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FAMILY - reopening of dissolution as inequitable; evidence hearing; standard

STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
A06-1453
In re the Marriage of:
Leah Marie Thompson, petitioner,
Respondent,
vs.
Jamie Michael Thompson,
Appellant.
Filed October 2, 2007
Affirmed
Wright, Judge
Clay County District Court
File No. F5-04-2501
James F. Lester (pro hoc vice), 921 Second Avenue South, P.O. Box 9673, Fargo, N.D.,
58106 (for appellant)
Charles A. Krekelberg, Mathew A. Soberg, Krekelberg, Skonseng & Hastings, 10 North
Broadway, P.O. Box 353, Pelican Rapids, MN 56572 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Shumaker, Presiding Judge; Wright, Judge; and
Parker, Judge.*
S Y L L A B U S
1. When a party moves under Minn. Stat. 518.145, subd. 2(5) (2006), to
reopen a dissolution judgment and decree by alleging that prospective application of the
judgment and decree is no longer equitable, a district court may deny an evidentiary
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to
Minn. Const. art. VI, 10.
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hearing for lack of good cause when there is no genuine issue of any material fact and the
motion can be resolved by an application of law.
2. When considering a motion to reopen a dissolution judgment and decree
under Minn. Stat. 518.145, subd. 2(5), alleging that prospective application of the
judgment and decree is no longer equitable, the district court should assess whether
inequity in the judgment and decrees prospective application is the result of the
development of circumstances beyond the parties control that substantially alter the
information known when the judgment and decree was entered.
O P I N I O N
WRIGHT, Judge
In this appeal from the district courts denial of appellant-husbands motion to
reopen the parties dissolution judgment and decree, husband argues that (1) the district
courts determination on the merits that respondent-wife did not commit fraud on the
court is not supported by the record; and (2) the district court abused its discretion by
declining to hold an evidentiary hearing on husbands alternate motion to reopen the
judgment and decree because its prospective application is no longer equitable. We
affirm.
FACTS
On September 8, 2004, respondent Leah Thompson (wife) petitioned for a
dissolution of marriage. Wife served appellant Jamie Thompson (husband) requests for
discovery and production of documents. Husband failed to answer or provide any of the
requested information. Wife then moved for a default judgment, which the district court
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granted and subsequently entered a dissolution judgment and decree ending the parties
two-year marriage. Husband was served a copy of the judgment and decree at his home
address and at the Clay County Jail, where he was then incarcerated on an alcohol-related
offense.
Before their marriage, the parties had jointly acquired a snowmobile. During their
marriage, husband received income from farming. Based on her limited knowledge of
husbands income, wife proposed that this property be divided equally between the
parties. Wife also sought assistance in maintaining medical insurance as spousal
maintenance. The judgment and decree awarded wife permanent spousal maintenance in
the nature of one-half of wifes medical-insurance premiums. Wife was awarded the
parties snowmobile, and husband was awarded the farm real estate. Each party received
one-half of the funds in the bank accounts and one-half of the farms crop-disaster
payments for 2003 and 2004.
On February 1, 2005, wife moved to amend the judgment and decree to correct the
property-division provision. A copy of the motion was served on husband. Husband did
not respond or attend the hearing on the motion. The district court granted wifes motion
and ordered husband to provide wife a list of all bank accounts and to surrender all
property awarded to wife in the judgment and decree. In March 2006, wife moved the
district court to compel husband to comply with the terms of the amended judgment and
decree, to place a lien on husbands farm real estate, and for attorney fees.
The following month, husband moved to vacate and reopen the property-division
and spousal-maintenance provisions of the judgment and decree on the ground that wife
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committed fraud on the court or on the alternative ground that prospective application of
the judgment and decree is no longer equitable. Husband sought an evidentiary hearing
on the motion. In an order dated May 5, 2006, the district court granted husbands
request for an evidentiary hearing on the motion to reopen the judgment and decree based
on wifes alleged fraud on the court, declined to hold an evidentiary hearing on the
alternate ground that prospective application of the judgment and decree is no longer
equitable, and continued until after the hearing any decision on wifes motion to compel
husband to comply with the terms of the judgment and decree.
