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Singleton v. Singleton

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

June 21, 2017

HOPE BARKER SINGLETON Plaintiff-Appellant
v.
JOHNNY HEATH SINGLETON Defendant-Appellee

         Appealed from the Fourth Judicial District Court for the Parish of Ouachita, Louisiana Lower Court Case No. 112, 683 Honorable Alvin R. Sharp, Judge

          DAVID J. THOMAS Counsel for Appellant.

          MASON L. OSWALT Counsel for Appellee.

          Before DREW, STONE, and COX, JJ.

          COX, J.

         This appeal arises from a judgment signed on August 19, 2016, from the Fourth Judicial District Court, Ouachita Parish, the Honorable Alvin R. Sharp presiding. Hope Barker Singleton, now Hope Barker Moore ("Mrs. Moore"), appeals from the judgment which denied her request to relocate with her son from Ouachita Parish to Montgomery, Texas, [1] arguing that the court committed legal error in weighing the factors required by La. R.S. 9:355.14 and abused its discretion in finding that the move was not in the minor child's best interest. For the following reasons, we find that the trial court did not commit legal error in weighing the factors required by La. R.S. 9:355.14. We affirm the ruling of the trial court.

         FACTS

         Mrs. Moore married Johnny Singleton ("Mr. Singleton") on January 19, 2002, and one child, R.S., was born of the marriage on August 8, 2006. Mrs. Moore filed for divorce in 2009, but the parties reconciled following roughly six months of separation. On August 2, 2011, they separated again. The final divorce was granted on November 30, 2012.

         On October 25, 2012, the parties entered into a consent judgment that awarded joint custody and named Mrs. Moore as the primary domiciliary parent. The judgment allowed Mr. Singleton visitation every other weekend and every Wednesday night. It also set child support at $900.00 per month and required written notification of either parent's plan to relocate at least 60 days before moving, along with compliance with applicable law.

         In a letter sent by certified mail and dated March 27, 2015, Mrs. Moore attempted to notify Mr. Singleton that she intended to relocate with R.S. to Montgomery, Texas, so that she could live with her new husband. The letter was received by Mr. Singleton on March 31, 2015. Mrs. Moore stated that she also personally informed Mr. Singleton of the proposed relocation. She sent a second letter expressing the same intent by certified mail on April 28, 2015, and it was received on May 5, 2015.

         Mrs. Moore filed a petition for relocation on May 19, 2015, asking the court's permission to relocate with the child. She requested an expedited hearing under La. R.S. 9:355.10, seeking permission to temporarily relocate. Her request was denied. The parties were ordered to attend a hearing officer conference on July 21, 2015.

         The hearing officer filed a conference report on July 23, 2015, recommending that the request to relocate be denied. On February 20, 2016, Mr. Singleton filed a motion to reduce child support because he had been laid off his job and unemployed since September of 2015.[2]

         A trial on the relocation of the child was held over the course of 8 days in May, June, and July of 2016. On July 20, 2016, the trial court interviewed the minor child. After taking in all the testimony, the trial court issued written reasons for its ruling on August 8, 2016, and filed a judgment in accordance with its written reasons on August 19, 2016.

         The trial on this matter began with an agreement that La. R.S. 9:355.14 was controlling. Testimony started with Kayla May, a career law clerk for District Judge Robert James of the Western District of Louisiana. May testified that she knew both Mrs. Moore and Mr. Singleton because she attended the same church as they did while they were married.

         May recalled going to a basketball game on approximately March 1, 2016, at the West Monroe Recreation Center to watch her son play. She arrived early while the prior game was still in progress and saw R.S. was one of the children playing. She recalled that when she sat down in the bleachers, she saw Mr. Singleton in the opposite bleachers "standing up and screaming down the court something about a foul." She stated that at first, she could not decide who he was screaming at, but then R.S. committed a foul, and Mr. Singleton began screaming at him. May observed that R.S. appeared teary-eyed and looked upset about the screaming. R.S. was taken out of the game. May observed Mr. Singleton go over to him and get "down in his face." She stated that "it appeared to [her] that he was yelling and he got him by the back of the neck and shook him." This incident caused an older man, believed to be Mrs. Moore's father, to come down from the stands along with an employee of the recreation center to talk to Mr. Singleton. May then observed Mr. Singleton walk away and exit the building. May stated that Mr. Singleton "seemed unreasonably upset, " "his reaction seemed odd, " and "he appeared to [her] as if he might have been under the influence of something."

