ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE:
CRAIG V. BRAJE THOMAS J. RUTKOWSKI
ELIZABETH A. FLYNN Michigan City, Indiana
Michigan City, Indiana
COURT OF APPEALS OF INDIANA
SANDRA E. BEIKE, )
vs. ) No. 46A05-0311-CV-562
WALTER C. BEIKE, )
APPEAL FROM THE LAPORTE SUPERIOR COURT
The Honorable Walter P. Chapala, Judge
Cause No. 46D01-9501-DF-009
April 12, 2004
OPINION - FOR PUBLICATION
Sandra Beike appeals the trial courts order granting Walter Beikes Motion for Relief
from Judgment which adjusted the dissolution decree to account for a decline in
value of Walters pension benefits. We affirm.
Sandra presents one issue for our review which we restate as whether the
trial court abused its discretion in granting Walters Motion for Relief from Judgment.
Discussion and Decision
Walter and Sandra were married August 22, 1978, and on December 28, 1994,
they separated. On June 6, 1996, the parties filed a Joint Motion
for Partial Final Order which was approved by the trial court. The
trial court entered a Partial Final Order on June 6, which stated in
The Parties have agreed that [Sandras] counsel will draft and process a QDRO
reflecting that [Sandra] is entitled to Thirty-Six percent (36%) of the value of
[Walters] vested pension as of the date of their separation, which was December
Appellants Appendix at 44. At the time of the Partial Final Order,
Walter was receiving $982.00 per month. Based on the calculation of thirty-six
percent of the value of Walters pension on December 28, 1994, Sandra was
to receive $353.00 per month. On August 7, 1996, a Qualified Domestic
Relations Order (QDRO) was entered reflecting the distribution of Walters retirement benefits.
Walter was an employee at National Steel, which declared bankruptcy in March 2002.
Subsequently, Walter received his pension benefits from Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC).
However, the value of his pension plan was reduced from $1,918.77 to
$1,195.29 or approximately sixty-two percent of the amount he had anticipated. On
August 1, 2003, Walter filed a Motion for Relief from Order, requesting that
the trial court modify the QDRO to reflect the change in circumstances brought
about by National Steels bankruptcy. The trial court held a hearing and
took Walters motion under advisement. On October 2, 2003, the trial court
granted Walters motion and reduced Sandras monthly payment to $219.46. This appeal
Discussion and Decision
I. Standard of Review
When reviewing a trial courts determination of whether to grant a motion for
relief from judgment, we will not reweigh the evidence. Zwiebel v. Zwiebel,
689 N.E.2d 746, 748 (Ind. Ct. App. 1997), trans. denied. We review
a trial courts grant or denial of a motion for relief from judgment
under an abuse of discretion standard of review. Crafton v. Gibson, 752
N.E.2d 78, 83 (Ind. Ct. App. 2001). An abuse of discretion occurs
where the trial courts judgment is clearly against the logic and effect of
the facts and inferences supporting the judgment for relief. Weppler v. Stansbury,
694 N.E.2d 1173, 1176 (Ind. Ct. App. 1998).
II. Walters Motion for Relief from Judgment
Sandra maintains that the trial court abused its discretion when it modified the
decree. She argues that property settlement agreements incorporated into final dissolution decrees
are binding contracts and cannot be modified. For this proposition, she directs
our attention to Dusenberry v. Dusenberry, 625 N.E.2d 458 (Ind. Ct. App. 1993).
In that case, the Dusenberrys, while still married, were involved in an
automobile accident in which they were both injured. They filed suit seeking
damages for their injuries. Five months later, Carolyn Dusenberry filed a petition
for dissolution of marriage. The trial court approved an agreed decree of
marriage dissolution in which they stated that they would each receive one half
of any proceeds from their personal injury claims after the payment of all
medical and legal bills. However, after the dissolution, Carolyns condition worsened.
After the personal injury suit was settled, Carolyn filed a Rule 60(B) motion
to modify or rescind that part of the decree concerning division of the
personal injury settlement. The trial court granted Carolyns motion.
Upon appeal, this court first noted that a strong policy favors the finality
of marital property division whether the trial court makes the division or approves
a division by the parties. However, the court also noted that the
trial court could grant Rule 60(B) motions to modify the property settlement.
Therefore, the court considered Carolyns arguments. Carolyn argued that the trial court
lacked jurisdiction over the personal injury claim and therefore, that the division of
the personal injury settlement was void. We held that Carolyn had failed
to show either a lack of either personal or subject matter jurisdiction and
therefore, we stated that her argument regarding jurisdiction had failed. Id. at
462. Alternatively, she argued that the settlement was the product of mutual
mistake. However, the relief afforded under Rule 60(B)(1) due to a mutual
mistake must be claimed within one year of the mistake and Carolyn had
waited more than a year to file her petition to modify. She
also argued that Rule 60(B)(8) afforded her a reasonable time in which to
bring her claim of mutual mistake. However, this court noted that Rule
60(B)(8) specifically noted that the reasonable time allowance was not applicable to any
of the reasons set forth in Rule 60(B)(1)-(4). Therefore, we held that
Carolyns argument on mutual mistake failed because the time for such a claim
had elapsed. Id.
Sandra relies on Dusenberry for the proposition that dissolution decrees are final and
are not subject to modification. However, this court noted that a Rule
60(B) Motion for Relief from Judgment was an appropriate means with which to
modify a property settlement. The Dusenberry court merely stated that Carolyns arguments
were not persuasive, not that such a motion could not be used to
modify a property settlement. Therefore, Sandras reliance on Dusenberry is misplaced.
