Wagner v. Wagner

[FAMILY LAW]

In Wagner v. Wagner,[1] the supreme court held that courts have a duty to inform a pro se litigant of the proper procedure for an action when the litigant exhibits behavior that constitutes a lack of familiarity with the rules.[2] Felicia and Richard Wagner married in 1993.[3] When Felicia filed for divorce in 2010 there was a dispute about the division of marital property.[4] Richard failed to appear at three of the four pre-trial conferences and at trial but had called the court’s legal secretary to ask for a continuance prior to three of his four absences.[5] Richard’s requests were never granted and he was never warned of the proper procedure for requesting a continuance.[6] At trial, the court determined that, based on Richard’s repeated absence, it had no choice but to determine that his absence from trial was voluntary and thus made several findings of fact and conclusions of law based on Felicia’s testimony alone.[7] On appeal, Richard argued that the court erred in concluding that his absence was voluntary and in proceeding to trial without him.[8] The supreme court reversed the lower court’s decision, reasoning that Richard’s continued attempts to request a continuance by calling the court’s secretary evidenced his belief that he was utilizing the appropriate procedure.[9] Based on this belief, combined with the fact that the lower court never ordered Richard to cease calling for continuances or advised him that he needed to file a motion for continuance, the court further reasoned that Richard’s behavior constituted a lack of familiarity with the rules and thus was a legitimate request for continuance.[10] Reversing the lower court’s decision, the supreme court held courts have a duty to inform a pro se litigant of the proper procedure for an action when the litigant exhibits behavior that constitutes a lack of familiarity with the rules.[11]

 



[1] 299 P.3d 170 (Alaska 2013).

[2] Id. at 174.

[3] Id. at 172.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id. at 172–73.

[7] Id.

[8] Id. at 173.

[9] Id. at 174, 176.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

Wagner v. Wagner

[FAMILY LAW]

In Wagner v. Wagner,[1] the supreme court held that courts have a duty to inform a pro se litigant of the proper procedure for an action when the litigant exhibits behavior that constitutes a lack of familiarity with the rules.[2] Felicia and Richard Wagner married in 1993.[3] When Felicia filed for divorce in 2010 there was a dispute about the division of marital property.[4] Richard failed to appear at three of the four pre-trial conferences and at trial but had called the court’s legal secretary to ask for a continuance prior to three of his four absences.[5] Richard’s requests were never granted and he was never warned of the proper procedure for requesting a continuance.[6] At trial, the court determined that, based on Richard’s repeated absence, it had no choice but to determine that his absence from trial was voluntary and thus made several findings of fact and conclusions of law based on Felicia’s testimony alone.[7] On appeal, Richard argued that the court erred in concluding that his absence was voluntary and in proceeding to trial without him.[8] The supreme court reversed the lower court’s decision, reasoning that Richard’s continued attempts to request a continuance by calling the court’s secretary evidenced his belief that he was utilizing the appropriate procedure.[9] Based on this belief, combined with the fact that the lower court never ordered Richard to cease calling for continuances or advised him that he needed to file a motion for continuance, the court further reasoned that Richard’s behavior constituted a lack of familiarity with the rules and thus was a legitimate request for continuance.[10] Reversing the lower court’s decision, the supreme court held courts have a duty to inform a pro se litigant of the proper procedure for an action when the litigant exhibits behavior that constitutes a lack of familiarity with the rules.[11]

 



[1] 299 P.3d 170 (Alaska 2013).

[2] Id. at 174.

[3] Id. at 172.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id. at 172–73.

[7] Id.

[8] Id. at 173.

[9] Id. at 174, 176.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.