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In re Marriage of Tronstad

Supreme Court of Montana

April 10, 2018

LEROY A. TRONSTAD, Respondent and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: March 7, 2018

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Sixteenth Judicial District, In and For the County of Fallon, Cause No. DR-2013-018 Honorable Nickolas C. Murnion, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Stephen C. Mackey, Towe, Ball, Mackey, Sommerfeld & Turner, P.L.L.P.,

          For Appellee: Joseph M. Raffiani, Raffiani Law Firm, P.C., Billings, Montana


          Beth Baker, Justice

         ¶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 Leroy Tronstad appeals the Sixteenth Judicial District Court's order holding him in contempt of court after he allegedly failed to comply with the court's dissolution decree. We affirm.

         ¶3 Leroy and Cynthia Tronstad were married in 1990. The couple owned a ranch outside of Baker-which had been passed down to Leroy from his father-and a house in Baker. In September 2013, Cynthia petitioned for dissolution of the marriage. The District Court issued Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and a Decree of Dissolution (Decree) in May 2015.

         ¶4 The Decree distributed Leroy's and Cynthia's marital assets. The bulk of the marital estate consisted of the ranch land, which was valued at $4, 150, 000. The court noted that Leroy and Cynthia owed $336, 657 on the ranch land to two lenders. The court held that Leroy would be entitled to a greater share of the ranch land than Cynthia but that the couple would split the remaining marital assets evenly.

         ¶5 The Decree stated that the "marital assets and liabilities should be distributed as set forth in Attachment A." Attachment A listed the couple's marital assets and liabilities, stated the fair market value of each asset or liability, and assigned each to either Cynthia or Leroy. The attachment awarded specific segments of the ranch land to Cynthia and the remainder to Leroy. Under the heading, "Liabilities, " the attachment assigned responsibility for the entire $336, 557 ranch land debt to Leroy alone.

         ¶6 The Decree awarded the Baker house and certain other marital property to Cynthia, and it mandated that Leroy pay a $359, 000 cash adjustment to Cynthia in ten annual installments. In total, the Decree awarded a net $2, 929, 691.50 to Leroy and $1, 738, 103.50 to Cynthia. The Decree stated, "Each party shall comply with and perform in accordance with the Findings and Conclusions set forth above. The parties shall execute all deeds, assignments and other documents necessary to fully carry out the terms of this Decree."

         ¶7 In November 2015, Cynthia filed a motion for warrant for contempt, asserting that Leroy had failed "to execute loans and clear the titles and deeds for property which were awarded" to her. Despite requests from Cynthia's attorney in the months after issuance of the Decree, Leroy's attorney did not provide Cynthia the deeds to the property that the Decree awarded to her until late February 2016.

         ¶8 The District Court held a hearing on Cynthia's motion in April 2017. At the time of the hearing, Leroy had not taken any action to assume sole ownership of the ranch land debt. He testified at the hearing that he "didn't figure [he] had the money for the closing costs" to refinance the loans, which would have amounted to ten thousand dollars. Leroy was current on his annual cash adjustment payments to Cynthia of $35, 900, and he had paid off the debt on the Baker home.

         ¶9 After the hearing, the District Court held that Leroy was in contempt of court for failing to refinance the loans and clear Cynthia's title to the property that the Decree awarded to her. The court found that the Decree was "clear, when reading all provisions together, that Cynthia was to receive her share of the ranch property free and clear of any and all encumbrances." It noted, "In order to carry out the terms of the Decree, Leroy must sign all documents necessary to release Cynthia from the indebtedness." Because Leroy had not done so, the court found that Cynthia had been "unable to realize the value of the property she was awarded." The court pointed out that Leroy had "a period of almost two year[s] within which to refinance said loans" and reasoned that there was "no justifiable excuse for such a delay." Noting that the current balance of the ranch land debt was less than ten percent of the total value of the land and improvements, the court reasoned that "Leroy should be able to refinance the indebtedness . . . and release the mortgages on the real property allocated to Cynthia." The court ordered that, in order to "purge his contempt ...

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