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SCOW to address interplay between restitution statute, marital property statute, and contract law

State v. Ryan M. Muth, 2019AP875-CR, petition for review of per curiam opinion granted 12/11/19; case activity (including briefs)

Issues presented (based on petition and  cross-petition for review):

  1. Wisconsin’s marital property statutes provide that income accrued during marriage belongs to both spouses. Wisconsin’s restitution statute permits crime victims to recover “income lost” from the “filing of charges or cooperating in the investigation and prosecution of the crime.” Where a crime causes a person’s death, can the deceased person’s adult children recover their spouse’s lost income  as restitution?

  2. Where crime victims accept a civil settlement for lost wages and expenses, and the victims also seek restitution for lost wages and expenses, and where the defendant asserts “accord and sanctification,” does the defendant have to produce “extrinsic evidence” showing that the wages and expenses the victim received in the civil settlement are the same wages and expenses the victim seeks as criminal restitution?

Re the first issue, Smith pled “no contest” to causing a woman’s death by homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle. Her daughters sought restitution for their husbands’ lost wages due to the time their husbands spent helping with the funeral and court proceedings. The court of appeals held that a son-in-law does not qualify as a “victim” under §950.02(4)(a), so a defendant doesn’t have to pay his lost wages as restitution. See State v. Gribble, 2001 WI App 227, 248 Wis. 2d 409, 636 N.W.2d 488. The State points out that one of the daughters did not work outside the home. Under Wisconsin law, §766.31, her husband’s income belonged to her as well. And, had she been the bread winner, she would would have been able to recover restitution. Muth counters that §973.20, the restitution statute, specifies who qualifies as a “victim” entitled to claim restitution. The marital property statute simply defines property rights. A specific statute controls over a general one.

Re the second issue, basic contract law holds that one party cannot use extrinsic evidence to prove the meaning of an unambiguous contract. Muth argues that the civil settlement agreement at issue is unambiguous–it settled all claims for wages and expenses. Thus, under cases like Huml v. Vlazny, 2006 WI 87, 293 Wis. 2d 169, 716 N.W.2d 807, he is barred from offering, and courts are barred from considering, extrinsic evidence that the settlement agreement intended to exclude some claims for wages and expenses. The court of appeals rejected this argument. Muth predicts that the decision will cause extra litigation, delay the resolution of tort claims, and undermine the finality of civil settlements.

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