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In re Dissolution of Marriage of Hanlin

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

May 21, 2015

IN THE MATTER OF THE DISSOLUTION OF THE MARRIAGE OF JAMES ALBERT HANLIN AND MELANIE D. HANLIN:
v.
MELANIE D. HANLIN JAMES ALBERT HANLIN

COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: CHANCERY COURT OF THE FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT OF HINDS COUNTY. DATE OF JUDGMENT: 09/27/2012. TRIAL JUDGE: HON.J. DEWAYNE THOMAS. TRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS: SAMUEL M. BRAND, JR., BRADLEY M. GLAZE.

FOR APPELLANT: SAGE EGGER HARLESS, DAVID NEIL MCCARTY, SAMUEL M. BRAND, JR.

FOR APPELLEE: BRADLEY MICHAEL GLAZE.

KITCHENS, JUSTICE. WALLER, C.J., DICKINSON, P.J., CHANDLER, KING AND COLEMAN, JJ., CONCUR. RANDOLPH, P.J., AND LAMAR, J., CONCUR IN PART AND IN RESULT WITHOUT SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION. PIERCE, J., NOT PARTICIPATING.

OPINION

Page 446

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI

NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - DOMESTIC RELATIONS

KITCHENS, JUSTICE.

[¶1] James and Melanie Hanlin obtained a divorce on the basis of irreconcilable differences in 2007 and entered into a property settlement agreement, a term of which required that James maintain military healthcare coverage " allowable by statute" for Melanie. After the divorce, Melanie incurred significant medical expenses, which James's insurer initially paid. In 2009, however, Melanie learned that she had not been covered. She was sued for her unpaid medical bills. In response to a contempt petition filed by James in 2012, which later was withdrawn, Melanie filed a counter petition against James, arguing that he had failed to maintain coverage in accordance with the terms of the property settlement agreement. The chancellor found that each party was obligated to pay half of Melanie's medical expenses. The Court of Appeals affirmed. Having granted James's petition for writ of certiorari, we now reverse and render.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

[¶2] James and Melanie Hanlin married on October 15, 1988. On November 14, 2007, the Chancery Court of the First Judicial District of Hinds County granted the couple an irreconcilable differences divorce. The next day, November 15, 2007, James and Melanie executed a property settlement agreement (PSA),[1] which required,

Page 447

in pertinent part, that James " maintain in full force and effect the insurance benefits that are allowable by statute to the divorced spouse of a retired military person." (Emphasis added.) Melanie testified that she believed, on the basis of the divorce negotiations, that she was covered for an additional year after the divorce under James's military heath insurance plan, known as Tricare. For that reason and because Tricare provided " much better coverage," she waived the coverage at her place of employment.

[¶3] In 2008, Melanie had a " frozen shoulder," which had to be repaired by means of a surgical procedure and followed by " several, several weeks of therapy." Additionally, she " had a disc that had to be . . . fused" and completed therapy associated with that procedure. While Tricare preapproved the procedures and paid initial medical bills, Melanie learned in 2009 from the Department of Defense that the Tricare coverage she thought she had was not in effect, and in fact had ended on the date of her divorce from James, November 14, 2007. Because Melanie did not pay the medical bills which Tricare had declined to pay, Healthcare Financial Services, an affiliate of Baptist Hospital, sued Melanie to collect the outstanding balance, totaling $27,305.50.

[¶4] In April 2012, James filed a motion to enforce the terms of the PSA. Specifically, he claimed that Melanie had not complied with the PSA's requirement that the marital domicile be refinanced or sold upon emancipation of their minor child. Melanie filed a counter petition seeking, inter alia, to hold James in contempt for failure to " maintain health insurance coverage as required by the Court's judgment." While James voluntarily withdrew his motion to enforce the PSA, Melanie's petition to hold James in contempt was set for a hearing on September 27, 2012.

[¶5] The chancellor found that Melanie was not covered under 10 U.S.C. § 1072 (2012), but that " it was the intent at least on the parties' part when they signed the contract that [Melanie] would be covered and neither lawyer checked this out, which they probably should have done, to determine if this was true or not." The chancellor found that both James and Melanie " are equally and totally responsible for any payment" of Melanie's outstanding medical bills. It was not until December 12, 2012, that the chancellor memorialized his ore tenus ruling in a written judgment, entered nunc pro tunc to the date of the hearing, September 27, 2012. James timely filed a notice of appeal in this Court, and the case was assigned to the Mississippi Court of Appeals.

[¶6] The Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed the chancellor's judgment, reasoning that under 10 U.S.C. " section 1078a(a), Melanie was entitled to health-care coverage for at least one year." Hanlin v. Hanlin, 164 So.3d 474, 2014 WL 2723884, *2 (Miss. Ct. App. 2014), cert. granted, 157 So.3d 835 (Miss. 2015). We granted James's petition for writ of certiorari to consider whether Melanie's claims were procedurally barred under the doctrines of estoppel and res ...


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