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Hamilton v. Hamilton

Court of Appeals of Indiana

August 16, 2019

Donna J. Hamilton, Appellant-Petitioner,
Robert D. Hamilton, Appellee-Respondent

          Appeal from the Monroe Circuit Court Trial Court Cause No. 53C08-1706-DN-263 The Honorable Valeri Haughton, Judge.

          Attorneys for Appellant James G. Pittman Michelle L. Woodward Pittman Law Firm Bedford, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee Lonnie D. Johnson Stephanie A. Halsted Clendening Johnson & Bohrer, P.C. Bloomington, Indiana

          Crone, Judge.

         Case Summary

         [¶1] Donna J. Hamilton ("Wife") appeals a summary judgment entered in favor of the estate ("the Estate") of her deceased ex-husband, Robert D. Hamilton ("Husband"). The dispute concerns the ownership of Husband's portion of his individual retirement account ("IRA")[1] following a fifty-fifty split entered pursuant to the couple's dissolution settlement agreement. Wife asserts that the trial court erred in not striking certain portions of two affidavits included in the Estate's designated materials, in granting the Estate's motion for summary judgment, and in denying her motion for summary judgment. We affirm.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2] Husband and Wife were married in 1986. In June 2017, Wife filed a petition to dissolve the marriage. That summer, Husband contacted his financial planner, Thomas Rillo, seeking information regarding the steps necessary for changing his designated IRA beneficiary from Wife to his two daughters. Rillo informed Husband that he would need to bring in a copy of his dissolution decree to accomplish the change.

         [¶3] On September 29, 2017, the parties executed a "Contract and Agreement" ("the Agreement"), which was incorporated into and attached to the October 2, 2017 dissolution decree. As it relates to Husband's IRA, the Agreement specifies an "account balance of $389, 482.78 as of August 31, 2017" and states, "Wife shall be entitled to 50% of Husband's retirement account as of August 31, 2017 in the amount of $194, 741.39." Appellant's App. Vol. 2 at 14-15. The Agreement ordered that Husband take all necessary steps to separate out Wife's portion within thirty days of the decree.

         [¶4] On October 9, 2017, Husband and his friend, Marsha Keith, drove to Rillo's office with a copy of Husband's dissolution decree, per Rillo's previous instructions. The office was closed due to a Monday holiday, so they returned the next day. Husband asked to see Rillo but learned that Rillo was on vacation. He left a copy of the dissolution decree with office personnel. The next day, he was critically injured in an accident. He died of his injuries the following day, October 12, 2017. Shortly thereafter, the Estate was opened in a different county, and one of Husband's daughters was appointed personal representative. In November 2017, Wife filed a claim against the Estate to preserve her sum-certain share of the IRA in the event it was a probate asset.

         [¶5] On December 21, 2017, Wife filed a motion for a temporary restraining order ("TRO") and preliminary injunction. She claimed that Husband had died before separating out her share of the IRA, that she had "learned on December 20, 2017 that [Husband] changed his beneficiary designation on the above … IRA account from [Wife] to [Husband's] daughters after the divorce was filed," and that she had filed a claim with the Estate and had not yet received her fifty-percent share of Husband's IRA pursuant to the Agreement. Id. at 17-18. She asked that the trial court enjoin both the Estate from submitting any claims regarding the IRA funds and Rillo's office from processing or distributing any such funds pending a hearing. The court granted her motion for a TRO and emergency hearing.

         [¶6] On December 28, 2017, Wife filed a motion to compel distribution of her $194, 741.39 of Husband's IRA funds. She later filed a motion to extend the TRO and request for hearing, which the trial court granted. After a hearing on Wife's motions, the trial court issued an order granting Wife's motion to compel the distribution of $194, 741.39 from the IRA. The court indicated that Wife had recently learned and informed the court that Husband had never fully executed his change of designated IRA beneficiary to his daughters. As a result, Wife claimed that she was entitled to the balance of Husband's IRA funds. The parties agreed to freeze the IRA balance pending a declaratory judgment as to the ownership of the funds. They also agreed that the trial court would retain jurisdiction.

         [¶7] In February 2018, the Estate filed a motion for summary judgment accompanied by a memorandum and designated materials, which included affidavits executed by Rillo and Keith. On April 2, 2018, Wife filed materials in opposition to the Estate's motion as well as her own motion for summary judgment, with a motion to strike portions of Rillo's and Keith's affidavits. The Estate filed materials in response, which included Keith's amended affidavit.

         [¶8] On December 17, 2018, the trial court issued an order granting summary judgment in favor of the Estate. Wife now appeals. Additional facts will be provided as necessary.

         Discussion and Decision

         Section 1 - The trial court did not commit reversible error in implicitly denying Wife's motion to strike portions of Husband's designated affidavits.

         [¶9] We first address Wife's contention that the trial court abused its discretion in not granting her motion to strike certain portions of the Estate's designated affidavits. The trial court has broad discretion in ruling on motions to strike in the summary judgment context. Szamocki v. Anonymous Doctor & Anonymous Grp., 70 N.E.3d 419, 429 n.7 (Ind.Ct.App. 2017), trans. denied. Its decision will not be reversed unless prejudicial error is clearly demonstrated. Devereux v. Love, 30 N.E.3d 754, 766 (Ind.Ct.App. 2015), trans. denied.

         [¶10] As a preliminary matter, we address Wife's assertion that the trial court erred in not issuing a specific ruling on her motion to strike. Although the trial court should have issued a specific ruling on Wife's motion to strike, we do not believe that its failure to do so amounts to reversible error. See Palmer v. State, 173 Ind.App. 208, 213, 363 N.E.2d 1245, 1248 (1977) (court's failure to rule specifically on party's motion to strike affidavits held to be harmless error). A trial court is presumed to know and follow the applicable law. Tharpe v. State, 955 N.E.2d 836, 842 (Ind.Ct.App. 2011), trans. denied. This would include its duty to disregard any inadmissible information included in an affidavit. Bankmark of Florida, Inc. v. Star Fin. Card Servs., Inc., 679 N.E.2d 973, 980 (Ind.Ct.App. 1997). Thus, the trial court's inaction on Wife's motion to strike operates as an implied denial. See Palmer, 173 Ind.App. at 213, 363 N.E.2d at 1248 (grant of summary judgment absent specific ruling on motion to strike held to amount to implied overruling/denial of motion to strike).

         1.1 - Thomas ...

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