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Shuman v. Shuman

Court of Appeals of Utah

October 19, 2017

Catherine Jane Shuman, Appellee,
v.
Wesley Robinson Shuman, Appellant.

         Third District Court, West Jordan Department The Honorable William K. Kendall No. 104400246

          Theodore R. Weckel Jr., Attorney for Appellant

          James M. Hunnicutt and Julie J. Sagers, Attorneys for Appellee

          Judge Jill M. Pohlman authored this Opinion, in which Judges Kate A. Toomey and Ryan M. Harris concurred.[1]

          OPINION

          POHLMAN, Judge.

         ¶1 Wesley Robinson Shuman and Catherine Jane Shuman obtained a bifurcated decree of divorce in 2011. Several years later, in 2015, all outstanding issues related to their divorce were submitted to the trial court for resolution. Following a two-day trial, the court granted primary physical and sole legal custody of the parties' three minor children to Catherine.[2] The court also resolved the parties' disagreements regarding marital assets and debts, child support, medical and childcare expenses, and other matters. Wesley appeals the trial court's rulings with respect to custody, marital assets and debts, medical and childcare expenses, and child support, challenging both the adequacy of the trial court's factual findings and the sufficiency of the evidence underlying those findings. In addition, he claims the trial court's order regarding parent-time fails to conform to the court's factual findings. We affirm in part and reverse in part.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶2 "We review the legal adequacy of findings of fact for correctness as a question of law." Jacobsen v. Jacobsen, 2011 UT App 161, ¶ 15, 257 P.3d 478 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). "We review this issue only if it was presented to the trial court in such a way that the trial court had an opportunity to correct any deficiencies in the adequacy of the detail of the findings of fact." Interstate Income Props., Inc. v. La Jolla Loans, Inc., 2011 UT App 188, ¶ 12, 257 P.3d 1073 (citing 438 Main St. v. Easy Heat, Inc., 2004 UT 72, ¶ 51, 99 P.3d 801).

         ¶3 When reviewing a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, we will not set aside a trial court's factual findings "unless clearly erroneous, " giving "due regard to the trial court's opportunity to judge the credibility of the witnesses." Utah R. Civ. P. 52(a)(4). Challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence may be raised on appeal "whether or not the party requested findings, objected to them, moved to amend them, or moved for partial findings" in the trial court. Id. R. 52(a)(3); see also In re K.F., 2009 UT 4, ¶¶ 60-64, 201 P.3d 985 (explaining that, to preserve the issue for appeal, parties must object in the trial court "to the adequacy of the detail of" the court's factual findings, but no similar preservation requirement applies to challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence). A party challenging the sufficiency of the evidence "will almost certainly fail to carry its burden of persuasion on appeal if it fails to marshal" the evidence in support of the challenged finding. State v. Nielsen, 2014 UT 10, ¶ 42, 326 P.3d 645.

         ANALYSIS

         I. Custody

         ¶4 Wesley asserts the trial court's factual findings with respect to custody were inadequate in detail and were not supported by sufficient evidence. He first contends the trial court's "findings regarding legal custody were grossly defective, " in that they "omitted consideration of material evidence" he presented at trial. He also contends the trial court's findings "failed to consider many material factors relating to physical custody, " and he asserts "primary custody [should be awarded] to [him] outright." Catherine responds that the trial court's findings "present substantial factual grounds supporting [its] ultimate conclusion that Catherine should continue having custody of the minor children."[3]

         ¶5 A trial court's factual findings "must be sufficiently detailed and include enough subsidiary facts to clearly show the evidence upon which they are grounded." In re S.T., 928 P.2d 393, 398 (Utah Ct. App. 1996); see also Fish v. Fish, 2016 UT App 125, ¶ 22, 379 P.3d 882 ("Findings are adequate when they contain sufficient detail to permit appellate review to ensure that the district court's discretionary determination was rationally based."); Rayner v. Rayner, 2013 UT App 269, ¶ 11, 316 P.3d 455 ("Findings are adequate only if they are sufficiently detailed and include enough subsidiary facts to disclose the steps by which the ultimate conclusion on each factual issue was reached." (citation and internal quotation marks omitted)). This obligation facilitates meaningful appellate review and ensures the parties are informed of the trial court's reasoning. See In re S.T., 928 P.2d at 399.

         ¶6 But trial courts are not required to render a global accounting of all evidence presented or to discuss all aspects of a case that might support a contrary ruling. Cf. id. at 398 ("A trial court is not required to recite each indicia of reasoning that leads to its conclusions, nor is it required to marshal the evidence in support of them." (brackets, citation, and internal quotation marks omitted)). Indeed, so long as the "steps by which the ultimate conclusion on each factual issue was reached" are apparent, see Rayner, 2013 UT App 269, ¶ 11 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted), a trial court may make findings, credibility determinations, or other assessments without detailing its justification for finding particular evidence more credible or persuasive than other evidence supporting a different outcome, see In re S.T., 928 P.2d at 398-99 ("[A] trial court is also not required to explain why it found certain witnesses less credible or why some testimony was given less weight or considered irrelevant.").

         ¶7 Here, the trial court's findings with respect to custody span approximately six pages and detail the "subsidiary facts, " credibility determinations, and analytical "steps by which the [court's] ultimate conclusion" on the issue of custody was reached. See Rayner, 2013 UT App 269, ¶ 11 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Without addressing the vast majority of the court's findings, [4] Wesley selectively highlights evidence from the trial record, asserts the evidence supported a different outcome, and claims the court's findings were inadequate because they did not specifically address his highlighted evidence. As set forth above, however, Wesley misunderstands the nature of the trial court's obligation, see In re S.T., 928 P.2d at 398-99, and Wesley has not demonstrated how the court's findings are insufficient to support its conclusion, see, e.g., Dahl v. Dahl, 2015 UT 79, ¶ 123 (rejecting a claim of inadequate factual findings, concluding that "the findings were based on the evidence presented to the district court and were sufficiently detailed to disclose the steps by which it reached the ultimate distribution").

         ¶8 In addition, to successfully challenge the sufficiency of the evidence underlying a trial court's factual finding, "the appellant must overcome the healthy dose of deference owed to factual findings by identifying and dealing with the supportive evidence and demonstrating the legal problem in that evidence, generally through marshaling the evidence." Taft v. Taft, 2016 UT App 135, ¶ 19, 379 P.3d 890 (brackets, citation, and internal quotation marks omitted). Parties challenging factual findings cannot persuasively carry their burden in this respect "by simply listing or rehashing the evidence and arguments [they] presented during trial" or "by merely pointing to evidence that might have supported findings more favorable to [them]; rather, [they] must identify flaws in the evidence relied on by the trial court that rendered the trial court's reliance on it, and the findings resulting from it, clearly erroneous." Id. ΒΆ 43. Indeed, as noted above, a party challenging the sufficiency of the evidence in ...


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