Searle v. Searle
Woodey B. Searle,
Plaintiff and Appellant,
Defendant and Appellee.
(Not For Official Publication)
Case No. 990937-CA
F I L E D
November 9, 2000 2000 UT App 308 -----
Eighth District, Vernal Department
The Honorable A. Lynn Payne
Roland Uresk, Roosevelt, for Appellant
Randy B. Searle, Vernal, Appellee Pro Se
Before Judges Greenwood, Jackson, and Orme.
We have determined that "[t]he facts and legal arguments are adequately presented in the [appellant's] brief and record and [that] the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument." Utah R. App. P. 29(a)(3).
Appellant concedes that at the time of the order to show cause hearing, appellee had already paid the amounts appellant claimed he was owed under the judgment. Thus, appellant does not seek a holding of civil contempt to "coerce [appellee] to comply with a court order given for the benefit of [appellant]." Von Hake v. Thomas, 759 P.2d 1162, 1168 (Utah 1988). Rather, appellant seeks a holding of criminal contempt "to vindicate the court's authority."(1) Id.
In order to prove criminal contempt for failure to comply with a court order, it must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the person knew what was required, had the ability to comply, and intentionally failed to comply. See id. at 1172. While the trial court made no separate written findings regarding the issue of contempt, its findings can be readily "gleaned from the transcript." State v. Hurst, 821 P.2d 467, 471 (Utah Ct. App. 1991).
The trial court found that fulfilling the intent of the judgment had "been complicated by [appellant's] physical condition" and that the ruling of July 7, 1997 was "just not working." Because appellant was able to sign off on gas purchases before they were made, it was impossible to determine what portion of the fuel receipts appellant submitted were reimbursable amounts under the judgment. Legitimately disputed issues, therefore, existed as to the amount appellee owed under the judgment. These findings make clear that appellant did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that appellee knew what was required of him under the judgment, in terms of what amount he owed for gas, oil, and antifreeze. Without the requisite proof, it would have been error for the trial court to hold appellee in criminal contempt.
MODIFICATION OF JUDGMENT
Rule 60(b) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure grants a trial court authority to modify a final judgment in a number of circumstances not applicable here, as well as for "any other reason justifying relief from the operation of the judgment." Utah R. Civ. P. 60(b)(6). Such "modif[ication of] a final judgment is addressed to the discretion of the trial court, the exercise of which must be based on sound legal principles in light of all relevant circumstances. The court's determination may be reversed only upon a showing that this discretion was abused." Laub v. South Cent. Utah Tel. Ass'n, 657 P.2d 1304, 1306 (Utah 1982).
The trial court's findings, which are adequately supported by the evidence proffered at the hearing, indicate a substantial change in circumstances since the date of the original judgment. Following entry of the original judgment, appellant stopped driving due to his age and declining health, and he is no longer present when fuel is put in his car. Appellant's son-in-law, however, continues to use appellant's car to do work for appellant. The son-in-law's use of the car entails costs for which appellee is obligated under the judgment, as well as other unrelated use for which appellee is not responsible. These circumstances make it difficult, if not impossible, to determine how much of the total fuel cost appellee is responsible for under the original judgment.
We see no abuse of discretion in the trial court's decision to modify a judgment that had clearly become unworkable due to changed circumstances. Nor do we see abuse of discretion in the terms of the modification itself, where the trial court relied on appellant's historical expenditures to arrive at a monthly sum adequate to compensate him for the gas, oil, and antifreeze expenses he was entitled to under the original judgment.
Gregory K. Orme, Judge -----
Pamela T. Greenwood,
Norman H. Jackson,
Associate Presiding Judge
1. From the tenor of the proceedings below, we doubt it is actually a desire to "vindicate the court's authority" that moves appellant to insist that appellee be held in criminal contempt. Instead, it appears that in the midst of ongoing familial discord, appellant seeks a measure of personal vindication through judicial pronouncement, unaccompanied by any substantive relief. At any rate, we question the propriety of a private party appealing to vindicate the authority of the trial court when the trial court has itself deemed such action unnecessary.