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Brown v. Hines-Williams

August 26, 2010

JUAN F. BROWN, APPELLANT,
v.
JULIA HINES-WILLIAMS, APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (DRB2206-05) (Hon. Fern Flanagan Saddler, Trial Judge).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Belson, Senior Judge

Submitted April 20, 2010

Before KRAMER, Associate Judge, and NEBEKER and BELSON, Senior Judges.

Juan Brown brings this pro se appeal of the trial court's order of retroactive child support, contending that the court lacked jurisdiction and that military housing allowances and meal allowances do not constitute income for purposes of calculating child support owed. We affirm, holding that the trial court had jurisdiction of the matter and that the allowances were properly included as income.*fn1

I.

Juan Brown began in 1992 to receive tax-free Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) funds from the U.S. Air Force, his employer. As of 2009, Brown was receiving $2120 per month in BAH funds and an additional $272 per month in Base Allowance for Subsistence (BAS) funds.*fn2 BAH pays the full cost of housing for a typical BAH-receiving service member. BAH amounts paid to service members vary by rank, location, and whether the recipient has at least one dependent. The "with-dependent" amount is the same irrespective of the number of dependents.

In 2000, Brown and Julia Hines had a son, Jalen. In 2001, they agreed that, until Jalen turned eighteen years old, Hines would have custody of Jalen and Brown would pay for Jalen's health care and pay Hines "support for said child in the amount of . . . $400.00" per month. Brown consistently paid this amount until he was required to pay a greater amount pursuant to a court order, see infra p.3.

In August 2005, Brown filed a complaint for custody and Hines shortly thereafter filed an action for custody and child support. The cases were consolidated. On October 12, 2006, Judge Judith Macaluso awarded Hines sole legal and physical custody of Jalen. Child support was not addressed. On May 11, 2007, at a hearing before Judge Fern Saddler on a contempt motion filed by Brown regarding visitation, child support issues were raised. On June 6, 2007, Hines wrote Brown in an e-mail that she and Jalen were "in the process of moving" to Maryland. On June 26, 2007, Judge Saddler held a second hearing, denied Brown's contempt motion and issued a temporary order of current child support. The order shows that Brown consented to the court's jurisdiction and that Hines still lived in the District. Judge Saddler ordered Brown to pay $900 a month, an amount that was based on application of applicable statutory guidelines to Brown's income, including BAH and BAS. Brown duly paid this amount starting in August 2007. Judge Saddler in her order stated that the amount to be paid by Brown as retroactive support was "to be decided at next court hearing," initially scheduled for October 2007, but ultimately held in January 2009, see infra.

In September 2007, Brown filed a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, based on the assertion that neither the parties nor the child still resided in the District. Brown contended that, under D.C. Code § 46-302.05 (a) (2001), which provides for "continuing, exclusive jurisdiction over a support order" based on residency or consent, "the District . . . no longer has . . . jurisdiction over the issue of child support and does not have jurisdiction to modify the existing Pendente Lite Order or issue new orders regarding retroactive and permanent child support." In opposing dismissal, Hines did not dispute that the parties had left the District. She contended, first, that the District retained jurisdiction over permanent current support, because her initial request for permanent, as contrasted with temporary, support had not been ruled upon; and, second, that the District also retained jurisdiction over retroactive support. In November 2007, Judge Saddler denied Brown's motion to dismiss.*fn3

In May 2008, Brown filed another motion to dismiss, styled "for forum non conveniens," in which he again argued that the District lacked jurisdiction over the case. This motion was denied. In August 2008, a third motion to dismiss by Brown was denied.*fn4

On January 21, 2009, Judge Saddler held a hearing on support. She made findings with respect to the parties' residences, income, and expenses. She identified the issue before her as "the amount [Brown] should have paid [Hines] during the time period at issue"-- i.e., September 1, 2005 through July 31, 2007, during which Brown continued to pay Hines $400 a month in child support under their 2001 agreement -- if he had been paying "according to the D.C. Child Support Guidelines," and "[s]pecifically, whether" Brown's BAH and BAS "should be calculated as part of his gross income." The judge stated that our statutes and case law were silent on the precise issue; that "overwhelmingly, other jurisdictions do include BAH and BAS allowances," citing, inter alia, Louisiana Dep't of Soc. Servs. ex. rel. D.F. v. L.T., Jr., 934 So. 2d 687, 690-91 (La. 2006); and that she did "not agree with [Brown]'s contention that he allegedly only receives BAH . . . allowances because his minor child from another relationship, Jamal Brown, currently resides with [Brown]." Judge Saddler concluded that "Brown's BAS and BAH allowances should be included as income when determining [his] annual gross income for child support calculations." On this basis, Judge Saddler entered a judgment requiring Brown to pay appellee $9795 in retroactive child support for the period September 2005 through July 2007. She made no ruling, however, on permanent current support.

Brown appeals the January 2009 order. Although both parties were represented by counsel in the trial court, both are proceeding pro se before this court.

II.

"The Superior Court has jurisdiction of any civil action or other matter (at law or in equity) brought in the District." D.C. Code § 1-204.31 (a) (2001); see also §§ 11-921 (a), (b), -1101 (2001) (defining jurisdiction of Family Division). Whether a court acquires subject-matter jurisdiction over a case depends on the facts relevant to such jurisdiction as of the time the court's jurisdiction is invoked, e.g., the date on which a suit is filed. 20 AM. JUR. 2d Courts § 98 (2005); see also Arnold v. District of Columbia, 211 F. Supp. 2d 144, 146 (D.D.C. 2002) (citing Rosa v. Resolution Trust Corp., 938 F.2d 383, 392 n.12 (3d Cir. 1991) ("It is a firmly established rule that subject matter jurisdiction is tested as of the time of the filing of the complaint.")); In re D.H., 666 A.2d 462, 478 n.26 (D.C. 1995) (recognizing that relevant date for determining jurisdiction over juvenile delinquency action is date juvenile is charged). The court's jurisdiction continues until the court has done all it can to determine all issues involved, and events that occur only after jurisdiction is acquired do not affect jurisdiction even if they would ...


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