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Love v. Clark

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

May 17, 2018

MICHELLE KAY (CLARK) LOVE
v.
JAMES TERRILL CLARK

          Assigned on Briefs November 1, 2017

          Appeal from the General Sessions Court for Loudon County No. 5195 Rex Alan Dale, Judge

         A mother obtained a default judgment against her former spouse for child support arrearages and other amounts. At the mother's request, the trial court entered orders of income assignment to the former spouse's employers, each directing them to deduct a set amount from the former spouse's salary to satisfy the default judgment. Nearly fourteen and one-half years later, the former spouse asked the court to terminate the wage assignment, claiming the culmulative amount deducted from his income exceeded the amount of judgment plus interest. The former spouse also sought a judgment against the mother to the extent she had received more than she was entitled to under the default judgment. The mother argued that the voluntary payment doctrine barred recovery. The trial court found that the former spouse's "overpayments were made with full knowledge of the facts chargeable to him" but that they "were not voluntary payments." Accordingly, the court entered judgment against mother plus statutory post-judgment interest.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the General Sessions Court Affirmed

          Jordan Long, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Michelle Kay Love.

          Robin Gunn, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellee, James Terrill Clark. [1]

          W. Neal McBrayer, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Arnold B. Goldin, J., joined. Charles D. Susano, Jr., J., filed a dissenting opinion.

          OPINION

          W. NEAL McBRAYER, JUDGE

         I.

         On February 10, 1992, the marriage of Michelle Kay Love, formerly Clark, and James Terrill Clark ended in divorce. Three children were born to their union, and as part of the divorce, the trial court ordered Mr. Clark to pay child support.

         By mid-2001, Mr. Clark no longer had a continuing child support obligation.[2] But he owed past due child support and other amounts to Ms. Love. On June 22, 2001, the court entered a default judgment against Mr. Clark. The default judgment, which totaled $36, 994.83, included amounts for child support arrearages, unreimbursed medical expenses for the children, Ms. Love's share of a lump sum severance payment resulting from Mr. Clark's early military discharge, and attorney's fees. The default judgment also specified that the amount awarded would "accrue statutory judgment interest pursuant to the laws of the State of Tennessee." And the court directed that the judgment "be paid at the rate of $130 per week . . . through the registry of [the court] along with the attendant 5% administrative fee of $6.50 per week."

         As contemplated by the default judgment, the court issued a notice and order of income assignment to Mr. Clark's employer. The order directed the employer "to deduct child support from the income of your employee . . . in the amount of $130.00 per week plus the statutory administrative fee of $6.50 per week." The order also informed the employer that "[t]his income assignment is binding upon you until further notice by this Court." And it warned that, "[i]f you fail to withhold income in accordance with the provisions of this notice and order, you are liable for any amount up to the accumulated amount which should have been withheld from the income of your above referenced employee."

         The court issued a total of five notices and orders of income assignment, the most recent issued in May 2006. Each of the notices and the order contained similar, if not identical, language to that quoted above. And each was signed by counsel for Ms. Love as being "approved for entry."

         On December 4, 2015, Mr. Clark filed a "motion to stop income assignment and for judgment of overpayment, " alleging that the garnishments of his income had continued long after the default judgment was satisfied. In response, Ms. Love invoked the voluntary payment doctrine. Under the doctrine, "[a] person cannot, either by way of setoff or counterclaim, or by direct action, recover back money which he has voluntarily paid with a full knowledge of all the facts, and without any fraud, duress or extortion although no obligation to make such payment existed." Still v. Equitable Life Assurance Soc'y ...


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