Assigned on Briefs January 23, 2015
Appeal from the Circuit Court for Shelby County No. 1641518RD Robert Samual Weiss, Judge
Matthew R. Macaw, Shalini Bhatia, and George Michael Casey, Jr., Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, William F. Young Jr.
Mitzi C. Johnson, Collierville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Josephine Whitthorne Young.
J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Arnold B. Goldin, J., and Brandon O. Gibson, J., joined.
J. STEVEN STAFFORD, JUDGE
The parties, Josephine Whitthorne Young ("Wife") and William F. Young, Jr. ("Husband"), were divorced in 2000 after an approximately thirty-three year marriage. Wife filed a complaint for divorce in Division 8 of the Shelby County Circuit Court on October 25, 1999. When Husband failed to timely respond to the complaint, the trial court, Judge D'Army Bailey, entered a default judgment against Husband on January 21, 2000. Although Husband moved to set aside the default judgment, the trial court denied Husband's request and entered a Final Decree of Divorce, entered nunc pro tunc to May 3, 2000. Husband's and Wife's assets were generally equally divided in the Final Decree of Divorce, and Wife was awarded multiple forms of alimony, including alimony in futuro of $500.00 per month, and alimony in solido to pay some of Wife's expenses. In addition, the Final Decree of Divorce included the following provisions:
10. As a division of marital property, the parties shall equally divide [Husband's] DROP plan with the City of Memphis . . ., as of the date of the entry of this Final Decree of Divorce, and which plan had a balance as of December 31, 1999, of $68, 657.77 [hereinafter "City of Memphis DROP plan"].
11. As alimony in solido, the parties shall equally divide [Husband's] retirement/pension plan with the City of Memphis . . ., as of the date of the entry of this Final Decree of Divorce, and to which plan [Husband] has contributed $60, 114.96 through March 24, 2000 [hereinafter "City of Memphis retirement/pension plan"].
12. As alimony in solido, the parties shall equally divide [Husband's] deferred compensation plan with the City of Memphis . . . . entity number 0029, as of the date of the entry of this Final Decree of Divorce, which plan is managed through Nationwide Retirement Solutions, Inc., and which had a balance as of April 19, 2000 of $47, 944.95. [Husband] is presently eligible to access his deferred compensation plan, and as such shall, within seven (7) days from the entry of this Final Decree of Divorce, withdraw one-half (½) of the funds in said account as of the date of the Final Decree of Divorce and shall immediately pay same to [Wife]. The parties shall be equally financially responsible for one-half (½) of the penalties charged against his withdrawal [hereinafter "City of Memphis deferred compensation plan"].
Husband subsequently filed a motion to set aside the Final Decree of Divorce. The trial court denied Husband's motion by order entered October 11, 2000. No appeal was taken of the Final Decree of Divorce or the motion to set aside.
On November 17, 2000, Wife filed a criminal and civil contempt petition against Husband related to his failure to comply with provisions of the Final Decree of Divorce, specifically with regard to the liquidation of a joint savings account, the payment of Wife's attorney's fees, and the withdrawal of Wife's portion of Husband's City of Memphis deferred compensation plan. The parties entered into a consent order on April 6, 2001, resolving the contempt petition. In addition, the agreed order stated:
[Husband] is scheduled to retire from the City of Memphis on April 14, 2001, at which time he shall be eligible to draw money from his DROP Plan, his pension/retirement plan and his deferred compensation plan. [Husband] shall execute all necessary paperwork on or before April 14, 2001, to effectuate the transfer of that portion of the financial accounts to which [Wife] is entitled pursuant to paragraphs 10, 11, and 12 of the Final Decree of Divorce. . . .
Husband retired from his employment as anticipated in April 2001. On July 5, 2001, Husband filed a motion to modify the Final Decree of Divorce to "terminate and/or reduce" his obligation to pay both alimony in futuro and alimony in solido in the form of car payments for the parties' daughter due to Husband's decreased income. Husband later withdrew his Petition to modify the alimony in solido award. Husband's Petition to terminate his alimony in futuro obligation was eventually referred to a divorce referee. On February 2, 2002, the trial court entered an order confirming the recommendation of the divorce referee to terminate Husband's alimony in futuro obligation due to Husband's retirement, over Wife's objection. Wife did not appeal the termination of Husband's alimony in futuro obligation to this Court.
The parties lived in apparent harmony for over a decade. Husband forwarded one-half of his City of Memphis retirement/pension plan payments, or $1, 617.24, to Wife every month since the payments began in May 2001. As of the summer of 2014, Husband had paid Wife over $260, 000.00 from the City of Memphis retirement/pension plan. On June 25, 2014, however, Husband filed a Petition in the original divorce proceeding captioned "Petition for Declaratory Judgment; To Terminate Alimony in Solido Payments and to Require Wife to Reimburse Husband." In his Petition, Husband asked the trial court to interpret the Final Decree of Divorce provision related to Husband's alimony in solido obligation with regard to his pension from the City of Memphis. Specifically, Husband argued that Wife was only entitled to one-half of the $60, 114.96 that had been contributed to the City of Memphis retirement/pension plan by Husband prior to the divorce. Because Husband has paid Wife half of his benefits for over a decade, Husband contended that he was entitled to a reimbursement of over $220, 000.00.
Wife filed a response on August 11, 2014, arguing that Husband was barred from seeking relief by the doctrine of res judicata. On the same day, Wife filed a motion to dismiss Husband's Petition on the ground of res judicata. Specifically, Wife argued that the issue of Husband's obligation to pay Wife one-half of all benefits received from the City of Memphis retirement/pension plan at issue had been litigated not just once, but twice-in the underlying divorce action and in the parties' consent order entered on Wife's petition for contempt. Because these issues had been previously litigated or could have been litigated previously, Wife argued that Husband was not entitled to relief on his Petition. Husband filed a response to Wife's motion, arguing that his Petition should not be dismissed.
In the intervening years, Judge Bailey retired and was eventually replaced by Judge Robert S. Weiss. Judge Weiss heard Husband's Petition and Wife's Motion to Dismiss on August 22, 2014. On September 5, 2014, the trial court entered an order denying Husband's Petition and granting Wife's Motion to Dismiss. Specifically, the trial court's order states:
1. The Petition for Declaratory Judgment; To Terminate Alimony in Solido Payments and to Require Wife to Reimburse Husband is denied.
2. The original Final Decree of Divorce was entered on June 16, 2000; Petitioner's Rule 60 Motion was filed and disposed of by the Court; and the time to alter or amend the Final ...