RESTRICTED APPEAL | DEFAULT JUDGMENT | FAMILY LAW - PATERNITY | UIFSA |
RETROACTIVE
CHILD SUPPORT | MEDICAL SUPPORT

Mbonu v. Office of the Attorney General (OAG) (Tex.App. - Houston [1st Dist.] May 22,
2008)(Radack) (family law,
paternity, parentage retroactive child and medical support, restricted appeal of
default judgment) Opinion by
Chief Justice Sherry Radack  
Before Chief Justice Radack, Justices Jennings and Bland
01-07-00659-CV Chike Rapulueke Mbonu v. Office of the Attorney General
Appeal from 328th District Court of Fort Bend County
Trial Court Judge: Hon. Ronald R. Pope  
Disposition: Trial court's judgment affirmed
Attorneys: John Oghenewoke Mukoro | AAGs: Martin J. Grimm   Rande K. Herrell,  John B. Worley,  
Michael D. Becker

Summary of conclusion: Because the face of the record of this restricted appeal contains no transcription
of the hearing that resulted in the challenged order, court presumes that legally and factually sufficient
evidence supports that order. See Schafer, 813 S.W.2d at 155; Christiansen, 782 S.W.2d at 843;
Englander Co., 428 S.W.2d at 806; Nicholson, 226 S.W.3d at 583. Accordingly the court need not
consider obligor's sufficiency challenges as factors that affected the trial court's exercise of its discretion.  
With the exception of the second issue, which he has waived, Mbonu bases his challenges to the trial
court's exercise of its discretion on the fact-based contentions that he has been unemployed since 2002
and is thus unable to pay the support obligations imposed by the trial court's order. As appellant
recognizes, the trial court's order implies findings by the trial court that reject these contentions. Though
the sworn "General Testimony" by Ezeh stated few specifics regarding Mbonu's financial ability to pay, the
face of the record does not disclose what additional evidence the trial court may have relied on in
calculating Mbonu's financial responsibility to contribute to his daughters' support. On appeal, court
presumes that any missing evidence supports the ruling. Court defers to trial court's implied finding that
respondent is financially able to pay and refrains from substituting its own judgment for that of the court
below.

MEMORANDUM OPINION  [emphasis of key terms added]

Appellant, Chike Rapulueke Mbonu, brings this restricted appeal pursuant to Tex. R. App. P. 30 to
challenge a
post-answer default judgment (1) rendered against him in a child-support proceeding
brought on behalf of his former spouse, Chinwe E. Ezeh, by the Office of the Attorney General pursuant
to the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (
UIFSA). See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. §§ 159.001-159.902
(Vernon 2002 & Supp. 2007). (2)

Mbonu's three issues challenge the trial court's order, which imposes on Mbonu a duty to provide support
for his minor daughters and requires him to pay retroactive and future child support and retroactive and
future medical support. Mbonu challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support the amount of child
support ordered and the trial court's implied finding that Mbonu is able to meet that obligation; he also
challenges the trial court's method of calculating the support ordered.

We affirm.

Background

Mbonu and his former spouse, Chinwe E. Ezeh, were married on August 1, 1999. The couple separated in
2002, shortly after their second daughter was born. (3) A Florida decree of divorce signed on May 5,
2004 dissolved the marriage and awarded Ezeh custody of her two daughters and the right to use her
maiden name.
The decree contained no support provisions, however, which were "[r]eserved for a future hearing." (4)
After relocating to New Jersey, Ezeh sought relief, pro se, from the Chancery Division/Family Part of the
Superior Court of New Jersey, but her action was dismissed on April 1, 2005, for lack of personal
jurisdiction over Mbonu, and her requested relief was denied. Upon inquiry received from the Superior
Court of New Jersey, County of Camden on May 10, 2005, Ezeh then sought relief through the Office of
the Texas Attorney General.

On November 18, 2005, the Attorney General filed a petition seeking family support on Ezeh's behalf,
pursuant to section 159.401(a) of the
UIFSA. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 159.401(a) (Petition to
Establish Support Order).

The Attorney General's standard-form petition requested an order that would (1) establish child support,
medical coverage, and support to be paid by Mbonu for a prior period and the future and (2) authorize
collection of arrears and income withholding in the future. In support of the petition, the Attorney General
provided copies of all pertinent court decrees and papers, the children's birth certificates, financial data
regarding child care for the children, and Ezeh's sworn "General Testimony." (5) See Tex. Fam. Code
Ann. § 159.311 (Pleadings and Accompanying Documents). The Attorney General's petition included a
request for production of itemized documents from Mbonu that would "show the nature and extent of his
ability to pay child support."

