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W. Lantz v. D. Lantz (1/29/93), 845 P 2d 429
NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal correction
before publication in the Pacific Reporter. Readers are
requested to bring typographical or other formal errors to
the attention of the Clerk of the Appellate Courts, 303 K
Street, Anchorage, Alaska 99501, in order that corrections
may be made prior to permanent publication.
THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF ALASKA
WARREN DOUGLAS LANTZ, )
Appellant, ) File No. S-4590
v. ) 3AN 77 9195 CI
DOROTHY JEAN LANTZ, ) O P I N I O N
Appellee. ) [No. 3922 - January 29, 1993]
Appeal from the Superior Court of the State
of Alaska, Third Judicial District,
Anchorage, Peter A. Michalski, Judge.
Appearances: Warren D. Lantz, Anchorage,
Pro Per. Max F. Gruenberg Jr., Gruenberg and
Clover, Anchorage, for Appellee.
Before: Moore, Chief Justice, Rabinowitz,
Burke, Matthews and Compton, Justices.
Warren Lantz appeals the trial court's order and
judgment requiring him to pay his former wife Dorothy alimony
arrearages totalling $167,812.50. Warren argues that the trial
court applied the incorrect statute of limitations and that it
erred in denying his laches defense. None of Warren's arguments
The superior court's order and judgment is affirmed.
II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS
Warren filed for divorce from his wife Dorothy in
December 1977. An initial hearing was held before Judge Buckalew
on May 18, 1978. The transcript reveals that the great bulk of
the hearing was devoted to figuring out how to give Dorothy a
share in the "Alaska Gulf,"a vessel that Warren was converting
to a king crab trawler. Dorothy insisted on obtaining an
interest in the boat. Dorothy's lawyer stated that getting an
interest in the boat was "the only reason we're in court today."
Warren refused to give Dorothy any control over the
boat. He submitted documents showing the boat to be a "negative
asset." His position was that the only way the boat would become
a "positive asset" was through his own work. He sought
resolution of the issue because he needed to raise money for the
boat's conversion, and the divorce had his "credit blocked."
Judge Buckalew wrestled with how to divide the
property: "I don't want to make an indentured servant out of
anybody. But I can't ignore that the property has to be
equitably divided." Judge Buckalew worried that if Dorothy was
not "given some interest in [the Alaska Gulf], I'll send her out
of the courtroom bankrupt." After some discussion, Judge
Buckalew suggested alimony because "it wouldn't have to interfere
with the vessel." The parties agreed to adjourn to discuss the
Shortly thereafter, Warren and Dorothy signed a
"Property Settlement Agreement"(Agreement). Along with dividing
the property, the Agreement included a provision for Dorothy's
maintenance and support:
21. In full and final settlement
of the Husband's obligation to support and
maintain the Wife, the Husband agrees to pay
to the Wife the sum of ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND
DOLLARS ($100,000.00) in equal monthly
payments of ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS ($1,000.00),
the first installment to be paid on July 1,
1980, and succeeding installments to be paid
on the first day of each month thereafter
until the entire sum of ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND
DOLLARS ($100,000.00) shall have been paid.
The obligation of the Husband shall, notwith
standing any other provision of this
Agreement, survive his death and shall be a
binding obligation of his estate. The
obligation of the Husband shall terminate
upon the death of the Wife.
At a hearing before Master Hitchcock on May 23, 1978,
Warren testified that he felt providing Dorothy with $100,000 was
"fair and equitable." He also stated the money was alimony.
Master Hitchcock approved the Agreement, and so did Superior
Court Judge Rowland. The divorce decree, which was signed on May
26, contained the following provision:
ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that the
Property Settlement Agreement of the parties
on file with the Court is hereby approved and
incorporated herein as if fully set out
Warren never made any payments. On October 31, 1990,
Dorothy filed a Motion for Consolidated Judgment seeking to
reduce the arrearages to judgment. Warren opposed the motion,
arguing that the earlier payments were barred by a six year
statute of limitations governing contract actions, and the more
recent payments were barred by laches. On February 22, 1991,
Judge Michalski granted Dorothy's motion and denied Warren's
motion to dismiss. He ordered Dorothy to submit a work sheet
showing a calculation of the accrued principal and interest not
barred by AS 09.10.40, the ten year statute of limitations
governing actions on decrees. Warren's Petition for Recon
sideration was denied without comment. On May 23, 1991, Judge
Michalski entered judgment in favor of Dorothy for $167,812.50.
A. THE SUPERIOR COURT PROPERLY APPLIED THE TEN YEAR
STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS.
