Minding brother’s business. Brother, mind.
As a brother of a brother, I know how minding a brother’s business can be a double-edged sword. In a recent South Carolina Court of Appeals opinion, the marital dissolution of two parties was affected by the intervention of a brother to one of the parties.
In Stoney v. Stoney, Op. No. 5431 (S.C. Ct. App. filed July 27, 2016) (Shearouse Adv. Sh. 30 at 40), the brother of Mr. Stoney intervened as a party to his brother’s marital litigation. He was minding his brother’s business, because he engaged in business with his brother and, as such, loans and real property interests that resulted from those dealings were at issue in the equitable distribution of his brother’s marital estate.
Although the appellate court agreed with the family court judge that the brother had standing to intervene and be named a party to the marital litigation, the extent of the brother’s intervention in the marital litigation was a bit too much for the appellate court’s liking.
Why did the court allow the brother to mind his brother’s business?
Pursuant to the South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure, as long as the application is timely, a person shall be permitted to intervene in an action “when the applicant claims an interest relating to the property or transaction which is the subject of the action and he is so situated that the disposition of the action may as a practical matter impair or impede his ability to protect that interest, unless the applicant’s interest is adequately represented by existing parties”. Rule 24(a), SCRCP.
To intervene, standing must be established. “A party has standing if the party has a personal stake in the subject matter of a lawsuit and is a ‘real party in interest.'” Bailey v. Bailey, 312 S.C. 454, 458, 441 S.E.2d 325, 327 (1994). “A real party in interest . . . is one who has a real, actual, material or substantial interest in the subject matter of the action, as distinguished from one who has only a nominal, formal, or technical interest in, or connection with, the action.” Id. at 458, 441 S.E.2d at 327.
In Stoney, although the wife testified that the brother had made no attempts to be reimbursed by her husband prior to the marital litigation, the trial court made a finding that the brother was allowed to intervene and had standing to do so. The family court ruled that the brother of Mr. Stoney was allowed to enter the litigation because (1) he was joint owner of some of the marital property, (2) he was co-obligor on certain marital debts, (3) he mortgaged some of his own property to obtain funds for Mr. Stoney’s businesses, and (4) he made loans to Mr. Stoney to protect Mr. Stoney’s business interests.
Upon review, the appellate court agreed with the family court judge in that the brother properly intervened and had a real interest in the marital litigation because (1) the brother was a co-obligor of much of the marital debt, (2) the brother had an interest in real estate that was subject to and part of the marital litigation, and (3) the testimony of the court-appointed CPA confirmed the brother’s involvement in the business and finances of the parties.
Although the appellate court saw the brother’s intervention as proper, it was not keen on how the brother kept minding his brother’s business in other areas of the marital litigation. Instead, the appellate court found that brother needed to mind his own business when it came to issues relating to property in which he had no ownership interest. For example, at trial, the brother’s counsel interrupted Mr. Stoney when he tried to offer a stipulation, successfully objected to issues that did not relate to the brother’s interest in the litigation, such as the parenting coordinator’s affidavit and a witness’ testimony regarding Mr. Stoney’s false statements to people about his wife’s sexuality, was allowed to cross-examine a former employee and babysitter of Mr. and Mrs. Stoney on matters that did not relate to the brother, and the was asked by the family court to draft the Final Order that dealt only with the parties’ ground for divorce of which the brother, again, had no interest.
Upon review, the appellate court said it was time for the brother to mind and, for that reason and others not related to the brother’s intervention, the appellate court reversed and remanded the family court’s decisions regarding the issues of alimony, child support, and equitable distribution of the marital estate.