Session July 18,
Appeal from the Chancery Court for Williamson County No. 37317 Timothy L. Easter, Chancellor
Duncan C. Cave, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Christopher Eberbach.
Rose Palermo, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Elizabeth Eberbach.
W. Neal McBrayer, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Andy D. Bennett and Richard H. Dinkins, JJ., joined.
W. NEAL McBRAYER, Judge.
Elizabeth Eberbach ("Mother") and Christopher Eberbach ("Father") were divorced in May 2011. They are the parents of three children. The parties agreed to a Permanent Parenting Plan ("parenting plan"), which was incorporated into their final divorce decree. Over a year later, the parties found themselves litigating child support and residential parenting time issues. This appeal arises out of two filings: Father's petition for a decrease in child support and Mother's emergency motion for relief to set holiday parenting time.
A. Discovery Dispute and Award of Attorney's Fees
On September 19, 2012, Father filed a petition for a decrease in child support. In connection with this petition, Father requested certain financial documents from Mother, including her federal income tax returns. On December 27, 2012, Father filed a motion to compel production of the documents, and Mother filed a response requesting a protective order and an award of attorney's fees for responding to the motion. However, the motion to compel was never heard, apparently because it failed to comply with local rules.
On April 10, 2013, Father filed a petition to hold Mother in civil contempt for failure to provide her 2011 federal income tax return and supporting documentation. Father filed a second motion to compel one month later, alleging that Mother still had not produced the requested documents.
The trial court held a hearing on Father's second motion to compel on May 21, 2013. At the hearing, Mother gave Father a copy of her 2010 and 2011 federal income tax returns with attachments. On July 8, 2013, the court issued an order requiring Mother to produce the remaining documents from Father's discovery request. The order also required Father to produce his personal and business federal income tax returns for 2010 and 2011, including supporting documentation.
Father subsequently filed a motion for contempt and damages on July 17, 2013, asking the trial court to hold Mother and her attorney in "willful contempt" of court for failure to comply with the court's order to produce tax information. Father claimed that the tax returns Mother produced on May 21, 2013, were inaccurate because they were not signed and pages were missing from the supporting documentation. Father also requested $18, 307.50 in fees and expenses he incurred while seeking to obtain Mother's tax information.
On July 24, 2013, Mother filed her own motion to compel relating to a request for production she had served on Father on June 4, 2013. On August 1, 2013, Father filed a "Response Motion to Strike; Motion to Stay Discovery; and for Further Relief." Father also subpoenaed Mother and her attorney to appear as witnesses regarding his motion for contempt and damages. Mother filed a motion to quash the subpoenas.
On September 10, 2013, the trial court held a hearing on the various discovery motions related to Father's petition to decrease child support. Father called Mother as his only witness. Mother's attorney cross-examined Mother and requested attorney's fees for responding to Father's motion for contempt and damages and Father's "Notice of a Hearing on Motion for Child Support Arrearage Overpayment."
On September 26, 2013, the trial court entered two orders relating to the September 10, 2013 hearing. In the first order, the court found that Mother had substantially complied with all discovery requests from Father, and Father had failed to comply with the court's order to produce his tax information to Mother. The court ordered Father to produce his federal income tax returns and supporting documentation for 2011 and 2012. In the second order, the court denied Father's motion for contempt and damages against Mother and her attorney, and awarded Mother her attorney's fees for responding to two of Father's discovery motions. Specifically, paragraph 3 of the order stated, "[t]hat Mother shall be awarded her reasonable attorney's fees upon submission of an affidavit as it relates to responding to Father's Motion For Contempt and Damages and Notice of Hearing on Motion for Child Support Arrearage Overpayment."
Mother's attorney filed an affidavit of attorney's fees, which showed total fees of $13, 900. The affidavit included: a statement of the hourly rates for each lawyer or staff member that worked on Mother's case and a statement of the number of hours expended on Mother's case by each lawyer or staff member. An invoice detailing the date, description, time expended, and hourly rate for each task completed for Mother was attached to the affidavit, covering entries from July 29, 2013, to September 10, 2013. On September 30, 2013, the trial judge awarded Mother $10, 000 in attorney's fees and ordered Father to pay them directly to Mother's attorney.
Father filed two Rule 52.02 motions to amend findings of fact and conclusions of law on September 30, 2013, and October 9, 2013. The court held a hearing on these motions on November 5, 2013. Father did not introduce any testimony or evidence at the hearing. Father's attorney stated that the award of attorney's fees was unreasonable and claimed that some of the requested fees were unrelated to the discovery dispute. However, ...