On September 6, 2006, the Attorney General obtained service on Mbonu, who filed his answer by general
denial on September 28, 2006. At a hearing on November 6, 2006, the trial court signed an order
granting permission to withdraw to the attorney who filed Mbonu's answer. Mbonu was present at the
hearing and testified that he agreed to the withdrawal. The trial court reset the hearing on Ezeh's petition
to December 4, 2006, after which it was reset several more times.

On April 5, 2007, the trial court conducted the hearing on Ezeh's petition and signed the default order
challenged here. The face of the order recites that Mbonu was duly notified, but did not appear, and that
a record of the hearing was "not made by audio recording." (6) The record indicates that neither Mbonu
nor his new trial counsel appeared on April 5, 2007, when the trial court signed the order that Mbonu
challenges here. This order imposed a duty of support on Mbonu and required that he pay retroactive
child support of $24,605.00, retroactive medical support of $4,682.30, future child support from May 1,
2007 onward of $703.00 per month, and future medical support from May 1, 2007 forward of $133.78 per
month. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 159.401(c). (7) On April 17, 2007 the trial court issued
rule 239a
notices of default
to trial counsel and to Mbonu at his last known address. (8) Mbonu's trial counsel filed
untimely motions for new trial and to set aside the default judgment on May 22, 2007. A docket entry by
the trial court on June 6, 2007 indicates that both motions were denied on the grounds that the trial
court's plenary power over its judgment had expired, but there is no formal ruling on the motions. Mbonu
timely filed a notice of restricted appeal.

Restricted Appeal

A restricted appeal is a direct attack on a judgment, Roventini v. Ocular Sciences, Inc., 111 S.W.3d 719,
721 (Tex. App.--Houston [1st Dist.] 2003, no pet.). To prevail by this restricted appeal, Mbonu must satisfy
the following elements: (1) his notice of restricted appeal must have been filed within six months after the
trial court signs the judgment; (2) by him, a party to the lawsuit; (3) who neither participated in the hearing
that resulted in the judgment nor timely filed a postjudgment motion or a request for findings of fact and
conclusions of law; and (4) the face of the record must disclose the claimed error. See Tex. R. App. P.
26.1(c), 30; Alexander v. Lynda's Boutique, 134 S.W.3d 845, 848 (Tex. 2004); Roventini, 111 S.W.3d at
721. This appeal concerns only the fourth element.

The face of the record in a restricted appeal consists of the papers on file with the trial court when it
rendered judgment, including the clerk's record and any reporter's record. Miles v. Peacock, 229 S.W.3d
384, 387 (Tex. App.--Houston [1st Dist.] 2007, no pet.); Roventini, 111 S.W.3d at 721-22 (citing Gen.
Elec. Co. v. Falcon Ridge Apartments Joint Venture, 811 S.W.2d 942, 944 (Tex. 1991) (decided under
former writ-of-error practice, which restricted appeal replaced)). Because a restricted appeal affords the
same scope of review as an ordinary appeal, the appealing party may challenge the legal and factual
sufficiency of the evidence to support the order rendered. See Miles, 229 S.W.3d at 387 (citing Norman
Commc'ns v. Tex. Eastman Co., 955 S.W.2d 269, 270 (Tex. 1997)).

Sufficiency Challenge to Post-Answer Default Judgment

A trial court may not render a post-answer default judgment based on the pleadings; the plaintiff must
offer evidence and prove its case. Stoner v. Thompson, 578 S.W.2d 679, 682 (Tex. 1979); Sharif v. Par
Tech, Inc., 135 S.W.3d 869, 873 (Tex. App.--Houston [1st Dist.] 2004, no pet.). Mbonu argues that the
Attorney General, acting on Ezeh's behalf, did not prove her case. He disputes the sufficiency of the
evidence to support the trial court's order and the methods by which the trial court calculated Mbonu's
support obligations.

