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Weyher v. Weyher

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

April 19, 2016

ANDA WEYHER
v.
HARRY F. WEYHER III

Argued January 19, 2016

Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of Stamford-Norwalk, S. Richards, J.

Harry F. Weyher III, self-represented, the appellant (defendant).

Gary I. Cohen, with whom, on the brief, was Yakov Pyetranker, for the appellee (plaintiff).

Gruendel, Alvord and West, Js. [*]

OPINION

ALVORD, J.

The defendant, Harry F. Weyher III, appeals from the trial court’s ruling on his postjudgment motion to correct, modify or vacate an arbitration award that divided personal property in the marital estate between him and his former spouse, the plaintiff, Anda Weyher. On appeal, the self-represented defendant claims that the court (1) ‘‘erred ab initio in unilaterally ordering binding arbitration [with] respect [to] the division of [the parties’] personal property’’ in the July 12, 2013 judgment of dissolution, [1] (2) improperly concluded that he failed to prove that the arbitration proceeding was not conducted in accordance with chapter 909 of the General Statutes, as required by General Statutes § 46b-66 (c), [2] (3) improperly concluded that he failed toprove that the arbitrator exceeded his authority in the allocation of the assets, and (4) demonstrated bias against him that deprived him of a key witness at the hearing on his motion. We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the trial court.

The following facts and procedural history are relevant to our review of the defendant’s claims. Following a contested trial, the court, S. Richards, J., dissolved the parties’ twenty-nine year marriage. There were significant assets in the marital estate. In its memorandum of decision, the court issued orders with respect to, inter alia, the marital residence, alimony, and postsecondary educational support for their daughter. With respect to the parties’ personal property, the dissolution judgment provided as follows: ‘‘The personal property of the parties consisting of furniture and furnishings shall be divided by agreement between the parties within thirty (30) days from the date hereof. If the parties are not able to agree, then ownership of any disputed assets shall be decided by binding arbitration to be conducted by Roger Grenier or some other independent arbitrator appointed by the court, with the fees therefor to be divided equally between the parties. The plaintiff shall retain her personal jewelry free and clear of any claim by the defendant. The defendant shall retain his grandmother’s diamond, his mother’s Piaget watch and gold necklace and other inherited paintings, sculptures and antiques free and clear of any claim by the plaintiff.’’ The parties, who were represented by counsel, did not appeal from the dissolution judgment.

One month after judgment was rendered, the parties entered into a stipulation agreement that was submitted to and approved by the court, Hon. Stanley Novack, judge trial referee, on August 13, 2013. In paragraph 9 of the parties’ stipulation, they agreed to the following: ‘‘The parties agree to divide their personal property, household furniture and furnishings as ordered by the court in its Memorandum of Decision. For the avoidance of doubt, it is acknowledged by the parties that items inherited or gifted from their respective families will inure to the benefit of that party.’’ (Emphasis omitted.) On November 12, 2013, the defendant filed a post-judgment motion for contempt and for an order to compel arbitration against the plaintiff, claiming that she ‘‘knowingly and willfully violated’’ the court’s orders ‘‘by refusing to actively participate with the binding arbitration being conducted by Roger Grenier in order to effectuate the division of the parties’ personal property.’’

The parties thereafter proceeded to arbitration conducted by Grenier, and the defendant withdrew his motion for contempt. Grenier issued his arbitration award on January 21, 2014. On February 19, 2014, the defendant, now a self-represented party, filed a motion to correct, modify or vacate the arbitration award. The defendant’s primary claim was that the arbitrator exceeded the scope of his authority as set forth in the memorandum of decision and stipulation ‘‘by considering and accounting for property already awarded to the defendant by the court and then making an adjustment in the plaintiff’s favor . . . .’’ Specifically, the defendant claimed that he was deprived of his mother’s Ebel[3]watch.[4] The defendant’s motion acknowledged that the plaintiff had disposed of the watch prior to the arbitration proceeding, and, therefore, he requested that ‘‘a new watch of the same or similar value and model be procured by the plaintiff . . . .’’ The defendant did not argue in his motion that the court’s order requiring binding arbitration was void or invalid.

A hearing on the defendant’s motion, and the plaintiff’s opposition to that motion, was held before the court, S. Richards, J., on September 2, 2014. At that time, the defendant raised the issue of the court’s authority to order binding arbitration with respect to the parties’ personal property in its July 16, 2013 memorandum of decision. The defendant argued: ‘‘[T]he court was not empowered to order arbitration. The parties did not agree to have the court delegate its responsibility to an arbitrator. There was no arbitration agreement, and it does require the consent of both parties per Section 46b-66 in family matters in the Connecticut General Statutes.’’ The defendant’s second argument was that ‘‘the proceedings did not constitute arbitration. There were no established arbitration rules from the outset during, after, implemented at any time during this process. There was no agreement to arbitrate as required by [§] 52-410 of the statutes. There was no arbitration agreement setting forth the conditions and parameters of the arbitration.’’ His final argument was that the ‘‘outcome’’ of the proceeding was ‘‘flawed’’ because the arbitrator’s award was contrary to the orders contained in the court’s July 16, 2013 memorandum of decision and the August 13, 2013 court-approved stipulation with respect to the Ebel watch.[5] When the court asked the defendant whether he had any evidence regarding the valuation of any of the assets in dispute, including the watch at issue, he responded: ‘‘None whatsoever.’’

The plaintiff argued that the balance of the arbitration award was adjusted by the arbitrator to account for the property previously awarded to the defendant. Further, she claimed that the court’s order for binding arbitration was set forth in the dissolution judgment, which was never appealed by the defendant. At that time, the defendant was represented by counsel. He could have challenged the judgment or availed himself of other available procedural remedies. Moreover, the plaintiff stated that the defendant had agreed to binding arbitration in the August 13, 2013 court-approved stipulation. Finally, the plaintiff argued that the division of the disputed assets by the arbitrator was proper because the memorandum of decision and the stipulation did not require that the allocation be based on the value of the items.

The court issued its decision denying the defendant’s motion to correct, modify or vacate the arbitration award on December 19, 2014. The court stated that the signatures on the judgment file and the August 13, 2013 stipulation indicated that ‘‘the parties intended to . . . resolve their differences relating to their personal property by way of binding arbitration.’’ The court further stated that ‘‘[a]lthough the defendant’s motion alleges numerous claims of error, the defendant’s evidence was insufficient to prove that the arbitration award should be vacated or that the arbitrator exceeded his authority.’’ On January 5, 2015, the defendant filed a motion for articulation, requesting further clarification of the court’s order. The defendant also filed an appeal from the court’s December 19, 2014 order at that time.

On June 5, 2015, the court issued a memorandum of decision in response to the defendant’s motion for articulation. Again the court referenced the procedural history relating to the parties’ stipulation and the defendant’s motion to compel the arbitration. The court additionally noted that the defendant failed to challenge the authority of the court to order binding arbitration in his motion to correct, modify or vacate the arbitration award. Nevertheless, the court recognized its failure to obtain the parties’ consent to binding arbitration prior to the rendering of the dissolution judgment: ‘‘Notwithstanding the foregoing, the court is well aware of the requirements enumerated in Gen[eral] Statutes § 46b-66 that pertain to instances in which the parties have agreed to binding arbitration in an action for dissolution of marriage and surmises that it must have inadvertently ordered binding arbitration in said memorandum of decision, the original one and as corrected, after ...


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