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In re Marriage of Diaz

Court of Appeals of Oklahoma, Division III

January 19, 2018

ANTHONY DIAZ, Respondent/Appellant.

          Mandate Issued: 03/14/2018


          Winston H. Connor, II, Joshua W. Brewer, STOCKWELL & CONNOR, P.L.L.C., Jay, Oklahoma, for Petitioner/Appellee,

          Nancy K. Anderson, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Respondent/Appellant.


         ¶1 Husband appeals that portion of the decree of dissolution wherein the trial court found his personal injury settlement to be marital property, and awarded Wife one-half of his settlement. He also appeals that portion of the decree wherein the trial court found Husband gifted Wife the Bristow home and awarded it to her as her separate property.

         ¶2 Petitioner, Angela Diaz, (Wife) and Respondent, Anthony Diaz, (Husband), were married February 14, 2004. In 2012, Husband participated in a 13-week clinical trial study of a pharmaceutical drug manufactured by Bristol-Myers Squibb to treat hepatitis C. He was 50 years old at the time.

         ¶3 Thereafter, Husband and Wife filed separate tort claims against Bristol-Myers Squibb that were resolved in a class action lawsuit. In April 2013, the parties received separate settlements of their claims against Bristol-Myers Squibb. The settlement documents did not explain how much of each party's award was allotted for which types of damages.

         ¶4 Wife's net recovery was $1, 106, 064.46 which was deposited in a joint bank account with Husband. Husband's net recovery was $1, 937, 209.21. Of that, Husband deposited $437, 209.21 in the same joint account with Wife's award. The remainder of Husband's settlement went into an annuity in his name. The annuity included 180 monthly payments of $5, 725.00 followed by a lump sum of $1, 000, 000.00 to be paid June 1, 2028. Husband's monthly annuity payments began in June 2013. The first annuity payment and those for July, August, and September went into the parties' joint account as Husband had instructed. The parties separated in mid-September, and thereafter, the payments went into Husband's separate account.

         ¶5 At trial, Husband testified that the Bristol-Myers Squibb drug treatment was extremely painful, and that as a result of the treatment, he no longer has hepatitis C. However, he stated, that "[d]oesn't mean it's --I'm not going to have problems down the road." He also testified that it was his understanding that the medication he received in the clinical trial "affected my heart and can affect it later on." He added that something might also happen with his kidneys.

         ¶6 In its August 12, 2016 Order, the trial court found, among other things, that Husband had gifted the residence in Bristow to Wife and awarded it to her as her separate property. It also applied the analytical approach in determining what portion of the tort settlement award was separate or marital property. That approach provides that the injured party who claims that some or all of the award is his separate property has the burden of showing what part of the award represents compensation for pain and suffering, personal disfigurement, post separation loss of earning capacity, medical expense or loss of consortium. The trial court found there was evidence that Husband endured more than 3 months of pain due to the use of the drug, but there was no evidence that any portion of the settlement was given for pain and suffering nor was there evidence that any part of it was given for diminished future earning capacity or for disfigurement. Thus, no part of the award was Husband's separate property. As a result, the trial court found it was marital property. It likewise found that although Wife's award was solely for her loss of consortium, she placed that money in a joint account, making it marital property. It found a 50/50 split of the annuity to be an equitable division of that marital property.

         ¶7 In its Order Regarding Petitioner's Motion to Clarify/Reconsider, among other things, the trial court awarded Husband 56% of the marital estate and awarded Wife 44% of the marital estate. It stated that "... although [Husband] did not prove that any of the settlement received in the Bristol-Meyers [sic] lawsuit was his separate property, his pain and suffering and his risk of future health issues was essentially what brought that very large asset into the marital estate. In reconsideration of this matter, the Court therefore finds the marital property split in favor of Husband is fair and equitable."

         ¶8 In the January 31, 2017, Decree of Divorce and Dissolution of Marriage, the trial court attached the Order as Exhibit E to the decree. In the decree, the trial court ordered that the entire annuity shall be split 50/50 between the parties, including the monthly payments and lump sum due and ordered Husband to reimburse Wife for her half of all payments made into his sole account since the parties separated in September 2013. It determined the amount owed to Wife through August 2016 is $100, 187.50. It directed Husband to change the annuity so that the payment is equally divided between him and Wife from September 2016 on. Husband appeals.

         ¶9 Husband complains that the trial court abused its discretion in finding that his annuity, part of his personal injury settlement, is marital property subject to division and in ordering that the annuity be split 50/50 between the parties. The appellate court will not disturb the trial court's decision regarding property division unless the trial court abused its discretion or the decision is clearly against the weight of the evidence. Gray v. Gray,1996 OK 84, ¶15, 992 P.2d 615. Although property acquired during marriage is presumed to have been jointly acquired, Husband contends that the annuity is his separate property. Standefer v. Standefer,2001 OK 37, ΒΆ15, 26 P.3d 104. In Oklahoma, the analytical approach is applied to determine whether a spouse's tort settlement is separate or joint property. The analytical approach attempts to determine the underlying nature of the recovery before characterizing it as either separate or joint property. The purpose for which the award or settlement is received ...

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