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In re Dissolution of Marriage of Spriggs

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

April 8, 2014

IN THE MATTER OF THE DISSOLUTION OF THE MARRIAGE OF LECIA ELIZABETH SPRIGGS AND KURT ALAN BUECHLER: LECIA ELIZABETH SPRIGGS, APPELLANT
v.
KURT ALAN BUECHLER, APPELLEE

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 02/08/2012.

Page 518

COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: MADISON COUNTY CHANCERY COURT, TRIAL JUDGE: HON. CYNTHIA L. BREWER. TRIAL COURT DISPOSITION: GRANTED DIVORCE BASED ON FAULT GROUND, EQUITABLY DISTRIBUTED MARITAL ASSETS, AND ORDERED CHILD SUPPORT AND VISITATION AS AGREED IN THE TEMPORARY ORDER.

FOR APPELLANT: MICHELE DAWN BIEGEL, B. RUTH JOHNSON.

FOR APPELLEE: DAVID BRIDGES.

BEFORE LEE, C.J., BARNES AND ISHEE, JJ. LEE, C.J., IRVING, P.J., ISHEE, ROBERTS, MAXWELL AND FAIR, JJ., CONCUR. CARLTON, J., CONCURS IN RESULT ONLY WITHOUT SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION. JAMES, J., CONCURS IN PART WITHOUT SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION. GRIFFIS, P.J., CONCURS IN PART AND DISSENTS IN PART WITHOUT SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION.

OPINION

Page 519

NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - DOMESTIC RELATIONS

BARNES, J.

¶1. Lecia Spriggs and Kurt Buechler were married in 1989, while they were both medical residents at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. A few months after they were married, Kurt attended a rehabilitation program for drug and alcohol dependency and was treated for depression. The couple had two children born of the marriage: Connor, born on June 7, 1992, and Killian, born on May 26, 1994. Shortly after Killian's birth, the couple moved to Mississippi. Lecia joined Surgical Anesthesia Group, where she was employed as an anesthesiologist. Kurt began working as a psychiatrist at the Mississippi Neuropsychiatric Clinic. Kurt still works at the clinic and is a partner in the practice. Kurt also speaks nationally for various pharmaceutical companies.

¶2. In 1998, Kurt started drinking again, and the couple sought counseling from Dr. Mary Brown. In 2002, it was determined that Lecia suffered from lumbar spondylosis, and she resigned from her practice as an anesthesiologist due to her back issues. In January 2003, Lecia began collecting disability payments, totaling $8,222 a month, through four insurance policies underwritten by Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance (Northwestern). Under the terms of her policies, Lecia may collect full disability benefits if she is unable to perform the principal duties of her occupation, anesthesiology, until age sixty-five. After she reaches sixty-five years of age, Lecia must be determined to be " totally disabled" to continue to receive benefits.

¶3. In 2009, it was revealed that Kurt had committed adultery during the marriage, and the couple again sought counseling from Dr. Brown. However, on August 12, 2010, Lecia and Kurt filed a joint complaint for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences. In January 2011, when Kurt suspended all financial support to Lecia, Lecia filed an amended complaint for divorce on fault grounds of uncondoned adultery and habitual cruel and inhuman treatment. She also sought custody of the couple's minor children and temporary relief in the form of alimony and child support.

Page 520

Kurt responded, admitting that Lecia was " entitled to divorce on the ground of adultery," but denying any habitual cruel and inhuman treatment. A temporary order was entered on June 27, 2011, awarding joint legal custody of the minor children to Kurt and Lecia, but sole physical custody of the children to Lecia. Kurt was also ordered to provide temporary support for the children, including insurance and medical expenses, transportation expenses, educational expenses, and child support of $1,000 per month to Lecia and each child. Lecia was not awarded temporary alimony, although Kurt was ordered to reimburse Lecia for household expenses (including homeowner's dues, yard- maintenance expenses, and insurance premiums).

¶4. Soon thereafter, Lecia filed a motion to amend her complaint, requesting that she be allowed to withdraw her petition for divorce and, instead, be awarded separate maintenance. Kurt filed a counterclaim for divorce on the following grounds of fault: willful, continued and obstinate desertion for one year; habitual and excessive drug use; and habitual cruel and inhuman treatment; or, in the alternative, irreconcilable differences. The chancery court denied Lecia's motion to amend her complaint on September 30, 2011.

