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Shaw v. Shaw

Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Fairfield, Bridgeport

July 29, 2016

Michael Shaw
v.
Karin Shaw

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION RE MOTION TO DISMISS (MOTION #149.00)

          Mary E. Sommer, J.

         INTRODUCTION & SUMMARY OF FACTS

         The court conducted a hearing on the plaintiff's motion to dismiss the defendant's motion for contempt on April 28, 2016. The court has considered the evidence presented at the hearing and the legal arguments presented at the hearing and in the briefs submitted by counsel. Based on the evidence presented, the court makes the following findings of fact.

         The parties were married in Darien, Connecticut and resided in Connecticut for the duration of their twenty-four-year marriage. The marriage of the parties was dissolved on August 18, 2006. By motion for order to show cause for contempt dated February 26, 2016, the defendant seeks an order of contempt against the plaintiff to enforce the provisions of the court's order regarding disposition of the plaintiff's pension. Plaintiff has filed a motion to dismiss the defendant's motion challenging the personal jurisdiction of the court.

         The substantive issue which is the basis for the defendant's motion for contempt involves the disposition of plaintiff husband's retirement assets, specifically defendant's entitlement to one-half of his pension. Paragraph 3.8 of the agreement as incorporated in the dissolution orders states, " The Husband's Disney World Wide Services (" Disney") pension shall also be equally divided between the parties, and the court shall retain jurisdiction over this issue, in the event that further orders are necessary to effectuate such a transfer." Following the dissolution of the parties' marriage, the parties executed a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) for the purpose of dividing the plaintiff's ABC, Inc. Retirement Plan.

         The defendant has filed a motion for contempt in which she alleges that the plaintiff has refused to comply with the above and is therefore, in contempt of the court order. In addition to the plaintiff's refusal to transfer the Disney stock, the defendant asserts that she subsequently became aware that the ABC, Inc. Retirement Plan only constitutes a portion of the Plaintiff's pension, which includes further substantial retirement assets not previously disclosed, specifically, the ABC, Inc. Retirement Plan, Salaried Plan, Key Plan, and BEP Plan. The Defendant claims that the estimated monthly benefit of the Salaried Plan, Key Plan, ABC, Inc. Retirement Plan, and BEP Plan which she is entitled to receive is $12, 272.37. The plaintiff was served in hand in Vermont with the postjudgment motion for contempt.

         Subsequent to the dissolution of the marriage, the plaintiff moved to Vermont. He has refused to execute documents required to divide the Disney pension. Defendant served the plaintiff in hand in Vermont with an Order to Show Cause, summoning him to the Superior Court in Bridgeport seeking to hold the plaintiff in contempt for violation of the order set forth in paragraph 3.8 above. The plaintiff has moved to dismiss the defendant's motion on the grounds that this court lacks personal jurisdiction over him both on due process grounds and because the motion at issue does not concern " temporary or permanent alimony or support of children" under Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 46b-46(b).

         APPLICABLE LAW AND ANALYSIS

         The plaintiff's challenge to the trial court's personal jurisdiction over a party is a question of law. In this case, the defendant has presented evidence that the plaintiff has failed to transfer the share of his retirement assets which he had agreed and which was made a court order at the time of the parties' marriage and that she subsequently learned of the existence of other retirement assets which the plaintiff failed to disclose at the time of dissolution. As noted above, the approximate annual amount which the defendant is entitled to receive is $147, 000.00. She is seeking by a motion for contempt to enforce the orders of the court issued at the time of the dissolution of the parties' marriage.

         The plaintiff maintains that the court cannot address this issue because it lacks personal jurisdiction over him on constitutional due process grounds. The court's analysis of the plaintiff's due process jurisdictional claim is premised on the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment to the United States constitution which operates as a limitation on the jurisdiction of state courts to enter judgments affecting rights or interests of non-resident defendants. Shaffer v. Heitner, 433 U.S. 186, 198-200, 97 S.Ct. 2569, 53 L.Ed.2d 683 (1977).