         On cross-examination, May admitted that she saw Mr. Singleton at one of his son's games in February and nothing inappropriate happened there. She also explained that all the bleachers were on one side of the gym so her view of the incident was lateral. May conceded she had no evidence that Mr. Singleton was intoxicated or on drugs.

         Andrell Cooper, an attorney at CenturyLink, was the next witness called. She testified that she had known both Mrs. Moore and Mr. Singleton for approximately five years through their sons playing baseball together. She stated that Mrs. Moore had always been attentive and is always with R.S.

         Cooper observed that Mr. Singleton had been around more within the past year, attending all of the baseball games for the most recent season, but sporadically in the baseball seasons prior to trial. She recalled one particular game in Shreveport where she saw Mr. Singleton yelling and standing over David Cody Moore ("Mr. Moore").[3] Cooper stated that she did not see the beginning of the argument or know what it was about, but Mr. Singleton would not stop yelling at Mr. Moore.

         On cross-examination, Cooper stated that Mr. Singleton had attended almost all of the baseball team's practices with R.S. over the past year. She stated that they seemed to have a loving relationship.

         Mr. Singleton was called to the stand next for cross-examination. In his discovery responses, Mr. Singleton had denied that his previous employer was based out of Houston, Texas. However, in his deposition testimony, Mr. Singleton stated that his previous employer was Synergy, and they were based out of Houston, Texas. At trial, Mr. Singleton testified that he was employed with them until August 12, 2015.

         In his responses to interrogatories, Mr. Singleton denied abusing prescription drugs, but he testified at trial that he had taken hydrocodone, temazepam, and Xanax on two occasions. He also testified that on one occasion he took Vyvanse (an ADHD medication which is an amphetamine) without a prescription. He stated he had not taken any illegal drugs since 2009, and the last time he took prescription drugs was September 14, 2014, right after he got a DWI.[4] Based on pharmacy records, Mr. Singleton conceded it was possible he had prescriptions filled for 200 hydrocodone pills in September 2014 and stated, "I got way too many, I know that." He testified that the medication was for back pain, but that he quit taking the medication "cold turkey" in September 2014, and his back had improved since that date.[5]

         Regarding his DWI, Mr. Singleton stated that on August 10, 2014, he had R.S. over with one of his friends. Mr. Singleton passed out on the couch and stated it took a while for him to be woken up when Mrs. Moore stopped by to take the children to a birthday party. After Mrs. Moore left, Mr. Singleton went to see a girl in Ruston. He was pulled over around 6:00 p.m. after a Ruston police officer noticed he was swerving. State police responded, and Mr. Singleton testified that he blew into a Breathalyzer which returned a 0 BAC. He also did a urine test which indicated hydrocodone, Restoril, Vyvanse, and Xanax. The toxicology report was introduced at trial and indicated positive results for amphetamine, methamphetamine, hydrocodone, mizopam, temazepam, oxycodone, and oxymorphone.

         Mr. Singleton testified that he and Mrs. Moore had both done cocaine and ecstasy. He admitted that in 2009 he was arrested for conspiracy to distribute cocaine, but stated the case was later thrown out by the district attorney.

         Mr. Singleton admitted he had taken Lortab and Restoril for 5 years. He testified that he first began using illegal drugs around the time he met Mrs. Moore.

         Mr. Singleton denied leaving his job at Progressive Global in 2014 after being requested to take a drug screen. His deposition testimony, however, reflected that he was terminated for failure to supply a drug test. Progressive requested the test because Mr. Singleton appeared impaired at a meeting.

         Mr. Singleton admitted that when he was 18 years old, he was caught stealing stereo speakers out of a friend's car and was charged with a felony count of theft. In 1988, he pleaded guilty to unauthorized use of a movable. In 2004, Mr. Singleton was arrested in Lincoln Parish for drunk and disorderly conduct. In 2009, he was arrested for the above-mentioned conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

         Mr. Singleton also admitted he was arrested in 2014 for insurance fraud when he filed a false police report claiming that his Camaro was stolen from his home. He stated that he "had to" file the police report because his car was missing when he went to get it after the DWI. Mr. Singleton stated that almost a month later, he filed a report that his vehicle was stolen. OnStar was then able to find the vehicle which "was taken by a gas vendor that was trying - trying to deliver fuel." Mr. Singleton eventually pleaded guilty to criminal mischief in April of 2016, but stated that the only lie he told was that the car was stolen from his yard instead of from a store.

