Officially released October 31, 2017
The dissolution decree was entered after trial in March 2008, following a 21-year marriage. Husband was ordered to (a) pay $4,000 per week in alimony, (b) transfer part of his Schwab account to Wife, and (c) cooperate in the sale of marital property in Ridgefield.
Four months after the decree, Husband moved to modify alimony, and alimony was reduced in June 2009. Husband appealed, apparently because the reduction was deemed inadequate, and Wife cross-appealed (which she withdrew in August 2009). The Appellate Court dismissed Husband’s prior appeal on the basis of his “continuous contemptuous conduct,” and remanded the case to the trial court with specific direction to deny the motion for modification.
Wife filed a motion for contempt based on Husband’s failure to distribute her share of the Schwab account, and that motion was granted in June 2010. Following a hearing, the Trial Court set an August 2009 date for valuing Wife’s portion of the Schwab account and awarded her interest from August 2009. Wife appealed the date selected for valuing her portion in the Schwab account and the Appellate Court reversed the Trial Court and remanded with direction to value the account at the date of dissolution.
We then fast forward from 2009 to January 2014, when a hearing finally was set concerning an alimony arrearage and division of the Schwab account. After “multiple hearings,” in October 2015 the Trial Court awarded post-judgment interest at 4%, and set dates concerning when interest would run on the Schwab account and alimony arrearage. Wife filed a motion to reargue, which was granted, but relief then denied.
Wife filed a motion for order in August 2010, seeking assignment of Husband’s interest of Husband in the Ridgefield property. The Trial Court ordered assignment of the interest of Husband to Wife, provided that, upon any sale, Wife was to hold sale proceeds in excess of $300,000 in escrow. Thereafter, Wife sold the property for $3,700,000, netting $1,900,000 and failed to place the proceeds in escrow. Husband filed a motion for contempt.
The first issue on appeal was whether the Trial Court exceeded the specific direction of the Appellate Court in its remand by vacating awards of post-judgment interest awarded in connection with the alimony arrearage and Schwab account. On remand, the Appellate Court had directed that the Trial Court vacate modification of alimony and change the date of valuation of Wife’s portion of the Schwab account.
Determining the scope of a remand is a matter of law requiring the Trial Court to interpret the higher court’s mandate, “akin to determining subject matter jurisdiction.” However, the Trial Court “is limited to the specific direction of the mandate as interpreted.” When a Judgment is set aside on appeal, its effect is entirely vacated and “the parties are in the same condition as before it was rendered.” The Appellate Court determined that the vacating of the alimony modification and valuation of Wife’s portion of the Schwab account were inextricably linked to the interest awarded in connection with each and thus the Trial Court properly vacated the post-judgment interest awards.
The second issue on appeal concerned the Trial Court’s establishing a 4% interest order, instead of 10% statutory interest as well as the dates from which interest was calculated. The Appellate Court reviewed using the abuse of discretion standard and cited Conn Gen. Stat. § 37-3a, stating at the outset that, while interest “may” be recovered on money awarded in a civil action once it has become payable per the court’s judgment, it is not required. The two questions that must be answered in establishing interest are whether an amount is detained and whether the detention is wrongful under the circumstances.
Wife argued that the Trial Court erred in ordering that interest run from the date the Schwab account was ultimately valued, which did not occur until after substantial litigation, and further erred in ordering that interest run on the alimony from April 2014 on the basis of the total alimony arrearage rather than awarding interest individually on each of the missed weekly payments from the dates they were missed, thus denying her the benefit of compound interest.
The Appellate Court noted that § 37-3a, unlike § 37-3b, contains no requirement that interest be computed from the date of judgment or twenty-one days thereafter. Thus, while “an earlier date may have been within the court’s discretion” the selection of the valuation date of Wife’s interest in the Schwab account was not error. Further, the Appellate Court noted that there is no requirement in § 37-3a for compounding interest. The Appellate Court found that the Trial Court had broad discretion in determining the interest to award and had not abused it.
Wife’s last argument as to interest was that the Trial Court erred in using a 4% rate rather than 10%. The Appellate Court made relatively short work of this argument stating that under § 37-3a “the court may award a maximum rate of interest of 10 percent per year, but it has discretion to apply a lesser rate.” The Appellate Court found that the Trial Court appropriately considered the facts of the case and the fall in interest rates in recent years.
The third and final issue on appeal was whether Wife was improperly held in contempt for violating the order regarding holding net proceeds in excess of $300,000 from the sale of the marital residence in escrow. The Appellate Court again upheld the Trial Court’s decision.
Wife argued that the order was not clear and unambiguous because the Trial Court issued a written order that did not mention holding the proceeds in escrow. The Appellate Court noted that the Trial Court had issued “a clear oral order instructing the defendant to hold any proceeds of the sale in escrow” and had warned the parties that the written orders “did not represent the entirety of its oral orders” and that Wife did not thereafter request a written copy encompassing the entire order.
Lastly, Wife argued that Husband’s unclean hands as to the issue of the sale of the residence should have precluded her being found in contempt. The Appellate Court noted that “unclean hands” is applied within the discretion of the Trial Court and that the Trial Court had taken such into consideration into account in rendering no punishment other than the finding of contempt itself.