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Martin v. Kristensen

Court of Appeals of Utah

July 26, 2019

Yvonne Martin, Appellant,
Petter Kristensen and Frank O. Kristensen, Appellees.

          Third District Court, Salt Lake Department The Honorable Todd M. Shaughnessy No. 084902378

          Karthik Nadesan, Attorney for Appellant

          R. Stephen Marshall, Cameron J. Cutler, and Kevin M. Paulsen, Attorneys for Appellees.

          Judge Jill M. Pohlman authored this Opinion, in which Judges David N. Mortensen and Diana Hagen concurred.

          POHLMAN, JUDGE.

         ¶1 After lengthy court battles on multiple fronts, Yvonne Martin was awarded $140, 285.54 in support payments from her ex-husband, Petter Kristensen, but was ordered to pay Petter's[1]father, Frank Kristensen, $900, 663.26 for unlawful detainer. Yvonne appeals from a number of the trial court's decisions. We affirm.


         ¶2 This appeal stems from a consolidation of four cases: a divorce case between Yvonne and Petter; an unlawful detainer case by Frank against Yvonne; a quiet title case by Yvonne against Frank and Petter; and a fraudulent transfer case by Yvonne against Frank and Petter. The facts and procedural history relevant to each are given below.

         The Marital Property and Divorce Petition

         ¶3 Yvonne and Petter were married in 1995. Both before and during the marriage, they signed marital agreements (the Marital Agreements) identifying their separate property and detailing how assets would be divided in the event of a divorce. As relevant here, the Marital Agreements provide that Yvonne and Petter did "not intend to share together in the ownership of any property."

         ¶4 Yvonne and Petter lived in a house purchased by Yvonne in 1999 (the Property). Frank contributed $58, 000 to the purchase price and, in exchange, received an "undivided one-half interest" in the Property from Yvonne. In 2003, Yvonne refinanced the Property, without informing Frank, for approximately $80, 000. When Petter learned of the refinance, he was concerned because it increased the mortgage on the Property and eliminated the equity in the home to which he believed Frank was entitled. So in early 2004, Petter proposed a solution: Frank would pay off the now-$260, 000 mortgage in exchange for full ownership of the Property, and Yvonne would keep the $80, 000 she received from the refinance. Yvonne accepted the proposal and executed a quitclaim deed in favor of Frank, though Yvonne and Petter continued to live in the Property. In 2008, approximately four years later, Yvonne petitioned for divorce.

         The Unlawful Detainer and Quiet Title Proceedings

         ¶5 Around one month after filing for divorce, Yvonne was served with a notice to vacate the Property. After Yvonne failed to do so, Frank sued for unlawful detainer. The complaint requested treble damages "from and including the 7th day of July, 2008, until possession of the rented premises is restored to [Frank]." In response, Yvonne filed a quiet title action against Frank and Petter, contending that "she was improperly coerced into executing [the] quitclaim deed to Frank" and that the deed was therefore void. The unlawful detainer and quiet title actions were then consolidated.[2]

         The Temporary Orders

         ¶6 In April and July 2009, Judge Faust, the trial judge presiding over the divorce proceedings, entered orders stating that Yvonne was "to have temporary use and possession" of the Property. Yvonne had earlier attempted to add Frank as a party in the divorce case, and Frank himself entered a limited appearance in the case to protect his interests in the Property. The domestic relations commissioner assigned to the case, however, recommended that Frank be dismissed as a party. When the court entered its orders granting temporary possession of the Property to Yvonne, Frank was not listed in the caption or served with the orders.

         The Unlawful Detainer Trial

         ¶7 In May 2012, Yvonne was still living in the Property, and the unlawful detainer and quiet title actions proceeded to trial before Judge Shaughnessy.[3] The quiet title portion was tried to a jury, while the unlawful detainer portion was tried to the bench.