¶5. A hearing was held October 17-19, 2011, during which the parties stipulated to divorce on the ground of uncondoned adultery by Kurt. The chancellor entered a final opinion on February 8, 2012, equitably dividing the marital assets using the factors set forth in Ferguson v. Ferguson, 639 So.2d 921 (Miss. 1994). Lecia was awarded both the marital residence and the couple's vacation townhome in Key West, Florida, which was valued at $590,000. Lecia was ordered to sell the marital home, however, once Killian graduated from high school. Lecia received marital assets of approximately $1.2 million; the chancellor did not award any alimony. Kurt was ordered to continue to provide child support as set forth in the temporary order, with the chancellor specifically noting that the child-support payments of $1,000 per month to Lecia and the children were to terminate upon the children's emancipation.

¶6. Lecia filed a motion to clarify and to amend the judgment on February 22, 2012, citing several issues.[1] Pertinent to this appeal was Lecia's request to clarify Kurt's obligation to pay the children's educational expenses, and her assertions that the denial of alimony and the chancellor's exclusion of Dr. Brown's records constituted an abuse of discretion. In its order addressing Lecia's motion, the chancery court determined that, absent an express agreement between the parties, it had " no authority to require Kurt to provide college support [for the children] beyond emancipation." The order also denied Lecia's claims regarding alimony and Dr. Brown's records.

¶7. Lecia now appeals the chancery court's judgment, and finding no error, we affirm.

DISCUSSION

I. Whether the chancery court abused its discretion by denying excluding Dr. Brown's records.

¶8. Throughout their marriage, Lecia and Kurt intermittently sought marital counseling. Lecia sought to introduce notes and records from the couple's therapist, Dr. Brown, at trial. Kurt's counsel objected since the records had not been

Page 521

produced in accordance with the June 8, 2011 scheduling order, which stated that the parties were required " to serve documents which they have agreed or been ordered to produce, and also all written discovery responses (including amended and supplemental discovery responses) no later than Friday, August 5, 2011." The order further required the designation of expert witnesses by August 26, 2011. However, since Dr. Brown's records were not provided to Kurt until October 2011, the chancery court sustained Kurt's objection to the admission of the records. Lecia claims that the chancellor abused her discretion in excluding this evidence.

¶9. We will only reverse a trial court's ruling on discovery matters if it constitutes an abuse of discretion. Palmer v. Volkswagen of Am. Inc., 904 So.2d 1077, 1090 (¶ 54) (Miss. 2005). In Palmer, the Mississippi Supreme Court concluded that the trial court's exclusion of testimony was not an abuse of discretion " based upon the failure of plaintiffs to provide expert information in response to either the interrogatory filed by [the] defendants [or] the trial court's scheduling order." Id. at (¶ 55). In Bowie v. Montfort Jones Memorial Hospital, 861 So.2d 1037, 1042 (¶ 14) (Miss. 2003), the supreme court held:

[T]rial judges are afforded considerable discretion in managing the pre-trial discovery process in their courts, including the entry of scheduling orders setting out various deadlines to assure orderly pre-trial preparation resulting in timely disposition of the cases. Our trial judges also have a right to expect compliance with their orders, and when parties and/or attorneys fail to adhere to the provisions of these orders, they should be prepared to do so at their own peril.

¶10. While Lecia's counsel argued that Dr. Brown had been designated as an expert witness in accordance with the deadline in the scheduling order, she admitted that Dr. Brown would not be testifying; rather, Lecia would be relying on the records/documents. Those records were not produced until approximately two weeks prior to the hearing and well after the deadline set forth in the scheduling order. Therefore, we find no abuse of discretion in the chancery court's decision to exclude the evidence of Dr. Brown's records due to Lecia's failure to abide by the discovery guidelines in the scheduling order.

II. Whether the chancery court erred in denying Lecia permanent alimony.

¶11. Lecia contends that the chancery court erred in not awarding her permanent alimony. Instead, the chancellor awarded Lecia a greater portion (51.4%) of the marital estate in order " to eliminate a need for permanent, rehabilitative, or lump sum alimony." The total assets awarded to Lecia were valued at approximately $1.2 million. Among those assets were the ...


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