In Parvin v. Newman, No. E2016-00549-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 9, 2016), the Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment for defendant in an abuse of process claim.
Husband and wife had litigated a contentious divorce, and during the course of that proceeding, wife had filed a Motion to Impose Sanctions for Contempt. Nine months and many filings later, a Final Judgment of Divorce was entered in the case, with the parties stipulating to the terms of the divorce. Particularly of note, the divorce judgment stated that “the parties had reached an agreement to settle and compromise all of the matters in dispute between them and that they [had] freely, voluntarily and knowingly entered into an agreement that is reflected” in the final judgment.
Three months after the divorce was finalized, husband filed this abuse of process claim against wife, alleging that “Wife’s purpose in filing her July 2014 contempt motion had been to harass him, cause him to incur unnecessary expenses to defend the motion, weaken his resolve to continue litigation of the divorce, and settle for terms favorable to wife.” Wife argued, however, that “husband’s complaint should be dismissed on the basis of res judicata and because the undisputed facts negate the essential elements of husband’s claims for abuse of process.”
The trial court ultimately granted summary judgment to wife on the basis of both res judicata and husband’s inability to prove his case, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.
Plaintiff husband argued that his abuse of process claim was a separate tort claim that he had not had the opportunity to litigate in the divorce case. He stated in an affidavit to the trial court that “if [he] had amended [his] divorce complaint to allege abuse of process it would have hardened wife’s position toward settlement.” He also asserted that he “entered into the divorce settlement under duress,” as he “did not want to have to defend [himself] against charges that might [have] land[ed] [him] in jail.” The Court, though, rejected this argument.