         Regarding his son from a previous marriage, Dallas, Mr. Singleton stated Dallas smokes marijuana, and the two do not see each other often. Dallas is 19 years old. Mr. Singleton stated that he has left R.S. in Dallas's care once or twice, but that Dallas was not using marijuana while watching R.S.

         Mr. Singleton acknowledged that Mrs. Moore was his second wife, and that he gotten married a third time, on December 12, 2012, to Francine Lambert ("Francine") and moved to El Reno, Oklahoma.[6] He was later divorced from Francine and moved back to Monroe in July 2013. While living in Oklahoma, Mr. Singleton testified that he would drive down to Monroe to see R.S. whenever he could. Upon moving back, Mr. Singleton moved in with a friend, Tina Gross, for a few months. He testified that he now lives in a rental home and is engaged to Cristen Thompson.

         Regarding his current employment, Mr. Singleton stated that he is currently "in layoff status, " but stated he has sent out about 2, 000 resumes since August 2015 to look for additional employment.

         Next, Hope Crawford ("Crawford"), Mr. Singleton's first wife, was called to the stand. Crawford testified that Mr. Singleton played a limited role in their son's life, rarely visiting, and only at Mrs. Moore's behest when she was married to Mr. Singleton. She recalled an incident three or four years ago when she would not let Dallas and R.S. get in Mr. Singleton's truck with him because he appeared to be intoxicated. She also stated that Mr. Singleton showed up at one of Dallas's junior high basketball games and caused a scene. Although she denied that he ever became physically violent with Dallas, she stated that Mr. Singleton lost his temper with Dallas all the time. Crawford also testified that Dallas babysat R.S. on multiple occasions.

         On cross-examination, Crawford testified that Dallas and R.S. have a brotherly relationship and have been involved in each other's lives.

         Upon examination by the court, Crawford stated that relocating R.S. to Texas would probably not have much of an impact on Dallas and R.S.'s relationship. She elaborated that she could not imagine R.S. not living with Mrs. Moore because of how limited Mr. Singleton's relationship with R.S. and Dallas was. Her conception was that Mrs. Moore wanted to relocate R.S. to be part of a new, stable family, and Mr. Singleton did not want him to relocate because it would be too difficult or inconvenient for him to interact with R.S. in Texas. She stated that she thought it would be feasible for Mr. Singleton to move to Texas to be closer to R.S. She viewed Mrs. Moore's family as supportive, but did not think Mr. Singleton had a similar supportive network.

         On redirect, Crawford testified to an incident that occurred in 2002 or 2003 where Mr. Singleton threw a baseball helmet at her when she tried to calm him down at a baseball game because he was angry that Dallas was not playing well. She also recalled an incident that occurred approximately five years earlier where Mr. Singleton pushed her to the ground when she tried to prevent him from taking Dallas because he appeared angry.

         David Cody Moore, Mrs. Moore's new husband, was next to be called to the stand. He testified that he married Mrs. Moore on March 8, 2014, and moved into their home in Montgomery, Texas, around June of 2015. While dating Mrs. Moore and before moving into the home, he stated that he lived "full time" in an apartment in Houston and would come home on the weekends. He currently works as an engineer for Hunt, Guillot, and Associates ("HGA") in the Woodlands office.

         Referring to the move, Mr. Moore stated he was "trying to quit being project based and staying gone all the time so [he] could be with [his] family." He stated he was asked to move in April 2015. His new job has placed him at a dedicated office where he can go home every night and has also increased his hourly billing rate. Mr. Moore testified that he wants Mrs. Moore and R.S. to come live with him and that he loves R.S. like his own son. He stated that they play sports together and do "just what I consider a dad and a son would do together." Mr. Moore stated he would be willing to adopt R.S. "in a heartbeat, " but clarified he was not trying to replace his natural father. He thought it was important for R.S. and Mr. Singleton to have a relationship.

         Mr. Moore acknowledged that, at times, Mrs. Moore had followed a two-week custody rotation with Mr. Singleton and that she encouraged R.S. to have a relationship with his father. He stated that once they learned of Mr. Singleton's arrests and warrants, they decided to go by the custody judgment. Mr. Moore stated, however, that he did not have any concerns with R.S. spending time with Mr. Singleton "in his current situation with Cristen[7] around."

