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Schmierer v. The Tribal Trust

Court of Appeals of New Mexico

July 19, 2018

MAURA SCHMIERER, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
THE TRIBAL TRUST, JIM M. GREEN a/k/a BRIGADIER GENERAL JIM M. GREEN, LILA GREEN a/k/a BRIGADIER GENERAL LILA GREEN, FREE LOVE MINISTRIES a/k/a AGGRESSIVE CHRISTIANITY MISSION TRAINING CORPS., BERNARD BANDARAS a/k/a ANDREW EDWARDS, STEVEN SCHMIERER a/k/a PHILIP JORDAN, and DAVE GANE, Defendants-Appellees.

          APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF CIBOLA COUNTY Pedro G. Rael, District Judge

          Law Offices of Mel B. O'Reilly, LLC Mel B. O'Reilly Albuquerque, NM Lorenz Law Alice T. Lorenz Albuquerque, NM for Appellant.

          Law Office of Derek V. Garcia, LLC Derek Garcia Albuquerque, NM for Appellees Jim and Lila Green.

          The Allison Law Firm, PC Michael Allison Albuquerque, NM for Appellees Banderas, Gain, Schmierer, Free Love Ministries and Tribal Trust.

          OPINION

          HENRY M. BOHNHOFF, JUDGE.

         {¶1} Plaintiff Maura Schmierer (Schmierer) appeals from the district court's dismissal of her 2004 petition[1] seeking domestication and enforcement of a California state court judgment that she obtained in 1989. Notwithstanding the fact that Schmierer had revived the California judgment in 1999, the district court determined that enforcement of the judgment was time-barred pursuant to NMS A 1978, § 37-1-2 (1983), New Mexico's fourteen-year statute of limitations for enforcing judgments. For the reasons discussed below, we hold that the California judgment was not time-barred. We therefore reverse and remand to the district court for further proceedings.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         {¶2} This dispute has a lengthy history. According to Schmierer, she and her then-husband, Defendant Steven Schmierer, a/k/a Philip Jordan, became members of Defendant Free Love Ministries, a/k/a Aggressive Christianity Mission Training Corps, sometime in the 1980s. Defendants Jim and Lila Green (the Greens), who are married and are both referred to as "Brigadier Generals," control Free Love Ministries, which Schmierer characterizes as a cult. At some point before 1989, Schmierer fell out of favor with the Greens. Lila Green accused Schmierer of "spiritual adultery," "excommunicated" her, and confined her and two other women to a shed on property the Greens owned in Sacramento, California.

         {¶3} Schmierer claims that, after three months of confinement in the shed, she escaped. She subsequently filed suit in the Sacramento County Superior Court in California, claiming false imprisonment. She named as defendants Free Love Ministries, the Greens, Steven Schmierer, and two other Free Love Ministries members, Bernard Bandaras a/k/a Andrew Edwards, and Dave Gane (collectively, the California Defendants). On March 10, 1989, the California court entered a default judgment against the California Defendants in the amount of $1, 020, 046.

         {¶4} Schmierer claims that, following entry of the California judgment, the California Defendants undertook a series of actions to obstruct her efforts to satisfy the judgment. They first deliberately damaged, to the point of unhabitability, the Greens' Sacramento property. They then fled to Gridley, California, where the Greens purchased more property. After Schmierer located the California Defendants in Gridley, they fled to Oregon and purchased property under the names of other people and paid for all of the property in cash. Although Schmierer was able to seize the Greens' property in Sacramento and Gridley, the proceeds were not sufficient to satisfy the judgment.

         {¶5} Schmierer claims that in 1993, the California Defendants moved to New Mexico, again to frustrate her efforts to satisfy her judgment. In June 1995 they acquired a parcel of property in the vicinity of Fence Lake in Cibola County and titled the parcel in the name of "Confianza Trust." They acquired another, larger parcel in the same vicinity in July 1997 and titled that parcel in the name of "the Tribal Trust," an entity that they had created earlier that month. On March 22, 2004, after Schmierer had tracked the California Defendants to New Mexico and discovered the Fence Lake real estate transactions, she filed the present suit in the Thirteenth Judicial District Court in Cibola County, naming as defendants the California Defendants as well as the Tribal Trust. The following month, Cassandra M. Cuaron, as trustee of the Confianza Trust, conveyed the first parcel to "River of Life Trust," and the Greens, as trustees of the Tribal Trust, conveyed the second parcel to "Cheptsi-Bah Trust."

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         {¶6} A California statute, Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 683.020 (West 1982), establishes a ten-year limit for enforcing judgments. However, Cal. Civ. Proc. Code §§ 683.110 to .150 (West 1982, as amended through 2013) permit and establish a procedure for "extend[ing] by renewal" a judgment for another ten years. Under California law, the renewal "does not create a new judgment or modify the present judgment, but merely extends the enforceability of the judgment-in effect, it resets the [ten]-year enforcement clock." OCM Principal Opportunities Fund v. CIBC World Mkts. Corp., 85 Cal.Rptr.3d 350, 353 (Ct. App. 2008) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         {¶7} Schmierer had renewed her California judgment on March 9, 1999, extending its enforceability for ten years. As renewed, and after accounting for the amounts recovered in partial satisfaction of the judgment as well as accrued interest, the amount of the judgment was $1, 580, 198.26. Thus, Schmeirer could have enforced her judgment in California at any time through March 9, 2009.

