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Jones v. Jones

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Second District, Montgomery

June 14, 2019

DIANA LYNN JONES Plaintiff-Appellee
v.
JEFFREY T. JONES Defendant-Appellant

          (Domestic Relations Appeal) Trial Court Case No. 2016-DR-127

          JON PAUL RION, Atty. Reg. No. 0067020, Attorney for Plaintiff-Appellee

          THOMAS G. EAGLE, Atty. Reg. No. 0034492, Attorney for Defendant-Appellant

          OPINION

          TUCKER, J.

         {¶ 1} Defendant-appellant Jeffrey Jones appeals from a final judgment and decree of divorce entered by the Montgomery County Common Pleas Court, Domestic Relations Division. Jeffrey contends that the trial court abused its discretion in the division of property. He further contends that the court erred by failing to release documents for which he executed a subpoena. Finally, he claims that the court abused its discretion by ordering him to pay spousal support.

         {¶ 2} We conclude that the trial court erred by not releasing the documents that were the subject of Jeffrey's subpoena, and we also conclude that the trial court's property division constituted an abuse of discretion. Because our decision regarding the property division may have an effect on the spousal support determination, we further conclude that the award of spousal support must be reconsidered. Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court is reversed, and the matter is remanded for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion.

         I. Course of the Proceedings

         {¶ 3} Jeffrey and Diana Jones were married in February 2008. They have no children as a result of their union.

         {¶ 4} Relevant to this appeal, Jeffrey became employed with the Montgomery County Engineer's Office in 1991. Diana became employed with the same office in August 2002. Jeffrey's employment was terminated in 2007. Diana's employment was terminated in August 2009. In July 2013, Diana and Jeffrey filed a civil suit against the Engineer's Office and the former County Engineer, Joseph Litvin. The suit sought damages for gender discrimination, retaliation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, loss of consortium and breach of contract. The complaint alleged that, prior to their marriage, Jeffrey had been employed as Diana's supervisor and that his employment was terminated in retaliation for his attempt to "intercede on her behalf with Defendant Litvin." Def. Exh. JJ. The complaint also alleged that Diana had been bypassed for promotions and raises and that she had been subject to gender discrimination. The matter was settled in June 2015. The settlement agreement stated that the settlement was the "result of bona fide adversarial negotiations to resolve a tort based case involving Plaintiff, Diana Jones' physical sickness." Def. Exh. A. The settlement further provided that, in exchange for the dismissal of all claims made by both Jeffrey and Diana, the Engineer's Office would pay the sum of $750, 000 in four separate checks payable to Diana.

         {¶ 5} In February 2016, Diana filed a complaint for divorce. Jeffrey filed an answer and counterclaim. During discovery, Jeffrey issued a subpoena to the Montgomery County Prosecutor's Office and the Engineer's Office seeking documents related to the 2013 civil suit.[1] Jeffrey argued that the information was relevant to his claim that the settlement proceeds from the lawsuit constituted marital property. The Prosecutor's Office filed a motion to quash on the basis that the request was unduly burdensome. The motion also argued that the documents sought were confidential. The confidentiality claim was asserted because the parties' settlement agreement included a confidentiality clause. The motion also sought to have the court conduct an in camera review of the requested documents. The trial court granted the request for an in camera review of the documents.

         {¶ 6} The final divorce hearing was conducted over two days in late 2017 and early 2018. During that time, both parties testified and both presented the testimony of appraisers regarding the value of real estate and businesses owned by the parties. At the end of the hearing, Jeffrey asked the court whether it would release the documents that it had reviewed in camera as the court had not rendered a decision on the issue. The court stated that none of the requested documents delineated how the proceeds of the employment lawsuit were to be divided. The court, thus, implicitly overruled the request for the release of the documents to Jeffrey.

         {¶ 7} The trial court issued a decision on May 18, 2018 related to property division and spousal support; this decision was incorporated into the June 26, 2018 final judgment and decree of divorce. The court concluded that because the settlement agreement provided that the payments would be made to Diana for her "physical sickness," the proceeds were her non-marital property. The court ordered Jeffrey to pay spousal support in the sum of $900 per month for a period of 36 months. The court retained jurisdiction over the amount but not the duration of the spousal support.

         {¶ 8} The trial court's decision also divided Jeffrey's interest in two businesses he acquired prior to the marriage, specifically his farming business and a snow removal/trucking business known as South West Ohio Services. There was no testimony or other evidence presented regarding the value of the businesses at the time of the marriage. But the trial court relied on the testimony of Diana's expert, who assigned a combined value of $202, 477 for both businesses as of the date of the hearing. There was evidence that the farming business purchased equipment valued at $110, 000 during the course of the marriage. Based on this evidence, the court concluded that the value of the farming business was $110, 000, $55, 000 of which belonged to Diana. The court then deducted this value from the expert's total valuation and concluded that the snow removal/trucking business had a value of $92, 477. The court awarded Diana one-half of that value, or $46, 238.50.

         {¶ 9} Jeffrey filed an appeal, Diana filed a cross-appeal. Diana has failed to prosecute her cross-appeal, thus we have dismissed that appeal by separate order (Decision & Entry, June 5, 2019).

         II. Subpoenaed Documents

         {¶ 10} Jeffrey's first assignment of error is as follows:

THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN NOT RELEASING SUBPOENAED RECORDS REGARDING THE PARTIES' SETTLEMENT.

         {¶ 11} Jeffrey contends that the trial court erred when it did not release the documents submitted to the court by the Montgomery County Engineer's and Prosecutor's Offices following the issuance of his subpoena for such documents. We agree.

         {¶ 12} While the Prosecutor's Office correctly points out that that the terms of the settlement were subject to a confidentiality clause, we cannot conclude that such clause prohibited Jeffrey, a party to the settlement, from accessing the requested materials. Further, we have inspected the documents that were submitted to the trial court. Most of the documentation consisted of correspondence between the attorney for the Joneses and the Prosecutor's Office concerning settlement of the action.[2] None of the documents appear to be work-product or subject to attorney/client privilege.

         {¶ 13} The trial court did not state, and we can discern no reason for, the denial of Jeffrey's request to release the requested documentation. Therefore, we conclude that the trial court erred by failing to permit Jeffrey to inspect the documents submitted to the court. Accordingly, the first assignment of error is sustained.

         III. Property Division

         {¶ 14} Jeffrey's second assignment of error ...


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