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Bruno v. Bruno

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

October 31, 2017

STEPHEN J. BRUNO
v.
LISA BRUNO

          Argued April 12, 2017

          Lisa Bruno, self-represented, the appellant (defendant).

          Alvord, Mullins and Beach, J.

         Syllabus

         The defendant, whose marriage to the plaintiff previously had been dissolved, appealed to this court from certain postjudgment orders of the trial court. On appeal, the defendant claimed, inter alia, that the trial court, in vacating prior awards of postjudgment interest, exceeded the specific direction of a remand order from this court, which had directed the trial court to vacate a judgment granting the plaintiff's motion to modify his alimony obligation and valuing a certain bank account as of the date on which the defendant withdrew her prior appeals, rather than the date of the dissolution.

         Held:

         1. The trial court properly vacated awards of postjudgment interest that previously had been awarded in connection with an alimony arrearage and the bank account in dispute between the parties, and did not exceed the specific direction of this court's mandate on remand: in vacating the judgment granting the plaintiff's motion to modify his alimony obligation in accordance with this court's remand order, the court also vacated an associated award of postjudgment interest, which had been calculated by reference to the plaintiff's modified alimony obligation and, thus, was inextricably intertwined with the court's earlier decision to grant the plaintiff's motion for modification; moreover, the trial court, which vacated the judgment valuing the bank account, properly determined that it also had to vacate an award of postjudgment interest that had been based on that bank account, which was inextricably intertwined with the court's earlier, erroneous decision to value the account on the basis of an incorrect date, and by vacating the awards of postjudgment interest, the court properly put the parties in the same condition as they were in before the court rendered judgment granting the motion to modify and valuing the bank account.

         2. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in awarding the defendant interest with regard to an alimony arrearage and the bank account in dispute between the parties: in awarding the defendant postjudgment interest on the bank account, the court explicitly considered the surrounding circumstances of the case, including the plaintiff's history of nonpayment and the court's repeated efforts to determine the value of the bank account, and it properly determined that the detention of the defendant's money was wrongful, pursuant to statute (§ 37-3a), only after September 30, 2014, the date on which the court had determined the value of the bank account; moreover, in awarding postjudgment interest on the alimony arrearage, the court relied on its prior calculation of the total arrearage that had accrued between February, 2009 and April, 2014, awarding interest on the basis of all of the alimony that the plaintiff had withheld since the judgment of dissolution was rendered, rather than individually on each of the missed weekly payments, and nothing in § 37-3a required the compounding of interest; furthermore, the court did not abuse its discretion in awarding interest at a rate of 4 percent, as the court explicitly considered the facts and circumstances of the underlying case, acknowledging that the plaintiff repeatedly had failed to comply with court orders and had engaged in continuous and persistent contumacious conduct, and that it was awarding the defendant postjudgment interest to compensate her for the loss of the use of money she otherwise would have had available to her from 2009, and the court acted within its discretion to award interest at a rate lower than 10 percent.

         3. The trial court properly held the defendant in contempt for violating a court order: the underlying order was sufficiently clear and unambiguous as to support a judgment of contempt, as the court issued a clear oral order instructing the defendant to hold certain proceeds from the sale of certain real property in escrow, and the defendant failed to place any proceeds in escrow following the sale of the property, and there was no merit to the defendant's claim that her actions were not wilful because she had no reason to believe that the court's instructions were not codified in its written order, as the defendant was present when the trial court explicitly stated that it was not granting the defendant's proposed order as it was written, which did not include instructions to hold sale proceeds in escrow, and that there were additional oral orders it made restricting the procedure upon a sale.

         Procedural History

         Action for the dissolution of a marriage, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Danbury and tried to the court, Hon. Sidney Axelrod, judge trial referee; judgment dissolving the marriage and granting certain other relief; thereafter, the court, Winslow, J., granted the plaintiff's motion to modify alimony, and the plaintiff appealed and the defendant cross appealed to this court, which dismissed the plaintiff's appeal, reversed the judgment in part, and remanded the case with direction to deny the motion to modify alimony; subsequently, the court, Winslow, J., entered orders as to the valuation of a certain asset, and the defendant appealed to this court, which reversed the judgment as to the valuation of that asset and remanded the case for further proceedings; thereafter, the court, Winslow, J., granted the defendant's motion for contempt; subsequently, the court, Winslow, J., granted the defendant's motion for order regarding real estate and issued other certain orders; thereafter, the court, Shaban, J., denied the plaintiff's motion to modify alimony and issued certain orders regarding alimony and a certain asset; subsequently, the court, Winslow, J., granted the plaintiff's motion for clarification regarding the real estate order and issued certain orders; thereafter, the court, Shaban, J., denied the defendant's motion to reargue the alimony orders, and the plaintiff appealed and the defendant cross appealed to this court, which dismissed the plaintiff's appeal; subsequently, the court, Shaban, J., granted the plaintiff's motion for contempt, and the defendant filed an amended cross appeal; thereafter, the court, Shaban, J., granted the defendant's motions for an award of interest; subsequently, the court, Shaban, J., granted the defendant's motions to reargue but denied the relief requested therein, and the defendant filed an amended cross appeal. Affirmed.

          OPINION

          BEACH, J.

