Turville v. Turville

12871 | Mont. | Apr 1, 1975

No. 12871

I N THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF MONTANA 1975 BERTIE TURVILLE, P l a i n t i f f and Respondent, -vs - DAVID TURVILLE, Defendant and A p p e l l a n t . Appeal from: D i s t r i c t Court o f t h e Ninth J u d i c i a l D i s t r i c t , Honorable R. D. M c P h i l l i p s , J u d g e p r e s i d i n g . Counsel of Record: F o r A p p e l l a n t : D z i v i , Conklin, Johnson and Nybo, G r e a t F a l l s , Montana L. D. Nybo a r g u e d , G r e a t F a l l s , Montana F o r Respondent: C h a r l e s M. J o s l y n a r g u e d , Choteau, Montana S u b m i t t e d : March 3 , 1975 Decided : -hPf? - 1. '! 9-?s ; .3575 r- \ r ) , c.: F i l e d : .. Mr.. J u s t i c e John Conway H a r r i s o n d e l i v e r e d t h e Opinion o f t h e C o u r t .

T h i s i s a n a p p e a l from a d i v o r c e a c t i o n i n i t i a t e d i n t h e d i s t r i c t c o u r t , Teton County. The s o l e i s s u e on a p p e a l i s whether t h e d i s t r i c t c o u r t abused i t s d i s c r e t i o n i n o r d e r i n g t h e s a l e of a farm j o i n t l y owned by t h e p a r t i e s i n o r d e r t o compensate t h e w i f e f o r h e r i n t e r e s t i n t h e p r o p e r t y .

The p a r t i e s t o t h i s a c t i o n , David T u r v i l l e and B e r t i e T u r v i l l e were m a r r i e d on August 20, 1956. Four c h i l d r e n were born of t h i s m a r r i a g e . T h e i r a g e s a t t h e t i m e t h e c o m p l a i n t was f i l e d were: D a n i e l , a g e 1 7 ; W a l t e r , a g e 1 6 ; L a u r a , a g e 1 5 ; and E a r l a , a g e 1 3 .

The farm i n q u e s t i o n c o n s i s t s of 320 a c r e s and i s l o c a t e d n e a r F a i r f i e l d , Montana. I t was o r i g i n a l l y purchased by David and h i s b r o t h e r i n 1954 f o r $37,000. However, s u b s e q u e n t t o t h e m a r r i a g e t h e b r o t h e r ' s i n t e r e s t was p u r c h a s e d by t h e p a r t i e s . I n 1972, t h e e n t i r e farm was r e f i n a n c e d and p l a c e d j o i n t l y i n t h e names of t h e p a r t i e s , p u r s u a n t t o t h e t e r m s o f t h e f i n a n c i n g agreement.

The r e c o r d d i s c l o s e s t h a t d u r i n g t h e y e a r s 1957 t h r o u g h 1971, a p e r i o d of 1 5 y e a r s , t h e f a r m produced a t o t a l n e t income of o n l y $19,171.18. I n 1972, t h e farm s u s t a i n e d a n e t l o s s of $8,349.09. To s u p p o r t a growing f a m i l y d u r i n g t h e s e l e a n y e a r s , t h e w i f e , B e r t i e , w a s compelled t o s e e k o u t s i d e employment i n a d d i t i o n t o a s s i s t i n g David i n t h e o p e r a t i o n of t h e farm. A l l o f E e r t i e t s o f f - f a r m income was c o n t r i b u t e d t o a j o i n t c h e c k i n g a c c o u n t which h e l p e d d e f r a y t h e f a m i l y ' s l i v i n g e x p e n s e s . The r e c o r d d i s c l o s e s B e r t i e c o n t r i b u t e d t h e sum of $42,402.35 d u r i n g t h e y e a r s of 1957-1972. During t h o s e same y e a r s , D a v i d ' s main o c c u p a t i o n was t h e o p e r a t i o n of t h e f a r m . H i s e f f o r t s t o s e c u r e o u t s i d e employment were l a r g e l y f u t i l e b e c a u s e of a h e a r i n g de- f i c i e n c y of a t l e a s t 50%.

