STATE OF TENNESSEE EX REL. DEEDRA CLIMER BASS
JOSE RAMON GONZALEZ-PEREZ
Assigned on Briefs January 4, 2017
from the Juvenile Court for Shelby County No. J8696 Nancy
Percer Kessler, Special Judge
Ramon Gonzalez-Perez ("Father") appeals the March
7, 2016 order of the Juvenile Court for Shelby County
("the Juvenile Court") finding him in contempt for
non-payment of child support. Father raises several issues
including whether Father can be held guilty of contempt when
benefits Father receives pursuant to 33 U.S.C.A. § 901
et seq., the Longshore and Harbor Workers'
Compensation Act, are exempt from "all claims of
creditors and from levy, execution, and attachment or other
remedy for recovery or collection of a debt . . . "
under § 916 of the Longshore and Harbor Workers'
Compensation Act; whether the Longshore and Harbor
Workers' Compensation Act preempts inclusion of
Father's benefits from the calculation of child support;
and whether Father was guilty of contempt for non-payment of
child support. We find and hold that although the benefits
Father receives are exempt from levy, execution, attachment,
etc., Father may be found guilty of contempt; that the
Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act does not
preempt the inclusion of the benefits Father receives from
the calculation of child support; and that Father had the
present ability to pay child support and willfully failed to
do so making Father guilty of contempt. We, therefore, affirm
the March 7, 2016 order of the Juvenile Court finding Father
in contempt for non-payment of child support.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Juvenile
Court Affirmed Case Remanded
Chase, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, Jose Ramon
Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter; and
M. Cameron Himes, Assistant Attorney General for the
appellee, State of Tennessee ex. rel Deedra Climer Bass.
MICHAEL SWINEY, C.J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which ANDY D. BENNETT and KENNY W. ARMSTRONG, JJ., joined.
MICHAEL SWINEY, CHIEF JUDGE
and Deedra Climer Bass ("Mother") are the parents
of the minor child Claudia Christina Gonzalez, who was born
in February of 1998. In September of 1998 an order was
entered directing Father to pay $436.46 per month in child
2002, Father was injured on the job, and as a result of those
injuries Father receives benefits under the Longshore and
Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, 33 U.S.C.A. § 901
et seq. In November of 2005, Father filed a petition
seeking to modify child support. An order was entered in
November of 2005, modifying Father's child support
obligation to $203 per month plus $25 per month toward
point, the State became involved in this case pursuant to
Title IV-D of the Social Security Act. The State filed a
petition for contempt for non-payment of child support on
September 9, 2014. A hearing was held before a Magistrate.
After the hearing, the Magistrate entered Findings and
Recommendations on January 7, 2015, which state, in pertinent
3. That although benefits under [the Longshore and Harbor
Workers' Compensation Act, 33 U.S.C.A. § 901 et
seq. ("The Act")] are not assignable under 33
U.S.C.A. § 916, the defendant was and is able to pay
child support and willfully refused to pay.
4. That the allegations of the petition are sustained.
5. That the defendant is in contempt of this Court.
6. That the defendant has the present ability to purge
himself of contempt by making a partial payment on his
arrearage in the amount of $5, 000.00, a part of the amount
he is in arrears.
7. That the defendant be confined to the Shelby County Jail
for 30 days or until he purges himself of contempt by paying
to the Clerk of Court the sum of $5, 000.00, a part of the
amount he is in arrears, but said sentence shall be suspended
until the end of business on December 11, 2014 for the
defendant to pay said purge. If the defendant fails to make
the purge payment on or before December 11, 2014, an
attachment pro corpus shall be issued for the defendant and
he will be confined as ordered until he purges himself of
contempt by paying $5, 000.00.
