution. See Broaca v. Broaca, supra, 181 Conn. 472 (Peters, J., dissenting); Wells v. Wells, 698 N.W.2d 504, 510 (S.D. 2005). Accordingly, we conclude that the Appellate Court improperly determined that it was "entirely obvious" that Judge Resha ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
18 cases
  • Sousa v. Sousa, No. 19504.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • August 30, 2016
    ...modified the pension distribution. See Broaca v. Broaca, supra, 181 Conn. at 472, 435 A.2d 1016 (Peters, J., dissenting); Wells v. Wells, 698 N.W.2d 504, 510 (S.D.2005). Accordingly, we conclude that the Appellate Court improperly determined that it was “entirely obvious” that Judge Resha l......
  • People ex rel. L.S., No. 23560.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • August 16, 2006
    ...Analysis and Decision 1. Res Judicata [¶ 21.] We review de novo a circuit court's ruling on the issue of res judicata. Wells v. Wells, 2005 SD 67, ¶ 11, 698 N.W.2d 504, 507 (citing Banks v. Int'l Union Elec., Elec., Technical, Salaried and Mach. Workers, 390 F.3d 1049, 1052 (8th Cir.2004) (......
  • In re J.D.M.C., No. 23998.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • September 12, 2007
    ...See also Baldwin v. Iowa State Traveling Men's Ass'n., 283 U.S. 522, 525-27, 51 S.Ct. 517, 518, 75 L.Ed. 1244 (1931); Wells v. Wells, 2005 SD 67, ¶¶ 17-21, 698 N.W.2d 504, 509 (in the context of a party contesting personal and subject matter jurisdiction of a State court in subsequent State......
  • Sousa v. Sousa, SC 19504
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • August 30, 2016
    ...this case when he modified the pension distribution. See Broaca v. Broaca, supra, 181 Conn. 472 (Peters, J., dissenting); Wells v. Wells, 698 N.W.2d 504, 510 (S.D. 2005). Accordingly, we conclude that the Appellate Court improperly determined that it was "entirely obvious" that Judge Resha ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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