         {¶8} Schmierer's 2004 New Mexico petition contained two counts. In Count I, she sought to domesticate the 1989 California judgment, that is, she requested that "full faith and credit [be given] to the judgment pursuant to the laws of the United States of America." In Count II, Schmierer sought to enforce the judgment. She alleged that the California Defendants had fraudulently transferred their assets in violation of the Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act, n/k/a the Uniform Voidable Transactions Act (UVTA), NMSA 1978, §§ 56-10-14 to-29 (1989, as amended through 2015), and that the assets had been transferred to entities, including the Tribal Trust, that were the California Defendants' alter egos. She asked that the district court impose a constructive trust on those assets, among other relief.

         {¶9} Following service of process on Defendants, Lila Green filed a pro se response to summons that asserted, among other points, that the California judgment was stale under New Mexico law. None of the other Defendants filed any documents that might be characterized as an answer to Schmierer's petition. However, between 2004 and 2007, the Greens, Edwards, and the Tribal Trust filed several motions to dismiss, generally arguing that enforcement of Schmierer's judgment was barred by Section 37-1-2. Schmierer, in turn, moved for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that her renewed judgment was not untimely and was entitled to be given full faith and credit; Schmierer sought judgment on both counts of her petition. By orders entered on July 28, 2004, and April 17, 2007, the district court denied Defendants' motions, granted judgment on Count I of Schmierer's petition, but denied her motion as it related to Count II.

         {¶10} Beginning in 2004, Schmierer also sought to take the depositions of the Greens and inspect the Fence Lake properties. Following the Greens' failure to appear for their depositions and Defendants' refusal to permit the inspection of the properties, on December 6, 2006, the district court granted Schmierer's motion to compel the requested discovery. The record reflects, however, that the Greens apparently continued to refuse to appear for depositions and permit inspection of the properties.[2]

         {¶11} The district court held a one-day bench trial on February 1, 2012. None of the individual defendants appeared, although they were represented by counsel. Schmierer presented four witnesses. Schmierer along with Julie Gudino, another former member of Free Love Ministries, and Schmierer's son, Nathan Schmierer, also a former member, essentially corroborated Schmierer's allegations about her experience as a member of Free Love Ministries and Defendants' actions to obstruct collection of the 1989 judgment. Donald Sanchez, an employee of a local title company, testified about the 1997 acquisition of the Fence Lake parcel that was titled in the name of the Tribal Trust. Schmierer testified about her efforts to collect on the judgment in California and Oregon.

         {¶12} The district court entered findings of fact and conclusions of law on December 30, 2014. The court determined that the 1999 renewal of the 1989 judgment "renew[ed] the effectiveness of the California [j]udgment for an additional period and did not create a new judgment at the time." As a result, "[t]he California judgment is time-barred and is not properly subject to domestication in New Mexico. New Mexico's fourteen[-]year statute for enforcement of a judgment runs from the date of the California judgment in 1989." Thus, the court effectively reversed its earlier grant of judgment on Count I of the petition. Notwithstanding the dismissal on statute of limitations grounds, the district court nevertheless also made findings that relate to Schmierer's request in Count II of her petition to enforce the judgment. First, the court found that the acquisition of the second Fence Lake property in the name of the Tribal Trust "was accomplished as the alter ego of Jim Green and Lila Green." Second, "Confianza Trust and Cheptsi-Bah Trust have not been joined as defendants and the [c]ourt is without jurisdiction to set aside those transfers." On December 3, 2015, the district court entered its judgment, dismissing Schmierer's petition. Schmierer's appeal followed. Defendants have not cross-appealed.

         DISCUSSION

         {¶13} On appeal, Schmierer advances the same arguments she made below in rebuttal to Defendants' statute of limitations defense: (1) the court erred in not entering a default judgment against Defendants, or alternatively barring them from asserting the statute of limitations defense, as a sanction for violating their discovery obligations and the court's order compelling discovery; (2) the court erred in not determining that the limitations period was equitably tolled based on Defendants' actions to conceal their assets and otherwise obstruct Schmierer's efforts to satisfy her judgment; (3) the court erred in failing to give full faith and credit to the 1999 renewal of the 1989 judgment and, consistent with such action, determine that the 2004 petition was timely under Section 37-1-2. Schmierer also urges that the district court erred in not disregarding Defendants' transfers of real property to fictitious trusts or alternatively voiding the transfers pursuant to the UVTA, and otherwise permitting her to execute her judgment against those assets. Because we conclude that Section 37-1-2 did not bar enforcement of the 1999 renewed ...


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