Robert Bryda v. Judy Ann Bryda
-- April 17, 2012
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION
On October 17, 2011, the defendant, Judy Ann Bryda, filed a Motion for Contempt Postjudgment. On December 9, 2011, the defendant filed a Corrected Motion for Contempt Postjudgment. The defendant's corrected motion for contempt alleged that the marriage of the parties was dissolved on October 1, 2008 and as part of a settlement agreement, the plaintiff, Robert Bryda, was to pay one-half of the settlement amounts to be negotiated with Webster Bank and with Harley Davidson. The motion for contempt further alleged that the two matters were settled and the plaintiff has failed to pay one-half of the settled amounts plus attorneys fees.
On December 21, 2011, the plaintiff filed a motion for contempt. The plaintiff's motion for contempt alleged that the October 1, 2008, settlement agreement provided that the parties were to split any deficiencies of the marital debt. The motion for contempt further alleged that since the date of dissolution, the plaintiff has paid marital debt to CDC Capital, LLC, to Luther Epps, to Buckley Associates, and to Alessandra Graziani. The plaintiff now seeks to recover one-half of the amount he has paid to settle those obligations.
On March 2, 2012, an evidentiary hearing was held on both motions.
In a civil contempt proceeding, the movant has the burden of establishing, by a preponderance of the evidence, the existence of a court order and noncompliance with that order. Statewide Grievance Committee v. Zadora, 62 Conn.App. 828, 832, 772 A.2d 681 (2001). Civil contempt may be found only upon a clear and unambiguous court order. Dowd v. Dowd, 96 Conn.App. 75, 79, 899 A.2d 76, cert. denied, 280 Conn. 907, 907 A.2d 89 (2006). Contempt is committed when a person violates an order of the court which requires that person in specific and definite language to do or refrain from doing an act or series of acts. In re Leah S., 284 Conn. 685, 695, 935 A.2d 1021 (2007). A contempt remedy is particularly harsh and it may be founded solely upon some clear and expressed direction of the court. Id. “Noncompliance alone will not support a judgment of contempt.” Bowers v. Bowers, 61 Conn.App. 75, 81, 762 A.2d 515 (2000). A court may not find a person in contempt without considering the circumstances surrounding the violation to determine whether such violation was willful. Wilson v. Wilson, 38 Conn.App. 263, 275–76, 661 A.2d 621 (1995). The inability of the defendant to obey an order of the court, without fault on his part, is a good defense to a charge of contempt. Tobey v. Tobey, 165 Conn. 742, 746, 345 A.2d 21 (1974). It is the non-movant's burden to prove his inability to comply with a valid court order. Even if the court does not find a willful violation of a court order, the court has broad discretion to make whole a party who has suffered as a result of another party's failure to comply with the court order. Fuller v. Fuller, 119 Conn.App. 105, 115, 987 A.2d 1040 (2010).
B. Defendant's Corrected Motion for Contempt Dated December 9, 2011
The court makes the following findings of fact:
On October 1, 2008, the parties submitted to the court, (Abery–Wetstone, J.) an agreement for the dissolution of marriage. The court reviewed the agreement, approved it and incorporated its terms by reference. The October 1, 2008, agreement (hereinafter the Agreement), addressed the division of the partie's debt. Paragraph 12 of the Agreement states:
the following marital debt shall be paid out of the proceeds of the sale of the marital home: CL & P, AT & T, Dish Network, veterinarian bill, Webster Bank, Harley Davidson. Each party shall assume any other liabilities, if any, listed on their respective financial affidavits filed on the date of dissolution, and any undisclosed liabilities, and shall hold the other party free, harmless and indemnified therefrom.
The Agreement further provided in a hand written addition that, “[b]oth parties shall cooperate with Attorney Boscarino regarding Webster Bank obligation; and split any deficiencies except CL & P, AT & T + Dish to be paid by Husband.”
The October 1, 2008 Agreement is silent as to who will pay Attorney Boscarino for his services in negotiating a settlement with Webster Bank.