         This appeal arises out of several postjudgment orders following the judgment of the trial court dissolving the parties' marriage. On appeal, the defendant, Lisa Bruno, claims that the court erred in (1) vacating prior awards of postjudgment interest on remand from this court, (2) employing an incorrect time frame and improper rate in calculating subsequent awards of postjudgment interest, and (3) finding her in contempt for failure to follow a court order. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following facts are relevant to this appeal. On March 17, 2008, the court rendered a judgment dissolving the defendant's twenty-one year marriage to the plaintiff, Stephen Bruno. The court ordered, among other things, that the plaintiff pay the defendant $4000 per week in alimony, distribute to the defendant certain assets in a Charles Schwab bank account (Schwab account), and cooperate in the sale of marital property located at 111 Spring Valley Road in Ridgefield. The defendant appealed from the judgment of dissolution, but ultimately withdrew her appeal on August 31, 2009.

         Approximately four months after the judgment of dissolution was rendered, the plaintiff moved to modify his alimony obligation, alleging that his earning capacity had been reduced. On February 26, 2009, the court granted the motion and reduced the plaintiff's alimony obligation. The plaintiff appealed from the judgment, and the defendant cross appealed.[1] This court dismissed the plaintiff's appeal on the basis of his ‘‘continuous contemptuous conduct.'' Bruno v. Bruno, 132 Conn.App. 341 n.1, 31 A.3d 860 (2011). In considering the defendant's cross appeal, this court concluded that there had been ‘‘no distinct and definite change in the plaintiff's circumstances that would warrant modification of his alimony obligations, '' and ordered that ‘‘the judgment is reversed only as to the granting of the plaintiff's motion to modify alimony and the case is remanded with direction to deny the motion . . . .'' Id., 346, 357.

         Prior to this court's decision on the alimony modification appeal, the defendant also filed a motion for contempt for the plaintiff's failure to distribute to her any portion of the Charles Schwab account. The trial court granted the defendant's motion on June 7, 2010. Approximately one month later, in connection with the granting of the defendant's motion for contempt, the court, Winslow, J., conducted a hearing to determine the specific amount owed to the defendant pursuant to the division of the Schwab account. In calculating the amount owed, the court determined the value of the account as of August 31, 2009, the date on which the defendant withdrew her appeal from the judgment of dissolution, rather than March 17, 2008, the date on which the judgment of dissolution was rendered. The court also awarded the defendant postjudgment interest on the Schwab account based on the account's value as of August 31, 2009.

         The defendant appealed from the court's order, arguing that the account should have been valued as of the date that the judgment of dissolution was rendered. This court reversed the judgment of the trial court. We noted that the trial court ‘‘improperly ordered that assets in the Schwab account be divided based on the value of the account on the date the stay associated with defendant's appeal from the dissolution judgment was terminated, rather than the value of the account on the date of dissolution, '' and remanded the case ‘‘for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion.'' Bruno v. Bruno, supra, 132 Conn.App. 351, 357.

         On January 31, 2014, the court, Shaban, J., issued an order notifying the parties that a hearing would be conducted in order to determine ‘‘any alimony arrearage'' and to address ‘‘[t]he division of the Schwab account.'' The court conducted the hearing on February 24 and April 7, 2014. In a September 30, 2014 memorandum of decision, the trial court, in accordance with this court's instructions, denied the plaintiff's motion for modification of his alimony obligation. The court determined that ‘‘the amount found to be in arrears must be vacated in light of the Appellate Court's ruling reversing the modification of alimony. Such an amount must be redetermined by this court.'' The court also noted that the defendant previously had been awarded interest on the outstanding alimony arrearage, and held that ‘‘[t]hat order is also vacated in light of the Appellate Court finding error as to the modification of alimony. This court takes no action on the issue of the award of interest on any alimony order and directs the defendant to reclaim the motion if she wishes to address anew the issue of interest.'' Similarly, with respect to the Schwab account, the court held that ‘‘based on the Appellate Court's finding of error in the valuation of the Schwab account, the prior award of interest is also erroneous and cannot be granted.''

         On October 16, 2014, the defendant filed a motion to reargue, which the court denied on January 22, 2015. The plaintiff appealed from the court's decision on remand, but his appeal was dismissed. The defendant then filed the present cross appeal from the judgment vacating the awards of interest.

         While her cross appeal was pending, the defendant filed motions for interest on the money owed to her pursuant to the alimony arrearage and to the division of the Schwab account. On October 9, 2015, after multiple hearings, the court awarded the defendant postjudgment interest at a rate of 4 percent on both the alimony arrearage and the Schwab account. The court determined that interest was to begin to accrue on the Schwab account as of September 30, 2014, the date of the trial court's decision following the remand, and on the alimony arrearage as of April 7, 2014, the date of the hearing in which the alimony arrearage had been calculated. The defendant filed motions to reargue. The court granted the motions, but denied the relief requested therein. The defendant subsequently amended the pending cross appeal to include her claim that the court had improperly awarded postjudgment interest.

         While the defendant was involved in court proceedings regarding the alimony arrearage and the Schwab account, she filed a motion for order with respect to the marital property at 111 Spring Valley Road, arguing that the plaintiff had failed to comply with the court's order that he cooperate in the sale of the property. The court, Winslow, J., held a hearing on the motion on August 6, 2010. After noting orally that any ‘‘proceeds above $300, 000 are to be held in escrow pending further hearing and-and decision by the court, '' the court issued a written order in which it ‘‘assign[ed] to the defendant, Lisa Bruno, all right, title, and interest of Stephen Bruno in the property located at 111 Spring Valley Road, Ridgefield, [Connecticut].'' Additionally, the court noted orally that it was ...


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