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In re Marriage of Grommet

Supreme Court of Montana

February 28, 2017

DEAN G. GROMMET, Respondent and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: November 30, 2016

         APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Eleventh Judicial District, In and For the County of Flathead, Cause No. DR-12-723B Honorable Robert B Allison, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: David B. Cotner, Anna C. Conley, Datsopoulos, MacDonald, & Lind, P.C., Missoula, Montana

          For Appellee: P. Mars Scott, P. Mars Scott Law Offices, Missoula, Montana



         ¶1 Pursuant to Section I, Paragraph 3(c), 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 Dean Grommet (Dean) appeals from the March 15, 2016 Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Decree of Dissolution entered in the Eleventh Judicial District Court, Flathead County, dissolving his marriage to Malinda Grommet (Malinda). We affirm.

         ¶3 Dean raises thirteen issues on appeal, many of which contain sub-issues. In general, Dean argues that the District Court incorrectly considered the parties' premarital relationship when determining an equitable distribution of the marital estate and that the District Court's distribution of the marital estate is inequitable and not supported by substantial evidence.

         ¶4 Dean and Malinda met in California and began dating in 1991 when Malinda was twenty-three and Dean was thirty-six. At the time, Malinda was managing a retail store in Newport Beach and Dean was self-employed and owned Acralight, a business which manufactured skylights. In 1991 or 1992 they moved in together. Dean owned two homes in Huntington Beach, California, and the couple lived in Dean's homes. Malinda maintained the homes by performing general housekeeping duties, laundry, cooking, buying groceries, paying bills, and working with contractors to make improvements to the homes. The parties commingled their funds while they were together in California. In 1996, Dean prepared a codicil to his Will wherein he left his entire estate to his parents, his sister, and Malinda in equal shares. Dean also wrote a letter in 1997, prior to going on a hunting trip, stating his intention to take care of Malinda for her life and providing Malinda with specific instructions on how to distribute his estate in the event he died. Malinda, similarly, named Dean as a beneficiary on her investment account.

         ¶5 In 1992, Dean and his sister, Michelle Costi (Michelle), purchased 13, 425 acres in Wyoming which is identified as Grey Rocks Ranch (Ranch). The Ranch is located in a rural area and had two homes, a main house and a guest house, both of which were uninhabitable. Dean contributed $200, 000 and Michelle contributed $100, 000 toward the initial investment, with the remaining balance of approximately $650, 000 borrowed from Farm Credit Services. Michelle did not work on the Ranch nor did she contribute any more money after her initial investment.

         ¶6 Between 1992 and 1999, Dean and Malinda traveled to Wyoming to make improvements on the Ranch, including remodeling the two uninhabitable houses, landscaping, and adding a building for ranch machinery and equipment. In 1999, Dean and Malinda moved to the Ranch and, over the years, purchased and sold various tracts of land surrounding the Ranch. Dean and Malinda paid for the land purchases by encumbering the Ranch with mortgages. By 2006, the Ranch comprised approximately 22, 240 acres. During the time Dean and Malinda worked and lived on the Ranch, they paid off over $2, 100, 000 of their mortgages and also made partial payments to Michelle of $267, 500. By 2005, the Ranch was free and clear of mortgages.

         ¶7 Dean and Malinda developed several businesses at the Ranch, including Gro-Mor Diversified, LLC, a tree planting and landscape business. They offered outfitting and hunting services and Malinda maintained a "City Slickers" dude ranch operation which included hosting guests, managing employees, preparing meals, transporting clients to the airport, housekeeping, shopping, laundry, and advertising for the business. Malinda helped build snow fences to control blizzards, manned fire trucks and fought forest ranch wildfires, cleared tumble weeds from miles of fencing, performed reclamation work on numerous acres of land subsequent to an oil pipeline rupture, constructed stone masonry columns to enhance the appearance of the Ranch, and installed and maintained Mexican tile pavers in the two homes. Malinda performed general home and grounds maintenance to the Ranch, including predator management, landscaping, watering, and mowing. She managed a herd of buffalo containing 75 head, chartered planes and flew over the Ranch and other ranches to locate buffalo, and managed and maintained a cattle lease operation. Malinda did not receive a wage or salary for her work at the Ranch and she did not pay Social Security.

         ¶8 After nine years of living together, Dean and Malinda married in 2000. Shortly after they were married they began investing in gold and silver coins. By February of 2011, Dean and Malinda had 1, 396 ounces of gold coins, and 4, 697 silver coins.

         ¶9 In 2006, Malinda and Dean sold the Ranch for $8, 500, 000 million to the United States military, realizing a gain of over $6, 900, 000 on the property. The Ranch proceeds were put into a Fidelity account in Dean's name. Dean and Malinda also liquidated Gro-Mor and created DMG Land, LLC, to hold future ranch income from grass leases the couple still held after the sale of the Ranch. With a portion of the Ranch proceeds, Dean and Malinda bought a home in Whitefish, Montana, for $3, 125, 000 and held the property as tenants by the entirety. Dean and Malinda constructed a $1, 000, 000 addition to the house to display hunting trophies, which included nearly 100 animals including an elephant. In 2008, Dean purchased an adjacent lot to the ...

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