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Coles v. McDaniel

Court of Appeals of Indiana

December 14, 2018

Peter Coles, Appellant-Respondent,
Mary (Coles) McDaniel, Appellee-Petitioner

          Appeal from the Fountain Circuit Court The Honorable Stephanie S. Campbell, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 23C01-1301-DR-35

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT William O. Harrington Harrington Law, P.C. Danville, Indiana

          MAY, JUDGE.

         [¶1] Peter Coles ("Husband") appeals the trial court's grant of Mary (Coles) McDaniel's ("Wife") motion for relief from judgment and the trial court's subsequent division of certain real property of the marriage. We affirm. Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2] Husband and Wife were married in 1991. On January 30, 2013, Wife filed for dissolution. Wife served a series of interrogatories on Husband on January 8, 2015, and Husband answered those interrogatories on March 11, 2015. As part of those interrogatories, Husband was asked if he owned any real estate. The parties did not own real estate together, however, Husband held a remainder fee-simple interest in real estate subject to his mother's life estate ("Lizton House"), which he did not disclose on the interrogatories.

         [¶3] The parties agreed to terms resolving all issues related to dissolution and submitted their Dissolution Settlement Agreement to the court. On August 12, 2015, the trial court entered a decree of dissolution, incorporating the custody, support, and property settlement agreements from the Dissolution Settlement Agreement.

         [¶4] On March 22, 2016, Wife filed a motion for relief from judgment, alleging Husband did not disclose his interest in certain real property prior to the Dissolution Settlement Agreement. Specifically, Wife directed the trial court to two of Husband's answers to interrogatories wherein he indicated he did not own real estate. Wife claimed she was entitled to relief because she would not have entered into their Dissolution Settlement Agreement if had she known of Husband's interest in the Lizton House.

         [¶5] The trial court first ordered the parties to mediation, but mediation was unsuccessful. The trial court held a hearing on February 14, 2017. On April 14, 2017, the trial court entered findings of fact and conclusions of law granting Wife's motion to set aside the portions of the Dissolution Settlement Agreement regarding the parties' debts and assets. The trial court ordered the parties to participate in mediation to determine the value of those debts and assets prior to the court holding a final hearing on the matter. Mediation was again unsuccessful. The trial court held a hearing on September 29, 2017, and then entered an order distributing the relevant debts and assets on November 5, 2017 ("2017 Property Order").

         Discussion and Decision

         [¶6] As an initial matter, we note Wife did not file an appellee's brief. When an appellee does not submit a brief, we do not undertake the burden of developing arguments for that party. Thurman v. Thurman, 777 N.E.2d 41, 42 (Ind.Ct.App. 2002). Instead, we apply a less stringent standard of review and may reverse if the appellant establishes prima facie error. Id. Prima facie error is "error at first sight, on first appearance, or on the face of it." Van Wieren v. Van Wieren, 858 N.E.2d 216, 221 (Ind.Ct.App. 2006).


         [¶7] Whether to grant a motion for relief from judgment under Indiana Trial Rule 60(B) is within the discretion of the trial court, and we reverse only for abuse of that discretion. Miller v. Moore, 696 N.E.2d 888, 889 (Ind.Ct.App. 1998). An abuse of discretion occurs when the decision is clearly against the logic and effect of the facts and circumstances before it, or if the trial court has misinterpreted the law. Id. When we review a trial court's decision, we will not reweigh the evidence. Beike v. Beike, 805 N.E.2d 1265, 1267 (Ind.Ct.App. 2004).

         [¶8] Where, as here, the trial court entered findings sua sponte after a bench trial, the findings control our review and judgment only as to those issues specifically referenced in the findings. See Samples v. Wilson, 12 N.E.3d 946, 949-50 (Ind.Ct.App. 2014). When the trial court does not make specific findings on an issue, we apply a general judgment standard, and we may affirm on any legal theory supported by the evidence adduced at trial. Id. at 950.

A two-tier standard of review is applied to the sua sponte findings and conclusions made: whether the evidence supports the findings, and whether the findings support the judgment. Findings and conclusions will be set aside only if they are clearly erroneous, that is, when the record contains no facts or inferences supporting them. A judgment is clearly erroneous when a review of the record leaves us with a firm conviction that a mistake has been made. In conducting our review, we consider only the evidence favorable to the judgment and all reasonable inferences flowing therefrom. We will neither reweigh the evidence nor assess witness credibility.

Id. Husband does not challenge the trial court's findings, and thus they stand as proven. See Madlem v. Arko, 592 N.E.2d 686, 687 (Ind. 1992) ("Because Madlem does not challenge the findings of the trial court, they must be accepted as correct."). Thus, we turn to whether those findings support the trial court's decision. Samples, 12 N.E.3d at 950.

         [¶9] Indiana Trial Rule 60(B)(3) provides for relief from a judgment for "fraud (whether heretofore denominated intrinsic or extrinsic), misrepresentation, or other misconduct of an adverse party[.]" In its order granting Wife's motion for relief from judgment, the trial court found Husband submitted incomplete or false answers to some of Wife's interrogatories as part ...

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