         Mr. Moore stated that he and Mrs. Moore had studied the school zones and crime rates to determine where to live in Texas. Their home is adjacent to a golf club and a yacht club. There is also an elementary school close to the neighborhood. The community is not gated, but there is a sheriff patrol that is dedicated to the neighborhood. Mr. Moore testified that there are plenty of sports opportunities for children in the area, including at least 5 different travelling baseball teams.

         Mr. Moore testified that Mrs. Moore was pregnant and due to have their child at the end of August. He stated that if Mrs. Moore moved to Montgomery with R.S., there would be no need for her to work outside the home, but she could if she wanted to.[8] He also stated he would be willing to help R.S. with any schoolwork and indicated he held a B.S. in Civil Engineering.

         Mr. Moore recalled one altercation with Mr. Singleton two weeks prior to the hearing where Mr. Singleton yelled and cursed at him and Mrs. Moore. He testified that Mr. Singleton was the aggressor and was threatening to use physical violence when they were walking in the parking lot at the baseball park. He believed that Mr. Singleton was mad because he and Mrs. Moore were taking R.S. back to Mrs. Moore's home.

         On cross-examination, Mr. Moore testified that no one told him he would have been terminated from HGA if he did not take the new job, but he "read between the lines" and understood that he would not have a job if he did not take the offer. He conceded that he did not look for a new job in Ouachita Parish because he did not think he would make as much money. He stated that they sold the house in Monroe because they could not afford to pay two house notes. He admitted to selling the house before the issue of relocation was settled, but stated they did not know it would sell so fast. He acknowledged that he and Mrs. Moore could have potentially kept the house in West Monroe until they found out whether R.S. would be allowed to relocate.

         Court resumed with the cross-examination of Mr. Moore on June 7, 2016. Mr. Moore conceded that all of R.S.'s family, friends, and teammates live in the Monroe area, but he stated that R.S. had met and begun to make friends with the neighbors in Montgomery. He also acknowledged that all of R.S.'s medical care and history was in the Monroe area. Mr. Moore agreed that R.S. is close to, loves, and usually enjoys spending time with his father.

         Mr. Moore stated that it would be possible for him to come back to Monroe from Montgomery almost every weekend to visit Mrs. Moore and R.S. However, he stated it would partially be in the best interest of R.S. to be relocated to Montgomery because it would financially be better for him and Mrs. Moore, and it would provide R.S. with the benefits of a larger city.

         On redirect, Mr. Moore noted that although he had not been employed in Monroe, neither had Mr. Singleton. He pointed out that Mr. Singleton's previous employers were out of Texas, Oklahoma, and Utah. He also pointed out that Mr. Singleton's involvement with R.S. had increased significantly after the filing of the motion to relocate.

         Next to take the stand was Kimberly Hope Barker ("Mrs. Barker"), Mrs. Moore's mother. She testified that Mrs. Moore and R.S. had been living with her since August of 2015. She stated she has always had a close relationship with her daughter and R.S. She almost always attends R.S.'s school events, but can only remember Mr. Singleton ever having attended one.

         Mrs. Barker recalled multiple occasions where Mr. Singleton yelled at her, R.S., or Mrs. Moore. She corroborated May's testimony regarding the incident at R.S.'s basketball game, but further stated Mr. Singleton laid his hands on R.S. in a violent manner at the game along with slapping aside her arm and threatening her husband when he told Mr. Singleton not to lay his hands on them. Mrs. Barker also corroborated Mr. Moore's testimony regarding the incident at the baseball game.

         Mrs. Barker noted that Mrs. Moore was often open and receptive to any request Mr. Singleton made for more time with R.S., and she never spoke ill of Mr. Singleton to R.S. She stated that R.S. was sometimes disrespectful to Mr. Moore, but Mr. Moore never raised his voice to R.S. Mrs. Barker believed it would be positive if the Moores and R.S. could all live together as a family.

         On cross-examination, Mrs. Barker conceded that R.S. has spent his entire life in Ouachita Parish. She acknowledged that R.S. did not have any family in Houston and that he had no friends there at the moment. She also acknowledged that she and her husband would not be able to be as involved as they were at the time in R.S.'s life, but she still thought that moving to Houston would be the best for her daughter and R.S. She stated that having Mrs. Moore and R.S. live with her was not ideal, but she would not kick them out.

         Mrs. Barker agreed R.S. loves his father. She acknowledged R.S. does not want to move to Montgomery, and the proposition of moving made him upset. She noted Mr. Singleton had been more engaged in R.S.'s life since the relocation issue arose. Mrs. Barker stated she was ...


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