8. That beginning on December 1, 2014, the defendant's
Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensations [sic]
benefits are to be paid to the defendant through an annuity
purchased and paid for by the insurer under the Longshore and
Harbor Workers' Compensation Act pursuant to Exhibit 14A
included in the defendant's Memorandum of Law and
Argument. The monthly sum of the annuity is to be $2, 263.73
plus 1% annual increase for 20 years or life, whichever is
longer. The total value of the lifetime payments to the
defendant from the annuity are estimated to exceed $1, 000,
000.00 based on the defendant's estimated remaining life
9. That payments pursuant to said annuity are assignable, and
the defendant's on-going child support of $203.00 per
month and $100.00 per month toward the arrears shall be paid
by income assignment beginning January 1, 2015, to the
Central Child Support Receipting Unit, P.O. Box 305200,
Nashville, TN 37229. Payment of arrears at the rate shown
above is a minimum payment and does not preclude the
petitioner from collecting the judgment by other means, such
as tax refund intercept, lien, or levy and execution.
filed a request for a rehearing before a judge on the
petition for contempt. A hearing was held before the Juvenile
Court. At the hearing, George Leavell testified.
Mr. Leavell explained that Father is a quadriplegic, and that
Father receives benefits under the Longshore and Harbor
Workers' Compensation Act, 33 U.S.C.A. § 901 et
seq. ("the Act"). These benefits are paid
through a trust ("the Trust"). Mr. Leavell is the
trustee of the Trust, which he explained was established in
July or August of 2014. Mr. Leavell stated that the Trust was
established because "people were just stealing [Father]
blind." He further stated that "keeping [Father]
safe and free from predators out there has been a
Leavell testified that Father receives approximately $2, 247
per month from the Trust. When asked how the Trust was
handled, Mr. Leavell explained that he "had established
a bank account, and the bank has issued an ATM card. And they
will put funds on an ATM card so that [Father] can go to an
ATM and get the cash to go get the groceries." The bank
account is in the name of the Trust and is administered only
under Mr. Leavell's auspices.
Leavell testified that he pays Father's monthly bills. He
stated that he pays a utility bill of about $275 per month, a
cable bill of about $115, and a cell phone bill of about $56.
Mr. Leavell also pays Father's homeowner's insurance
of about $201, and property taxes, which he stated run about
$250 per month although they are paid annually. Additionally,
Mr. Leavell testified that he pays about $150 for yard work,
about $100 for housecleaning, and about $600 for Father's
food and general living expenses. Mr. Leavell puts about $400
per month aside for repairs and maintainence on Father's
house. Father also has a monthly clothing allowance of about
Leavell testified that it has been his experience since the
Trust was established that Father's expenses have been
running in excess of $2, 000 each month. Mr. Leavell
explained that some of that money is budgeted for things like
house repairs that will be needed in the future. The house
where Father resides was provided and purchased by Liberty
Mutual. Mr. Leavell testified that Father lives alone.
the hearing, the Juvenile Court entered its detailed order on
March 7, 2016, finding and holding, inter alia:
2. The petitioner, Deedra Climer Bass, (hereinafter
"Mother") and the defendant, Jose Ramon
Gonzalez-Perez, (hereinafter "Father") are the
parents of one child together, Claudia Christina Gonzalez,
born February . . . 1998.
3. On or about September 25, 1998, this Court ordered Father
to pay child support in the amount of $436.46, which included
a 5% clerk's fee, resulting in a net child support amount
of $415.68 monthly, to begin on September 25, 1998.
4. On or about March 13, 2002, Father sustained permanent
injuries and received benefits pursuant to the Longshore and
Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, which were payments
made directly to Father.
5. On or about November 14, 2005, the original order was
modified to decrease child support from $415.68, and Father
was ordered to pay child support in the amount of $203.00
monthly, beginning November 1, 2005.
6. The child support order of November 14, 2005, has not been
7. On or about January 12, 2011, the State of Tennessee filed
a Petition for Citation for Contempt of Court against Father
for non-payment of child support.
8. On or about May 10, 2011, that contempt of court action
was dismissed due to Father's "medical
condition." The underlying child support order from
November 14, 2005, in the amount of $203.00 ...