Thursday, December 15, 2005

civil contempt - specificity of order

McNelis, et al. v. Lear, et al. - Pa. Superior Court - December 14, 2005

This is a civil contempt case about enforcement of a settlement agreement in a property dispute matter. This may be of interest to family law advocates because of its possible application to PFA civil contempts.

Superior Court reversed lower court finding of contempt, because the lower court had not clearly set out a specific order that appellants had not followed.

The court said that the "order forming the basis for the contempt finding must be definite, clear, and specific, leaving no doubt or uncertainty regarding the prohibited conduct….It is well settled that there are certain elements necessary to support a finding of civil contempt, namely: that the contemnor had notice of the specific order or decree which he disobeyed; that the act constituting the contemnor's violation was volitional; and that the contemnor acted with wrongful intent."

In this case, the lower court had never entered an order directing appellants to do what they had allegedly not done. "Because Appellants were not in violation of a specific court order it was improper for the trial court to find them in contempt."

Donald Marritz
MidPenn Legal Services