Warren argues that the superior court should have
applied the six year statute of limitations to Dorothy's action.1
His theory is that the support provision in the Agreement was a
debt, not alimony, and therefore subject to the statute of
limitations controlling contracts. See AS 09.10.050. Warren
argues that the hearing transcript "shows conclusively that the
$100,000 agreement, contained in item 21, was an offset in lieu
of a half interest in the Alaska Gulf."
Regardless of whether the payments are characterized as
alimony or installment payments of property, the trial court
correctly applied the ten year statute of limitations. Alaska
Statute 09.10.040 governs actions on decrees: "No person may
bring an action upon a judgment or decree of a court . . . of a
state or territory within the United States . . . unless
commenced within 10 years." Since Warren and Dorothy's Agreement
was incorporated into the divorce decree, Dorothy's action is
based on the decree, not the Agreement. Stone v. Stone, 647 P.2d
582, 584 (Alaska 1982) ("A property settlement incorporated into
a divorce decree is merged into the decree, so that the rights of
the parties derive from the decree, not the agreement.").
Therefore, the ten year statute of limitations should apply to
her action. Cf. Cedergreen v. Cedergreen, 811 P.2d 784, 786
(Alaska 1991) (ten year statute of limitations applied to an
action based on a child custody agreement incorporated into a
B. DOROTHY'S CLAIM IS NOT BARRED BY LACHES.
According to the Agreement, Dorothy should have
received her first support payment on July 1, 1980. Warren never
made any payments. Dorothy did not institute the present action
until October 31, 1990. Warren raised a laches defense in his
motion to dismiss. The superior court denied the motion. Warren
now argues "the court erred in denying that Jean Lantz, the
appelle [sic], was guilty of laches."
Dorothy initially argues that "[a]s a matter of law
laches provides no defense against a judgment already entered."
This argument has merit. Laches is an equitable defense
inapplicable to actions at law. Gudenau v. Bang, 781 P.2d 1357,
1363 (Alaska 1989). In Kodiak Electric Ass'n v. Delaval Turbine,
Inc., 694 P.2d 150, 157 (Alaska 1984), we stated:
When a party is seeking to enforce a
legal right, as opposed to invoking the
discretionary equitable relief of the courts,
the applicable statute of limitations should
serve as the sole line of demarcation for the
assertion of the right.
Whether an action to enforce a judgment is legal or equitable in
nature depends on the relief sought. Gudenau, 781 P.2d at 1363,
n.9. Here, Dorothy seeks a money judgment for alimony
arrearages. Since her action is therefore one at law, the laches
defense is not available. The ten year statute of limitations is
the "sole line of demarcation for the assertion of [her] right."
Kodiak Electric, 694 P.2d at 157.
In Young v. Williams, 583 P.2d 201, 204-05 (Alaska
1978), we held a husband could not raise a laches defense in a
child support arrearages action because he had failed to show
undue prejudice. We addressed the merits of the laches defense
without discussing the threshold question of whether the laches
defense was available. Young was decided before Kodiak Electric.
No case since Kodiak Electric has discussed laches in the context
of an arrearages action based on an agreement found in a divorce
decree. We now state definitively that laches is no defense to
an action to reduce alimony arrearages to judgment.
C. THE SUPERIOR COURT WAS NOT REQUIRED TO ISSUE
FINDINGS OF FACT WHEN IT DENIED WARREN'S MOTION.
Warren argues that the trial court erred in not making
findings of fact when it denied his motion to dismiss. Civil
Rule 52 does not require findings on such a motion. Alaska R.
Civ. P. 52(a) ("Findings of fact and conclusions of law are
unnecessary on decisions of motions under Rules 12 or 56 or any
other motion except as provided in Rule 41(b)."); see also
Alaska State Housing Auth. v. Contento, 432 P.2d 117, 122 (Alaska
1967) (holding that no findings of fact are necessary on summary
1. We review questions of law de novo. Langdon v.
Champion, 752 P.2d 999, 1001 (Alaska 1988). We will "adopt the
rule of law that is most persuasive in light of precedent, reason
and policy."Guin v. Ha, 591 P.2d 1281, 1284 n.6 (Alaska 1979).
2. Warren's final argument is that "the court erred in not
recognizing Alaska is an `equitable division jurisdiction.'" He
implies that the Agreement should be set aside because the
property division was unfair. Warren did not raise this argument
below, and did not include it in his points on appeal.
Therefore, it is waived. Appellate Rule 210(e); Graeber v.
Hickel Inv. Co., 803 P.2d 871, 872 n.4 (Alaska 1990).