e-Journal Summary

e-Journal Number : 40879
Opinion Date : 10/28/2008
e-Journal Date : 11/05/2008
Court : Michigan Court of Appeals
Case Name : Eldridge v. Eldridge
Practice Area(s) : Family Law, Personal Protection Orders
Judge(s) : Per Curiam - Wilder, Jansen, and Owens
Full Text Opinion
Issues:

The trial court's finding the defendant-ex-husband was in contempt for violation of a PPO; Whether the trial court had authority to issue the show cause order and to hold defendant in contempt related to a then-expired PPO that was valid when the alleged violation occurred; Steingold v. Wayne County Probate Court Judge (In re Smith); MCL 600.2950(23); MCR 3.708; Criminal contempt; In re Contempt of ACIA; MCL 600.1715; Whether the trial court properly ordered defendant to pay costs; LaVene v. Winnebago Indus.; MCR 3.708(H)(5)(a); Taylor v. Currie; MCL 600.1721; MCL 780.766; Whether defendant's sentence of 35 days' incarceration was excessive; Effect of the fact his violations did not involve threatening or violent behavior

Summary

Where the PPO was still valid when the alleged violation occurred, but had expired by the time the trial court issued a show cause order and held the defendant-ex-husband in contempt related to the PPO, the trial court had clear authority to punish his PPO violation pursuant to its inherent criminal contempt power. Thus, the court affirmed the trial court's order and judgment finding defendant in contempt for violating the PPO, and his 35-day jail sentence, but vacated the trial court's award of costs. Defendant argued the trial court lacked authority to issue the show cause order and to hold him in contempt related to a then-expired PPO, despite the fact the PPO was valid when the alleged violation occurred. The court disagreed, concluding defendant's argument the trial court lacked authority to punish past conduct was "contrary to the express purpose of the criminal contempt power, which is statutorily authorized in the case of a PPO violation." Criminal contempt punishes "for past conduct that affronts the court's dignity." Further, there was no indication in Michigan law a court's authority to apply sanctions for criminal contempt is limited by the current validity of the violated order. MCL 600.1715, governing contempt sanctions, contemplates a sanction where it is no longer possible for the contemnor to comply with the court's order. The court also agreed with the trial court a contrary rule would permit a potential PPO violator to take advantage of the practical problems of getting to court and obtaining a show cause order, and violate the PPO right before its expiration in the hopes of avoiding punishment. The court also rejected defendant's claim his 35-day jail sentence was excessive and constituted an abuse of the trial court's discretion where his violations did not involve threatening or violent behavior. "The sanction need not have been directly designed to prevent defendant from committing specific violent misconduct in the future." However, the trial court lacked authority in the statutes or the court rules to tax a defendant for costs arising from criminal contempt for violation of a PPO. Affirmed in part and vacated in part.

Full Text Opinion