FELICIA PIEROT BRODY v. CARY BRODY, SC 19037
Judicial District of Stamford-Norwalk
Dissolution of Marriage; Whether Trial Court, In Making Alimony Award, Improperly Considered Conduct Subject to Parties’ Release; Whether Judgment Based on Unsupported Finding of Infidelity; Whether Civil Contempt Must be Proved by a Preponderance of the Evidence or by Clear and Convincing Evidence. The defendant appealed from a judgment dissolving his marriage to the plaintiff and awarding her $2.5 million in lump sum alimony, and from a subsequent finding of contempt. On appeal, the defendant claimed that in making the alimony award, the trial court improperly considered his conduct that was the subject of a written stipulation between the parties that released claims concerning that conduct. The stipulation arose out of an arbitration proceeding addressing allegations by the plaintiff that the defendant engaged in misconduct in managing a fund in which the plaintiff had invested. The defendant argued that the stipulation, which released him from “any and all claims” arising out of the plaintiff’s investment in the fund, included claims for alimony. The Appellate Court (136 Conn. App. 773) disagreed, finding that the stipulation unambiguously released only those claims arising out of the plaintiff’s investment in the fund and did not encompass claims for alimony. The court noted that the stipulation was drafted in connection with an arbitration proceeding that was separate and distinct from the dissolution action and that, while the parties finalized the stipulation after the dissolution proceedings had commenced, the stipulation made no mention of alimony. The Appellate Court also rejected the defendant’s claim that the dissolution judgment was based in part on a finding of infidelity that was not supported by sufficient evidence in the record. The court noted that the trial court explicitly found that the marriage had broken down irretrievably and that it dissolved the marriage on that ground. The court observed that the trial court listed “probable infidelity” only as a factor contributing to the breakdown of the marriage, along with the defendant's dishonesty, extravagant spending, excessive drinking and abusive behavior. Finally, the Appellate Court rejected the defendant’s claim that the trial court, in finding him in contempt of a remedial order made in connection with an earlier contempt finding, improperly failed to apply the clear and convincing evidence standard of proof. The court found that it was bound by its prior decisions holding that a party attempting to establish an indirect civil contempt must do so by a preponderance of the evidence. The defendant challenges the Appellate Court’s rulings in this appeal to the Supreme Court.