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In re Marriage of Scrantom

Supreme Court of Montana

May 8, 2018

IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF: TIMOTHY D. SCRANTOM, Petitioner and Appellant,
v.
LILA S. MASTERS, Respondent and Appellee.

          Submitted on Briefs: March 21, 2018

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Eighteenth Judicial District, In and For the County of Gallatin, Cause No. DR 09-318A Honorable Holly Brown, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Christopher J. Gillette, The Law Office of Christopher J. Gillette, PC, Bozeman, Montana

          For Appellee: James K. Lubing, Lubing Law Group, Jackson, Wyoming

          OPINION

          LAURIE McKINNON, Judge

         ¶1 Timothy D. Scrantom (Scrantom) objected to the findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order proposed by the Standing Master (Standing Master's Order) in a dissolution proceeding with Lila S. Masters (Masters). The Eighteenth Judicial District Court, Gallatin County, refused to review the Standing Master's Order because Scrantom's objections lacked specificity. We reverse.

         ¶2 Scrantom presents the following issue for review:

         Did the District Court err by determining Scrantom's objections to the Standing Master's Order lacked specificity under § 3-5-126, MCA?

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         ¶3 In April 2012, the District Court dissolved Scrantom and Masters's marriage. The parties entered into a property settlement agreement and the District Court's dissolution decree incorporated that agreement by reference. The property settlement agreement contained provisions regarding property division, spousal support, debts and obligations, default, and attorney fees. The provision on debts and obligations required Masters to indemnify Scrantom for debts, liabilities, and expenses, including attorney fees, costs, and interest, "relating to the assets allocated to her."

         ¶4 Balance Point Divorce Funding LLC (Balance Point), a third-party divorce financing company, provided litigation funding for Masters during the parties' dissolution proceeding in exchange for one-third of her recovery. Following dissolution, Balance Point sued Masters in a separate Montana-based federal district court action claiming she breached her obligation to pay. Balance Point also sued Scrantom in another separate New York-based federal district court action claiming tortious interference. After the New York action against Scrantom ended in dismissal, Scrantom moved the District Court to enforce the debts and liabilities provision incorporated into the parties' dissolution decree. Scrantom argued the provision entitled him to indemnification for the cost of defending the New York action. Masters responded by arguing that the New York action related to Scrantom's independent conduct-tortious interference-and not from "assets allocated to her" in the parties' dissolution. The Standing Master agreed with Masters, denied Scrantom relief, and granted Masters's conflicting motion to enforce the parties' dissolution decree.

         ¶5 Scrantom filed a notice of specific objections to the Standing Master's Order and a motion requesting the District Court review it. Scrantom's eighteen-page notice listed twelve portions of the Standing Master's Order he objected to. Scrantom divided his twelve objections into four categories based on topic and included a separate "Argument" section where he included the legal bases for his objections. In evaluating Scrantom's objections, the District Court noted Scrantom listed the particular findings and conclusions he objected to, but found his "'Argument' simply rehashes the arguments presented in his previous briefing" and "provides no clear reasoning" or "legal authority." The District Court concluded Scrantom's objections to the Standing Master's Order lacked specificity under § 3-5-126(2), MCA, and, accordingly, denied his request to review it. Instead, the District Court approved and adopted the Standing Master's Order. Scrantom appeals.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶6 "We review de novo a trial court's interpretation of a statute." In re Marriage ofTaylor, 2016 MT 342, ...


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