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Lawrence v. Cords

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

May 17, 2016

KARIN LAWRENCE
v.
MANUEL CORDS

          Argued February 4, 2016

         Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of Litchfield, Gallagher, J. [dissolution judgment]; Trombley, J. [contempt motion; motion to terminate automatic stay].

          Gregory T. Nolan, with whom, onthe brief, was Patsy M. Renzullo, for the appellant (defendant).

          Regina M. Wexler, with whom, on the brief, were Mark H. Swerdloff and Ileen P. Swerdloff, for the appellee (plaintiff).

          DiPentima, C. J., and Prescott and Mullins, Js.

          OPINION

          PRESCOTT, J.

         In this marital dissolution action, the defendant, Manuel Cords, appeals from the trial court’s postdissolution judgment in favor of the plaintiff, Karin Lawrence, finding the defendant in contempt and ordering him to pay the plaintiff $246, 000 plus interest in several installments. On appeal, the defendant claims that the court improperly (1) terminated the automatic appellate stay of execution of a prior order of contempt and (2) modified the division of property postdissolution. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following facts, as found in the record or as stated by this court in Lawrence v. Cords, 159 Conn.App. 194, 196–98, 122 A.3d 713 (2015) (Lawrence I), and procedural history are relevant to our consideration of the defendant’s claims. ‘‘The marriage of the parties was dissolved on November 19, 2013. Pursuant to that judgment, the court, Gallagher, J., issued various orders regarding the parties’ marital property. With respect to their real property, the court ordered, inter alia:

‘‘ ‘7. Upon payment of $246, 000 by the defendant to the plaintiff as set forth herein, the plaintiff shall quitclaim all her right, title and interest in 61 [Phelps][1] Road [(property)] to the defendant. The defendant shall hold the plaintiff harmless on all notes and mortgages regarding the Colebrook properties.[2] . . .
‘‘ ‘8. The defendant shall pay to the plaintiff the sum of $246, 000 within 60 days of notice of this decision. Should the defendant fail to pay the sum of $246, 000 to the plaintiff in the time period allotted, the defendant shall take whatever steps necessary to remove the cloud on the title he caused to be placed in the name of Sibling Associates, and the parties shall immediately thereafter cause 61 Phelps Road to be placed on the market. The sales price will be determined by the real estate broker. Upon sale of the subject property, the proceeds shall be paid out as follows: payment in full of the Webster Bank mortgage; $246, 000 plus interest on said sum at the legal rate to the plaintiff; remainder to the defendant. Said interest begins running sixty days from the date of this decision.’

         ‘‘On January 27, 2014, the plaintiff filed a motion for contempt on the ground that the defendant had failed to comply with the above-referenced orders of the court. Specifically, she alleged that more than sixty days had passed since the date of the dissolution judgment, but that the defendant had not paid her the ordered sum of $246, 000, nor had the defendant taken any steps to list the subject property for sale. She claimed that the defendant failed to hold her harmless for the mortgage on the property and that she had paid it for the months of December, 2013, and January, 2014. She thus asked the court to find the defendant in contempt, ‘together with appropriate orders, including a reasonable attorney fee necessitated by the requirement that she file this motion.’

         ‘‘The court, Gallagher, J., held a hearing on the plaintiff’s motion for contempt on February 10, 2014, at which both parties testified. Following that testimony and oral argument by attorneys for both parties, the court ruled from the bench, finding the defendant in contempt because he did not pay the mortgage on the property or put the house on the market. . . . The court ordered that the house be put on the market within seven days and that the defendant pay the property taxes on the property. The court held: ‘Now, he has assets to pay her; he can either do that or he-he can do one of two things in seven days. He can either pay her the $246, 000 plus the money that he owes on the mortgage payments that she made or he can start paying-he can put it on the market within seven days, and he can also pay the taxes that are owed and pay the monthly payments on the mortgage.’ The court also ordered the defendant to pay attorney’s fees in the amount of $800 for the plaintiff’s attorney.’’ (Footnotes added.) Id.

         The defendant appealed to this court from the court’s finding of contempt, arguing that the court improperly modified the property distribution order by requiring him to pay the mortgage on the property and found him in contempt for not paying the mortgage. On August 11, 2015, this court held that the court’s order effectuated, rather than modified, its dissolution order regarding the payment of the mortgage, but because the dissolution order had been ambiguous concerning the mortgage payment, the defendant’s noncompliance was not wilful, and, thus, the court’s finding of contempt was improper. Id., 200, 202.

         While Lawrence I was pending before this court, on March 20, 2014, the plaintiff filed a second motion for contempt on the ground that the defendant continued to fail to pay the mortgage on the property and the property taxes. On July 21, 2014, the plaintiff also filed a motion to terminate the automatic stay of execution of the February 10, 2014 order that was in place as a result of the filing of the appeal in Lawrence I. The plaintiff alleged that the appeal in Lawrence I had been taken only for the purpose of delay, and, thus, the automatic stay of execution should be terminated.

         On August 5 and 11, 2014, a hearing on the motions was held. After hearing testimony from both parties and the defendant’s real estate broker, Marshall Cohen, the court, Trombley, J., issued an oral ruling from the bench on August 11, 2014. The court explicitly declined to terminate the automatic stay with regard to the February 10, 2014 order that the defendant pay the property taxes and attorney’s fees. The court then found the defendant in contempt for failing to make the mortgage payments and for failing to pay the plaintiff for her share of the property or to put the property on the market. The court ordered the defendant ‘‘to reimburse the [plaintiff] $16, 783.68, which is the mortgage [that] she paid . . . and [to] make monthly payments, commencing with the September payment, of the principal and interest to Webster Bank [the mortgager] until the [property] is sold or until the [plaintiff] is paid her $246, 000 plus interest.

         ‘‘Second, the [defendant] shall make the $246, 000 payment to the [plaintiff] in installments, each to include the [10] percent accumulated interest. First installment of $82, 000 is to be paid on or before December 1, 2014, plus interest; second installment is to be paid, $82, 000, on or before July 1, 2015, plus interest; and the final installment of $82, 000 is to be paid by December ...


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