Failure to Challenge Alternative Independent Grounds Results in Loss in Clarksville, Tennessee Child-Support Dispute: Ramos v. Caldwell

March 16, 2023 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

Facts: Mother and Father are the divorced parents of two children. Father was ordered to pay child support through Tennessee’s Child Support Receipting Unit.

Mother later petitioned to increase the child support. As a result, Father’s support was increased at the hearing in February 2019, and he was ordered to continue paying it through Tennessee’s Child Support Receipting Unit.

In December 2019, Father petitioned to change child support and requested a judgment for an overpayment of support. He alleged that Mother repeatedly told Father she hadn’t received his child support and demanded payment through the parties’ bank accounts. As a result, he made child-support payments via electronic bank transfer to Mother totaling $17,310. Unbeknownst to Father, Mother was receiving the correct amount of support directly from his paycheck. The payments made to Mother’s bank account were in addition to the payments from his paycheck, such that Father overpaid child support to Mother by $17,310.

Three days before the trial, Mother filed a pretrial brief in which she raised the affirmative defense of res judicata for the first time. Res judicata bars a second lawsuit between the same parties as to all issues which could have been litigated in the first lawsuit. Mother argued that the additional payments Father complained about were made before the February 2019 hearing, so Father’s claims should’ve been addressed at that time.

The trial court ruled that Father could not recoup the overpayment of child support for two reasons. First, it held that Father’s claims were barred by res judicata. Second, it found that Father did not submit documentary evidence showing that child support was paid from his paycheck and, therefore, did not prove that an overpayment was made.

Father appealed to argue that the trial court erred by allowing Mother to present the affirmative defense of res judicata.

On Appeal: The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.

When a trial court provides more than one basis for its ruling, the appellant must appeal all alternative grounds for the ruling.

The Court faulted Father for not doing that here:

[Father] has failed to challenge the trial court’s determination that he needed to enter into evidence his [paystubs] to support his petition seeking a judgment for overpayment made to [Mother]. This is an independent alternative ground supporting the trial court’s denial of [Father’s] claim of overpayment of child support. The failure to challenge this independent alternative ground requires this court to affirm the trial court’s ruling without considering the issue that was raised on appeal.

The Court affirmed the trial court’s ruling.

K.O.’s Comment: Rule 8.03 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure requires affirmative defenses like res judicata to be raised in one’s response to a petition. Father is correct that it was improper for Mother to first raise that issue in a pretrial brief three days before trial. However, when the trial court supplies separate reasons for denying relief to Father, appealing only one reason without challenging the other reason requires the appellate court to affirm the trial court’s judgment. Even if the Court of Appeals agreed with Father’s argument about res judicata, the result must be the same because Father did not challenge the other reason the trial court ruled for Mother.

Source: Ramos v. Caldwell (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Middle Section, February 6, 2023).

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Failure to Challenge Alternative Independent Grounds Results in Loss in Clarksville, Tennessee Child-Support Dispute: Ramos v. Caldwell was last modified: March 12th, 2023 by K.O. Herston

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