Justia Idaho Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Family Law
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Massimo Medioli petitioned an Idaho magistrate court to change his minor child’s name. The child’s mother, Dena Hayes, objected. The magistrate court granted Medioli’s petition finding the name change to be “right and proper,” as provided by Idaho Code section 7-804. Hayes appealed to the district court, and the district court affirmed. The district court awarded Medioli attorney fees pursuant to Idaho Code section 12-121. Hayes appealed, arguing in part that trial courts were required to apply the best-interest-of-the-child standard in disputed name change cases involving minor children. The Idaho Supreme Court found no reversible error in the district court’s decision on the merits, but reversed the award of attorney fees. View "Hayes v. Medioli" on Justia Law

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Holly Cook appealed an administrative order entered by an Administrative District Judge (“ADJ”) declaring her to be a vexatious litigant pursuant to Idaho Court Administrative Rule 59. The order prohibited Cook from filing any new litigation pro se in Idaho without first obtaining leave of the court where the litigation was proposed to be filed. Ms. Cook petitioned for a divorce from her husband (“Mr. Cook”) in 2015. During the lengthy and contentious divorce proceedings, Ms. Cook had assistance of counsel for portions of the proceedings, but represented herself pro se when she did not. Some aspects of the divorce proceedings were appealed to the district court. Mr. Cook filed a moved that Ms. Cook declared a vexatious litigant. Neither party requested a hearing on Mr. Cook’s motion. The district judge presiding over the appeal referred the matter to the ADJ. The ADJ found that Ms. Cook largely failed to appear at dates set in scheduling orders that she (with and without counsel) agreed to. She failed at obtaining continuances, at having the trial judge disqualified, and to move the court for reconsideration of many intermediate decisions. She attempted to collaterally attack the default judgment of divorce, and at some point, was held in contempt for failing to respond to court orders during the divorce proceedings. Separate from the divorce proceedings, the ADJ noted Ms. Cook had filed nine pro se civil protection orders, all of which had been dismissed in favor of the parties from whom she sought protection. The Idaho Supreme Court determined the ADJ abused its discretion in declaring Ms. Cook a vexatious litigant; the ADJ did not review the merits and reason for dismissal in the nine civil protection actions, causing the ADJ to conclude incorrectly the final determinations were adverse to her. Furthermore, with respect to the divorce proceedings, the Court determined the ADJ abused its discretion by failing to make factual findings that Ms. Cook repeatedly attempted to relitigate issues already finally decided by the magistrate court. The Supreme Court concluded the ADJ did not make sufficient findings to support the conclusion that Ms. Cook’s filings were frivolous, unmeritorious, or filed with the intent to cause unnecessary delay. Accordingly, the Court reversed the prefiling order and remanded to allow the ADJ the opportunity to reconsider this matter. View "Cook v. Wiebe" on Justia Law

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At issue before the Idaho Supreme Court in this matter was what portion of a military retirement benefit was subject to division following divorce. Specifically, the Court was asked to decide whether a 2017 amendment to the federal statutory scheme governing military retirement applied to the division of a benefit entered as part of a divorce decree in 2008 but not calculated until the husband’s retirement in 2018. The Supreme Court determined a 2017 amendment to 10 U.S.C. 1408 did not apply retroactively to alter the division of the military benefit at issue here. Furthermore, the district court did not err in concluding that the magistrate court’s mischaracterization of the 2008 divorce decree was harmless error because it did not impact the outcome of litigation. View "Bromund v. Bromund" on Justia Law