At the evidentiary hearing, husband argued that wifes fraud misled the district
court and led to a property-settlement and spousal-maintenance award that is grossly
unfair. Husband admitted that, although he was served with the marital-dissolution
petition, judgment and decree, and motion to amend, he did not respond to discovery
requests, appear in court, arrange for an attorney to appear on his behalf, or make any
effort to contact wife, her attorney, or the district court. He maintained that wife assured
him that she was putting [the dissolution] off. But wife testified that, after husband
continued to violate his probation by driving while impaired, she advised him that she
planned to file for divorce, and did so.
In its July 19, 2006 order, the district court found that husband had not met his
burden to prove that wife committed fraud on the court, denied husbands motion to
reopen the judgment and decree on either ground alleged, and granted wifes motion to
compel husband to comply with the amended judgment and decree. Husband appealed
from the district courts May 5, 2006 order denying husband an evidentiary hearing on
-5-
the motion to reopen the judgment on the alternate ground that prospective application is
no longer equitable and from the district courts July 19, 2006 order denying the motion
to reopen the judgment and decree based on wifes alleged fraud on the court.
ISSUES
I. Did the district court abuse its discretion when it denied husbands motion to
reopen the judgment and decree under Minn. Stat. 518.145, subd. 2(3) (2006), based on
its determination that wife did not commit fraud on the court?
II. Did the district court abuse its discretion when, based on the determination that
husband failed to show good cause, it denied husband an evidentiary hearing on his
motion to reopen the judgment and decree under Minn. Stat. 518.145, subd. 2(5)
(2006), on the ground that prospective application of the judgment and decree is no
longer equitable?
ANALYSIS
I.
Subject to the right of appeal, a dissolution judgment and decree is final when
entered, unless in a timely motion a party establishes a statutory basis for reopening the
judgment and decree. Minn. Stat. 518.145, subds. 1, 2 (2006). Section 518.145,
subdivision 2(3), permits relief from the judgment and decree in the case of fraud. See
Shirk v. Shirk, 561 N.W.2d 519, 523 (Minn. 1997) (holding that circumstances meeting
requirements of section 518.145, subdivision 2, must be demonstrated in order to obtain
relief from a judgment and decree of dissolution). Ordinarily, a motion to set aside a
judgment and decree based on fraud must be made within a reasonable time, but not more
-6-
than one year after entry of the judgment and decree. Minn. Stat. 518.145, subd. 2. But
under limited circumstances, a party may move to set aside a judgment and decree after
this one-year limitation if there is proof that the nonmoving party committed fraud on
the court. Maranda v. Maranda, 449 N.W.2d 158, 165 (Minn. 1989). Fraud on the
court involves an intentional course of material misrepresentation or non-disclosure,
having the result of misleading the court and opposing counsel and making the property
settlement grossly unfair. Id. The moving party bears the burden of establishing a basis
to reopen the judgment and decree. Haefele v. Haefele, 621 N.W.2d 758, 765 (Minn.
App. 2001), review denied (Minn. Feb. 21, 2001).
The district court held an evidentiary hearing to determine whether wife
committed fraud on the court. Following the hearing, the district court found that wife
did not materially misrepresent or withhold information resulting in fraud on the court
and denied husbands requested relief. The district courts decision whether to reopen the
judgment and decree based on fraud on the court will be sustained absent an abuse of
discretion. Kornberg v. Kornberg, 542 N.W.2d 379, 386 (Minn. 1996). If there is
evidence to support the district courts decision, an abuse of discretion will not be found.
Prahl v. Prahl, 627 N.W.2d 698, 702 (Minn. App. 2001). When evidence relevant to a
factual issue consists of conflicting testimony, the district courts decision is necessarily
based on a determination of witness credibility, which we accord great deference on
appeal. Haefele, 621 N.W.2d at 763.
Husband challenges the district courts finding that wife did not intentionally
mislead husband or the district court. Absent clear error, we will not disturb the district
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courts findings. Maranda, 449 N.W.2d at 164. A finding is clearly erroneous if we are
left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made. Vangsness v.
