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Chapman v. Brechler

Court of Appeals of Iowa

July 3, 2019

ANGELA CHAPMAN and KRISTINE FORD, Plaintiffs-Appellees,
v.
BARBARA BRECHLER, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Clay County, Don E. Courtney, Judge.

         Barbara Brechler appeals from the district court's summary judgment rulings overruling her motion and sustaining the motion of Angela Chapman and Kristine Ford, her deceased husband's daughters.

          Steven R. Postolka and Stephen F. Avery of Cornwall, Avery, Bjornstad & Scott, Spencer, for appellant.

          Michael R. Bovee and Jill M. Davis of Montgomery, Barry, Bovee, Steffen & Davis, LLP, Spencer, for appellees.

          Heard by Potterfield, P.J., and Doyle and Mullins, JJ.

          DOYLE, JUDGE.

         Carl Brechler owned an Individual Retirement Account (IRA). Pursuant to a 2003 decree of dissolution from his wife Donna, he designated his daughters Angela Chapman and Kristine Ford as primary beneficiaries of the IRA.[1] Carl married Barbara in 2004. In 2011, he transferred 54% of the IRA to a new IRA. He designated his daughters as primary beneficiaries of the new IRA and changed the primary beneficiary designation of the original IRA from his daughters to his wife Barbara.

         Carl's daughters filed a petition for declaratory judgment against Barbara seeking to invalidate and set aside Carl's designation of Barbara as the primary beneficiary of the original IRA. Following a hearing on dueling motions for summary judgment, the district court sustained Carl's daughters' motion and overruled Barbara's motion, finding the 2003 dissolution decree obligated Carl, by way of his and Donna's voluntary stipulation, to irrevocably designate his daughters as equal beneficiaries of the IRA in question. Barbara appeals that ruling, arguing Carl was permitted to make withdrawals under the stipulation, which was essentially what he did, and Carl's daughters were only to inherit the balance of Carl's retirement account on the date of his death, which they did. Alternatively, Barbara argues Carl's post-dissolution contributions to his retirement account are her and Carl's marital property, and Carl's transfer of funds to a new IRA account for his daughters honored the provisions of his divorce stipulation. Upon our review, we affirm the district court's summary judgment rulings.

         I. Standard of Review.

         "A motion for summary judgment is appropriately granted when 'there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.'" Behm v. City of Cedar Rapids, 922 N.W.2d 524, 542 (Iowa 2019) (quoting Iowa R. Civ. P. 1.981(3)). Our review of a court's summary judgment ruling is for correction of errors at law. See Morris v. Steffes Group, Inc., 924 N.W.2d 491, 496 (Iowa 2019).

         II. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         The underlying facts are undisputed. In December 2003, the district court entered a decree dissolving the marriage of Donna and Carl Brechler. The decree accepted and adopted Donna and Carl's stipulation and property settlement, containing the following provision:

Carl is a participant in a 401(K) Plan sponsored by his employer, . . . which plan had a balance of $124, 164.59 as of June 5, 2003 (hereinafter "Carl's 401(K) Plan").
. . . Carl shall cause the Administrator of Carl's 401(K) Plan to assign to an [IRA] established by Donna (hereinafter "Donna's Rollover IRA"), an amount equal to one-half (1/2) of the balance held in Carl's 401(K) Plan . . . .
Carl and Donna agree that following the assignment of one-half (1/2) of the balance of Carl's 401(K) Plan to Donna's Rollover IRA, that Carl shall receive the remaining balance held in Carl's 401(K) Plan.
Carl agrees that he will irrevocably designate [his and Donna's adult children, Angela Chapman and Kristine Ford, [2] as equal beneficiaries of Carl's 401(K) Plan in the event of Carl's death.

         Other provisions of the stipulation adopted by the district court declared that Carl and Donna knew the stipulation's terms and conditions, executed the stipulation freely and voluntarily, and would execute any additional documents ...


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