from the Order entered June 15, 2017, in the Court of Common
Pleas of Luzerne County, Civil Division, at No(s): 2387-2013.
BEFORE: LAZARUS, J., KUNSELMAN, J., and FORD ELLIOTT, P.J.E.
Lewis performed an expert custody evaluation in the
litigation between S.G. ("Mother") and J.M.G.
("Father"), and now appeals the trial court's
determination that he lacked standing to bring a contempt
action against Mother for her nonpayment of court-ordered
fees. Because the trial court ordered Mother to pay the fee
as part of the custody proceeding, we find Dr. Lewis had
standing to bring a contempt action against Mother. We
reverse and remand.
underlying custody action involved the parents and their
three children. Father originally engaged Dr. Lewis as his
expert witness. After a pre-trial conference, Mother and the
children were to submit to Dr. Lewis' evaluation, and the
costs for the evaluation were to be paid by Father. Mother
was given a period of time to retain her own expert and to
submit to Dr. Lewis' custody evaluation. However, Mother
repeatedly failed to make herself available to Dr. Lewis and
failed to retain her own expert in a timely manner. Pursuant
to Pa.R.C.P. 1915.8(1),  and in view of Mother's repeated
failures to comply or cooperate, the trial court issued an
order allocating a portion of Dr. Lewis' costs to Mother
in the amount of $11, 065.15; Father had paid Dr. Lewis
approximately $9, 564.25 for his work. Mother appealed this
fee determination; we affirmed the trial court. See S.G.
v. J.M.G., 409 MDA 2015, 2016 WL 548568 (Pa. Super.
2016). Our Supreme Court denied Mother's Petition for
Allowance of Appeal. See 195 MAL 2016. Therefore,
the matter of Mother's liability for her portion of Dr.
Lewis' fee is settled.
April 24, 2017, Dr. Lewis filed a "Motion for
Contempt" against Mother under the same custody caption
and case number, in which he served as a custody evaluator.
He did not seek to intervene as a party. On May 11, 2017, the
trial court ordered the parties to submit briefs on the issue
of Dr. Lewis' standing to petition the custody court for
civil contempt. On June 15, 2017, the trial court dismissed
the "motion for contempt" for lack of standing. Dr.
Lewis, proceeding without counsel, filed this appeal.
the fact that Dr. Lewis posits multiple issues within his
appellate brief, there is really only one matter before us:
whether the trial court erred when it dismissed Dr.
Lewis' contempt petition for lack of standing. We find
the trial court did so err.
begin by noting our scope and standard of review.
"Threshold issues of standing are questions of law;
thus, our standard of review is de novo and our
scope of review is plenary." In re: Rosemary C. Ford
Inter Vivos QTIP Trust, 176 A.3d 992, 999 (Pa. Super.
2017) (citing Rellick-Smith v. Rellick, 147 A.3d
897, 901 (Pa. Super. 2016).
1925(a) opinion, the trial court quotes a passage from our
decision in In re Contempt of Cullen, 849 A.2d 1207,
1210 (Pa. Super. 2004). There, we were expounding upon the
difference between criminal and civil contempt when we
stated: "[W]here the act of contempt complained of is
the refusal to do or refrain from doing some act ordered or
prohibited primarily for the benefit of a private
party, proceedings to enforce compliance with the
decree of the court are civil in nature." Id.
(emphasis added); see also Trial Court Opinion,
9/21/17, at 5 (emphasis original). The trial court takes from
this discussion that only a private party may seek
enforcement of a court order via its contempt process. As Dr.
Lewis is not a party to this custody action, the trial court
concluded that he lacked standing. We disagree.
not without guidance on the issue before us. In Slusaw v.
Hoffman, 861 A.2d 269, 274-275 (Pa. Super. 2004), the
guardian ad litem ("GAL") who represented
a child in custody proceedings brought a contempt petition
against the father for the nonpayment of court-ordered fees.
There, the father argued that the GAL lacked standing to file
an action for fees in family court, where the underlying
custody dispute was heard. We found that family court was the
proper civil division for the GAL to file her petition for
contempt, because the family court originally ordered the
father to pay GAL the fees. Id.
instant case, Mother makes the same argument, i.e. that Dr.
Lewis lacks standing to file a contempt petition in her
custody case. We see no reason to depart from our decision in
Slusaw, supra; there is no need to distinguish
between the nature of a GAL and an expert custody evaluator
in this instance. The lynchpin for us in Slusaw was
not the role of the GAL, but rather the nature of the
parent's obligation to pay the fees to a professional who
provided services in the case. In Slusaw, as is the
case here, the custody court ordered the parent to
pay these costs. As such, the issuing court was the proper
court to adjudicate the alleged contempt of its order. Thus,
we conclude that Dr. Lewis has standing to bring his contempt
action before the custody court in the same custody
proceeding where Mother was ordered to pay his fees. The
trial court erred in finding otherwise.
reversed. Case remanded for further proceedings. Jurisdiction