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In 2005, Ballard Smith (Husband) and Charlie Smith (Wife) stipulated to a final divorce order that required the parties to sell real property located in Salt Lake City, Utah and allocate the net proceeds to both parties on an equal basis. In subsequent orders, Husband was tasked with marketing and selling the Salt Lake Property. Without Wife’s knowledge, Husband moved the Salt Lake Property in and out of various business entities and unilaterally sold a six-acre portion of the Salt Lake Property. After the majority of the Salt Lake Property remained unsold for nearly a decade, Wife petitioned the magistrate court to modify its prior order, requesting that the magistrate court: (1) direct that the Salt Lake Property be appraised and that Husband pay her one-half the appraised value; or (2) in the alternative, appoint a receiver to sell the Salt Lake Property and divide the net proceeds equally. Husband opposed the petition by arguing the magistrate court never had subject matter jurisdiction over the Salt Lake Property when it entered its original final divorce order. The magistrate court granted Wife’s petition to modify and appointed a receiver to handle all matters relating to the Salt Lake Property. Additionally, the magistrate court ordered Husband to pay Wife one-half of the net proceeds from the sale of the six-acre portion of the Salt Lake Property and awarded Wife attorney fees. Husband appealed to the district court. The district court affirmed the magistrate court and awarded Wife attorney fees for her intermediate appeal. Husband then appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Smith v. Smith" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from Stan and Donna Griffiths' divorce. Donna appealed the trial court's decisions: (1) denying her motion to dismiss Stan’s appeal; and (2) reversing in part and affirming in part the magistrate court’s division of the marital estate. On appeal, Donna argued the district court erred in denying her motion to dismiss Stan’s intermediate appeal pursuant to the acceptance of the benefits doctrine. Donna further argued the district court erred in reversing several of the magistrate court’s rulings, including its valuation of hospital ownership shares, its award of an equalization payment to Donna, and its award of spousal maintenance to Donna. Stan cross-appealed, arguing that the district court erred in affirming the magistrate court’s admission of expert testimony and unequal division of marital property. After review of the trial court record, the Idaho Supreme Court determined the district court did not err in denying Donna’s motion to dismiss the appeal pursuant to the acceptance of the benefits doctrine, and did not err in affirming the magistrate court's admission of expert testimony. However, the district court erred in reversing the magistrate court’s valuation of the MVH Class A units, and erred in concluding that the magistrate court failed to consider Stan’s tax consequences. Further, the Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred in reversing Donna's equalization payment award, and in remanding her spousal maintenance award. Judgment was affirmed in part and reversed in part. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Griffiths v. Griffiths" on Justia Law

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In the summer of 2014, Mark and Jennifer Porcello sought to purchase property In Hayden Lake, Idaho. After making various pre-payments, the amount the couple was still short on a downpayment. Mark and Jennifer could not qualify for a conventional loan themselves. They hoped another property in Woodinville, Washington, owned by Mark’s parents, in which Mark and Jennifer claimed an interest, could be sold to assist in the purchase of the Hayden Lake property. In an effort to help Mark and Jennifer purchase the property, Mark’s parents, Annie and Tony Porcello, obtained financing through a non-conventional lender. "In the end, the transaction became quite complicated." Annie and Tony’s lawyer drafted a promissory note for Mark and Jennifer to sign which equaled the amount Annie and Tony borrowed. In turn, Mark signed a promissory note and deed of trust for the Hayden Lake house, in the same amount and with the same repayment terms as the loan undertaken by his parents. In mid-2016, Annie and Tony sought non-judicial foreclosure on the Hayden Lake property, claiming that the entire balance of the note was due and owing. By this time Mark and Jennifer had divorced; Jennifer still occupied the Hayden Lake home. In response to the foreclosure proceeding, Jennifer filed suit against her former in-laws seeking a declaratory judgment and an injunction, arguing that any obligation under the note had been satisfied in full when the Woodinville property sold, notwithstanding the language of the note encumbering the Hayden Lake property. Annie and Tony filed a counter-claim against Jennifer and a third-party complaint against Mark. A district court granted Jennifer’s request for a declaratory judgment. However, by this time, Annie and Tony had died and their respective estates were substituted as parties. The district court denied the estates’ request for judicial foreclosure, and dismissed their third-party claims against Mark. The district court held that the Note and Deed of Trust were latently ambiguous because the amount of the Note was more than twice the amount Mark and Jennifer needed in order to purchase the Hayden Lake property. Because the district court concluded the note and deed of trust were ambiguous, it considered parol evidence to interpret them. Ultimately, the district court found the Note and Deed of Trust conveyed the Hayden Lake property to Jennifer and Mark “free and clear” upon the sale of the Woodinville property. Annie’s and Tony’s estates timely appealed. Finding that the district court erred in finding a latent ambiguity in the Note and Deed of Trust, and that the district court's interpretation of the Note and Deed of Trust was not supported by substantial and competent evidence, the Idaho Supreme Court vacated judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Porcello v. Estates of Porcello" on Justia Law