         ¶8 At trial, Yvonne objected to or sought to admit, as relevant here, three types of evidence or argument. First, Yvonne objected to argument and testimony that allegedly conflicted with the terms of the Marital Agreements. For example, in his opening statement, Frank stated that Yvonne was trying to get "something for nothing." Yvonne moved for a mistrial, asserting that the "opening statements that were given directly contradict what the pre-marital agreement says." The court denied the motion because "statements made by counsel in openings are not evidence." Later, during cross-examination of Yvonne, Yvonne's counsel objected to a line of questioning regarding whether Petter ever paid money into Yvonne's account so that she could make mortgage payments. Yvonne testified that under the Marital Agreements, "everything [that] comes out of [her] account[] is [her] money and whatever he puts in there is [her] money." Her counsel objected, arguing that the "whole line of questioning [was] irrelevant" because "the agreement says that what goes into her account is hers." The court overruled the objection.

         ¶9 Second, Yvonne objected to alleged hearsay statements concerning conversations between Petter and Frank. Among other statements, Petter testified that he "asked [his] dad for help" in paying off the mortgage on the Property. Yvonne moved to strike this testimony as hearsay, but the court overruled, saying that "the declarant is in Court now talking about a statement that he made."

         ¶10 Finally, Yvonne sought to introduce evidence concerning a second deed between Frank and Petter executed a few weeks after Yvonne quitclaimed the Property to Frank. Frank objected, arguing that the deed was an estate-planning mechanism and not a transfer of the Property. The court was concerned about "the risk of confusion to the jury" on "a collateral issue" and sustained the objection.

         ¶11 Yvonne also objected to a jury instruction requested by Frank and Petter on ratification. That instruction provided,

The power of a party to avoid a quit claim deed for duress is lost if, after the circumstances that made the contract voidable have ceased to exist, she manifests to the other party her intention to affirm it or acts with respect to anything that she has received in a manner inconsistent with disaffirmance.
In ratification cases where undue influence tainted the execution of a . . . contract, it is presumed that the undue influence also tainted the ratification if the causative elements giving rise to the initial undue influence are such that the undue influence was likely to have continued. If the undue influence has once been exerted it will be presumed to follow and taint every transaction between the parties thereafter.

         Yvonne objected to the instruction because it did not specify "who bears the burden of proof," ratification was not "pleaded as an affirmative defense," and there was "no Utah case law authority for" the instruction. The trial court overruled the objection and agreed to give the instruction.

         ¶12 After deliberations, the jury returned a verdict for Frank, finding that Yvonne did not "execute the quitclaim deed in favor of Frank Kristensen while under duress."

         ¶13 Trial then turned to the unlawful detainer portion of the case. To prove his damages, Frank called an expert witness (First Expert) to testify on the rental value of the Property. Yvonne objected because First Expert was "not timely disclosed" and did not provide a "report or anything to accompany or suggest the foundation for his expertise." The trial court, however, allowed First Expert to testify. First Expert testified that he compared "rental information" in the area on similar houses to estimate "a fair rental value" of the Property. Based on his comparison, he evaluated the Property's rental value as $2, 200 to $2, 400 a month. On cross-examination, Yvonne elicited that First Expert's evaluation was based only on 2012 rental figures; he did not "do an analysis of rental value as of" 2008 through 2011. Yvonne did not call her own expert witness.

         ¶14 At the close of trial, and based on the jury's finding that Yvonne had not executed the quitclaim deed under duress, the court concluded that Frank was the owner of the Property and that Yvonne had been in unlawful detainer since July 2008. The court accepted the "low end of what [First Expert] . . . offered, in terms of the fair market value" and found it to be $2, 200 a month, or $72.32 a day. The court then found that Yvonne had been in unlawful detainer for 1, 425 days and, after trebling the damages under the unlawful detainer statute, computed damages of $309, 168. The court also ordered costs and attorney fees, as allowed under the statute.

         The Preliminary Injunction

         ¶15 After losing at trial, Yvonne sought, and received, a preliminary injunction in the divorce proceedings-now presided over by Judge Kennedy-enjoining Petter, as power of attorney for Frank, from "interfering with [Yvonne's] right to remain in the [Property]."

         The Fraudulent ...

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