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McCarter v. McCarter

Supreme Court of Alaska

July 5, 2013

DAVID J. MCCARTER, JR., Appellant,
v.
DEBORAH A. MCCARTER (n/k/a DEBORAH A. VALDEZ), Appellee.

Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska No. 4FA-07-01070 CI, Fourth Judicial District, Fairbanks, Paul R. Lyle, Judge.

Richard W. Postma, Jr., Law Offices of Dan Allan & Associates, Anchorage, for Appellant.

Annmarie Billingsley, Foster & Rogers, LLC, Fairbanks, for Appellee.

Before: Fabe, Chief Justice, Winfree, Stowers, Maassen, and Bolger, Justices.

OPINION

MAASSEN, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

This is an appeal from a judgment enforcing a property settlement agreement that had been earlier incorporated into a dissolution decree. The appellant claims that the superior court failed to make findings required by statute, erred in failing to vacate ambiguous provisions of the agreement or to allow its modification, and erred in rejecting his defenses. We affirm the superior court's judgment.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

A. Facts

David J. McCarter, Jr. and Deborah A. McCarter (now known as Deborah A. Valdez) married in 1988 and filed for dissolution in February 2007. Their dissolution petition incorporated a property agreement ("the Agreement") that provided, among other things, that David would pay Deborah for her equity in a business, Dave McCarter Enterprises, Ltd., "in the amount of $2, 000 per month for 320 months." The Agreement further states, "Princip[al] amount is $300, 000 at 5% interest due March 1, 2007 with 10 (ten days) grace. No penalty for early payoff of principal balance." In April 2007 a superior court magistrate determined that David and Deborah understood the Agreement and were agreeing to it voluntarily, and the superior court thereupon issued a dissolution decree in which the Agreement was incorporated.

A few months later, in July 2007, David and Deborah entered into a new agreement entitled "General Release and Purchase Agreement between Deborah Valdez and Dave McCarter Enterprises, Ltd." ("the Release"). The Release purported to release David and the business "from all actions, claims, demands, or damages, " to "cancel[] all previous contracts and agreements, " and to "outright purchase[] the note of $300, 000.00 in the dissolution of marriage between [David and Deborah]." In exchange for this general release, David was to pay Deborah $15, 000 in cash, pay off the loan on her vehicle, extend the time by which Deborah was required to remove his name from the title of their marital residence, and pay Deborah $100 per month "until $39, 000.00 is paid, no penalty for early payoff[.]" A handwritten addition, apparently initialed by both parties, provided, "Failure to meet any terms or conditions above by Dave McCarter or Dave McCarter Enterprises LTD[.] results in return or reverts to original dissolution agreement."

B. Proceedings

1. 2008 motion for order to show cause

In June 2008 Deborah filed a motion for an order to show cause. Her motion did not mention the Release but alleged that David was about $8, 000 in arrears on his monthly payments since the dissolution. Deborah claimed that because David defaulted, he should "pay her the entirety of the money [the $300, 000 due under the Agreement] in one payment." David responded by relying on the Release, contending that he had made all the payments that it required "until March 2008 at which time the business failed and is currently filing bankruptcy"; he alleged that he was filing for personal bankruptcy as well. His response also asserted that "the [b]usiness is valued far less than originally thought." Deborah filed a reply in which she conceded the existence of the Release but asserted that David had not met its terms either, meaning that the Release's handwritten reverter clause had taken effect and returned the parties to the original Agreement.

David's bankruptcy triggered an automatic stay of proceedings on Deborah's motion. In August 2009 the superior court held, with Deborah's consent, that her motion was moot because she had presented the same issue to the bankruptcy court, ...


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