Second, we note that the asset in question in Dusenberry was a personal
injury award. Significantly, the Dusenberry court noted that, As in most personal
injury actions, the ultimate value of the suit was uncertain. Id. at
463. The court stated that the agreement was clear and that the
Dusenberrys each bargained for one half of the proceeds. Here, however, the
asset in question is a pension plan. Although the value of the
pension plan was not completely settled, both parties believed they understood the value
of the plan at the time of the dissolution decree. Subsequently, a
change which neither party could have predicted affected the value of the plan.
This is not the same situation as Dusenberry where each party contracted
to receive fifty percent of whatever was awarded.
Sandra next cites Myers v. Myers, 560 N.E.2d 39 (Ind. 1990), stating that
our supreme court in that case refused to modify a property settlement that
included a military pension. In Myers, the trial court approved a property
settlement agreement written by the parties which allowed the wife to receive a
portion of her husbands military pension. Our supreme court noted that divorcing
couples are free to divide their property in any way and their agreement
is interpreted as any other contract. Sandra specifically directs our attention to
the following language: It is well settled that a property settlement provision
in a dissolution decree is final and is not subject to modification by
the court regardless of changing circumstances of the parties. Id. at 44.
However, this language is not the last word on the matter.
Although the decree may be final, in the case of ambiguity, we must
interpret the decree as we do any other contract.
Such a situation arose in Niccum v. Niccum, 734 N.E.2d 637 (Ind. Ct.
App. 2000), in which we were presented with a dissolution decree which included
a benefit plan and investment program. Less than a year after the
initial QDRO was entered, the husband moved to modify it because he stated
that the trial court intended only to award the wife a set amount
and not to provide for any growth during the interim period between the
valuation date and the settlement agreement approval date. We noted that ambiguity
existed because the agreement did not express in clear terms whether the wife
was entitled to growth and losses during the stated period. However, the
agreement clearly said she was entitled to half of the plan and the
investment program. Therefore, we held that the wife was entitled to the
growth on her half during that period, stating: absent express language stating otherwise,
the settlement agreement of the parties implicitly contemplated both parties sharing all of
the rewards and risks associated with an investment plan. Id. at 640.
Our court recently examined a similar issue in Case v. Case, 794 N.E.2d
514 (Ind. Ct. App. 2003). In Case, the trial court awarded $40,398.48
of the husbands 401(k) plan to the husband and $50,000.00 to the wife.
Approximately a month and a half after the dissolution decree was issued,
the husband moved to modify the decree because the value of the 401(k)
plan had diminished to $67,266.00. Therefore, he argued that it would be
impossible to make the awards in the decree. The husband moved the
court to modify the decree so that each party would receive their respective
interests in the plan. The trial court granted the motion and modified
the decree to say that the wife would receive 55.31% of the 401(k)
plan whenever a QDRO was tendered and approved by the court. Significantly,
the trial court noted that the decline in the plan was not caused
by any action by the husband. Id. at 516.
Upon appeal, we noted that the trial courts decree allocated the value of
the 401(k) plan to the husband and wife and therefore, the decree contemplated
that both parties would share in the risks and rewards associated with the
plan. Although the wife argued that the trial court intended to award
her $50,000.00, this court observed that, if we were to give the wife
the allocated award, the trial courts intentions toward the husband would be thwarted.
Although the wife argued that there were no clear terms regarding growth
or loss related to the plan, we stated that, absent express language stating
otherwise, the decree implicitly contemplated that both parties would share in the risks
and the rewards associated with the plan. Therefore, we affirmed the trial
courts modification of the 401(k) plan. Id. at 519.
Here, as in Case, Sandra has not alleged that the decline in the
value of Walters pension was caused by or contributed to by any of
Walters actions. Rather, the value of the pension plan declined due to
National Steels bankruptcy. Therefore, as in Case, absent express language to the
contrary, the risks and losses associated with the pension plan should be borne
by both parties as their respective interests were allocated by the trial court.
In response to Case and Niccum, Sandra contends that there is express language
stating that she is not to share in the risks and rewards of
Walters pension plan. Paragraph 5(b) of the October 15, 1996, Amended QDRO
states, in relation to the payments Walter was to make to Sandra:
This amount shall not include subsequent benefits accruals attributable to compensation increases and
additional service credited after such date. Appellants Appendix at 54. However,
Sandra is misinterpreting this clause of the Amended QDRO. This language means
merely that Sandra is not entitled to any benefits Walter receives for additional
employment time after the date of separation. For example, if Walter continued
to work at National Steel for another five years after he and Sandra
separated and his pension was based on the number of years he worked
for National Steel, Sandra would not receive any benefit from the years after
their separation. This language does not mean that Sandra could not receive
any benefit from an increase in the value of Walters pension plan.
There is no express language in the QDRO or the Amended QDRO stating
that the parties would not share in the risks and rewards associated with
Walters pension benefits. Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion
by interpreting the dissolution to reflect the decrease in Walters pension plan.
See Eyler v. Eyler, 492 N.E.2d 1071, 1076 (Ind. 1986) (holding that, by
amending the distribution of assets, the trial court merely effected a property division
consistent with the logic and effect of the evidence before the court).
The trial court did not abuse its discretion when it granted relief from
the decree to ensure that both Sandra and Walter would bear the risks
and the rewards of the pension plan. The judgment of the trial
court is affirmed.
SULLIVAN, J., and RATLIFF, SrJ., concur.
The QDRO was amended on October 15, 1996, but the division of
Walters pension plan remained the same.
Footnote: We note that, had the Partial Final Order stated that Sandra was
to receive $353.00 per month, the result of this case may have been
different in that the amount would have been set. However, as Sandra
was to receive a percentage of the pension plan, it was within the
trial courts discretion to ensure that the percentages reflected the decrease in the
value of Walters pension plan.