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Zheng v. Lin

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fifth Circuit

October 2, 2019

LUZHEN ZHENG
v.
HUI WU LIN

          ON APPEAL FROM THE TWENTY-FOURTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF JEFFERSON, STATE OF LOUISIANA NO. 730-789, DIVISION "K" HONORABLE ELLEN SHIRER KOVACH, JUDGE PRESIDING

          COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE, LUZHEN ZHENG Christine F. Remy

          COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT, HUI WU LIN Lakeisha N. Jefferson

          Panel composed of Judges Robert A. Chaisson, Stephen J. Windhorst, and Hans J. Liljeberg

          HANS J. LILJEBERG JUDGE

         Appellant, Hui Wu Lin, seeks review of the trial court's judgment denying his request for rental reimbursement. On appeal, Mr. Lin contends the trial court erred by failing to recognize the parties' stipulation on rental reimbursement and erred by granting the objection filed by appellee, Luzhen Zheng, to the hearing officer's recommendations on rental reimbursement. For the reasons stated more fully below, we find the trial court did not abuse its discretion and affirm the trial court's judgment granting Ms. Zheng's objection and denying Mr. Lin's rental reimbursement claim. We further deny Ms. Zheng's request for attorney's fees and costs in her answer to the appeal.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         The parties married on February 26, 1995, and have two children, one who has now reached the age of majority and the second who is ten years old. These proceedings commenced on September 5, 2013, when Ms. Zheng filed a Petition for Protection from Abuse against Mr. Lin. The next day Ms. Zheng filed a petition for divorce. The domestic commissioner held a hearing on the Petition for Protection of Abuse and on September 26, 2013, the commissioner granted Ms. Zheng an order of protection against Mr. Lin for six months and exclusive use of the family home during that time. Ms. Zheng filed an objection and on November 15, 2013, the trial court extended the order of protection to 18 months. On October 22, 2014, Ms. Zheng was granted sole custody of their minor child, and on November 21, 2014, the trial court granted a judgment of divorce.

         On April 8, 2015, Hui Lin filed a petition to partition the community property. The parties filed sworn descriptive lists and Ms. Zheng filed a traversal of Mr. Lin's sworn descriptive list. According to the designated record, no further steps were taken to partition the community property at that time.

         On February 24, 2017, Mr. Lin filed a motion to enforce an offer to settle the community property allegedly made by Ms. Zheng and also requested an accounting of the community assets. In response, Ms. Zheng filed numerous exceptions, including an exception of vagueness and ambiguity, exceptions of no right and no cause of action, and an exception of unauthorized use of a summary proceeding. According to the designated record, these matters were all continued without date.

         On April 6, 2018, Mr. Lin filed a motion for exclusive use and occupancy of the former matrimonial domicile, motion to appoint an independent appraiser and a motion to set a status conference and trial on the community property partition. In his motion, Mr. Lin requested that the trial court appoint an appraiser to determine the fair market value of the former matrimonial home located at 3712 Chadwood Drive in Harvey, Louisiana, ("Chadwood property") for purposes of community partition. Mr. Lin also indicated in this motion that he wanted exclusive use and occupancy of the Chadwood property to be awarded to Ms. Zheng pending partition, and requested the appointment of an appraiser to also determine the fair market rental value of the property. On May 24, 2018, the hearing officer recommended the appointment of Wayne Sandoz to appraise the Chadwood property and to also determine the fair market rental value. All other issues were pretermitted.

         On June 27, 2018, Mr. Lin filed a second motion and order for exclusive use and occupancy of the former matrimonial domicile. In this motion, Mr. Lin requested that the trial court award him exclusive use of the Chadwood property. He alternatively requested rental reimbursement based on the fair market rental value of the home in the event the trial court awarded Ms. Zheng exclusive use and occupancy. The matter was set before the hearing officer on October 18, 2018. The stipulations and recommendations report prepared by the hearing officer on that date indicated that the parties stipulated to granting Ms. Zheng exclusive use and occupancy of the Chadwood property. The report further indicated the parties did not stipulate to the amount of rental reimbursement and the hearing officer recommended rent in the amount of $1, 350.00 per month based on Wayne Sandoz's report. However, the section where the hearing officer indicated the stipulations or recommendations as to whether rental reimbursement "should be granted/deferred/waived" is unclear. The hearing officer indicated both a recommendation and stipulation and circled both "granted" and "deferred" on this issue as follows:[1]

         Ms. Zheng filed an objection to the hearing officer's recommendations on October 23, 2018, specifying that she objected to the hearing officer's recommendation "that rental reimbursement should be granted/deferred" and "that the value of $1, 350.00 per month is fair market value per Wayne Sandoz's report."

         The parties appeared before the trial court for a hearing on the objection on December 5, 2018. Ms. Zheng entered into evidence a judgment indicating Mr. Lin was $20, 366.44 in arrears on child support, as well as Mr. Lin's prior conviction in 2014 for domestic abuse battery against her and the protective order granted by the trial court in 2013. Ms. Zheng set forth several different grounds as to why the trial court should grant her objection to the hearing officer recommendations on rental reimbursement. Ms. Zheng argued that she had sole custody of their minor child, no support or visitation from Mr. Lin, and that awarding rent to Mr. Lin would subject Ms. Zheng to further abuse. She further claimed that Mr. Lin caused significant damage to the Chadwood property before he left, some of which she paid to repair and some damage still requiring repair. Ms. Zheng further argued that the purpose for awarding rental reimbursement was to offset reimbursements the occupying spouse would receive for paying the monthly mortgage on ...


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