Jensen v. Beirne (CA1 12/6/16)

This is a domestic case but deals with the time limit on judgments.

The parties divorced in 2005. At that time the court entered an order disposing of their properties in England, including one known as the “Hadley Highstone property.” (Irrelevant point of possible interest: Hadley Highstone is an area of Barnet, which is nowadays a North London borough, that’s named after a local signpost.) The order wasn’t carried out and the court entered a subsequent order in 2008. That wasn’t carried out, either, and so in 2015 Husband filed another petition concerning it. The trial court dismissed it, ruling that since the decree and related orders hadn’t been renewed they had lapsed after five years, 12-1551, and so it lacked jurisdiction to enforce them. Husband appealed.

If you’re wondering at this point whether you needed to renew your divorce decree, you don’t. 12-1551 “applies to judgments or decrees for payments of specific amounts of money or judgment liens,” not divorce decrees. The statute “applies to judgments upon which execution or like process may be sought” whereas “enforcement of dissolution decrees, typically through the contempt power, is generally predicated upon the equitable power of the family court.” What happens in cases other than the typical or general the court doesn’t say.

The court also says that even if the statute did apply the five years hadn’t begun to run. The statute does not begin to run until the occurrence of an event that could give rise to an action on the judgment. The trial court had ordered Wife to do certain things but hadn’t set a time limit; Wife had never done them. Husband argued that because there was no time limit he couldn’t sue her for for not doing them.

If that logic sounds a little soggy, it may perhaps be that the second argument is really just a sub-species of the first. In any event, the problem is that this is yet another case in which the court issues precedent on an issue of law based on incomplete briefing. Wife didn’t file a brief. And apparently neither party argued these issues below; the trial court seems to have raised them sua sponte in its order of dismissal. But the court continues to feel that merely because the issues haven’t been joined is no reason they shouldn’t be published.

(Opinion: Jensen v. Bierne)