Vangsness, 607 N.W.2d 468, 472 (Minn. App. 2000). When applying the clearly
erroneous standard, we view the record in the light most favorable to the district courts
findings. Id. That the record might support findings other than those made by the district
court does not render the findings clearly erroneous. Id. at 474.
To support his claim of wifes fraud on the district court, husband generally
contends that wife failed to provide the district court with relevant information regarding
her need for spousal maintenance and the nature of the property distributed under the
judgment and decree. But this theory of fraud fails to account for husbands refusal to
participate in the dissolution proceedings or to respond to wifes discovery requests with
information to supplement wifes admittedly limited knowledge of the parties marital
property.
Our review of the record establishes that the financial information wife provided
was based on the best information that she had. Wife testified that she requested a
hearing on the default motion to encourage husband to provide information regarding the
parties assets. Wife continued to request additional information, but husband refused to
comply with wifes attempts to determine the marital property. As to the specific issue of
spousal maintenance, wife testified that she needed monthly spousal maintenance in the
form of one-half of her medical-insurance premium because she was not healthy during
the parties marriage and husbands private insurance policy covered wife during her
hospitalization and six-week leave of absence from work for back surgery to remove a
-8-
tumor. Since that time, wife has not regained her strength, has ongoing health problems
related to her back, and does not believe that she can obtain medical insurance without
husbands financial assistance.
Husband did not provide any evidence to rebut wifes need for spousal
maintenance in the nature of one-half of wifes medical-insurance premiums. Regarding
the parties marital property, husband similarly failed to provide evidentiary support for
his contention that wife engaged in an intentional course of material misrepresentation
regarding her marital interest in the snowmobile, bank accounts, and crop-disaster
payments. And the uncontroverted record establishes that, throughout the dissolution
proceedings, husband failed to respond to wifes pleadings or to wifes specific requests
for information identifying his nonmarital property.
When viewed in the light most favorable to the district courts decision with due
deference to its credibility determinations, there is substantial evidence in the record to
support the district courts finding that husband failed to meet his burden of proving that
wife engaged in material misrepresentations or nondisclosure. Accordingly, the district
court did not abuse its discretion by denying husbands motion to reopen the judgment
and decree based on fraud on the court.
II.
Husband also argues that the district court erred by denying his request for an
evidentiary hearing on his motion to reopen the judgment and decree on the basis that its
prospective application is no longer equitable. Minn. Stat. 518.145, subd. 2(5).
Whether to hold an evidentiary hearing on a motion generally is a discretionary decision
-9-
of the district court, which we review for an abuse of discretion. See Sieber v. Sieber,
258 N.W.2d 754, 756 (Minn. 1977) (holding that it is within district courts discretion to
restrict presentation of evidence to nonoral testimony). But whether the district court
applied the correct legal standard is a question of law, which we review de novo. Ayers
v. Ayers, 508 N.W.2d 515, 518 (Minn. 1993).
Under the Minnesota Rules of General Practice, it is presumed that a motion in
family law, other than a motion for contempt, will be decided without an evidentiary
hearing, unless the district court determines that there is good cause for a hearing. Minn.
R. Gen. Pract. 303.03(d); Doering v. Doering, 629 N.W.2d 124, 130 (Minn. App. 2001),
review denied (Minn. Sept. 11, 2001). The definition of good cause has yet to be
articulated. Doering, 629 N.W.2d at 130. And Minnesota courts have not addressed
when good cause exists to grant an evidentiary hearing under Minn. Stat. 518.145,
subd. 2(5). In Doering, however, we addressed whether good cause existed to grant an
evidentiary hearing on a motion to reopen the record for fraud under Minn. Stat.
518.145, subd. 2(3). 629 N.W.2d at 130. In doing so, we used the summary-judgment
standard to determine whether good cause existed, observing that a district court may
summarily dispose of a claim only where there is no genuine issue of material fact in
dispute and where a determination of the applicable law will resolve the controversy.
