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Byars v. Byars (9/5/97), 945 P 2d 792
Notice: This opinion is subject to correction before publication in
the Pacific Reporter. Readers are requested to bring errors to the attention of
the Clerk of the Appellate Courts, 303 K Street, Anchorage, Alaska 99501, phone
(907) 264-0608, fax (907) 264-0878.
THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF ALASKA
LONNIE T. BYARS, )
) Supreme Court No. S-7396
) Superior Court No.
v. ) 3AN-74-557 CI
AVRIL K. BYARS, ) O P I N I O N
Appellee. ) [No. 4879 - September 5, 1997]
Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of
Alaska, Third Judicial District, Anchorage,
Larry D. Card, Judge.
Appearances: Maryann E. Foley, Anchorage, for
Appellant. Patrick J. McKay, Law Offices of Patrick J. McKay,
Anchorage, for Appellee.
Before: Compton, Chief Justice, Matthews,
Eastaugh, Fabe, and Bryner, Justices.
Lonnie Byars appeals the superior court's order that he
pay child support arrearages, challenging the court's findings of
fact, its denial of his motion for reconsideration, and its award
of attorney's fees. We affirm.
II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS
Lonnie and Avril Byars [Fn. 1] were divorced in 1974.
Avril was awarded custody of their daughter, Sherri, and Lonnie was
ordered to pay child support in the amount of $100 per month.
Lonnie fell behind on his child support, and in 1978, the superior
court approved a stipulation in which Lonnie agreed to pay $3,000
in back child support and consented to an increase in his child
support payment from $100 to $175 per month, plus 7.5% of his
Once again, Lonnie fell behind in his support obligation,
ceasing any payment of child support after March 2, 1979. In 1986
Avril filed a motion to reduce child support arrears to judgment.
The parties negotiated a second settlement in which Lonnie agreed
to pay a total sum of $15,000 with the following payment schedule:
$3,000 on August 26, 1988;
$2,000 by October 1, 1988;
$5,000 by August 1, 1989; and
$5,000 by August 1, 1990.
Lonnie's attorney drafted the stipulated order
formalizing the parties' agreement. Paragraph four of the order
provided in part:
4. These payments are contingent upon
Mr. Byars receiving prompt, full and accurate notification from the
Plaintiff, by registered mail, return receipt requested, by July
15, 1989 and July 15, 1990, and upon any change in address or phone
number for their daughter Sherri Byars, within ten (10) days of
Plaintiff being notified of that change in address or phone number.
Lonnie made the two scheduled payments totaling $5,000 in 1988, but
he only made a partial payment of $2,525 in August 1989. He made
no further payments.
Avril again filed a motion with the court to reduce child
support arrearages to judgment. Lonnie opposed on the ground that
his duty to make further scheduled payments pursuant to the
agreement was excused by Avril's failure to satisfy the condition
that she notify him via registered mail of Sherri's address and
phone number by July 15, 1989 and July 15, 1990. Lonnie also
questioned whether he had been credited with a tuition payment made
directly to Sherri's college.
After reviewing the submissions of the parties, the
superior court found that on July 10, 1989, Avril sent a letter to
both Lonnie and his attorney notifying them of Sherri's address.
Lonnie's attorney forwarded this letter to Lonnie on August 1,
1989. The superior court also found that Sherri attempted to
inform her father by letter of her whereabouts in 1989. The court
concluded that although Avril's letters may not have been sent by
registered mail as specified in the agreement, "Ms. Ogilvie made a
good faith effort, and substantially complied with the terms of the
. . . agreement with regard to informing Mr. Byars of the address
in 1989." The court also found that when "Mr. Byars did not make
the payment of $5,000 ordered to be made on August 1, 1989,"he
breached the agreement, excusing Avril's failure to send the second
required notification of Sherri's address in July 1990.
In its order containing these findings, the superior
court concluded that Lonnie owed Avril the claimed child support
and directed Lonnie to "submit to the court proof of the amounts he
sent to Sherri's school, and the amounts refunded to him with
receipts within thirty (30) days of the clerk's distribution of
Although dated December 9, 1994, the superior court's
order inadvertently was not distributed to the parties by the
court. In October 1995, the superior court entered judgment
against Lonnie in the principal amount of $7,475, [Fn. 2] plus
interest in the amount of $4,324.02, and Rule 82 attorney's fees in
the amount of $2,123.82, for a total judgment of $13,922.84.
Lonnie moved for reconsideration, arguing that the superior court
had failed to enter findings of fact and conclusions of law as
required under Alaska R. Civ. P. 52(a). He also claimed that the
attorney's fees awarded to Avril were excessive. The court denied
this motion, directing the parties' attention to its findings of
December 9, 1994 and stating that no further findings were
necessary. The court also noted that it was under no obligation to
make findings for an attorney's fees award in accordance with the
Rule 82(b)(1) schedule. The court's fee award to Avril represents
18% of her judgment, the rate prescribed by Rule 82(b)(1) for
judgments in cases that are contested but do not go to trial.
Lonnie appeals the superior court's findings of fact
contained in its December 9, 1994 order, the denial of his motion
for reconsideration, and the award of attorney's fees to Avril.
