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Morgan v. Morgan

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

July 20, 2018

DANIEL T. MORGAN
v.
SHERI A. MORGAN Appellant DANIEL T. MORGAN Appellant
v.
SHERI A. MORGAN DANIEL T. MORGAN Appellant
v.
SHERI A. MORGAN

          Appeal from the Order Entered September 27, 2016 In the Court of Common Pleas of Franklin County Civil Division at No(s): 2007-1502

          BEFORE: OTT, J., DUBOW, J., and STRASSBURGER [*] , J.

          OPINION

          DUBOW, J.

         In these consolidated cross appeals, Sheri A. Morgan ("Wife") and Daniel T. Morgan ("Husband") both appeal from the September 27, 2016 Order, which, inter alia, reduced Husband's alimony obligation. Husband also appeals the January 12, 2017 Order that denied his Motion to Strike the September 27, 2016 Order. After careful review, we vacate the September 27, 2016 Order and remand this case with instructions.

         PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL HISTORY

         Husband and Wife were married on May 18, 1984, and have three adult children; the youngest suffers from autism and requires supervision and care. During the marriage, Husband earned various advanced degrees, including a Law Degree, Masters in Business Administration, Masters of Laws in Taxation, and a Certified Public Accountant certification; Wife earned her Bachelors of Science in Nursing. At the time of the parties' separation, Husband earned a salary of $144, 000.

         On March 18, 2003, the parties entered into a Marital Settlement Agreement ("Agreement") on the record, which provided that Husband would pay Wife $5, 000 per month in alimony until at least June 30, 2007. After July 1, 2007, either party could petition the Court to modify the amount of alimony, restricted only by the provision that the trial court could not reduce alimony below $1, 000 until July 1, 2007 or later.

         On March 20, 2003, the parties were divorced pursuant to a Judgment of Divorce entered in Montgomery County, Maryland, which incorporated, but did not merge, the parties' Agreement.

         On May 3, 2007, Husband filed a certified copy of the Divorce Decree in Franklin County, PA. On May 4, 2007, Husband filed a Petition to Modify Alimony to $1000 per month. Wife filed a cross-petition to increase alimony above $5000 per month.

         On December 5, 2007, the trial court granted Husband's Petition and reduced Husband's alimony obligation to $1000 per month. Wife timely appealed. On appeal, this Court vacated a portion of the Order, remanded the case, and instructed the trial court to require Husband to demonstrate "a substantial change in circumstances that justify reducing the award" and then analyze the requisite factors set forth at 23 Pa.C.S. § 3701(b)(1)-(17). Morgan v. Morgan, No. 50 MDA 2008, unpublished memorandum at 11 (Pa. Super. filed November 13, 2008)("MORGAN I").

         On January 14, 2011, after a hearing, the trial court issued an Order again granting Husband's Petition to Modify Alimony and reducing alimony to $1000 per month retroactive to July 1, 2007. ("January 2011 Hearing"). Wife timely appealed the trial court's order.

         While Wife's appeal was pending, Wife discovered that at the January 2011 Hearing, Husband produced to the court false documentation and testimony regarding his income, including two sets of false tax returns. Wife filed in this Court a Motion to Supplement the Record and a Motion for Immediate Interim Relief. Superior Court denied these motions and affirmed the decision of the trial court. See Morgan v. Morgan, 40 A.3d 194 (Pa. Super. 2011) (unpublished memorandum)("MORGAN II").

         On January 24, 2012, Wife filed with the trial court a Petition to Modify Alimony based on Husband's fraud. At the hearing, the parties stipulated that Husband's income was, in fact, higher than Husband had presented at the January 2011 Hearing.[1] The parties also stipulated that Wife's 2015 annual income was $43, 200.

         The parties further stipulated that 1) the hourly rates that Wife's attorneys charged were reasonable; 2) Husband would not challenge line-item charges from Wife's attorneys; and 3) it was not necessary for Wife to call an expert witness to testify as to the services provided.

         Although the trial court acknowledged that Husband willfully presented false evidence of his income at the January 2011 Hearing and characterized Husband's conduct as "despicable," the trial court determined that it was bound by the factors listed in 23 Pa.C.S. § 3701 and issued the same Order that it had issued at the January 2011 Hearing. See Order, dated 9/27/16. Husband's alimony obligation remained at $1000 per month from July 1, 2011, through June 30, 2022.

          The parties had stipulated that attorney's fees that Wife incurred were reasonable. The trial court, however, only required Husband to reimburse Wife for 75% of those fees. Moreover, the trial court only required Husband to reimburse Wife for those fees Wife incurred from the date she discovered Husband's fraud, not from the date he committed the fraud.

         Wife filed a timely Notice of Appeal. Wife and the trial court complied with Pa.R.A.P 1925. Husband filed a timely cross appeal, but failed to serve the appeal on the trial court. Consequently, the trial court did not order Husband to file a Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b) Statement.[2]

         On January 11, 2017, Husband filed a Motion to Strike the September 27, 2016 Order. On January 12, 2017, the trial court denied Husband's Motion to Strike. Husband timely appealed. Both Husband and the trial court complied with Pa.R.A.P. 1925. Upon Motion from Husband, this Court consolidated the above-captioned appeals.

         ISSUES RAISED ON APPEAL

         Wife's Issues

         Wife raises the following issues on appeal:

I. Did the trial court abuse its discretion and err as a matter of law in concluding that an inequitable result would occur if it applied the doctrine of unclean hands to preclude analysis of the alimony factors, despite the trial court finding that the doctrine was applicable to the case and that [Husband]'s fraudulent conduct was within the purview of the doctrine?
II. Did the trial court abuse its discretion and err as a matter of law in determining that the amount of counsel fees to be considered for reimbursement were only the fees accumulated subsequent to the discovery of [Husband]'s fraud, therefore denying any consideration of the counsel fees accumulated while [Husband] perpetrated his fraud, despite determining that [Husband] was not entitled to a reduction in his alimony for the same period due to his fraud, and in arbitrarily awarding only 75% of the counsel fees incurred subsequent to the discovery of [Husband]'s fraud?
III. Did the trial court abuse its discretion and err as a matter of law where it correctly recognized the applicability of the falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus doctrine where [Husband]'s fraud was material to the alimony modification determination, but declined to apply the doctrine to any of the likely and necessarily fraudulent testimony and production of [Husband], and in finding any of [Husband]'s testimony credible where in every instance where there was a way to check the veracity of [Husband]'s testimony, it was proven to be false?
IV. Did the trial court abuse its discretion and err as a matter of law in concluding that despite [Husband]'s fraud, [Husband] established a substantial and continuing change to meet the ...

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