On or about April 23, 2009, Attorney Boscarino's law office reached a settlement with Webster Bank in the amount of $5,000. On or about April 17, 2010, Attorney Boscarino's law office reached a settlement with Harley Davidson Credit in the amount of $1,995. On or about July 22, 2011, Attorney Boscarino's law office submitted to the plaintiff a demand for payment in the amount of $10,710.05. The demand included the $5,000 Webster Bank settlement, $1,995 Harley Davidson settlement plus attorneys fees in the amount of $3,715.05.
The Agreement clearly ordered the parties to cooperate with Attorney Boscarino in the settlement of the Webster Bank obligation and to split any deficiencies of that settlement. The Agreement does not state in specific and definite language that the parties were to split any deficiencies with respect to the Harley Davidson obligation and it does not indicate that attorneys fees are to be shared. It is clear that the plaintiff has not paid his share of the Webster Bank obligation as he was ordered to do under the Agreement.
C. Plaintiff's December 21, 2011 Motion for Contempt. Additional findings of fact:
The Agreement further provided in paragraph 33 that:
[e]ach of the parties hereto agrees that she or he, as the case may be, will not contract or incur any liability on behalf of the other and that each will not obligate or engage the credit of the other party in any manner whatsoever. It is particularly agreed, and it is the intention of this Agreement, that each party hereto shall manage, handle, control and deal with her or his own property and the fruits of the or his own labors to the extent and in the same manner as though the parties hereto had never married.
While the parties were married, the defendant was the sole proprietor of Alexander Sheetmetal and Mechanical, LLC, (hereinafter the LLC). The plaintiff, however, performed all the work for the LLC and the defendant worked outside the business. On or about December 14, 2006, the defendant filed a Voluntary Petition for relief under Chapter 7 of Title 11 of the United States Code (hereinafter the Bankruptcy action). The Bankruptcy action resolved on or about May 21, 2009. The October 1, 2008 dissolution agreement is silent as to any debts not covered by the Bankruptcy action except for the Webster Bank obligation. The October 1, 2008 dissolution agreement is also silent on how the LLC debt is to be divided, if at all. The plaintiff and defendant's financial affidavits submitted at the dissolution hearing do not list any of the LLC debt.
The plaintiff now claims that he paid for debt after the judgment that was marital debt and pursuant to paragraph 33 of the Agreement, the defendant is equally responsible for the debt. According to the plaintiff, he paid a CDC Capital, LLC debt in the amount of $7,990, a Luther Epps debt in the amount of $4,503, a Buckley Associates debt in the amount of $1,200, and a mechanic's lien to Alessandra A. Graziani in the amount of $2,237.25. The CDC Capital debt originated from a judgment entered against the LLC, the plaintiff and the defendant on or about January 8, 2007. The Luther Epps debt originated from work the plaintiff contracted with Mr. Epps as early as November 2006. The Buckley Associates obligation was known to the parties as early as June 20, 2006, when Buckley Associates initiated a legal action against the LLC and the plaintiff. The Braziani mechanic lien originated from a judgment that entered against the LLC and the plaintiff on June 25, 2004.
On October 1, 2008, the plaintiff and the defendant were aware of the debts the plaintiff now seeks recovery from. He did not list the debt on his financial affidavit. The Agreement does not address the LLC obligations. Further, the Agreement does not require either party in specific or definite language to seek reimbursement from the other for debts they knew existed at the time of judgment but were not listed in either party's financial affidavits. Therefore, the court cannot find the defendant in willful violation of a court order.
WHEREFORE: Having considered all the evidence presented to it and having considered the case law on civil contempt, the court will issue the following ORDERS:
1. The defendant's Corrected Motion for Contempt dated December 9, 2011, # 150 is hereby: DENIED;
However, the plaintiff shall pay one-half of the Webster Bank settlement ($2,500) no later than June 31, 2012.
2. The plaintiff's Motion for Contempt dated December 21, 2011, # 153 is hereby: DENIED.
Suarez, José A., J.