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Schmidt v. Schmidt

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

January 3, 2019

CHRISTY JENKINS SCHMIDT
v.
TIMOTHY W. SCHMIDT

          Appealed from the East Baton Rouge Parish Family Court State of Louisiana Suit Number F152664 Honorable Charlene Charlet Day, Presiding

          Brian J. Prendergast Baton Rouge, LA Counsel for Plaintiff/Appellee Christy Jenkins Schmidt

          Marcus T. Foote Baton Rouge, LA Counsel for Defendant/Appellant Timothy Schmidt

          BEFORE: GUIDRY, THERIOT, AND PENZATO, J J.

          GUIDRY, J.

         Defendant, Timothy Schmidt, appeals from a judgment of the trial court finding him guilty of contempt of court and ordering him to pay $110, 758.38, representing his pro rata share of medical expenses found by the court to be medically necessary for the parties' minor child and which were not covered by insurance, $15, 000.00 in attorney's fees, and $2, 470.50 in costs. For the reasons that follow, we amend in part and as amended, affirm in part and reverse in part.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Timothy and Christy Schmidt were married on February 3, 1996, and one child was born of the marriage on February 7, 2003. Thereafter, Christy filed a petition for divorce on November 4, 2004. On March 1, 2005, the trial court signed a judgment, stipulated to by the parties, regarding custody and support. In particular, the judgment provided:

each party shall be responsible for his or her pro rata share of any medical expenses paid by such party and not covered by insurance. The pro rata share of each party is as follows: Christy Jenkins Schmidt-22%; Timothy Schmidt-78%. Each party shall submit proof of payment of medical expenses not covered by insurance to the other party within 60 days of payment and request reimbursement from the non-pay or for the non-pay or's pro rata share. The other party shall reimburse the payor his or her pro rata share of such expenses within 30 days thereafter. If either party does not submit proof of medical expenses paid and not covered by insurance within the 60 days of payment, then such party will not be entitled to claim reimbursement for such expense.

         A judgment of divorce was entered on June 13, 2005.[1]

         Thereafter, on August 26, 2005, Christy filed a rule to show cause, claiming the March 1, 2005 judgment ordered Timothy to pay his 78% pro rata share of any medical expenses not covered by insurance within thirty days of request by her, that she had timely submitted proof of payment of these medical expenses, and that Timothy had continuously failed and refused to timely or fully reimburse her for his share of the medical expenses paid by her. Christy requested that the trial court order Timothy to show cause as to why he should not be held in contempt of court for failing and refusing to reimburse her his pro rata share of medical expenses paid by her; why he should not be ordered to reimburse her his pro rata share of medical expenses previously submitted by her immediately and without delay; and why he should not be ordered to reimburse her his pro rata share of medical expenses for therapy and treatment that are recurring and ongoing within five days of notification by her of the amount invoiced for such therapy.

         At a September 27, 2005 hearing, the parties stipulated that Timothy was not required to reimburse Christy his pro rata share of $1, 500.00 advanced by her to Mississippi Behavioral Clinic for additional therapy for the child, with the parties reserving the right to have determined if such additional therapy is a medical necessity. This stipulation was reduced to judgment; however the judgment was never signed. The unsigned judgment was filed into the trial record on March 20, 2007, and also provided that Timothy shall place a credit card with Abilities for Speech and Language (Abilities) for payment of treatment for the minor child.[2]

         On March 13, 2008, Christy filed a rule to show cause, seeking an increase in child support and contempt for Timothy's failure to reimburse her his pro rata share of medical expenses not covered by insurance. Particularly, Christy asserted that because of the child's medical conditions, there are extraordinary expenses that should be taken into consideration in establishing child support, including but not limited to: cost of special dietary requirements; cost of prescribed over-the-counter medications that are not covered by health insurance; cost of specific air purifiers, feeding utensils and equipment for feeding environment; specialized bedding; special paraphernalia required by treating physicians and therapists that are not covered by health insurance; and educational expenses to assimilate the child into a school setting. Furthermore, Christy asserted that Timothy had refused to reimburse her his pro rata share of medical expenses not covered by insurance within thirty days of submission by her. Christy asserted that she had repeatedly provided Timothy with proof that the child's physicians and therapists had prescribed or ordered medications, equipment, special foods, feeding utensils, food preparation tools, therapy tools, etc., which are medically necessary and are not covered by insurance. Christy further asserted that Timothy had been provided with reports from the child's medical caregivers substantiating the medical necessity of the foregoing, but that he has still failed or refused to reimburse Christy for his pro rata share. The matter passed without date, and on May 7, 2008, the trial court signed an order appointing a parenting coordinator to assist the parties in resolving disputes and in reaching agreements regarding the minor child.

         Thereafter, on February 10, 2009, Christy filed a motion to modify custody and other ancillary matters, including a rule for contempt regarding Timothy's removal of his credit card from Abilities and failure to pay Abilities after June 24, 2008. The trial court held a hearing on all pending matters on March 24, 2009, [3]wherein the trial judge told Timothy to bring Abilities up to date and further stated that Christy needed either depositions from doctors or she needed the doctors to testify regarding the medical necessity of the requested expenses.