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This appeal involved the enforceability of a premarital agreement between Julie Neustadt and Mark Colafranceschi. Before the two were married, they entered into a premarital agreement that required Neustadt to obtain a two-million-dollar life insurance policy naming Colafranceschi as the beneficiary. The agreement required Neustadt to keep the policy in force after termination of the marriage. During the divorce proceedings, Neustadt challenged the enforceability of this provision, arguing that the insurance clause was void as against public policy to the extent it applied after divorce. The magistrate court agreed that the contractual provision was void as against public policy. However, on appeal, the district court reversed, concluding the insurance clause did not violate any public policy in Idaho. Neustadt appealrf, arguing that the district court erred in finding the insurance clause valid and enforceable because, following the parties’ divorce, Colafranceschi had no insurable interest in Neustadt’s life. Colafranceschi also filed a cross-appeal, arguing: (1) the magistrate court erred in denying certain discovery requests; (2) the lower court erred by failing to address his objection to Neustadt’s motion in limine; and (3) the lower courts’ erred in their findings that Colafranceschi failed to prove he was fraudulently induced to sign the premarital agreement to get him to return to the couple’s marital home. The Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court decision in its entirety: (1) the Insurance Clause was not void as against public policy; (2) any error regarding discovery was forfeited; (3) there was no evidence that the magistrate court coerced Colafranceschi into withdrawing his extreme cruelty claim; and (4) substantial and competent evidence supported the magistrate court’s conclusions that Colafranceschi was not fraudulently induced regarding equity in the Osprey home. View "Neustadt v. Colafranceschi" on Justia Law

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Angela Johnson and Patrick Murphy met online and began dating in 2014. When Angela discovered she was pregnant, she left Boise and began living with Patrick in his home in Coeur d’Alene. After the birth of their son, the parties resided together for three and a half years. Angela, desiring to end what she considered an “unhealthy relationship,” moved to Boise with the son in 2018. Shortly thereafter, Angela filed a petition in Ada County for paternity, custody, visitation, and support. Following venue being changed to Kootenai County and a trial, the magistrate court awarded the parties joint legal custody and physical custody of the child, with Patrick receiving primary physical custody unless Angela moved back to Coeur d’Alene at which point she and Patrick would share physical custody equally. In an expedited appeal, Angela contended the magistrate court’s decision was an abuse of discretion and required reversal. Finding no such abuse of discretion, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the magistrate court’s child custody order. View "Johnson v. Murphy" on Justia Law

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A guardian ad litem (GAL) for two minor children appealed after a magistrate court determined the children should have been placed with their biological father in Mexico. Jane Doe I (Daughter) and John Doe II (Son) were removed from the care of their mother (Mother) along with another half-sibling on after a preliminary investigation revealed the children were homeless and living in a car. At the time Daughter and Son were taken into foster care, the specific whereabouts of their biological father, John Doe (Father), were unknown, other than that he had been deported to Mexico in December 2014. Father had last seen the children at that time. In addition, his paternity had not yet been established and he had not had any contact with his children since his deportation. A little more than a year after the proceedings had begun, Father’s paternity was established. Shortly after the Department filed an amended petition, it sought a case plan for Father. The Department also attempted to obtain a home study for Father but faced difficulty accomplishing this task because he lived in Mexico. The children’s GAL opposed placing the children with Father without more information about him and his living situation. Ultimately, the magistrate court ordered that the children be placed with Father as soon as possible without a home study being conducted, apparently relying on In re Doe, 281 P.3d 95 (2012). On motions to reconsider filed by the Department and the GAL, newly-discovered evidence was presented that Father was a registered sex offender who had previously pleaded guilty to failing to register as such. Nevertheless, the magistrate court denied the motions to reconsider. The GAL appealed. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court reversed the magistrate court, holding that while it continued "to recognize that the biological parent’s presumption of fitness is and should be very strong. However, it is not irrefutable. . . . Where the legislature has unequivocally placed a duty on the court and the Department to consider its primary concern 'the health and safety of the child,' it is incumbent on a court to ensure that diligent investigation occurs regarding questions pertaining to children’s safety." View "IDHW & John Doe v. GAL & 4th Judicial District Casa" on Justia Law

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In a divorce action between Lexi and Robert Ellis, the magistrate court granted Ms. Ellis’ motion for appointment of a receiver, subject to the express condition that the costs of the receiver would be paid from community funds. The district court affirmed a series of decisions made by the magistrate court relating to Bruce Denney’s efforts to collect payment for services he performed as a receiver and forensic accountant in the Ellis divorce. After the divorce was final, Denney’s accounting firm, Poston, Denney & Killpack, PLLC (“PDK”) moved to intervene to recover payment from Robert Ellis, which the magistrate court granted. Later, the magistrate court granted PDK’s motion for summary judgment and ordered Mr. Ellis to pay one-half of Mr. Denney’s fees. The magistrate court declined to rule on the reasonableness of the fees at that time, determining further proceedings would be necessary. PDK filed a motion for a determination of the reasonableness of fees. After a hearing the magistrate court granted PDK’s motion and held Mr. Denney’s fees were reasonable. The magistrate court also awarded attorney fees to PDK in bringing the action to recover attorney fees. Mr. Ellis appealed to the district court, which upheld the magistrate court’s decision and also awarded attorney fees to PDK on appeal. Finding no reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court. View "Ellis v. Ellis" on Justia Law