Opinions, Nov. 24, 2015

Three memorandum opinions this morning, one from the First District COA and two from the Fourteenth.

In Mandeville v. Mandeville, No. 01-15-00119-CV, Charles Mandeville appealed the final decree of divorce on the grounds that the trial court erred by excluding a marital property agreement from evidence and ordering that his possession of the children be supervised. The COA affirmed.

Charles and Deborah Mandeville married in 2000 and had five children during the marriage. In January 2014, Deborah filed for divorce in Fort Bend County, and later amended her petition to request that Charles’ visitation be supervised. Charles filed a counter-petition and jury demand. The COA went out of its way to note that though Charles had representation when he filed his counter-petition, by the time of the pretrial hearing, he was pro se. This, it turns out, is just the prelude to a litany of bizarre, paranoid behavior by Charles both during the marriage and trial. For example, Deborah had to procure birth certificates and social security numbers to enroll their children in school without Charles’ knowledge because he did not believe in them. He  apparently inculcated delusional concerns for his and his family’s safety into his children. He left the jury trial on the second day, noting on the record, “I’m leaving under threat, duress, coercion, lack of counsel. This is absolutely not voluntary. I’m trying to save my children from sadism and evil. This is just disgusting.” After he left, his own aunt testified that his parenting was problematic and that his visitation should be supervised.

Long story short, the COA upheld the jury’s finding that his visitation with the children should be supervised. I hope Charles gets the help he needs.

With regards to the marital property agreement, the COA found Charles did not preserve the error. Prior to trial, Deborah filed a motion in limine which requested Charles be ordered to refrain from mentioning the marital property agreement in the presence of the jury because he did not fully respond to interrogatories on the issue. The trial court granted the motion in limine. However, the COA states, a ruling on a motion in limine is not a final evidentiary ruling. Because Charles never offered the marital property agreement into evidence during the trial–and thus never obtained a ruling–he failed to preserve the error and waived his issue on appeal.

The Fourteenth released its memorandum opinions this morning in Reynolds v. Reynolds, No. 14-14-00624-CV and In re Kevin Matthew Hall, No. 14-15-00895-CV.

Reynolds is another installment of the Reynolds Saga, which I blogged about on July 23, 2015. Today’s opinion concerns an enforcement suit filed by Wilma to enforce the property division.

Wilma and David divorced in 2008. In her enforcement suit, Wilma argued she had not received her 50% share of David’s 2008 estimated income from a business interest. She asked the trial court to order David to produce financial records, to liquidate her share of the business interest and to order David to pay that amount to Wilma. David filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing he had complied with the decree. The trial court agreed, granted a final judgment in David’s favor and the COA affirmed.

In her first issue, Wilma contended that the trial court erred by not ordering David to produce financial records. David established that he had produced responsive documents in previous proceedings. The COA listed seven other related appellate cases in a footnote.

In her second issue, Wilma asserted that the trial court erred by granting summary judgment in favor of David because she did not accept the check for her half of the 2008 income that David tried to mail her several times and which was placed into the registry of the court. Because Wilma produced no summary judgment evidence that the check was not for the right amount, the summary judgment was sustained. Stay tuned for the next installment.

In In re Kevin Matthew Hall, Kevin filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus, asking the COA to vacate an October contempt and commitment order from the 308th. The COA denied the request.

Kevin and Rebecca were divorced in 2012 and appointed JMCs of the child, with Rebecca as primary. Rebecca filed an enforcement suit, alleging 55 violations of the decree. On October 15, 2015, the Court held a hearing and signed the contempt order giving rise to the original proceeding. The order found Kevin in contempt for five violations involving failing to return the child to Rebecca’s residence at 6:00 pm on Sundays. He was committed to the Harris County jail, but was released on bail about two weeks later.

In his first issue, Kevin alleged the motion for enforcement and the contempt order did not adequately provide him with notice of his violations. Kevin argued that the operative language in the decree is subject to multiple interpretations and thus cannot be enforced by contempt. Here are the key provisions:

1. Weekends— On weekends that occur during the regular school term, beginning at the time the child’s school is regularly dismissed on the first, third, and fifth Friday of each month and ending at 6:00 P.M. on the following Sunday.
* * *
2. Return of the child by KEVIN MATTHEW HALL—KEVIN MATTHEW HALL is ORDERED to return the child to the residence of [Mother] at the end of each period of possession.

This is straight out of the Standard Possession Order, of course. Kevin argued it was unclear from the motion and order if the violations are to have occurred on a Thursday or on a Sunday, during the school year, a school holiday, or summer break or who was entitled to possession during the violative periods. The Court of Appeals found this argument wanting, finding the motion and order adequately notified Kevin of the time periods at issue.

Kevin also argued that the contempt order does not state the dates on which he failed to comply with the order because the order does not provide details of when he did return the child to Rebecca. The Court of Appeals dismissed this argument as well because there is no requirement the order include this information.

Kevin argued the order does not state that any of the dates alleged were dates Rebecca was entitled to possession of the child. The Court of Appeals found that the order did not need to state when Rebecca’s possession commenced because it provided for when Kevin’s ended.

Kevin also argued that the motion and order did not state the manner of his noncompliance because the language purportedly did not specify whether he violated the time or place of return provisions. The COA dispatched this argument as well, as the trial court found he did not return the child to the place at the time ordered.

Finally, Kevin alleged his due process rights were violated because he did not receive a jury trial. Because he was confined less than 6 months the charge was not “serious” and he was not entitled to a jury.





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