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Standridge v. Standridge

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

June 5, 2018

CHARLENE PERHEALTH STANDRIDGE, Plaintiff,
v.
JAMES EDWARD STANDRIDGE, Defendant.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 4 October 2017.

          Appeal by plaintiff from order entered 31 January 2017 by Judge Regina M. Joe in District Court, Richmond County, No. 15 CVD 437

          Buckner Law Office, PPLC, by Richard G. Buckner, for plaintiff-appellant.

          No brief filed on behalf of defendant-appellee.

          STROUD, JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Charlene Perhealth Standridge ("Wife") appeals from the trial court's equitable distribution order. Wife argues that the trial court erroneously concluded that it could not consider for equitable distribution funds defendant James Edward Standridge ("Husband") had deposited into his personal account and farm account but later withdrew. Because no claim for equitable distribution was filed after the parties' date of separation, the trial court did not have subject matter jurisdiction to enter the equitable distribution order, so we do not reach this issue on appeal and instead must vacate the order.

         Background

         Husband and Wife were married on 26 November 1992. On 15 April 2015, Wife filed her complaint for divorce from bed and board and equitable distribution of the marital property. On 15 June 2015, Husband filed a motion to dismiss, answer, and counterclaims for divorce from bed and board and equitable distribution.

         A pretrial order was entered on 14 April 2016 and the parties stipulated to several facts, including their date of separation, 12 September 2015. On 21 January 2017, following a hearing, the trial court entered an equitable distribution order. In the order, the trial court found as fact that "although this action was filed on April 15, 2015, the final date of separation of the parties for purposes of this trial and of this Order is by stipulation of the parties September 12, 2015." Wife timely appealed to this Court.

         Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         Neither party raised a question of jurisdiction on appeal, but where the record shows subject matter jurisdiction does not exist, this Court should address it ex mero motu:

The question of subject matter jurisdiction may be raised at any time, even in the Supreme Court. When the record clearly shows that subject matter jurisdiction is lacking, the Court will take notice and dismiss the action ex mero motu. Every court necessarily has the inherent judicial power to inquire into, hear and determine questions of its own jurisdiction, whether of law or fact, the decision of which is necessary to determine the questions of its jurisdiction.

Lemmerman v. A.T. Williams Oil Co., 318 N.C. 577, 580, 350 S.E.2d 83, 85-86 (1986) (citations omitted). See also Carpenter v. Carpenter, 245 N.C.App. 1, 8, 781 S.E.2d 828, 835 (2016) ("It is well settled that the issue of a court's jurisdiction over a matter may be raised at any time, even for the first time on appeal or by a court sua sponte." (Citation and quotation marks omitted)). In addition, if a court does not have subject matter jurisdiction over a claim, the parties cannot confer jurisdiction on the court by their agreement to have the court rule on their case. See State v. Fisher, 270 N.C. 315, 318, 154 S.E.2d 333, 336 (1967) ("It is well established law that the parties cannot, by consent, give a court jurisdiction over subject matter of which it would otherwise not have jurisdiction. Jurisdiction in this sense cannot be obtained by consent of the parties, waiver or estoppel.").

         Under the North Carolina General Statutes, a party may assert a claim for equitable distribution only ...


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