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Thompson v. Johnson

Supreme Court of North Dakota

June 5, 2018

Heather L. Thompson, Plaintiff, Appellee, and Cross-Appellant
v.
Christopher K. Johnson, Defendant, Appellant, and Cross-Appellee and State of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee

          Appeal from the District Court of Traill County, East Central Judicial District, the Honorable Susan J. Solheim, Judicial Referee.

          Pamela F. Coleman, Grand Forks, ND, for plaintiff, appellee, and cross-appellant.

          Janet K. Naumann, Fargo, ND, for plaintiff and appellee; submitted on brief.

          Jessica D. Jensen (argued) and Patti J. Jensen (on brief), East Grand Forks, MN, for defendant, appellant, and cross-appellee.

          OPINION

          McEvers, Justice

         [¶ 1] Christopher Johnson appeals an amended judgment ordering him to pay $1, 280 per month in child support. Heather Thompson cross-appeals from the judgment denying her request for attorney's fees. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand, concluding the district court failed to calculate Johnson's income in accordance with the child support guidelines.

         I

         [¶ 2] Johnson and Thompson have one child together born in 2013. The State provided Medicaid to the child before Johnson was adjudged the child's father. In May 2015, the district court awarded primary residential responsibility of the child to Thompson. Johnson, a self-employed farmer, was ordered to pay $314 per month in child support. In March 2016, Thompson moved for relief from the judgment relating to child support, arguing Johnson's previously reported income was not accurate.

         [¶ 3] Before the hearing on Thompson's motion for relief, a discovery dispute arose between the parties. After Thompson requested Johnson's tax and banking records, Johnson moved for a protective order, requesting that Thompson be prohibited from serving him with further discovery requests. Thompson responded with a motion to compel Johnson to provide the requested information.

         [¶ 4] At a March 2017 hearing on the parties' discovery motions, the district court granted Thompson's motion to compel and denied Johnson's motion for a protective order. The court ordered Johnson to provide Thompson the requested tax and banking records. The court also ordered both parties to pay their own attorney's fees. Thompson then moved for an order to show cause and attorney's fees, alleging Johnson violated the order to compel by not providing the required information relating to his income. After a hearing, the court found Johnson was not in contempt of its earlier discovery order and denied Thompson an award of attorney's fees.

         [¶ 5] At the hearing on Thompson's motion for relief from the judgment, Johnson submitted his income tax returns from 2012-2016 showing his average adjusted gross annual income was negative $50, 972. Johnson and the State argued Johnson was underemployed on the basis of his income. They argued an annual income of $49, 302 should be imputed to Johnson for child support purposes.

         [¶ 6] The district court received a 2016 balance sheet showing Johnson had $4, 003, 495 in assets, overall equity of $1, 224, 533, and crops in storage of $691, 895. On the basis of Johnson's assets, overall equity, crops in storage, and an accounting reflecting his personal spending, the court found Johnson's tax returns did not accurately reflect his income for purposes of child support. The court considered Johnson's personal expenses and monthly budget and found Johnson's annual self-employment income was $171, 560.66. The court found Johnson's net annual income was $113, 916, and ordered Johnson to pay $1, 280 per month in child support. The court ordered the parties to pay their own attorney's fees.

         II

         [¶ 7] Johnson and the State argue the district court clearly erred in calculating ...


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