A. The Superior Court's Order of December 9, 1994
In its December 9, 1994 order, the superior court found
that "Ms. Ogilvie made a good faith effort"to inform Lonnie of
Sherri's change of address as required in paragraph 4 of the
stipulated order, and therefore "substantially complied with the
terms of the 1988 agreement with regard to informing Mr. Byars of
the address in 1989." Furthermore, the court found that Lonnie's
partial payment in 1989 was "not substantial completion of the
agreement, and that this amounted to a breach of the agreement,
excusing Ms. Ogilvie's failure to comply with the agreement to send
notification of the address by July 15, 1990."
Lonnie contends that the trial court's conclusion that
Avril substantially complied with the stipulated order by notifying
him through his attorney of Sherri's address via regular mail was
erroneous. [Fn. 3] Lonnie maintains that Avril's obligation to
notify him on July 15, 1989 and 1990 of Sherri's address by
registered mail was a condition precedent to his duty to make the
agreed upon payments to Sherri. Lonnie's argument is devoid of
Whether or not he received the letter that Avril sent to
him directly, it is undisputed that Lonnie had actual notice of
Sherri's address and phone number, having received from his lawyer
a copy of Avril's letter. Furthermore, Lonnie possessed Sherri's
phone number at the time the 1989 payment was due and, in fact,
talked with her by phone in July 1989.
The fact that Lonnie had actual notice of Sherri's
address and phone number and the ability to contact her in July
1989 cures any deficiencies in the notice given. Cf. Neal & Co. v.
City of Dillingham, 923 P.2d 89, 92 (Alaska 1996) ("[T]imely actual
notice, even in the absence of written notice, will be considered
sufficient notice under the [contract] clause."). Furthermore, the
requirement that Avril use registered mail to notify Lonnie of
Sherri's address was not a material element of their agreement.
Rather, the primary purpose of their stipulation was to require
Lonnie to pay $15,000 in satisfaction of Avril's claim against him
for past due child support. The obvious intent of the notice
provision was to ensure that Lonnie receive "prompt, full and
accurate notification"of Sherri's address. Because Lonnie
received actual notice of Sherri's whereabouts, his duty to pay
Sherri the agreed amount in 1989 was not excused. Furthermore, as
the trial court concluded, Lonnie's failure to make the required
payment in 1989 amounted to a breach of the agreement and excused
Avril from further obligation to provide notice of Sherri's address
by July 15, 1990. [Fn. 4]
B. The Superior Court's Award of Attorney's Fees
We review the award of attorney's fees under the abuse of
discretion standard. Patch v. Patch, 760 P.2d 526, 530 (Alaska
1988). Attorney's fees awards made pursuant to the schedule in
Civil Rule 82(b)(1) are presumptively correct. The prevailing
party bears no burden to justify such awards, and no findings by
the court are necessary. Babinec v. Yabuki, 799 P.2d 1325, 1337
It is apparent that the superior court followed the
schedule in Rule 82(b)(1) in awarding attorney's fees to Avril.
[Fn. 5] Lonnie argues that the superior court should have varied
the award of attorney's fees in this case pursuant to Rule
82(b)(3)(C) and (H), which provide that the court may vary a
scheduled attorney's fee award calculated under the rule if the
court determines a variation is warranted due to "the
reasonableness of the attorney's hourly rates and the number of
hours expended"or "the relationship between the amount of work
performed and the significance of the matters at stake." A review
of the record suggests that it is likely that Avril's legal
expenses far exceeded the statutory amount awarded. There is no
evidence in the record suggesting that a variation downward from
the schedule was appropriate, nor that the superior court abused
its discretion in following the statutory schedule. Therefore, we
affirm the superior court's award of attorney's fees.
Based upon the foregoing, we AFFIRM the superior court's
findings of fact, its denial of Lonnie's motion for
reconsideration, and its award of attorney's fees.
Avril has remarried and her name is now Avril Ogilvie.
The parties agree that this is the amount that Lonnie has
failed to pay despite the stipulated order.
We review issues of law de novo. Walsh v. Emerick, 611 P.2d
28, 30 (Alaska 1980). Under this standard, it is our duty "to
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
Lonnie also contends that the denial of reconsideration was
clearly erroneous because it was based upon the court's mistaken
impression that Lonnie had received the December 9, 1994 order and
had failed to comply with its requirement that he submit proof of
the tuition payments made to Sherri's college in 1989. The trial
court's reference in its denial of reconsideration to Mr. Byars's
failure to submit proof of the amount paid in 1989 was not the
basis for its denial of the motion.
Avril, moreover, correctly points out that Lonnie did not
suffer any prejudice from the court's failure to circulate the
order; the trial court's October 1995 final judgment reflected a
credit for Lonnie's claimed tuition payments. Because the superior
court took at face value Lonnie's claimed credits for support
payments, there is no purpose for remanding this matter to the
The schedule provides for attorney's fees to be 18% of the
judgment and prejudgment interest if the matter was contested but
did not go to trial. The amount of attorney's fees awarded to
Avril, $2,123.82, is precisely 18% of the money judgment and
prejudgment interest awarded to Avril by the court: $11,799.02.