I n J a n u a r y 1973, B e r t i e f i l e d f o r a d i v o r c e and p e t i t i o n e d t h e c o u r t f o r c u s t o d y of t h e c h i l d r e n ; $50 p e r month a s c h i l d s u p p o r t f o r each c h i l d i n a d d i t i o n t o f u t u r e m e d i c a l and d e n t a l e x p e n s e s of e a c h c h i l d ; a n d , a t t o r n e y f e e s . She a l s o p e t i t i o n e d t o have a s e t t l e m e n t of h e r r i g h t s i n t h e farm. D a v i d ' s answer a l l e g e d , i n t e r a l i a , t h a t it would be i n e q u i t a b l e t o o r d e r a p h y s i c a l d i v i s i o n of t h e farm o r t o d i r e c t t h a t it be s o l d be- c a u s e h e was u n a b l e t o p u r s u e any o t h e r o c c u p a t i o n e x c e p t f a r m i n g .

On May 11, 1973, t h i s a c t i o n was t r i e d a n d - o n September 1 2 , 1973, t h e d i s t r i c t c o u r t e n t e r e d a d e c r e e which d i s s o l v e d t h e m a r r i a g e ; g r a n t e d c u s t o d y of t h e c h i l d r e n t o B e r t i e , a n d , o r d e r e d David t o pay $50 p e r month p e r c h i l d a s c h i l d s u p p o r t , i n a d d i t i o n t o t h e f u t u r e m e d i c a l and d e n t a l e x p e n s e s of t h e c h i l d r e n . The d i s t r i c t c o u r t a l s o o r d e r e d t h e farm t o be e q u a l l y d i v i d e d between t h e p a r t i e s .

On October 1 9 , 1973, David f i l e d a motion f o r a new t r i a l , o r i n t h e a l t e r n a t i v e , t o amend t h e f i n d i n g s and c o n c l u - s i o n s of t h e c o u r t . On J a n u a r y 11, 1973, t h e d i s t r i c t c o u r t g r a n t e d a new t r i a l upon t h e i s s u e of t h e r e s p e c t i v e p r o p e r t y r i g h t s o n l y . A f t e r a d d i t i o n a l t e s t i m o n y was h e a r d , t h e c o u r t e n t e r e d a n o r d e r mandating t h a t t h e farm and t h e p e r s o n a l prop- e r t y used i n c o n n e c t i o n w i t h t h e f a r m i n g o p e r a t i o n be p l a c e d up- on t h e market and s o l d . The p r o c e e d s from t h e s a l e were t o be e q u a l l y d i v i d e d between t h e p a r t i e s a f t e r payment of t h e e x p e n s e s o f s a l e , encumbrances a g a i n s t t h e p r o p e r t y and t h e d e b t s of t h e m a r r i a g e e x i s t i n g a s of t h e d a t e o f t h e d i v o r c e . D a v i d ' s c h i l d s u p p o r t o b l i g a t i o n was reduced from $50 t o $40 p e r month f o r e a c h c h i l d .

I t i s from t h i s o r d e r d i r e c t i n g t h e farm t o b e s o l d t h a t David a p p e a l s . I n Cook v . Cook, 159 Mont. 98, 1 0 4 , 495 P.2d 591, Montana h a s r e c o g n i z e d t h e p r i n c i p l e t h a t i n e q u i t a b l y d i v i d i n g t h e p r o p e r t y of t h e p a r t i e s t o a d i v o r c e a c t i o n :

"Each c a s e must be looked a t by t h e t r i a l c o u r t i n d i v i d u a l l y w i t h a n eye t o i t s u n i q u e circum- s t a n c e s . "

C o n s e q u e n t l y , t h e d i s t r i c t c o u r t i s c l o t h e d w i t h d i s c r e t i o n i n s e t t l i n g t h e r e s p e c t i v e p r o p e r t y r i g h t s of t h e p a r t i e s . I n P o r t e r v . P o r t e r , 155 Mont. 451, 457, 473 P.2d 538, t h i s Court r e c o g n i z e d t h i s d i s c r e t i o n and s t a t e d :

" T h i s Court i s w e l l aware of i t s r o l e when asked t o l o o k i n t o m a t t e r s o f a b u s e of d i s c r e t i o n of t h e t r i a l c o u r t and we have n o t e d t h e number of c a s e s and o t h e r c i t a t i o n s g i v e n u s by t h e p a r t i e s . We f e e l a n approved composite p o s i t i o n s i m p l y s t a t e d would be: a r e v i e w i n g c o u r t i s n e v e r j u s t i f i e d i n s u b s t i t u t i n g i t s d i s c r e t i o n f o r t h a t of t h e t r i a l c o u r t . I n d e t e r m i n i n g whether t h e t r i a l c o u r t abused i t s d i s c r e t i o n , t h e q u e s t i o n i s n o t whether t h e r e v i e w i n g c o u r t a g r e e s w i t h t h e t r i a l c o u r t , b u t r a t h e r , d i d t h e t r i a l c o u r t i n t h e e x e r c i s e of i t s d i s c r e t i o n a c t a r b i t r a r i l y w i t h o u t t h e employment of c o n s c i e n t i o u s judgment o r exceed t h e bounds of r e a s o n , i n view of a l l t h e c i r c u m s t a n c e s , i g n o r i n g r e c o s n i z e d p r i n c i p l e s r e s u l t i n g i n s u b s t a n t i a l i n j u s t i c e . " We d e c l i n e t o s u b s t i t u t e o u r d i s c r e t i o n f o r t h a t of t h e

