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John W. Clark v. Dana Szegedy

October 2, 2012

JOHN W. CLARK, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
DANA SZEGEDY, DEFENDANT AND APPELLEE.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Patricia O. Cotter

Submitted on Briefs: September 12, 2012

Decided: October 2, 2012

Filed:

Clerk

Justice Patricia O. Cotter delivered the Opinion of the Court.

¶1 Pursuant to Section I, Paragraph 3(d), Montana Supreme Court Internal Operating Rules, this case is decided by memorandum opinion and shall not be cited and does not serve as precedent. Its case title, cause number, and disposition shall be included in this Court's quarterly list of noncitable cases published in the Pacific Reporter and Montana Reports.

¶2 John Clark appeals the Tenth Judicial District Court's division of assets between him and his former live-in girlfriend, Dana Szegedy. We affirm.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

¶3 Dana Szegedy and John Clark began living together as an unmarried couple in August 2008 in Grass Range, Montana. They both performed many of the ranch and farm duties associated with Joe Delaney's ranch where John worked before meeting Dana. Such duties included but were not limited to moving cows, vaccinating cattle, feeding herds, fencing, calving, and branding. Additionally, Dana trained horses. The couple kept some of their earnings in separate personal accounts but also co-mingled earnings in joint checking and savings accounts. After living together for more than two and one-half years, the couple experienced a bitter break-up in early April 2011 and disagreed on how to distribute their accumulated assets. John filed suit seeking return of many items he alleged Dana had wrongfully taken when she left.

¶4 In May 2011, the District Court conducted a hearing to address John's request for a temporary restraining order (TRO) prohibiting Dana from removing any disputed items from Fergus County. Without the vehicle and horse trailer to which John claimed she was not entitled, Dana could not move to Billings to work as a horse trainer. At this hearing, the court also addressed Dana's motion for a TRO against John in which she requested that John be prohibited from disposing of her personal possessions and her share of jointly-owned possessions.

¶5 Both John and Dana testified at the hearing explaining the origin of and payment for some of the possessions accumulated during their relationship including vehicles, horses, stock trailers, and cash. The parties disagreed as to how much Dana contributed to the ranch work and whether the possessions were acquired primarily with John's earnings. They each claimed to have paid joint expenses from their personal checking accounts both before and after their joint account had been established.

¶6 At the conclusion of the May show cause hearing, the District Court awarded Dana $4,000 cash, representing one-half of the balance of the joint bank account John had testified contained $8,000, and temporary use of the 2001 pickup truck the couple possessed. The court allowed Dana to take the truck to Billings for work purposes, pending trial on the division of assets. Both parties were instructed to return each other's personal property, including property owned individually before their relationship began.

¶7 In October 2011, the court held a non-jury trial on the division of assets. The parties presented conflicting evidence about many of the disputed items. Before the court issued its order, John requested another hearing pertaining to the value of the 2001 truck the court had allowed Dana to use after the couple separated. The truck was being returned to John and the parties disputed the value and condition of the vehicle at that time. This hearing was held in February 2012.

ΒΆ8 The District Court subsequently weighed the evidence, the credibility of the witnesses, and the needs of the parties and divided the assets in a manner allowing both parties to continue pursuing their individual livelihoods. John appeals, ...


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