Officially released April 16, 2019.
In Short (and all you really need is this paragraph): The trial court has discretion in assessing the credibility of evidence and testimony, discretion as to determining willfulness for contempt even where the actions were knowing and voluntary, and latitude in entering remedial orders where ambiguities arise due to post-judgment events. A motion to reargue is not an opportunity to present new evidence. Due process rights to not require the court to allow infinite duplicative evidence before entering remedial orders.
The Facts: the parties separation agreement was incorporated into a judgment of divorce. The agreement provided for division of certain unreimbursed medical expenses and activity costs. The parties filed numerous motions for contempt and entered into additional post-judgment agreements including quarterly reconciliation of unreimbursed medical expenses. Subject of this appeal were cross-contempt motions as to the costs.
The trial court ruled that neither party could be held in contempt because of them believed that (s)he was entitled to withhold payment to the other to the extent of the other’s non-payment pursuant to prior court orders. The trial court entered remedial orders requiring that Defendant provide calculations to explain amounts claimed under prior orders, requiring that that Plaintiff notify Defendant as to any dispute, allowing for future deductions of undisputed amounts from payments due, and prohibiting deduction of disputed amounts until the dispute was resolved at the next hearing.
The parties failed to reach an agreement and a further evidentiary hearing was held. There was dispute over quarterly account of expenses incurred versus expenses paid. The court issued a written memorandum of decision finding each party owed the other and order Defendant to pay the difference to Plaintiff. Plaintiff filed a motion to reargue as to various findings and rulings including the lack of a finding of contempt against Defendant and its method of calculating the amounts due, which the trial court denied, and Plaintiff appealed.
The First Issue on Appeal was whether the court erred in finding Defendant’s summaries of expenses credible. The standard of review as to factual determinations is clearly erroneous. The Appellate Court held Plaintiff failed to establish that the trial court’s determinations were clearly erroneous.
The Second Issue on Appeal is whether the trial court abused its discretion in failing to find Defendant in contempt for withholding payment. The standard of review as to factual findings is clearly erroneous. The Appellate Court held that knowing and voluntary does not necessarily mean willful. The trial court determined that both parties believed they were entitled to withhold payments pursuant the orders and its denial of contempt was not abuse of discretion.
The Third Issue on Appeal was whether the trial court abused its discretion in permitting future withholding of payment by Defendant. The Appellate Court held that ambiguity in the language of a prior judgment that arises as a result of post-judgment events permits the exercise by the trial court of continuing jurisdiction to effectuate its prior judgment through remedial orders. Plaintiff failed to demonstrate abuse of discretion.
The Fourth Issue on Appeal was whether the trial court abused its discretion in denying Plaintiff’s motion to reargue and “to submit additional and new evidence…” The trial court treated the motion as a motion to reargue pursuant to Practice Book § 11-12 and concluded that Plaintiff had ample opportunity to submit evidence prior to the final hearing but had chosen not to. The Appellate Court found no abuse of discretion.
The Fifth Issue on Appeal is Plaintiff’s claim that the trial court violated her due process right to be heard at the hearing wherein the trial court entered remedial orders. Plaintiff claims she was denied a reasonable opportunity to cross-examine or present evidence. The Appellate Court held Plaintiff had a sufficient opportunity to provide evidence and she failed to show that her constitutional rights were violated or that she was deprived a fair hearing.
The Judgment was affirmed.