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Edwards v. Colin

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Southern Division

May 5, 2017

SARA EDWARDS APPELLANT
v.
ALLEN CONWAY COLIN APPELLEE

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          KEITH STARRETT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on appeal from the Judgment in favor of Appellee Allen Conway Colin entered by the United States Bankruptcy Court of the Middle District of Alabama (“Bankruptcy Court”) on August 16, 2016. For the reasons stated below, the Court reverses and remands the judgment of the Bankruptcy Court with instructions to enter judgment in favor of Appellant Sara Edwards.

          I. BACKGROUND

         Appellant Sara Edwards (“Appellant”) and Appellee Allen Conway Colin (“Appellee”) were married in 1982, and Appellee filed for divorce in 2014. (Bankruptcy Court Opinion [2-17] at pp. 1-2.) At the time, Appellee was an electrician averaging between $75, 000 and $80, 000 a year in income. (See Trial Transcript [6-3] at 8:11-15.) Appellant did not hold a full-time job during the marriage and was, at the time of divorce, the primary caregiver for her mother, who is afflicted with Alzheimer's disease. (See Bankruptcy Court Opinion [2-17] at p. 2.)

         In January 2015, through her attorney, Appellant wrote Appellee's attorney, with a demand of half his retirement account and monthly alimony of $1, 250.00 for ten years. (See Id. at p. 2.) Appellee, through his attorney, countered with an offer of $350.00 in monthly alimony for five years and $10, 000 from his retirement account. (See id.) Both sides remained at these figures until their mediation on April 30, 2015. (See id.) This mediation lasted several hours, and the parties remained deadlocked over alimony. (See Id. at p. 3.)

         Because of this impasse, the mediator proposed “that the alimony be reclassified as property settlement and reduced to $750.00 per month, ”[1] which appealed to Appellant because it could not be modified and because it would not be taxable to her, [2] and appealed to Appellee because it was a lesser amount per month. (Id.) The mediator drafted an agreement outlining the terms of the Settlement, one of which was the waiving of alimony. (See id.)

         Appellee filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy on September 9, 2015, proposing to pay Appellee “as a non-priority creditor out of a ‘pot' of $10, 350.00.” (Id. at p. 4.) Appellant asserted a claim for $87, 750.00, contending that her claim was entitled to priority as a domestic support obligation and objecting to Appellee's proposed plan. (See id.) The Bankruptcy Court entered judgment against Appellant on August 16, 2016, finding that the Settlement was a property settlement, not alimony, and therefore not a domestic support obligation. Appellant timely appealed.

         Appellant filed her initial Brief [5] on January 26, 2017. Appellee responded with his Response Brief [6] on February 24, 2017. Appellant's Reply Brief [9] was filed on March 30, 2017, and Appellee responded with his own Reply Brief [10] on March 27, 2017. On March 28, 2017, Appellant filed her Motion to Strike Reply Brief of Appellee (“Motion to Strike”) [11]. Appellee never responded to this motion.

         After considering the submissions of the parties, the record, and the applicable law, the Court is now ready to rule.

          II. MOTION TO STRIKE [11]

         In her Motion to Strike [11], Appellant requests that the Court strike from consideration Appellee's Reply Brief [10]. The filing of such a brief by the Appellee is not allowed under Federal Rule of Bankruptcy 8014, and this brief was filed without leave from this Court. As such, the Court finds that the Motion to Strike [11] should be granted. Appellee's Reply Brief [10] will be stricken from consideration.

          III. APPEAL

          A. Standard of Review

         The Court reviews the Bankruptcy Court's conclusions of law de novo, while it reviews findings of fact for clear error. Jove Eng'g, Inc. v. Internal Revenue Serv., 92 F.3d 1539, 1545 (11th Cir. 1996). A finding of fact “is clearly erroneous when, although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has ...


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