‘Strict compliance’ with contempt statute not required if sufficient notice is given

December 7, 2016

A majority of the justices of the Indiana Supreme Court found Tuesday that strict compliance with a state statute regarding contempt orders can be excused if the party in contempt has been sufficiently notified of their contempt, thus affirming a trial court decision requiring an ex-husband to produce income and tax documents for his ex-wife.

After Thomas Todd Reynolds and Tricia Reynolds divorced in 2010, the dissolution decree required, among other things, that upon written request from Tricia Reynolds, Thomas Reynolds must make certain tax documents available for inspection.

In 2013, the order was modified to require that Thomas Reynolds provide documentation of his income and a child support payment calculation to his ex-wife quarterly. Tricia Reynolds served a written request for tax documents in March 2014, and after not receiving a response by June, she filed a motion to compel Thomas Reynolds to produce the documents. The Hamilton Superior Court initially granted the motion, then dismissed it as moot in August after finding no petitions for modification or contempt before the court.

Tricia Reynolds then filed a motion for rule to show cause, alleging contempt against her ex-husband because he had failed to comply with the order requiring production of his income and tax documents. She also filed a second motion to compel in November 2014, and Thomas Reynolds moved to dismiss all actions against him. Both parties agreed to present their arguments in summary fashion, and the trial court ultimately found the father in contempt and ordered him to pay $3,000 in his ex-wife’s attorney fees, as well as to produce the requested documents within 30 days.

But the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed that decision, holding that the Hamilton Superior Court had abused its discretion because it did not strictly comply with the rule to show cause statute and because it failed to give Todd Reynolds a way to purge himself of contempt.

However, the Indiana Supreme Court chose to affirm the trial court’s decision in a Tuesday opinion, with Justice Steve David writing for the majority that strict compliance with the rule to show cause statute can be excused “if it is clear the alleged contemnor nevertheless had clear notice of the accusations against him or her,” citing In re Paternity of J.T.I, 875 N.E.2d 447, 451 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007).

In the Reynolds case, David wrote that although Thomas Reynolds argued that his ex-wife’s motion for rule to show cause did not provide him with the proper notice, Tricia Reynolds’ motion did contain factual allegations that he had failed to comply with provision of their divorce, so his due process rights were preserved. Further, David wrote that the justices were not convinced that statutory language allows only courts, not moving parties, to serve contempt orders.

The majority also found that the Hamilton Superior Court did not abuse its discretion in finding Todd Reynolds in contempt because there was evidence that he did not produce certain tax documents as required by the marriage dissolution decree, even though he had multiple opportunities to do so. Further, David wrote that Thomas Reynolds had waived his right to challenge the trial court’s evidentiary findings because he did not object to a summary proceeding.

Finally, David wrote that the Court of Appeals’ finding that the trial court was required to outline the ways in which Thomas Reynolds could be purged of his contempt was unnecessary because it was not clear that he had proven why he should be allowed to purge his contempt and because he was not facing jail time.

Justice Geoffrey Slaughter wrote in a separate opinion that the plain language of the rule to show cause statute required the trial court to issue a rule to show cause detailing the factual basis for Todd Reynolds’ alleged contempt.

“Because the court failed to do so, its contempt order should not stand,” Slaughter wrote.

The case is In re the marriage of Thomas Todd Reynolds v. Tricia Reynolds, 29S04-1612-DR-00636.


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