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Sampson v. Cureton

Court of Appeals of Georgia, First Division

October 27, 2017

SAMPSON
v.
CURETON. SAMPSON
v.
CURETON.

          BARNES, P. J., MCMILLIAN and MERCIER, JJ.

          Barnes, Presiding Judge.

         Joey Sampson, who was joined as a party-defendant in a divorce action, contests in these related appeals the viability of judgments that collectively: (i) found him liable for money damages for a vehicle of one of the divorcing spouses; (ii) held him in contempt; (iii) ordered him to pay attorney fees; and (iv) permitted garnishment of his funds. For reasons that follow, we reverse the judgments in both cases; we further remand Case No. A17A0918 for proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

         During divorce proceedings between James Cureton (Husband) and Jennifer Cureton (Wife), Husband cross-claimed that Wife had wrongfully sold certain of his personal property, including a 1954 Chevrolet Bel Air vehicle. Husband identified the individuals he believed had purchased his belongings, and made prayer for either the return of his items, or "[i]n the event said items are no longer available, said third party defendants should be required to pay the fair market value." Additionally, Husband filed a motion seeking to add as party-defendants to his cross-claim those persons he believed had obtained his property, eventually naming Sampson as the individual who had received the vehicle.

         The court conducted a hearing on Husband's motion, and Sampson appeared pro se. Thereafter, on August 16, 2011, the court entered an order joining the identified persons. Pertinent to Sampson, the court found that Wife had indeed sold the vehicle to him and that, without Sampson added as a party, "complete relief cannot be afforded to [Husband]." The court reserved for subsequent determination issues of whether the vehicle was marital or separate property, whether Wife had held any ownership interest in the vehicle when she sold it, and whether the sale of the vehicle was valid and to a bona fide purchaser. Thereupon, the court ordered that all added parties were "enjoined from selling . . . or otherwise disposing of said property until further Order."

         Several years later, a rule nisi was issued in the divorce action, identifying Sampson as a joined party-defendant and scheduling for March 12, 2015 a hearing to show why the court should not grant Husband's prayers:

that each and every sale of the property of [Husband] and the property of this marriage be set aside, declared null and void, and all property be returned to [Husband] or in the event these items are no longer retrievable, the [joined party-defendants] be required to pay an amount equivalent to the fair market value of each and every item of [Husband].

         Service of the rule nisi was attempted upon Sampson at his residence, but he refused to accept any document; the rule nisi was left at Sampson's door. Sampson was neither present nor represented by counsel at the evidentiary hearing held as scheduled. Thereafter, on May 14, 2015, the superior court entered an "Order and Judgment in Resolution of Claims Outside The Domestic Case, " determining that the vehicle was not marital property, but "the individual property of [Husband]."

         In that order, the court additionally found that Sampson was not a bona fide purchaser for value, declared Wife's sale of the vehicle to Sampson void, and directed the sheriff to accompany Husband to Sampson's residence to retrieve the vehicle. The court went on to provide in its order that if the vehicle is not returned to Husband's possession within 48 hours of an attempted retrieval, "[Husband] may immediately petition this court for a citation of contempt on . . . Sampson, and petition for a hearing for a monetary judgment against . . . [Sampson] in the amount of the fair market value of the car, as testified to at the March [12], 2015 hearing, and all associated cost and attorney fees."

         In July 2015, Husband returned to superior court and filed two motions. In a "Motion to Clarify Order and Judgment In Resolution of Claims Outside the Domestic Case, " Husband alleged that he had been unable to retrieve the vehicle because Sampson had sold it on eBay. Husband posited,

While [Husband] would assert that Sampson is clearly in willful contempt of this Court's August 16, 2011 Order [joining party-defendants to the divorce action and enjoining those parties from selling or otherwise disposing of certain items], he would also assert that the evidence in this case is closed and that the Court can determine [Husband's] damages without the necessity of any additional court hearings.

         Thus reciting evidence presented at the March 12, 2015 hearing regarding the fair market value of the vehicle, Husband requested that judgment be entered in his favor for "the fair market value of the vehicle, which are the damages of [Husband]."

         In a second motion filed that same day, captioned "Motion for Citation of Contempt and Expenses of Litigation, " Husband specifically requested that Sampson be held in contempt for failing to comply with two orders: (i) the August 16, 2011 order, enjoining the added party-defendants from selling or otherwise disposing of certain items, including the vehicle; and (ii) the May 14, 2015 order, mandating the return of the vehicle to Husband's possession. Additionally, Husband claimed that Sampson owed him attorney fees under OCGA § 13-6-11 "for having to pursue this action."

         The superior court granted Husband's motions. In an order entered August 7, 2015 (hereinafter, "Money Damages ...


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