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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. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  2. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

  3. I will agree with that as soon as law schools stop lying to prospective students about salaries and employment opportunities in the legal profession. There is no defense to the fraudulent numbers first year salaries they post to mislead people into going to law school.

  4. The sad thing is that no fish were thrown overboard The "greenhorn" who had never fished before those 5 days was interrogated for over 4 hours by 5 officers until his statement was illicited, "I don't want to go to prison....." The truth is that these fish were measured frozen off shore and thawed on shore. The FWC (state) officer did not know fish shrink, so the only reason that these fish could be bigger was a swap. There is no difference between a 19 1/2 fish or 19 3/4 fish, short fish is short fish, the ticket was written. In addition the FWC officer testified at trial, he does not measure fish in accordance with federal law. There was a document prepared by the FWC expert that said yes, fish shrink and if these had been measured correctly they averaged over 20 inches (offshore frozen). This was a smoke and mirror prosecution.

  5. I love this, Dave! Many congrats to you! We've come a long way from studying for the bar together! :)

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