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In re Marriage of Reynolds

Supreme Court of Indiana

December 6, 2016

In Re The Marriage Of Thomas Todd Reynolds, Appellant (Petitioner below),
v.
Tricia Reynolds, Appellee (Respondent below).

         Appeal from the Hamilton Superior Court, No. 29D03-0904-DR-00515 The Honorable William J. Hughes, Judge

         On Petition to Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No. 29A04-1505-DR-00265

          Attorney for Appellant Ryan H. Cassman Cathy M. Brownson Coots Henke & Wheeler, P.C

          Attorney for Appellee Eric J. Benner Laurie D. Johnson Boje, Benner, Becker, Markovich & Hixson, LLP

          David, Justice.

         At issue is whether the trial court abused its discretion when it found Father in contempt for failing to provide Mother certain income documentation as required by the parties' dissolution decree and agreed order of modification. We hold that it did not. Specifically, we hold that: 1) Mother's motion for rule to show cause was specific enough to excuse strict compliance with the contempt statute and protect Father's due process rights; 2) Father waived his objections to the evidentiary findings of the trial court when he agreed to a summary proceeding with no objection; and 3) under the facts and circumstances of this case, the trial court was not required to give Father an opportunity to purge himself of contempt. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court.

         Facts and Procedural History

         In 2010, Thomas Todd Reynolds (Father) and Tricia Reynolds (Mother) divorced. The dissolution decree established a child support obligation to be paid by Father and required that upon written request from Mother, Father make certain tax documents available for inspection. In 2013, the trial court entered an agreed modification order wherein Father's obligation was modified to account for Father's fluctuating income. This modification order required that Father pay a set weekly sum as well as make quarterly payments based upon a percentage of his income. The order further required that Father provide documentation of his income and a payment calculation to Mother quarterly, beginning in the first quarter of 2013.

         In March 2014, Mother served a written request for production of documents on Father requesting tax information for Father for the years 2011-2013. In May 2014, after receiving no response from Father, Mother's counsel followed-up on the discovery requests in an attempt to informally resolve the discovery dispute. In June 2014, Mother filed her motion to compel Father's discovery responses. The trial court granted Mother's motion to compel, ordered Father to respond to Mother's request for production of documents and set a compliance hearing. During an August compliance hearing, the court dismissed Mother's motion to compel as moot, finding no petitions for modification or contempt before the court.

         Shortly thereafter, Mother filed a Verified Motion for Rule to Show Cause ("Contempt Motion"), alleging Father should be held in contempt for failing to comply with the dissolution decree and the agreed modification order regarding production of certain income and tax documents. During the pendency of the Contempt Motion, Mother continued to actively seek the requested documents. For instance, she served another request for production on Father, again requesting his tax documents for 2011-2013, and in October 2014, she attended a document inspection at the office of counsel for Father in effort to obtain the requested documents. While Father provided some of the requested documents, he did not provide all of them or make them available at the inspection, and thus, Mother's counsel sent correspondence to Father's counsel outlining the documents that had still not been produced.

         In November 2014, Mother filed another motion to compel. The trial court granted Mother's motion to compel and set the matter for a compliance hearing. Father filed a motion to set aside the order compelling discovery and to dismiss the rule to show cause.

         In December 2014, the trial court held a hearing on the parties' outstanding motions. The parties agreed to present argument in summary fashion. Ultimately, the court found Father in contempt for failing to provide Mother tax documentation from 2010 forward pursuant to the parties' dissolution decree. As sanctions for contempt, the trial court ordered that Father produce the requested documents within thirty (30) days and further ordered that Father pay $3, 000 of Mother's attorney fees. Father's consolidated motion to correct errors, or, in the alternative, motion for relief under Trial Rule 60(B) was denied after a hearing. Father then appealed.

         On appeal, Father argued that the trial court abused its discretion by finding him in contempt and ordering him to pay a portion of Mother's attorney fees. Specifically, he argued that the trial court did not issue a proper rule to show cause, that mother's motion for rule to show cause did not provide him with proper notice under the contempt statutes and that he did not willfully violate the terms of the dissolution decree or agreed modification order. Mother responded that Father did not provide all of the tax documents required by the dissolution decree and agreed modification order despite her repeated requests. She further argued that her motion sufficiently notified Father of the accusations against him and that Father waived any argument regarding notice because he did not raise the issue at the trial court.

         The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court for abuse of discretion in a memorandum decision for two reasons: 1) the trial court did not strictly comply with the rule to show cause statute; and 2) the trial court failed to give Father a way to purge himself of contempt. Reynolds v. Reynolds, 2016 WL 612763 at *6 (Ind.Ct.App. 2016).

          We now grant transfer and affirm the trial court, thereby vacating the Court of Appeals opinion. Ind.App. Rule 58(A).

         Standard of Review

         "It is soundly within the discretion of the trial court to determine whether a party is in contempt, and we review the judgment under an abuse of discretion standard." Steele-Giri v. Steele, 51 N.E.3d 119, 124 (Ind. 2016) (quoting Witt v. Jay Petroleum, Inc., 964 N.E.2d 198, 202 (Ind. 2012)). We will reverse a trial court's finding of contempt only if there is no evidence or inference therefrom to support the finding." Id. The trial court has the inherent power to "maintain [ ] its dignity, secur[e] obedience to its process and rules, rebuk[e] interference with the conduct of business, and punish[ ] unseemly behavior." Id.

         Discussion

         1. The Motion for the Rule to Show Cause contained sufficient factual detail so as to excuse strict compliance and ...


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