IN THE MATTER OF SANDRA L. PATIENT AND MARCEL C. PATIENT, JR.
Submitted: May 16, 2017
L. Patient, self-represented party, by brief.
Office of Donald A. Kennedy, of Manchester (Donald A. Kennedy
on the brief), for the respondent.
respondent, Marcel C. Patient, Jr., appeals an order of the
Circuit Court (Carbon, J.) requiring him to
reimburse the petitioner, Sandra L. Patient, $5, 105.29 for
certain uninsured medical expenses that she incurred in 2015.
In granting the petitioner's request for reimbursement,
the trial court interpreted the parties' stipulated
divorce decree to include an implied requirement that the
respondent give the petitioner notice before he remarried. On
appeal, the respondent argues that the interpretation of the
trial court was erroneous. We affirm.
record supports the following facts. In 2002, as part of a
stipulated divorce decree, the parties agreed that the
respondent would "continue to provide medical and dental
[i]nsurance for the benefit of the petitioner, until [he]
[r]emarried." The provision did not have a notice
requirement. In July 2015, the respondent remarried, which
resulted in the termination of the petitioner's insurance
coverage. Prior to his remarriage, the respondent did not
notify the petitioner that he would remarry, or that the
petitioner's insurance coverage would be terminated.
Rather, on August 27, the petitioner learned by
"happenstance" that the respondent had remarried
and that, effective July 1, 2015, her insurance coverage had
been cancelled. Because the petitioner incurred $5, 105.29 in
medical expenses between July 1 and August 27, she filed a
motion in the trial court seeking reimbursement for the
uninsured expenses, arguing that the stipulated decree
required that the respondent notify her of his remarriage.
trial court agreed with the petitioner, reasoning that,
although the decree "does not require that [the
respondent] advise [the petitioner] of his date of
remarriage, it is implicit so that [the petitioner] could
obtain her own insurance." In other words, the trial
court concluded that a notice provision was implied in the
decree. The trial court denied the respondent's motion to
reconsider, and this appeal followed.
appeal, the respondent argues that a notice provision cannot
be implied because the parol evidence rule prohibits a court
from adding a provision to a decree when its terms are
unambiguous. The parol evidence rule prohibits the admission
of extrinsic evidence to vary or contradict the plain meaning
of the terms of a contract, unless the contract is ambiguous.
See Parkhurst v. Gibson (Parkhurst), 133 N.H. 57, 62
(1990). In this case, however, the trial court did not rely
upon extrinsic evidence when interpreting the divorce decree.
Rather, it analyzed the language of the stipulation, and the
intent of the parties' agreement, to interpret the decree
as requiring the respondent to give advance notice of his
respondent also argues that the trial court erred when it
interpreted the divorce decree to require that the respondent
give the petitioner advance notice. We disagree. "When a
dispute arises concerning the nature of provisions within a
stipulation, we must consider the intent of the
parties." Miller v. Miller, 133 N.H. 587, 590
(1990). In ascertaining the intent of the parties, we will
consider the situation of the parties at the time of their
agreement and the object that was intended thereby, together
with all of the provisions of their agreement taken as a
whole. Id. "[H]owever, absent fraud, duress,
mutual mistake, or ambiguity, the parties' intentions
will be gleaned from the face of the agreement."
Id. "The interpretation of the language of a
divorce decree, like the interpretation of other written
documents, is a question of law, reviewed by this court
de novo." Estate of Frederick v.
Frederick, 141 N.H. 530, 531 (1996).
held that "[t]erms which are plainly or necessarily
implied in the language of a contract are as much a part of
it as those which are expressed." Laconia Clinic,
Inc. v. Cullen, 119 N.H. 804, 806 (1979). "If the
provisions of the instrument taken together clearly show that
the obligation in question was within the contemplation of
the parties when making their contract or is necessary to
carry their intention into effect, the law will imply the
obligation and enforce it." Id. Thus, although
explicit notice provisions are preferable, in appropriate
circumstances, a court may imply an obligation requiring one
party to give notice of an occurrence relevant to the
agreement. See, e.g., Bank v. Sinclair, 60
N.H. 100, 107 (1880) (noting that when a specific event
triggers a contractual obligation, there is an implied
condition that notice of the event be provided if the event
is within the unique knowledge of the nonperforming party);
see also 15 R. A. Lord, Williston on
Contracts § 48:7, at 679 (4th ed. 2014) ("One
of the most common necessary conditions is that of notice of
the trial court correctly interpreted the decree to include
an implied notice provision because such a term was necessary
for the parties' intent to be realized. The parties
agreed that the respondent would provide health insurance to
the petitioner until he remarried, at which time the
responsibility for the petitioner's healthcare expenses
would shift to the petitioner. This arrangement necessarily
contemplated that, prior to the respondent's remarriage,
the petitioner would have an adequate opportunity to make
alternative plans for her insurance and healthcare needs.
Importantly, the critical event - the respondent's
remarriage - was within his unique knowledge. Therefore,
absent a notice requirement, the respondent would be able to
- and, in fact, did - compromise the petitioner's
opportunity to secure her own insurance coverage, undermining
the clear purpose of the provision. Accordingly, because an
implied notice provision was necessary to effectuate the
parties' intent, we conclude that the trial court did not
err when it interpreted the divorce decree to require that
the respondent provide advance notice to the petitioner
before he remarried. Cf. Fischer v. City of
Dover, 131 N.H. 469, 475 (1989) (implying obligation
requiring city to ensure that corporation was reimbursed for
certain costs, where "the intention of the agreement was
to provide reimbursement to the corporation").
any issues that the respondent did not raise in his notice of
appeal, or raised, but did not brief, are deemed waived.
See Colla v. Town of Hanover, 153 N.H. 206, 210
DALIANIS, C. J, and ...