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Doyle v. Doyle

Supreme Court of Kentucky

June 14, 2018



          COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT: Darrell Hall

          COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: John Kevin West Steptoe & Johnson, PLLC


          KELLER, JUSTICE.


         Karen Martin Doyle (Karen) sought, and this Court granted, discretionary review to determine whether the trial court and the Court of Appeals erred in failing to award post-judgment interest pursuant to Kentucky Revised Statute (KRS) 360.040. For the following reasons, we reverse arid remand to the Knott Family Court for further proceedings.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Karen and James Samuel Doyle (Sam) were divorced by the Knott Circuit Court on September 24, 1995. The divorce decree reserved on questions of child custody, support, and division of property. On March 13, 1998, the court issued a judgment pertaining to these reserved upon issues, and of particular relevance to this appeal, [1] the court ordered Sam to pay Karen $24, 277.02 to equalize the division of marital property. The judgment was silent as to interest.

         Sam did not pay the ordered amount to Karen after the court's judgment was entered. In both 1999 and 2000, Karen had garnishments issued on Sam's bank accounts in an attempt to collect the $24, 277.02. The garnishments were returned and marked "no monies." By 2008, Sam had still not complied with the 1998 judgment and Karen filed a judgment lien against property owned by Sam in the amount of $24, 277.02, plus interest at the legal rate from March 12, 1998.

         On May 26, 2010, Sam filed a motion to release the judgment lien and, in 2012, filed a motion to modify the judgment pursuant to Kentucky Civil Rule (CR) 60.02(f). Both motions were denied. Sam subsequently filed a motion to prohibit the collection of interest on September 13, 2012. The court granted Sam's motion on the grounds that the 1998 judgment was unliquidated and the judgment was silent as to interest. Karen filed a motion to alter, amend, or vacate that order, which the trial court denied. Karen appealed, alleging in relevant part, that the trial court had no jurisdiction to modify its 1998 judgment to exclude interest and that the trial court erred in refusing to award her interest on the judgment.

         The Court of Appeals held that the circuit court was not modifying its 1998 judgment, but was rather interpreting the judgment, and, thus, had the proper jurisdiction to do so. The Court of Appeals went on to hold that the trial court's determination that the $24, 277.02 was unliquidated was in error. The Court held the judgment to be liquidated arid that interest was not precluded just because the 1998 judgment was silent as to interest. Nevertheless, the Court of Appeals also held that the granting of interest pursuant to KRS 360.040 is within the trial court's discretion. The Court of Appeals remanded to the circuit court for a consideration of whether to award interest on the judgment requiring specific findings of fact to support its decision.

         Upon remand, the Knott Circuit Court once again denied any award of interest. The Court of Appeals affirmed finding no abuse of discretion in the trial court's findings, specifically that: (1) awarding Karen interest would result in an amount twice that of the original judgment; (2) Karen made no significant attempt to collect the judgment until 2008; (3) Sam had a good faith belief that he was not obligated to pay the judgment until all remaining issues regarding the parties' financial obligations to one another were resolved, ie., the issue of child support owed; (4) it was disputed whether Sam attempted to settle all pending issues between the parties; and (5) Karen had enforceable judgment liens against Sam's property, making an award of interest inequitable. We granted discretionary review.


         An interpretation of a statute and legal conclusions are a matter of law, reviewed de novo. Commonwealth v. Gaitherwright, 70 S.W.3d 411, 413 (Ky. 2002); Nash v. Campbell County Fiscal Court, 345 S.W.3d 811, 816 (Ky. 2011). A trial court's findings of fact are reviewed for clear error. (CR) 52.01; Reichle v. Reichle, 719 S.W.2d 442, 444 (Ky. 1986). Application of the law to the facts will be reviewed de novo. S.B, B. v. J.W.B., 304 S.W.3d 712, 716 (Ky. App. 2010).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Before discussing the merits of this appeal, it is important that we address Sam's argument that Karen is precluded from appealing the denial of interest due to the law of the case doctrine. "Under the law-of-the-case doctrine, an appellate court, on a subsequent appeal, is bound by a prior decision on a former appeal in the same court." St. Clair v. Commonwealth, 451 S.W.3d 597, 612 (Ky. 2014)(citing Inman v. Inman, 648 S.W, 2d 847, 849 (Ky. 1982)(internal quotations omitted)).

The law-of-the-case doctrine exists to serve the important interest litigants have in finality, by guarding against the endless reopening of already decided questions, and the equally important interest courts have in judicial economy, by preventing the drain on judicial resources that would result if previous decisions were routinely subject to reconsideration.

Id. at 612-13. (internal citations and quotations omitted).

         This Court has held "that a party who is aggrieved by an adverse appellate determination must appeal at the time the decision is rendered because an objection on remand is futile, and an appeal from the implementation of the appellate decision on remand amounts to an attempt to relitigate a previously-decided issue." Whittaker v. Morgan, 52 S.W.3d 567, 569 (Ky. 2001)(citing Williamson v. Commonwealth, 767 S.W.2d 323, 325 (Ky. 1989)). In the present case, Karen appealed the trial court's denial of interest to the Court of Appeals, and in turn, the Court of Appeals addressed the issue on the first appeal. Doyle v. Doyle, 2012-CA-001989-MR; 2013-CA-000554-MR (Ky. App. November 26, 2014). Specifically, the Court of Appeals held that an award of interest pursuant to KRS 360.040 in a dissolution proceeding was within the trial court's discretion. The court further found the 1998 judgment was a liquidated amount requiring remand for further consideration arid requiring specific findings to support the trial court's decision. Karen did not appeal that decision and the trial court again denied interest, this time with the Court of Appeals affirming.

         Because Karen failed to appeal the first decision of the Court of Appeals, that holding would have become the law of the case: that KRS 360.040 allows the trial court to use discretion in awarding interest as long as specific findings of fact are made to justify the denial of interest. However, the doctrine is inapplicable to the present matter.

         "The State Supreme Court is the final arbiter of the application of the doctrine of law of the case." Sherley v. Commonwealth, 889 S.W.2d 794, 797 (Ky. 1994)(citing King v. West Virginia, 216 U.S. 92 (1910)). The law of the case doctrine is subject to exceptions. A reviewing court "may deviate from the doctrine if its previous decision was clearly erroneous and would work a manifest injustice." Brown v. Commonwealth, 313 S.W.3d 577, 610 (Ky. 2010)(internal citations and quotations omitted). Decisions of the Court of Appeals are not binding on this Court. And because we find that the Court of Appeals' holding was clearly erroneous, causing a manifest injustice, the law of the case doctrine does not preclude review.

         A. Statutory ...

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