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Allen v. Granger

Supreme Court of Delaware

March 18, 2015

MARK J. ALLEN[1], Respondent Below, Appellant,
DENISE M. GRANGER, Petitioner Below, Appellee.

Submitted: February 18, 2015

Court Below: Family Court of the State of Delaware, in and for New Castle County File No. CN08-05008 Petition Nos.: 08-39172 13-36227

Before STRINE, Chief Justice, HOLLAND and VALIHURA, Justices.


Karen L. Valihura, Justice

This 18th day of March 2015, upon consideration of the parties' briefs and the record in this case, it appears to the Court that:

(1) Respondent-below Mark J. Allen ("Allen") raises two arguments on appeal. First, he argues that the Family Court abused its discretion in denying his Rule 60(b) motion to reopen the alimony proceeding. Second, he argues that the Family Court erred by allowing his former spouse Denise M. Granger ("Granger") to claim living expenses that exceeded her income, and attributed expenses to Granger that lacked proper documentation. We disagree and affirm the judgment of the Family Court.

(2) Allen and Granger were legally separated on September 26, 2008. Granger filed a petition for divorce on November 21, 2008. The Family Court issued the decree of divorce on March 13, 2012. A financial asset report pursuant to Family Court Rule 16(c) was completed after Granger requested retention of jurisdiction for property division and alimony.

(3) On February 28, 2013, Granger filed a motion for interim alimony. On April 1, 2013, the Family Court found that Granger had $2, 929 per month in expenses. Granger had already been receiving $1, 066 per month for child support.[2] The Family Court noted that Granger had a monthly shortfall of $1, 853 even after receiving child support from Allen, whereas Allen had a budget surplus of $2, 374. The Family Court ordered Allen to pay Granger interim alimony of $1, 895 per month.

(4) On October 28, 2013, the parties appeared in Family Court and reached an agreement on property division.[3] On November 19, 2013, the Family Court held a hearing on alimony and issued a written order on December 4, 2013. The Family Court ordered Allen to pay $769 per month for child support and $105 per month in alimony.[4] In response to the Family Court's order, both parties filed motions for reargument. Allen argued that Granger's expenses could not be $5, 390 per month as she claimed because her only income had been $2, 961 per month from Allen for child support and interim alimony payments. Allen also argued that Granger failed to produce any evidence that accounted for $2, 270 of expenses, especially considering the fact that the same expenses for Allen totaled $592.[5]

(5) On January 10, 2014, the Family Court entered an order on the reargument motions. Granger's expenses were reduced to $3, 436 per month, and Allen was ordered to pay alimony of $1, 638 per month.[6] Combined with Allen's obligation to pay child support of $769 per month, Allen was left with $1, 249 per month and Granger was left with $2, 286 per month.

(6) Both parties also suffered from medical issues during this time. Granger was involved in two car accidents -- on January 3, 2011, and on March 4, 2011. Allen suffered a series of serious strokes on April 6, 2013, that left him totally disabled.

(7) After Granger's car accidents, she filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court on October 5, 2012 for damages she sustained from those accidents, including allegations of severe bodily injury, pain and suffering, medical expenses, loss of earnings and permanent loss of earning capacity. She also filed a lawsuit in the Court of Common Pleas on December 31, 2013 for breach of contract against her automobile insurance company, alleging that she was entitled to personal injury protection benefits for medical expenses and loss of wages.

(8) On February 7, 2014, Allen filed a motion pursuant to Rule 60(b) in the Family Court alleging that Granger had failed to disclose that she was a plaintiff in two lawsuits stemming from the two car accidents. Allen requested that alimony payments to Granger be withdrawn and all payments returned to him. In the alternative, Allen requested that a lien in his favor be placed on any recovery that Granger would receive from the lawsuits to reimburse him for alimony payments. The Family Court denied Allen's Rule 60(b) motion.

(9) This Court reviews the Family Court's denial of a Rule 60(b) motion only for an abuse of discretion.[7] Judicial discretion is "the exercise of judgment directed by conscience and reason, as opposed to capricious or arbitrary action."[8]"[W]here a court has not exceeded the bounds of reason in view of the circumstances, and has not so ignored recognized rules of law or practice, so as to produce injustice, its legal discretion has not been abused."[9] The question is not whether this Court agrees with the lower court, "but rather whether it believes that the judicial mind in view of ...

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