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Justices decline to take divorce case involving lump sum SSDI payment

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A divided Indiana Supreme Court will let stand the lower court ruling that affirmed a lump sum Social Security Disability Insurance payment was not an asset of marriage subject to division.

The justices declined June 19 to take on transfer John Luttrell v. Melinda Luttrell, 49A02-1301-DR-85. John Luttrell claimed the trial court improperly excluded Melinda Luttrell’s lump-sum Social Security Disability Insurance payment from the marital pot. The Court of Appeals, citing Severs v. Severs, 837 N.E.2d 498 (Ind. 2005), affirmed, writing “We … agree with Melinda that the broad statement by our supreme court that ‘any assignment or division of social security benefits to satisfy a marital property settlement under Indiana law is barred by 42 U.S.C. § 407,’ is not limited to a future income stream as at issue in that case, but also applies to the lump sum payment that Melinda received.”

In his dissent, in which Justice Loretta Rush joined, Justice Steven David wrote that the justices should take the case to provide guidance on the issue of whether a lump-sum SSDI payment is a marital asset subject to division upon divorce, or is a factor to be considered. He noted that the Supreme Court has never formally responded to the issue presented on transfer, as Severs dealt with a different issue involving SSDI.

“As it stands, the potential windfall for the spouse receiving the lump-sum SSDI payment is apparent, particularly where, under most circumstances, the lump sum represents lost income that was compensated for by a combination of the other spouse stepping up and both parties doing without during the period which gave rise to the SSDI qualification. Here, Melinda Luttrell’s lump-sum SSDI payment of $14,430.75 was not factored into the trial court’s division of the Luttrell marital estate, of which the net distribution of approximately $191,000 was split 60/40 in her favor. And in the next case where this issue arises, the lump-sum SSDI payment could be greater in amount and/or percent at stake. At minimum, one party’s receipt of a lump-sum SSDI payment should be a factor for the trial court to consider when awarding attorney’s fees,” David wrote.

The Court of Appeals also reversed the lower court’s ruling that excluded from property division the student loan liabilities of the Luttrells, who co-signed for their two children. The judges noted that there was little relevant caselaw regarding the disposition of contingent liability in divorce proceedings, but believed the loans should have been considered by the trial court.

The justices declined transfer to nine other cases for the week ending June 20. They granted transfer to Ralph Andrews v. Mor/Ryde International, Inc., 20S04-1406-PL-399, June 19 and issued a decision on the Indiana Sales Representative Act that same day.

The transfer list for the week ending June 20 is available on the court’s website.

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  1. Well, maybe it's because they are unelected, and, they have a tendency to strike down laws by elected officials from all over the country. When you have been taught that "Democracy" is something almost sacred, then, you will have a tendency to frown on such imperious conduct. Lawyers get acculturated in law school into thinking that this is the very essence of high minded government, but to people who are more heavily than King George ever did, they may not like it. Thanks for the information.

  2. I pd for a bankruptcy years ago with Mr Stiles and just this week received a garnishment from my pay! He never filed it even though he told me he would! Don't let this guy practice law ever again!!!

  3. Excellent initiative on the part of the AG. Thankfully someone takes action against predators taking advantage of people who have already been through the wringer. Well done!

  4. Conour will never turn these funds over to his defrauded clients. He tearfully told the court, and his daughters dutifully pledged in interviews, that his first priority is to repay every dime of the money he stole from his clients. Judge Young bought it, much to the chagrin of Conour’s victims. Why would Conour need the $2,262 anyway? Taxpayers are now supporting him, paying for his housing, utilities, food, healthcare, and clothing. If Conour puts the money anywhere but in the restitution fund, he’s proved, once again, what a con artist he continues to be and that he has never had any intention of repaying his clients. Judge Young will be proven wrong... again; Conour has no remorse and the Judge is one of the many conned.

  5. Pass Legislation to require guilty defendants to pay for the costs of lab work, etc as part of court costs...

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