         Timothy subsequently filed a petition to modify custody on January 20, 2015. Christy responded by filing an answer and reconventional demand on March 10, 2015, seeking an increase in child support, tuition, and extracurricular expenses due to Timothy's increase in income and an increase in the educational and medical expenses of the child. The parties entered into a consent judgment on July 27, 2015, wherein Timothy agreed to pay 50% of the minor child's school tuition commencing with the 2015 fall semester and 50% of any mutually agreed upon extracurricular activities, including trumpet lessons. The parties reaffirmed that Timothy is responsible for 78% of any medical expenses not covered by insurance and further provided that both parties "reserve the right to seek a judicial determination of any issue not addressed in this judgment."

         On December 7, 2015, Christy filed a rule for contempt, stating pursuant to the March 1, 2005 stipulated judgment, Timothy was ordered to pay 78% of medical expenses not covered by insurance and that since the judgment was rendered, Timothy has failed and/or refused to reimburse her for his pro rata share of medical expenses incurred on behalf of the minor child in the amount of $184, 970.68. Christy attached a spreadsheet of expenses to her rule for contempt. Christy also sought attorney's fees and costs. Following a January 5, 2016 status conference, the trial court signed an order, ordering that Christy's rule for contempt, attorney's fees and other ancillary matters shall be set for trial with the court to determine which claims for reimbursement shall be deemed a medical necessity for the minor child.

         Following a three day trial on Christy's rule, the trial court issued a judgment finding Timothy guilty of contempt of court for willfully violating the provisions of the stipulated judgment agreed to by the parties on January 12, 2005 and signed by the court on March 1, 2005, namely that "each party shall be responsible for his or her pro rata share of any medical expenses paid by such party and not covered by insurance." The judgment further ordered that Timothy shall pay Christy the sum of $59, 099.02, representing Timothy's pro rata share of the medical expenses incurred by Christy, which the trial court found to be medically necessary for the parties' minor child.

         Christy subsequently filed a motion to amend judgment or in the alternative, motion for new trial, asserting that certain medical expenses, which were clearly granted by the trial court, were not included in the judgment. The motion was submitted on briefs only. Thereafter, on August 14, 2017, the trial court signed a judgment finding the May 8, 2017 judgment to be contrary to the law and evidence and granting Christy's motion for new trial only as to the missing expenses. The trial court further found that Timothy was in contempt of court for willfully violating the provisions of the stipulated judgment agreed to by the parties on January 12, 2005 and signed by the court on March 1, 2005, and ordered Timothy to pay the sum of $110, 758.38, representing Timothy's pro rata share of the medical expenses incurred by Christy, which the court, considering all expenses entered into evidence, found to be medically necessary for the parties' minor child. The trial court also ordered Timothy to pay $15, 000.00 in attorney's fees and $2, 470.50 in court costs and fees.

         Timothy now appeals from the trial court's August 14, 2017 judgment.

         DISCUSSION

         A contempt of court is any act or omission tending to obstruct or interfere with the orderly administration of justice or to impair the dignity of the court or respect for its authority. La. C.C.P. art. 221. Willful disobedience of any lawful judgment, order, mandate, writ, or process of the court is constructive contempt of court. See La. C.C.P. art. 224. Proceedings for contempt must be strictly construed, and the policy of our law does not favor extending their scope. Estate of Graham v. Levy, 636 So.2d 287, 290 (La.App. 1st Cir. 1994), writ denied, 94-1202 (La. 7/1/94), 639 So.2d 1167. The decision to hold a party in contempt of court for disobeying the court's orders is within the trial court's great discretion. Only if the appellate court finds an abuse of that discretion will a trial court's contempt ruling be reversed. Leger v. Leger, 00-0505, p. 3 (La.App. 1st Cir. 5/11/01), 808 So.2d 632, 635. However, the predicate factual determinations underlying the finding of civil contempt of court are reviewed under the manifest error standard of review. See Rogers v. Dickens, 06-0898, p. 7 (La.App. 1st Cir. 2/9/07), 959 So.2d 940, 945; see also Mitchell v. Risher, 11-1008 (La.App. 1st Cir. 12/21/11) (unpublished opinion).

         A proceeding for contempt for refusing to obey a court's order is not designed for the benefit of the litigant, though infliction of punishment may inure to the benefit of the mover in the rule. Welborne v. Welborne, 29, 479, p. 10 (La.App. 2nd Cir. 5/7/97), 694 So.2d 578, 585, writs denied, 97-1800 (La. 10/13/97), 703 So.2d 621 and 97-1850 (La. 10/13/97), 703 So.2d 623. Rather, the object of a contempt proceeding is the vindication of the dignity of the court. Short v. Short, 12-312, p. 5 (La.App. 5th Cir. 11/13/12), 105 So.3d 892, 895. In order to find a party guilty of constructive contempt, the trial court must find that he or she violated ...


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