A. Standard of Review

We review orders of child support for abuse of discretion. Worford v. Stamper, 801 S.W.2d 108, 109 (Tex.
1990); Miles, 229 S.W.3d at 388. We note that the UIFSA vests considerable discretion with trial courts by
establishing "Special Rules of Evidence and Procedure" regarding admissibility of evidentiary documents
and testimony. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 159.316(a)-(j). A trial court abuses its discretion when it acts
arbitrarily or without reference to guiding principles. Worford, 801 S.W.2d at 109; see Walker v. Packer,
827 S.W.2d 833, 839 (Tex. 1992). A trial court has no discretion in determining what the law is, which law
governs, or how to apply the law, and we review rulings in this category de novo. See Walker, 827 S.W.2d
at 840. But when, as here, we review a ruling that results from the trial court's having resolved underlying
facts, we must defer to the trial's factual resolutions and may not substitute our judgment for the trial
court's judgment in those matters. See id. at 839-40. The legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence are
not independent grounds of error in an abuse-of-discretion standard case, though they are relevant
factors in assessing whether the trial court abused its discretion. See Miles, 229 S.W.3d at 388-89.

B. Analysis

In his first issue, Mbonu contends that the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support the
child-support payment ordered because he "has not been employed since 2002," which required that the
trial court apply the federal minimum wage to a 40-hour week in calculating Mbonu's payment. See In re
Moss, 887 S.W.2d 186, 188 (Tex. App.--Texarkana 1994, no writ) (citing statutory presumption of former
Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 14.053(k) (current version at Tex. Fam. Code Ann § 154.068 (Vernon 2002)).
Mbonu's second issue purports to challenge the trial court's method of calculating the support ordered,
but has provided neither record references nor citations to authority in support of this issue and has thus
waived any complaint. See Ryan v. Abdel-Salam, 39 S.W.3d 332, 336 (Tex. App.--Houston [1st Dist.]
2001, pet. denied). We have no duty to conduct an independent review of the existing record and
applicable law to address this issue. See id. In his third issue, Mbonu challenges the order of support on
the grounds that the record does not show that he is financially able to pay the amount ordered.

Mbonu's issues raise no error that is apparent on the face of the record, as required for him prevail. See
Lynda's Boutique, 134 S.W.3d at 848. The record in this restricted appeal does not contain either a
reporter's record or an audiotape recording of the hearing that resulted in the challenged order. As noted
in footnote 6, however, Mbonu has not challenged the omission on appeal.

Restricted-appeal analysis permits us to address attacks on the legal and factual sufficiency of the
evidence, Norman Commc'ns, 955 S.W.2d at 270, as factors relevant to the trial court's exercise of its
discretion. Miles, 229 S.W.3d at 388-89. Unless the appealing party has requested a partial reporter's
record, however, as now authorized by Tex. R. App. P. 34.6(c)(4), settled law recognizes the impossibility
of establishing on appeal that the evidence is either legally or factually insufficient without a complete
reporter's record. See Schafer v. Conner, 813 S.W.2d 154, 155 (Tex. 1991); Englander Co. v. Kennedy,
428 S.W.2d 806, 807 (Tex. 1968); see also Nicholson v. Fifth Third Bank, 226 S.W.3d 581, 583 (Tex.
App.--Houston [1st Dist.] 2007, no pet.) (noting that appealing party "cannot prevail" in challenge to
sufficiency of evidence without sufficient record).

Furthermore, we are entitled to presume that any missing reporter's record supports the trial court's
judgment. See Christiansen v. Prezelski, 782 S.W.2d 842, 843 (Tex. 1990); Nicholson, 226 S.W.3d at
583. We may presume, therefore, that the Attorney General offered evidence and proved the case made
on Ezeh's behalf. See Stoner, 578 S.W.2d at 682.

Because the face of the record of this restricted appeal contains no transcription of the hearing that
resulted in the challenged order, these settled principles compel that we also presume that legally and
factually sufficient evidence supports that order. See Schafer, 813 S.W.2d at 155; Christiansen, 782
S.W.2d at 843; Englander Co., 428 S.W.2d at 806; Nicholson, 226 S.W.3d at 583. Accordingly, we need
not consider Mbonu's sufficiency challenges as factors that affected the trial court's exercise of its
discretion. See Miles, 229 S.W.3d at 388-89.