d i s t r i c t c a u r t . C o n s i d e r i n g t h e f a c t u a l s i t u a t i o n i n t h e i n s t a n t c a s e , t h e a c t i o n of t h e d i s t r i c t c o u r t was r e a s o n a b l e and r e a l - i s t i c , e s p e c i a l l y when t h e s e a d d i t i o n a l f a c t s a r e shown:

1. The r e a l p r o p e r t y t a x e s on t h e farm were d e l i n q u e n t f o r t h e second h a l f of 1972 and f o r t h e e n t i r e y e a r of 1973. 2 . The a n n u a l payment on t h e mortgage f o r t h e y e a r 1974 w a s unpaid and was a p p r o x i m a t e l y 3 months d e l i n q u e n t a s of t h e d a t e of t h e second t r i a l .

3. The p a r t i e s ' c u r r e n t d e b t s were q u i t e s u b s t a n t i a l i n view of t h e e a r n i n g c a p a c i t y of t h e farm. 4 . B e r t i e ' s t e s t i m o n y i n d i c a t e d t h a t David t e n d e d t o p r o c r a s t i n a t e i n s i g n i n g up f o r government programs which would b e n e f i t t h e farm and t h a t he w a s i n c a p a b l e of m a i n t a i n i n g t h e farm by h i m s e l f .

When t h e d i s t r i c t c o u r t was c o n f r o n t e d w i t h t h e p r e c e d i n g f a c t s , it found t h a t t h e e n t i r e i n v e s t m e n t of t h e p a r t i e s w a s i n s e r i o u s jeopardy and t h e r e was a d i s t i n c t p o s s i b i l i t y t h a t b o t h p a r t i e s c o u l d l o s e e v e r y t h i n g , i f p o s i t i v e a c t i o n was n o t t a k e n . C e r t a i n l y , t h e c o u r t ' s a c t i o n c a n n o t be l a b e l e d a s " A r b i t r a r y " o r "exceeding t h e bounds o f r e a s o n " a s c o n t e m p l a t e d by P o r t e r .

I n L a t u s v . L a t u s , 163 Mont. 315, 517 P . 2 d 356, 30 S t . Rep. 1 1 2 1 , a d i v o r c e a c t i o n , t h e d i s t r i c t c o u r t o r d e r e d t h e hus- band t o e i t h e r s e l l t h e p a r t i e s ' j o i n t l y owned house and g i v e t h e w i f e one-half of t h e p r o c e e d s o r t o pay t h e w i f e $10,000 a s h e r i n t e r e s t i n t h e house. T h i s C o u r t a f f i r m e d t h i s e x e r c i s e o f d i s c r e t i o n .

I n e s s e n c e , t h e same s i t u a t i o n e x i s t s i n t h e i n s t a n t c a s e . David h a s been o r d e r e d t o s e l l t h e farm. However, t h e d i s t r i c t c o u r t , i n i t s c o n c l u s i o n of law I V p r o v i d e d him w i t h t h i s o p t i o n :

"Should e i t h e r of t h e p a r t i e s c h o o s e t o pur- c h a s e t h e p r o p e r t y , e i t h e r p a r t y s h a l l have t h e o p t i o n t o meet any and a l l b i d s and t e r m s of t h e s a l e , b u t t h e p a r t y must exceed e i t h e r of t h e o t h e r p a r t y ' s b i d * * *."

F i n d i n g no a b u s e o f d i s c r e t i o n , t h e judgment of t h e d i s -

t r i c t c o u r t i s a f f i r m e d . J u s t i c e W e c o n c u r : . " " r e : , - &,4hd-'*~ ,u,, , ,,- - - - - - - ..~~&..-2*. -" ' I U,; [3] '--A Chief J u s t i c e , .$

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