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Olivera v. Rude-Olivera

Supreme Court of Alaska

February 16, 2018

ANTHONY RUBEN OLIVERA, Appellant,
v.
RONALDA RENEE RUDE-OLIVERA, Appellee.

         Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska No. 3AN-14-10538 CI, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, Andrew Guidi, Judge.

          Anthony Olivera, pro se, Anchorage, Appellant.

          Adam Gulkis, Law Office of Adam Gulkis, Anchorage, for Appellee.

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

          OPINION

          MAASSEN, JUSTICE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         An ex-husband challenges three decisions made by the superior court during divorce proceedings. He argues that the court erred by (1) failing to enforce the mandatory disclosure requirements of the Alaska Civil Rules with regard to his ex-wife's financial information; (2) improperly valuing the marital home; and (3) awarding attorney's fees against him for vexatious and bad faith conduct. We find no abuse of discretion or clear error in the court's rulings and therefore affirm the judgment.

         II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

         A. Facts

         Anthony Olivera and Ronalda Rude-Olivera (now Ronalda Rude) were married in December 1999 and separated in May 2014. They initially sought a dissolution but were unable to agree on the division of their marital assets; in December 2014 Ronalda filed for divorce.

         Ronalda was the primary wage earner for the household during the marriage. Anthony's employment was "less consistent, " and the parties' marital estate was burdened with "numerous debts."

         Anthony and Ronalda had sold their Wasilla home in 2010 for $204, 000, and they used $90, 000 of the proceeds to purchase a foreclosed home in Campo, California, so that Anthony could "be near the U.C. San Diego Medical Center where he was supposedly undergoing cancer treatment."[1] Ronalda did not consistently live in the Campo house, returning to Alaska periodically for employment opportunities.

         In 2013 Anthony and Ronalda used the Campo house as security for a $75, 000 loan. In June 2014 the lender filed a notice of foreclosure. Anthony told Ronalda that he would return the house to the bank to pay off the loan if she quitclaimed her interest in the property to him, and in July 2014 she did so. But rather than return the property to the bank, Anthony borrowed money to bring the loan current. In September 2014 Anthony's girlfriend took over the loan payments for the property, and in November Anthony quitclaimed the property to her for $100.

         B. Proceedings

         Once the divorce proceedings were commenced in December 2014, the parties exchanged financial declarations. In March 2015 Anthony moved to compel production of additional financial information from Ronalda. The superior court denied Anthony's motion, finding that Ronalda had complied with the requirements of Alaska Civil Rule 26.1 but noting that Anthony was free to make requests for specific information under the discovery rules. Anthony followed up with interrogatories, requests for production, and requests for admission, then filed a second motion to compel in September 2015 seeking updated financial information. The court granted this motion in part.

         Trial was held over three days in late 2015 and early 2016. The parties primarily contested the characterization and value of the Campo property, a Native allotment in Trapper Creek, some vehicles and firearms, bank and retirement accounts, and debt. Both Anthony and Ronalda testified about the Campo property's value. Anthony used the tax assessment to argue that it was worth $95, 600; Ronalda countered that in her opinion it was worth $208, 000.

         The superior court made preliminary findings orally and invited written closing arguments from the parties. It then issued extensive written findings of fact and conclusions of law along with a two-page property spreadsheet. The court characterized the Campo property, three out of five vehicles, two firearms, and most of the debt as marital. It found that the Native allotment, two vehicles, four firearms, and some personal loans were the separate property of one spouse or the other. The court accepted Ronalda's $208, 000 valuation of the Campo property and voided her quitclaim of the property to Anthony. It then awarded 58% of the marital estate to Anthony, to include the Campo property, and it ordered him to make a $53, 375.89 equalization payment to Ronalda secured by that property.

         Ronalda moved for an award of over $45, 000 in attorney's fees and costs, including enhanced fees for Anthony's allegedly vexatious and bad faith conduct. The court granted the motion in part. It observed that under ordinary circumstances it would not award Ronalda any fees because she was "in a stronger financial position" than Anthony. But it found that many of Anthony's "actions throughout the case [had] been conducted in bad faith, [had] been vexatious, and were largely for the purposes of delay and harassment, " and for that reason it awarded Ronalda the "very modest fee" of $5, 000; it noted that the award was "relatively small because of [Anthony's] poor financial position."

         Anthony appeals.

         III. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         "The equitable division of marital assets involves three steps: (1) determining what property is available for distribution, (2) finding the value of the property, and (3) dividing the property equitably."[2] We review the valuation of property for clear error because it is a factual determination.[3] Clear error exists "only when we are left with a definite and firm conviction based on the entire record that a mistake has been made."[4]

         "We review discovery rulings and awards of attorney's fees for abuse of discretion."[5] "A decision constitutes abuse of discretion if it is 'arbitrary, capricious, manifestly unreasonable, or. . . stems from an improper motive.' "[6]

         IV. ...


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