With the exception of the second issue, which he has waived, Mbonu bases his challenges to the trial
court's exercise of its discretion on the fact-based contentions that he has been unemployed since 2002
and is thus unable to pay the support obligations imposed by the trial court's order. As Mbonu recognizes,
the trial court's order implies findings by the trial court that reject these contentions. Though the sworn
"General Testimony" by Ezeh stated few specifics regarding Mbonu's financial ability to pay, the face of
the record does not disclose what additional evidence the trial court may have relied on in calculating
Mbonu's financial responsibility to contribute to his daughters' support. As stated above, we must
presume that any missing evidence supports the ruling. See Schafer, 813 S.W.2d at 155; Christiansen,
782 S.W.2d at 843; Englander Co., 428 S.W.2d at 806; Nicholson, 226 S.W.3d at 583. Moreover, in
accordance with the standards that control when a discretionary ruling results from the trial court's having
impliedly found that Mbonu is financially able to pay, we must defer to the trial court's resolutions and may
not substitute our own judgment for that finding. See Walker, 827 S.W.2d at 839-40.

We overrule Mbonu's three issues.

Conclusion

We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Sherry Radack

Chief Justice

Panel consists of Chief Justice Radack and Justices Jennings and Bland.

1. See Sharif v. Par Tech, Inc., 135 S.W.3d 869, 872 (Tex. App.--Houston [1st Dist.] 2004, no pet.)
(stating that post-answer default judgment occurs when party files timely answer, but does not appear at
trial).

2. This proceeding is properly classified as a suit affecting the parent-child relationship (SAPCR) under
the Family Code, because the Attorney General's petition involves a request for support for the children
born of the marriage between Mbonu and Ezeh. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 101.032(a) (Vernon 2002).
The UIFSA, Tex. Fam. Code Ann. §§ 159.001-159.902 (Vernon 2002 & Supp. 2007-08), is part of subtitle
B of Title 5 of the Family Code, which governs SAPCRs. See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. §§ 151.001-162.601
(Vernon 2002 & Supp. 2007).

3. Mbonu's paternity is undisputed.

4. The record reflects that on June 22, 2004, Ezeh filed with the Florida divorce court a verified motion to
compel Mbonu to file a financial affidavit, but the record does not show that the Florida court ruled on the
motion. Ezeh began living in New Jersey on August 23, 2004.

5. This testimony included information regarding Ezeh, Mbonu, and their two daughters, including the
monthly cost of their health insurance. Ezeh's personal information included her monthly nurse's salary,
her overtime pay, and her monthly expenses. Concerning Mbonu, Ezeh's testimony identified him by
name, address, telephone number, date of birth, and social security number, and stated that he was a
chemist with a college degree. Ezeh confirmed that she did not know Mbonu's current employer's name or
address, but estimated his monthly salary at $4,000. Ezeh could not confirm Mbonu's current marital
status or whether he was financially responsible for other dependents.

6. The Family Code requires that a record be made in SAPCR proceedings "unless waived by the parties
with the consent of the court." See Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 105.003(c) (Vernon 2002). Accordingly, lack of
a record can be challenged as reversible error on the face of the record in a restricted appeal. See, e.g.,
Stubbs v. Stubbs, 685 S.W.2d 643, 645 (Tex. 1985); Walker v. Stefanic, 898 S.W.2d 347, 349 (Tex.
App.--San Antonio 1995, no writ) (holding same). When urged as error on appeal, lack of a reporter's
record "is not harmless," because it precludes review of the sufficiency of the evidence to support the
judgment. Sharif, 135 S.W.3d at 873 We distinguish the preceding cases, however, because, in every
instance, the appealing parties challenged the lack of a reporter's record as reversible error. In this case,
Mbonu does not assert that lack of a reporter's record is error. Likewise, Mbonu does not argue that lack
of a reporter's record prevents him from presenting his case to this Court. See Tex. R. App. P. 44.1(a)(2).
We note, in addition, that Mbonu did not request either the clerk's or a reporter's record after perfecting
his restricted appeal, and his untimely postjudgment motions do not include complaints regarding the lack
of a record. This Court may not resolve an appeal on unassigned error. Walling v. Metcalfe, 863 S.W.2d
56, 58 (Tex. 1993).

7. Section 159.401(c) states in part, "On finding, after notice and an opportunity to be heard, that an
obligor owes a duty of support, the tribunal shall issue a support order directed to the obligor . . . ." Tex.
Fam. Code Ann. § 159.401(c).

8. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 239a (Notice of Default Judgment).