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Hopper v. Swinnerton

Supreme Court of Idaho, Boise

November 26, 2013

Christopher F.F. HOPPER, an individual and as guardian ad litem for C.H., a minor child, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Suzanne E. SWINNERTON, Larry Kolb, Deena Kolb, Gerald Swinnerton, Betty Swinnerton, Emily Lanier, Christina Gentry, Carolyn Stevens, and Does 1 Through 10, Defendants-Respondents. and Joseph F. and Bette P. Hopper, husband and wife, Plaintiffs-Appellants,

Rehearing Denied Feb. 12, 2014.

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Christopher F.F. Hopper, Boise, appellant pro se.

Christopher F.F. Hopper, Boise, argued for appellants Joseph Hopper and Bette Hopper.

Kulchak & Associates, Boise, for respondent Suzanne E. Swinnerton. J. Michael Kulchak argued.

David H. Leroy, Boise, for respondent Christina Gentry.

Moore Smith Buxton & Turcke, Chtd., Boise, for respondents Gerald Swinnerton, Betty Swinnerton and Emily Lanier.

Smith Horras, P.A., Boise, for respondents Larry and Deena Kolb. William L. Smith argued.

Capitol Law Group, PLLC, Boise, for respondent Carolyn Stevens. Robert T. Wetherell argued.

J. JONES, Justice.

This appeal arises out of a divorce and custody dispute between Christopher Hopper and Suzanne Swinnerton. In 2005, Christopher filed suit on his own behalf, as well as that of his son and parents, against his wife, Suzanne, her parents, her Montana attorney, and other individuals, alleging a variety of claims sounding in tort. The district court dismissed all claims on summary judgment. Christopher filed a timely appeal on behalf of all Appellants.

I.

BACKGROUND

Christopher Hopper and Suzanne Swinnerton married in 1999. In early 2003, they had a baby boy, C.H., while living in Idaho. Shortly after C.H. was born, Suzanne traveled to Washington State to visit her father and step-mother, Gerald and Betty Swinnerton. She then traveled to Stevensville, Montana, to visit her mother, Emily Lanier. In June 2003, Suzanne and C.H. returned to Boise, staying with Suzanne's friends Deena and Larry Kolb. In mid-June, with the help of Christina Gentry and Deena Kolb, Suzanne packed her belongings and moved to Montana, taking C.H. with her. Once in Montana, Suzanne retained a lawyer, Carolyn Stevens, and on June 20, 2003, in Ravalli

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County, Montana, Suzanne filed a petition for a domestic violence protection order against Christopher. That order was entered and served upon Christopher on June 24, 2003.

On June 26, 2003, Suzanne filed a petition for divorce in Missoula County, Montana. Christopher then filed for divorce in Ada County on June 27, 2003. The Ada County magistrate court entered an order granting temporary custody of C.H. to Suzanne in Montana and both Montana petitions were dismissed. Suzanne and Christopher then stipulated to a divorce and agreed upon a division of their community property and debts. The custody issue was tried before the magistrate court on April 13, 2004, and on June 2, 2004 the trial court issued an order granting sole legal and physical custody to Suzanne, subject to visitation by Christopher.

Christopher appealed to this Court. In Hopper v. Hopper, we reviewed and overturned the magistrate court's decision to grant custody to Suzanne, remanding the case for a new custody determination. 144 Idaho 624, 167 P.3d 761 (2007). As a result of that remand, an order was entered in July 2008, awarding Suzanne and Christopher joint legal and physical custody of C.H.

Christopher initiated the case at hand in June of 2005, after the original custody determination but before filing his appeal to the Supreme Court. Christopher brought the suit on behalf of himself, his son, and his parents, Joseph and Bette Hopper. Based on the above facts, Christopher asserted causes of action against Suzanne, her father Gerald Swinnerton, her mother Emily Lanier, her step-mother Betty Swinnerton, her Montana lawyer Carolyn Stevens, and her friends Larry and Deena Kolb and Christina Gentry for: (1) tortious interference with a parent-child relationship; (2) tortious interference with a grandparent-child relationship; (3) intentional infliction of emotional distress; (4) alienation of affections of child and/or malicious interference with family relations; (5) fraud; (6) defamation; (7) parental kidnapping and child custodial interference/ negligence per se under I.C. § 18-4506; and (8) civil conspiracy.

On April 7, 2006, the district court issued an order granting summary judgment on several claims. Specifically, the court:

1. Dismissed claims against Gerald Swinnerton, Betty Swinnerton, and Emily Lanier for lack of personal jurisdiction.
2. Dismissed C.H. as a plaintiff because it found that Christopher did not have standing to bring a lawsuit on C.H.'s behalf.
3. Disqualified Christopher from representing his parents.
4. Granted summary judgment on Appellants' claims against all of the Respondents for alienation of affections of a child, malicious interference with family relations, and civil conspiracy.
5. Granted summary judgment on Appellants' claims as to Suzanne Swinnerton and Christina Gentry for defamation and the claims under I.C. § 18-4506.

In May 2006, the district court issued a stay of proceedings pending this Court's resolution of Hopper v. Hopper. The district court lifted the stay on October 30, 2008. Multiple motions were pending at that time, and one of those motions involved the production of Ms. Stevens's legal files. On September 1, 2009, the district court issued a notice of an in camera review, stating that it had reviewed Ms. Stevens's files and found that those files were privileged and contained nothing discoverable by Christopher.

The Appellants moved for summary judgment on all remaining claims, and in an order entered on April 18, 2011, the district court granted the same. Specifically, the court:

1. Struck certain affidavit evidence submitted by Christopher.
2. Found that Joseph and Bette Hopper did not have standing to assert their claims.
3. Granted summary judgment on Appellants' claims against all Respondents for fraud.
4. Granted summary judgment on Appellants' claims against all Respondents for intentional ...

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