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Shah v. Shah

Court of Appeals of Virginia

July 16, 2019



          Terry L. Fox (Faisal Moghul; Fox & Moghul, on brief), for appellant.

          Daniel A. Harvill (Daniel A. Harvill, PLLC, on brief), for appellee.

          Present: Judges Petty, Malveaux and Senior Judge Annunziata Argued at Alexandria, Virginia



         Despite not being present in court for a scheduled hearing, husband asserts, in nine assignments of error, that the trial court erred in denying his request to continue the case, in not allowing further argument regarding the language of the decree, and in entering wife's proposed divorce decree. Finding no error, we affirm the decision of the trial court.

         I. BACKGROUND

         "When reviewing a trial court's decision on appeal, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the prevailing party, granting it the benefit of any reasonable inferences." Congdon v. Congdon, 40 Va.App. 255, 258 (2003). Husband and wife were married in January of 2014. In February of 2017, wife filed a complaint for divorce. In June of 2017, husband filed a separate complaint for fraud, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and unjust enrichment against wife (marriage fraud case). In July of 2017, the trial court stayed the divorce case pending the results of the marriage fraud case. In February of 2018, the trial court partially lifted the stay in the divorce case so that wife could pursue her grounds for divorce and obtain a divorce. The court continued the stay as to equitable distribution to avoid any prejudice to the property rights of husband should he be successful in the marriage fraud case. Following the ore tenus hearing on October 22, 2018, the trial court granted wife's request for divorce based on continuous separation for one year, pursuant to Code § 20-91(A)(9). The trial court scheduled a hearing on November 9, 2018 for the purpose of considering and entering a final decree.

         According to husband, sometime before the hearing, wife sent husband a draft of the divorce decree. Husband had objections to the proposed decree and suggested they continue the matter to determine whether an agreement could be reached. Neither husband nor husband's counsel appeared for the November 9, 2018 hearing. Husband alleges that both parties agreed that wife's counsel would appear and request a continuance. At the appointed hearing time, the trial court requested that both proposed divorce decrees be submitted. Wife's counsel submitted a proposed decree; husband's counsel was in another court and thus was not present to offer husband's proposed decree. The trial court adjourned the matter until 1:00 p.m. that same day and directed wife's counsel to tell husband's counsel to be present at that time. At the 1:00 p.m. hearing, with counsel for both parties present, the trial court considered the orders presented by both parties and ruled that it would be signing wife's proposed final decree of divorce. Husband argued that although he was seeking a divorce, entry of wife's order, as written, would prejudice him in the marriage fraud case. The trial court emphasized that if it continued the matter for further argument on the orders, as husband requested, it would be a year before the matter could be back on the docket. The trial court directed husband's counsel to note any objections to the ruling on the order and then it would be entered. Husband filed a motion for reconsideration, which was denied. This appeal followed.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Motion for a Continuance

         Husband asserts that the trial court "abused its discretion by not granting a continuance for the entry of an agreed decree even though counsel for both parties had agreed to continue the hearing" and by entering the decree "despite being aware that both parties were actively negotiating the language" of the proposed decree.

         The decision of whether to grant a continuance is committed to the discretion of the circuit court. Haugen v. Shenandoah Valley Dep't of Soc. Servs., 274 Va. 27, 33-34 (2007). We will reverse "a circuit court's ruling on a motion for a continuance . . . only upon a showing of abuse of discretion and resulting prejudice to the movant." Id. at 34.

         In evaluating whether the trial court has abused its discretion we must recognize that the trial court has inherent authority to administer cases on its docket and is not required to continue a case because the parties mutually agreed to the continuance. Singleton v. Commonwealth, 278 Va. 542, 551-52 (2009). In Singleton, the appellant's defense counsel contacted the prosecutor regarding a continuance of the criminal case set for trial. Id. at 545. The parties agreed to continue the case to a set future date. Id. The prosecutor prepared a continuance order and informed his witnesses that they did not have to appear for the original trial date. Id. The parties both signed the order, and the defense counsel informed appellant that he did not have to be present for the original trial date. Id. On the originally-scheduled trial date, the prosecutor appeared and presented the court with the signed continuance order. Id. "[I]n light of the fact that neither [the ...

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