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In re Marriage of Stratford

Supreme Court of Montana

April 10, 2018

IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF: KRISTIN K. STRATFORD, Petitioner and Appellant, and STEPHEN J. ELDREDGE, Respondent and Appellee.

          Submitted on Briefs: February 6, 2018

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, In and For the County of Missoula, Cause No. DR 98-87207 Honorable Leslie Halligan, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant:Richard A. Reep, Reep, Bell, Laird & Jasper, P.C., Missoula, Montana

          For Appellee:Stephen J. Eldredge, self-represented, South Jordan, Utah

          OPINION

          DIRK M. SANDEFUR

         ¶1 Pursuant to Section I, Paragraph 3(c), Montana Supreme Court Internal Operating Rules, this case is decided by memorandum opinion, 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 Kristin Stratford (Stratford) appeals the judgment of the Montana Fourth Judicial District Court, Missoula County, setting aside two prior judgments related to delinquent child support pursuant to M. R. Civ. P. 60(b). We reverse and remand for entry of a corrected judgment in accordance with this Opinion.

         ¶3 In 1999, the District Court ordered Stephen Eldredge (Eldredge) to make monthly child support payments in the amount of $600 to Stratford following the dissolution of their marriage. Stratford asserts that Eldredge has since made only sporadic payments, both directly and through Montana and Utah child support enforcement agencies. She asserts that nearly $100, 000 in unpaid child support and interest accrued by the time their child reached 18 years old. In February 2017, Stratford moved for judgment on the unpaid child support and accrued interest. She served Eldredge by duplicate mailings to two Utah addresses: one listed in his 2015 U.S. Bankruptcy Court filing, and one on record with the District Court and currently utilized by the Montana and Utah Child Support Enforcement Divisions. Eldredge did not appear or otherwise respond. On March 10, 2017, the District Court entered an uncontested final judgment on the entirety of the unpaid child support and interest claimed by Stratford. On March 21, 2017, the District Court entered a supplemental judgment for attorney fees and costs incurred by Stratford in recovery of the support judgment. On March 16 and 30, 2017, Stratford respectively served notices of entry of judgment on Eldredge by mail at both Utah addresses.

         ¶4 On April 18, 2017, Eldredge filed a motion to set aside both judgments pursuant to M. R. Civ. P. 60(b) on the asserted grounds of lack of service and notice. Eldredge asserted that: (1) he did not properly receive notice of the judgments; (2) the address associated with his bankruptcy filing was the address of his estranged wife; and (3) Stratford's unpaid child support and interest calculations were erroneous based on the nearly twenty-year history of the obligation.

         ¶5 On April 26, 2017, Stratford filed a response opposing Eldredge's motion. On May 15, 2017, Eldredge filed a motion for additional time to reply to Stratford's response. By order filed June 9, 2017, the District Court extended Eldredge's reply deadline until July 14, 2017, a date 87 days after the filing date of his Rule 60(b) motion. The order did not reference, much less purport to extend, the court's deadline for ruling on the motion.

         ¶6 On July 17, 2017, Eldredge filed his reply brief, 3 days after his extended briefing deadline. By order filed July 25, 2017, the District Court granted Eldredge's Rule 60(b) motion and set aside the subject judgments. Stratford timely appeals.

         ¶7 Whether a district court untimely granted a Rule 60(b) motion in violation of M. R. Civ. P. 60(c)(1) is a question of law that we review de novo. See Green v. Gerber, 2013 MT 35, ¶¶ 24-29, 369 Mont. 20, 303 P.3d 729 (non-compliance with Rule 60(c)(1) deadline objectionable error but not jurisdictional). Stratford asserts that the District Court erroneously granted Eldredge's Rule 60(b) motion after expiration of the 60-day deadline specified by M. R. Civ. P. 60(c)(1) and 59(f). We agree.

         ¶8 M. R. Civ. P. 60(c)(1) (2015) states:

Motions provided by Rule 60(b) must be determined within the times provided by Rule 59 in the case of motions for . . . amendment of judgment and if the court shall fail to rule on the motion within the ...

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