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Coffman v. Kline

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

July 24, 2017


         Appeal from the Order Entered March 24, 2016 In the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County Domestic Relations at No(s): DR-11-01287 PACSES Case No. 174112443



          BOWES, J.

         Samantha A. Coffman ("Mother") appeals from the March 24, 2016 order dismissing with prejudice a petition for contempt filed on her behalf by the Lehigh County Domestic Relations Section ("DRS").[1] We reverse.

         The pertinent facts are as follows. One child, K.A.C., was born of a relationship between Derek L. Kline ("Father") and Mother during April 2011. On July 6, 2011, Mother filed a complaint for support. On January 31, 2014, the trial court issued an order directing Father to pay child support of $408.00 per month and arrearages totaling $17, 029.60. On June 11, 2014, DRS terminated Father's support since Mother no longer had custody of K.A.C.

         On December 18, 2014, Mother filed a second complaint for child support after regaining custody of K.A.C. Thereafter, on January 30, 2015, the court issued an order directing Father to pay support in the amount of $602.04 per month, and noted arrearages tallying $13, 890.32. Subsequently, DRS became aware that Father was negotiating a compromise and release settlement with his employer relating to an injury he sustained at work. On March 12, 2015, DRS issued a non-disbursement order pursuant to its authority under 23 Pa.C.S. § 4305, and served it on Sedgwick Claims Management Services ("Sedgwick"), a third-party workers' compensation claim servicer. That order precluded Sedgwick from disbursing any settlement payment owed to Father as a result of his workers' compensation claim until further directed by the court.

         Father ultimately entered into a settlement agreement with his employer. A workers' compensation judge ("WCJ") approved the parties' compromise and release agreement by order dated September 10, 2015. The WCJ found that Father had a child support lien against him for arrearages in the amount of $14, 983.10. It noted that Father's settlement, which amounted to $3, 400.00, after $850.00 in counsel fees were deducted, fell below the statutory threshold of $5, 000.00 enumerated in 23 Pa.C.S. § 4308.1(i) regarding child support liens by operation of law. Thus, notwithstanding the non-disbursement order, Sedgwick, relying on the WCJ's order, released the entire settlement payment to Father.

         On January 15, 2016, DRS filed a petition for contempt for Mother's benefit against Sedgwick alleging that its disbursement of the settlement agreement contravened its March 10, 2015 non-disbursement order. After holding a hearing on the matter, the court dismissed the petition for contempt with prejudice. Mother filed this timely appeal. The court did not direct Mother to file a Rule 1925(b) concise statement of matters complained of on appeal, but it did file a Rule 1925(a) opinion. This matter is now ready for our review.

         Mother raises two issues for our consideration:

A. Whether the trial court erred in dismissing the petition for contempt[?]
B. Whether the trial court abused its discretion by misapplying 23 Pa.C.S. [§] 4308.1 despite the existence of a non-disbursement order pursuant to 23 Pa.C.S. § 4305 in light of Campbell v. Walker[, 982 A.2d 1013 (Pa.Super. 2009)?]

Mother's brief at 4 (unnecessary capitalization omitted).

         Preliminarily, we must consider whether this matter is properly before us. In its Rule 1925(a) opinion, the trial court suggests that this appeal should be quashed due to Mother's failure to serve copies of the notice of appeal upon the court or the trial court reporter in violation of Pa.R.A.P. 906.[2] Mother responds that she in fact served the trial court by hand- delivery, as noted in the certificate of service, but concedes that she failed to serve the court reporter. We observe, "[w]hen an appellant fails to serve the notice of appeal on the trial court per Rule 906(a)(2), this Court has discretion to take any appropriate action, including remand to the trial court for the completion of omitted procedural steps." Casselbury v. American Food Service, 30 A.3d 510, 511 n.1 (Pa.Super. 2011) (citation omitted). Where a party's procedural missteps do not affect the validity of the appeal, remand is not required. Id. Here, the trial court issued a Rule 1925(a) opinion adopting its reasoning from the March 24, 2016 order in support of its decision. Both parties filed briefs fully outlining their respective positions. As such, Mother's error has not hindered appellate review, and quashal is not necessary. Hence, we will reach the merits of this appeal.

         For ease of disposition, we review Mother's contentions in reverse order. Mother's second issue challenges the trial court's application of 23 Pa.C.S. § 4308.1 to Father's workers' compensation settlement agreement. As with all questions of the interpretation and application of a statute, our standard of review is de novo, and our scope of review is plenary. In re Adoption of R.A.B., 153 A.3d 332, 334 (Pa.Super. 2016). Moreover, this Court is

constrained by the rules of statutory interpretation, particularly as found in the Statutory Construction Act. 1 Pa.C.S. §§ 1501-1991. The goal in interpretation any statute is to ascertain and effectuate the intention of the General Assembly. Our Supreme Court has stated that the plain language of a statute is in general the best indication of the legislative intent that gave rise to the statute. When the language is clear, explicit, and free from any ambiguity, we discern intent from the language alone, and not from the arguments based on legislative history or "spirit" of the statute. We must construe words and phrases in the statue according to their common and approved usage. We also must construe a statute in such a way as to give effect to all its provisions, if possible, thereby avoiding the need to label any provision as mere surplusage.

Id. (citation omitted).

         In finding Sedgwick was not in contempt of court, the trial court reasoned that Father's settlement payment of $3, 400.00 was subject to § 4308.1 of the Domestic Relations Act ("Act") since § 4305, which DRS relied upon in issuing the non-disbursement order, "does not set forth the mechanism of how such powers are to be implemented." Trial Court Order, 3/24/16, at 2. The court determined that Father's award fell below the statutory threshold contained within § 4308.1, discussed further infra, and therefore, "there was no recoverable child support lien by operation of law." Id. at 3. As a result, the court found Sedgwick had followed the procedure for distribution of a settlement as outlined in § 4308.1 and, thus, Sedgwick was not in contempt of court.

         Mother assails the court's ruling, maintaining that the non-disbursement order filed and served on Sedgwick was a valid exercise of DRS's authority pursuant to § 4305 of the Act. Further, she contends that this Court previously analyzed the interplay between §§ 4305 and 4308.1 in Campbell v. Walker, 982 A.2d 1013 (Pa.Super. 2009), and thus, that case controls this ...

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