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State v. Miller

Court of Appeals of Oregon

September 12, 2018

STATE OF OREGON, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
MICHAEL LEE MILLER, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued and submitted April 5, 2017

          Multnomah County Circuit Court 14SP40558; Amy Holmes Hehn, Judge.

          Matthew Blythe, Deputy Public Defender, argued the cause for appellant. Also on the briefs was Ernest G. Lannet, Chief Defender, Criminal Appellate Section, Offce of Public Defense Services.

          Jamie K. Contreras, Assistant Attorney General, argued the cause for respondent. On the briefs were Ellen F. Rosenblum, Attorney General, Benjamin Gutman, Solicitor General, and Cecil A. Reniche-Smith, Assistant Attorney General.

          Before Armstrong, Presiding Judge, and Shorr, Judge, and Wilson, Senior Judge.

         Case Summary: Defendant appeals a judgment of the Multnomah County Circuit Court finding him in contempt of court for violating a child support order originally entered in Clackamas County Circuit Court. He contends that the Multnomah County Circuit Court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to enforce the order because there was no evidence that the case was transferred to that court in accordance with ORS chapter 25. Held: Assuming without deciding that defendant's challenge presented a question of subject-matter jurisdiction-and thus could be raised for the first time on appeal-the record was sufficient to support a finding that defendant's case was transferred in accordance with ORS chapter 25.

         [294 Or.App. 2] ARMSTRONG, P. J.

         The issue in this case is whether the trial court erred in denying defendant's motion to dismiss the punitive contempt case against him because, he contends, the court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over the contempt complaint. We conclude that the court did not err and, accordingly, affirm.

         The facts, for purposes of appeal, are not disputed. In 1998, the Clackamas County Circuit Court entered an order approving an administrative order requiring defendant to pay child support of $204 per month, beginning December 1, 1997. In April 2012, the state sent defendant a notice of intent to transfer enforcement of the support order from Clackamas County Circuit Court to Multnomah County Circuit Court. Later that month, the state notified defendant that the case had been transferred and provided defendant with a copy of the packet that was filed with the court when the case was transferred. Defendant's case history record with the Support Enforcement Division (SED), which was admitted as evidence at trial, indicates Multnomah as the "CURRENT COUNTY" and contains a "TRANSFER ORDER" entry on July 17, 2012.

         In May 2014, defendant was charged with contempt of court for willfully disobeying the support order.[1] He waived counsel and represented himself. At his arraignment and throughout the contempt proceedings that followed, defendant repeatedly challenged the court's jurisdiction, insisting that he was making a "special appearance" solely for that purpose and objecting to the state's authority to bring a claim against him. His arguments appeared to incorporate legal theories of the "Sovereign Citizen" movement.[2] He also [294 Or.App. 3] submitted a "Jurisdictional Challenge" affidavit, which did the same.

         The court rejected defendant's arguments, concluding that it had jurisdiction of the case under the general contempt statutes, ORS 33.015 to 33.155.[3] At the conclusion of the contested contempt hearing, the court entered a judgment finding defendant in contempt of court for failure to pay child support as alleged by the state and imposing a 100-day jail term, suspended, and 24 months' bench probation. Defendant appeals that judgment.

         On appeal, defendant, who is now represented by counsel, does not contest the merits of the contempt finding but asserts that the judgment should be reversed because the court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to hear the case. The gravamen of defendant's argument on appeal is that the court erred in concluding that it had subject-matter jurisdiction under the general contempt statutes, ORS chapter 33, because, according to defendant, "[t]he inherent authority of courts to enforce their own orders does not extend to enforcing other courts' orders" and "there was no evidence that [the transfer of the case to Multnomah County] comported with the requirements of the transfer statute," ORS chapter 25. He contends that his challenge to the court's subject-matter jurisdiction is preserved. Specifically, in his first assignment of error, he contends that the court erred "by denying [his] motion to [294 Or.App. 4] dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction," apparently referring to his oral challenges to the court's jurisdiction and his Jurisdictional Challenge affidavit. Alternatively, in his second assignment of error, he urges us to "find in the first instance that the record is insufficient to support subject matter jurisdiction."

         The question that defendant raises on appeal was not preserved in the trial court. Although defendant repeatedly challenged in the proceedings below the court's jurisdiction generally and the state's authority to make a claim against him, as we understand it, the substance of defendant's argument was that no Oregon state court had jurisdiction over him in this matter, not that Multnomah County Circuit Court was the wrong court; that is, defendant certainly did not argue below, as he does on appeal, that Multnomah County Circuit Court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction under the general contempt statutes in ORS chapter 33 because the child support order had been entered in Clackamas County and was not properly transferred to Multnomah County under ORS chapter 25.

         Nonetheless, as defendant points out, the question of the court's subject-matter jurisdiction can be raised at any time, even for the first time on appeal. See, e.g., Daly and Daly,228 Or.App. 134, 139, 206 P.3d 1189 (2009) ("[S]ubject matter jurisdiction is never waived and can be raised by any party or by the court sua sponte at any stage of the proceedings." (Internal quotation marks omitted.)). We question whether the issue presented here is truly one of subject-matter jurisdiction. Cf. State v. Murga,291 Or.App. 462, 466-67, 422 P.3d 417 (2018) (defendant's contention that a punitive contempt proceeding was not initiated in compliance with ORS 33.065, which requires an accusatory instrument, did not create a problem of subject-matter jurisdiction but, rather, presented a challenge to the court's authority to impose a punitive sanction). However, we need not resolve that question because, even assuming that it ...


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