Assigned on Briefs August 4, 2014.
Appeal from the Chancery Court for Cumberland County No. 2012CH523 Ronald Thurman, Chancellor.
Kelsy Austin Miller, Cookeville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Gerald Freeburg.
Kevin D. Poore, Crossville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Phillip Turner.
D. Michael Swiney, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which John W. McClarty and Thomas R. Frierson, II, JJ., joined.
D. MICHAEL SWINEY, JUDGE
In March 2012, Bunny Vandeventer ("Vandeventer") filed a petition for registration of foreign judgment and petition for contempt against Turner in the Trial Court concerning alleged missed child support payments. Vandeventer and Turner, divorced in Oklahoma in 1994, had three children together. Turner later moved to Tennessee. Vandeventer included several exhibits with her petition, including a copy of the parties' final decree of divorce and an order of dismissal from an Oklahoma District Court dated February 2012 stating that "after being fully advised in the premises, the Court finds that all outstanding matters should be dismissed . . . ."
Regrettably, Vandeventer died in May 2012 while this litigation was underway. Vandeventer's father, Freeburg, was substituted as a party in place of his daughter. The Trial Court found that both parties agreed that the Trial Court had jurisdiction to determine what, if any, child support arrearage was owed. After a hearing, the Trial Court dismissed the criminal contempt petition against Turner. The Trial Court gave Freeburg 45 days to produce documentary proof from Oklahoma regarding any child support arrearages owed by Turner. No such proof was forthcoming.
At an April 2013 hearing, the Trial Court granted Freeburg an additional 120 days in which to produce an order from Oklahoma and submit it to the Trial Court. The Trial Court stated that the lawsuit would be dismissed if no such order were forthcoming this time. In August 2013, Freeburg filed documents purporting to be orders from an Oklahoma court. Turner responded by arguing that the purported order was not certified or signed by anyone.
In October 2013, the Trial Court held its final hearing on the matter. The Trial Court held that the documents presented to the court did not constitute an order from an Oklahoma court. In its order, the Trial Court stated, in relevant part:
The previous Order of this Court entered on May 21, 2013 found that there was not sufficient proof that there is an order from an Oklahoma trial court that found Mr. Turner in arrears in the amount of $20, 413.24 in October 2001. The previous Order of this Court granted Petitioner 120 days from the date of the last hearing (April 23, 2013) to procure an Order from the State of Oklahoma and present it to the Court and the Respondent. The May 21, 2013 Order also stated that if there is no Order from Oklahoma rendering a judgment prior to October 31, 2001, then this matter shall be dismissed.
The Petitioner filed a Notice of Filing in this matter on or about August 1, 2013 of an unsigned Notice/Order of Child Support Lien from the State of Oklahoma Department of Human Services dated 10/29/2001. The Petitioner, on or about August 8, 2013, also filed an Affidavit of Beth Hailey, Case Manager of the Office of the District Attorney, Child Support Division from Norman Oklahoma with another copy of the unsigned Notice/Order of Child Support Lien from the State of Oklahoma Department of Human Services 10/29/2001. The Respondent filed a Response to the original Notice of Filing on August 6, 2013, asking for the matter to be dismissed pursuant to the Court's order of May 21, 2013. Petitioner's counsel argued that the Notice/Order of Child Support Lien from the State of Oklahoma Department of Human Services dated 10/29/2001 constituted an Order. Respondent's counsel argued that the Notice/Order of Child Support Lien from the State of Oklahoma Department of Human Services dated 10/29/2001 failed to constitute an Order of an Oklahoma Court as the document was not signed by a Judge.
The Court found that the documents presented by the Petitioner failed to constitute an Order of the Oklahoma Court and that the matter should be dismissed. That the Court finds that the Respondent does not owe an arrearage in child support in this matter and that this case should be closed. The parties ...