         " The due process test for personal jurisdiction has two related components: the 'minimum contacts' inquiry and the 'reasonableness' inquiry. The court must first determine whether the defendant has sufficient contacts with the forum state to justify the court's exercise of personal jurisdiction . . . For purposes of this initial inquiry, a distinction is made between 'specific' jurisdiction and 'general' jurisdiction. Specific jurisdiction exists when a State exercises personal jurisdiction over a defendant in a suit arising out of or related to the defendant's contacts with the forum; a court's general jurisdiction, on the other hand, is based on the defendant's general business contacts with the forum state and permits a court to exercise its power in a case where the subject matter of the suit is unrelated to those contacts . . . The second stage of the due process inquiry asks whether the assertion of personal jurisdiction comports with traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice--that is, whether it is reasonable under the circumstances of the particular case . . . The Supreme Court has held that the court must evaluate the following factors as part of this reasonableness analysis: (1) the burden that the exercise of jurisdiction will impose on the defendant; (2) the interests of the forum state in adjudicating the case; (3) the plaintiff's interest in obtaining convenient and effective relief; (4) the interstate judicial system's interest in obtaining the most efficient resolution of the controversy; and (5) the shared interest of the states in furthering substantive social policies." (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Metropolitan Life Ins. v. Robertson-CECO Corp., 84 F.3d 560, 567-68 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 519 U.S. 1006, 117 S.Ct. 508, 136 L.Ed.2d 398 (1996); see also Chew v. Dietrich, 143 F.3d 24 (2d Cir. 1998).

         Applying the above principles of law to the facts of this case, the court makes the threshold finding that the issue before it arises directly out of the plaintiff's contact with the state, i.e., his twenty-four-year marriage to the defendant and the orders of the court upon dissolution of their marriage. The record in this case establishes that the plaintiff's contacts with Connecticut prior to leaving were substantial and sufficient to give rise to specific jurisdiction, the first step under the above framework for analysis. The parties were married in July 1981 in Darien, Connecticut and resided in this state for their twenty-four-year marriage. The financial orders arise out of the dissolution of a marriage that was entered into in this state by the authority of the superior court under the law of this state. Connecticut is the place where the plaintiff conducted the daily activities of his marital life, took advantage of the benefits and protections of this state and resided in his marital home. Therefore, the court concludes that the plaintiff had sufficient contact with Connecticut to justify the exercise of personal jurisdiction over him.

         The court next considers the reasonableness of exercising jurisdiction over the defendant. Applying the factors set out in Metropolitan Life Ins. v. Robertson-CECO Corp., supra, 84 F.3d 567-68, the court concludes that the court's exercise of personal jurisdiction over the defendant comports with traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. These factors are briefly summarized as applied to the facts of this case: 1.) There is nothing in the record that indicates that an undue burden would be placed on the plaintiff with respect to defending himself in Connecticut; 2.) Connecticut has a great interest in enforcing its dissolution orders of these parties who had lived in the state for many years and who also received public assistance; 3.) The defendant has a clear financial interest in obtaining convenient and effective relief through the state courts of her resident state of Connecticut. The fact that the relief requested is enforcement of court orders regarding the share of the plaintiff's pension to which the defendant is entitled further supports the seriousness of this claim.

         In addition to the above jurisdictional considerations, the parties themselves chose Connecticut law, clearly stating in their agreement that Connecticut law shall apply to any construction of their agreement. Article X-Situs-10.1 of the Dissolution agreement provides, " It is understood and agreed that this Agreement is entered into under the laws of the State of Connecticut. The execution hereof, wherever, and whenever undertaken, shall be deemed to be completed upon final mutual delivery of the Agreement in Connecticut. The Laws of the State of Connecticut shall be applied to any construction of this Agreement, and in the resolution of any dispute arising hereunder. ...


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