Monday, November 10, 2008

Summary 2008 WY 131

Summary of Decision issued November 10, 2008

Summaries are prepared by Law Librarians and are not official statements of the Wyoming Supreme Court.

Case Name: Wunsch v. Pickering

Citation: 2008 WY 131

Docket Number: S-07-0039

Appeal from the District Court of Teton County, the Honorable Nancy J. Guthrie, Judge.

Representing Appellant Wunsch: Colin M. Simpson of Simpson, Kepler & Edwards, LLC, the Cody, Wyoming division of Burg Simpson Eldredge Hersh and Jardine, PC.

Representing Appellee Pickering: Lea Kuvinka of Kuvinka & Kuvinka, PC, Jackson, Wyoming.

Facts/Discussion: James and Kelly Wunsch (n/k/a Pickering) were joint owners and operators of a financial services business. In their divorce proceedings, they executed a property settlement agreement which was later fully incorporated into their divorce decree. The agreement included a provision that they would share equally fees earned on joint client accounts, and that if Mr. Wunsch replaced any such account, then they would share equally fees on the replaced account until such time as Kelly had received in fees an amount equal to two times the annual earnings on the amount replaced.
At the time of their divorce, the parties engaged in extended negotiations to achieve a settlement agreement. Section 22 treated the division of the Wunsch Financial business and business assets. The section was copied in its entirety to the opinion.

Denial of Motion for Continuance: The district court heard argument on and denied Mr. Wunsch’s motion for continuance and no record of the hearing was made. The day following the motion hearing, the district court conducted the hearing on the issue of Section 22.A interpretation. The district court stated the provision was clear and unambiguous and should be enforced according to its terms. Mrs. Wunsch was to receive two times the annual earnings on any amounts replaced from the “SAM” accounts.
The Court reviewed the record of the proceedings and stated they could not say that the district court’s decision agreeing with Mrs. Wunsch against the motion was so arbitrary as to deny Mr. Wunsch due process. The transcript of the hearing at which the Section 22.A interpretation was contested revealed that Mr. Wunsch’s counsel fully, capably, and zealously presented Mr. Wunsch’s position on that issue.

Interpretation of Section 22.A of the Agreement:
The Court applies the standards of contract construction to construe divorce property settlement agreements. The question of whether the contract is unambiguous is a question of law. The contract’s meaning is also a question of law. The standards of construction include: in reading a contract the Court’s primary purpose is to determine the true intent and understanding of the parties at the time and place the contract was made; the Court considers the contract as a whole; the Court strives to avoid a construction which renders a provision meaningless; if the Court identifies an ambiguous term or portion of the contract, it strives to ascertain the meaning from the contract as a whole; and the parties’ intention is what a reasonable person in the position of the parties would conclude the manifestations to mean. When the Court applied the standards to the instant case, they found Mrs. Wunsch’s position that in the agreement the parties specifically stated how each item of property would be divided, sold or otherwise disposed of, more persuasive.

Holding: The Court considered the parties’ arguments in light of its standards of contract construction. The language of the agreement was unambiguous in stating that if Mr. Wunsch replaced any of the joint client accounts, the parties would share equally the fees on the replaced accounts until such time as Mrs. Wunsch had received in fees an amount equal to two times the annual earnings on the amount replaced. The Court rejected Mr. Wunsch’s construction of the agreement because it defied the plain meaning of the agreement and would rewrite a critical word in the key sentence of Section 22.A.


J. Golden delivered the decision.

Link: .

[SPECIAL NOTE: This opinion uses the "Universal Citation." It was given an "official" citation when it was issued. You should use this citation whenever you cite the opinion, with a P.3d parallel citation. Please note when you look at the opinion that all of the paragraphs are numbered. When you pinpoint cite to a quote, you should cite to this paragraph number rather than to any page number. If you need assistance in putting together a citation using the Universal Citation form, please contact the Wyoming State Law Library.]

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