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Chennault v. Chennault

Court of Appeals of Texas, Twelfth District, Tyler

February 21, 2018



          Panel consisted of Worthen, C.J., Hoyle, J., and Neeley, J.



         Regina Sutton Chennault appeals from a summary judgment rendered in favor of Michael Douglas Chennault in her suit for civil assault and battery. In three issues, Regina contends that the trial court erred in admitting certain evidence and granting summary judgment for Douglas. We affirm.


         On November 5, 2014, Regina filed for a divorce from Douglas in Anchorage, Alaska. She alleged that, after their separation, he committed an assault and battery against her, causing her severe injuries. In 2016, the Alaska trial court, following a three-day trial, awarded custody of the couple's two children to Regina and divided the couple's marital property. The trial court entered findings of fact and conclusions of law to support its judgment. The trial court made the following finding of fact number seventy-one:

71. The parties have a large difference of opinion as to the amount of unpaid marital medical bills incurred by Regina for her orthopedic and other treatment. Regina claims that the amount of these bills totals $204, 809.29. Douglas claims that the amount of these bills totals $52, 370.73. The court concludes that Douglas's summary of the outstanding medical bills is more accurate than Regina's summary. The court accepts Douglas's summary with a total for Regina's unpaid marital medical expenses at $52, 370.73. Regina is solely responsible for her medical expenses not included on Douglas's summary. The court accepts Douglas's explanations as the reasons that Regina's charges are not accurately characterized as marital expenses. Some of the disallowed expenses were written off by the providers and other expenses were not adequately documented. However, most of the questionable expenses were post-separation medical expenses that Regina claims are marital because she says that they were caused by Douglas's domestic violence at or about the time of separation. In other words, Regina claims that Douglas injured her spine through his domestic violence and that, as a result, he should pay her extensive post-separation medical expenses including all of the spinal surgery costs for the surgeries in November 2015 and February 2016. The problem with Regina's claim is that it is not credible. There is not one shred of documentation to support the claim that Douglas injured Regina's spine during an act of domestic violence. Regina presented no expert testimony to support her claim. All that she has presented is her own testimony that Douglas credibly disputes. Dr. Glass and Ms. Still asked for documentation of Regina's claims. While Regina said that she would produce evidence to support her claim, she never did. Just like Dr. Glass, this court concludes that Regina's claims are not credible. The court declines to include any of Regina's post-separation medical expenses as marital expenses or to make Douglas responsible for those expenses.[1]

         Based upon its ninety-nine findings of fact and twenty-two conclusions of law, the trial court rendered a judgment granting the divorce, determining custody of the children, and dividing the marital estate. Following the divorce, Douglas moved to Tyler, Smith County, Texas. In November 2016, Regina filed a civil suit for assault and battery in Smith County district court. Douglas filed an answer to the suit, asserting the affirmative defenses of res judicata and collateral estoppel. He then filed a traditional motion for summary judgment based on these two affirmative defenses. The trial court granted the summary judgment without specifying which ground it was relying upon. Regina timely filed this appeal.


         In her third issue, Regina contends that the trial court erred in failing to sustain her objection to the affidavit of Roberta C. Erwin. The affidavit was included as part of Douglas's summary judgment evidence in the Smith County, Texas proceeding. In her objection, Regina argued that the affidavit is conclusory, contains hearsay, and violates the best evidence rule and a disciplinary rule of professional conduct for attorneys.

         Erwin was the attorney of record for Douglas in the divorce proceedings in Alaska. This included her representation of Douglas during the trial on custody and property issues held from May 24-26, 2016. In her affidavit, Erwin stated that she heard the testimony from both Regina and Douglas during the trial and was familiar with the court's findings of fact and conclusions of law. Erwin included the following three paragraphs:

10. I have read Ms. Chennault's petition filed in the instant lawsuit in the 114th Judicial District Court of Smith County, Texas. In an attempt to characterize her post-separation medical expenses as marital debt, Ms. Chennault made the same assault allegations in the Divorce Proceeding.
11. The Court in the Divorce Proceeding heard evidence on the assault claims from Ms. Chennault and Mr. Chennault. After hearing the evidence, the Court rejected the marital assault claims and found Ms. Chennault to be not credible.
12. The judgment of the Court in the Divorce Proceeding is a final judgment under the laws of the State of Alaska. Ms. Chennault argued to the court that her post-separation medical bills were a result of the alleged assault by Mr. Chennault. The Court found that she had provided no evidence of a causal connection between the alleged assault and the damages claimed. In addition, the Court found that Ms. Chennault was not credible as to her allegations. The Court found that neither Mr. Chennault nor the marital estate was responsible for Ms. Chennault's post separation medical bills. The post-separation medical bills are the same medical expenses that she seeks to recover in the instant lawsuit.

         Standard of Review

         We review a trial court's decision to admit or exclude summary judgment evidence under an abuse of discretion standard. Bagwell v. Ridge at Alta Vista Invs. I, LLC, 440 S.W.3d 287, 296 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2014, pet. denied). An abuse of discretion exists only when the court's decision is made without reference to any guiding rules and principles or is arbitrary or unreasonable. Downer v. Aquamarine Operators, Inc., 701 S.W.2d 238, 241-42 (Tex. 1985). We must ...

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