Id. We ultimately concluded that, [b]ecause appellants affidavits [were] sufficient to
present a fact question of fraud, appellant established good cause for an evidentiary
hearing on his motion to reopen the judgment. Id. at 132. In the present context, the
summary-judgment standard requires a determination of whether, when viewing the
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evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, there are any genuine issues
of material fact and whether the movant is entitled to the requested relief as a matter of
law. Fabio v. Bellomo, 504 N.W.2d 758, 761 (Minn. 1993); State by Cooper v. French,
460 N.W.2d 2, 4 (Minn. 1990).
Relying on Harding v. Harding, the district court observed that Minnesota courts
allow re-opening of a judgment by reason of mutual mistake. See 620 N.W.2d 920,
923-24 (Minn. App. 2001) (remanding to district court for reopening of judgment and
decree to determine equitable distribution of corporate stock when postjudgment incometax
determination substantially altered the value of principal material assets of parties,
which had been negotiated in marital-termination agreement), review denied (Minn. Apr.
17, 2001). The district court then denied husbands request for an evidentiary hearing
because husband has not shown or alleged a mutual mistake by the parties because it
was only after the judgment was filed that wife became aware of the true nature of
certain farm bank accounts and crop disaster payments. Although the district courts
reliance on Harding is sound, its stated rationale for denying the motion is not.
We held in Harding that, to reopen a judgment and decree because prospective
application is no longer equitable, the inequity must result from the development of
circumstances substantially altering the information known when the dissolution
judgment and decree was entered. Id. at 924. The moving party must present more than
merely a new set of circumstances or an unforeseen change of a known circumstance to
reopen a judgment and decree. Id. And as an example, we cited Minnesota precedent
allowing a judgment and decree to be reopened based on mutual mistake because a
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substantial injury, not discovered until after the settlement, had been sustained. Id. at
923 (citing Newman v. Fjelstad, 271 Minn. 514, 519, 137 N.W.2d 181, 184 (1965)
(iterating rule that release for damages may be set aside on the ground of mutual mistake
for injury not discovered until after personal-injury settlement)). Here, rather than
relying on husbands failure to allege a mutual mistake by the parties, the district court
should have considered whether there is inequity in prospective application of the
judgment and decree as a result of the development of circumstances beyond the parties
control that substantially alter the information known when the judgment and decree was
entered. Id. at 924.
Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to husband, he has not met this
standard. Husband seeks to collaterally attack the district courts marital-property and
spousal-maintenance determinations, having elected to forego participation in the
proceedings or to timely file a direct appeal of the judgment and decree. Husband has not
alleged or demonstrated a change in circumstances that substantially alters the
information that was known when the judgment and decree was entered. There has not
been a change in the nature or value of the marital property or in wifes need for spousal
maintenance. The only change is husbands willingness to participate in the dissolution
proceedings, now that they have concluded. [A] party cannot complain about a district
courts failure to rule in [the partys] favor when one of the reasons it did not do so is
because that party failed to provide the district court with the evidence that would allow
the district court to fully address the question. Eisenschenk v. Eisenschenk, 668 N.W.2d
235, 243 (Minn. App. 2003), review denied (Minn. Nov. 24, 2003). Accordingly,
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husbands claim that the district court abused its discretion by denying him an evidentiary
hearing on the motion to reopen the judgment and decree because its prospective
application is no longer equitable fails.
Moreover, husband has not demonstrated any evidence that he would have
presented to the district court in an evidentiary hearing based on this ground to reopen the
judgment and decree that he did not present during the evidentiary hearing on the ground
that wife committed fraud on the court. Therefore, any error in the district courts denial
of an evidentiary hearing would have been harmless. See Minn. R. Civ. P. 61 (requiring
harmless error to be ignored).
Finally, husband urges us to impose a quasi contract by law in order to prevent
unjust enrichment in a default hearing. Husband failed to present this argument to the
district court. Because this argument is raised for the first time on appeal, we decline to
address it. Schallinger v. Schallinger, 699 N.W.2d 15, 23 (Minn. App. 2005) (citing
Thiele v. Stich, 425 N.W.2d 580, 582 (Minn. 1988) (holding that generally, issues not
raised before district court will not be considered on appeal)), review denied (Minn. Sept.
28, 2005). Moreover, the manner of relief that husband seeks from a final judgment and
decree is available only by satisfying the statutory requirements of Minn. Stat. 518.145,
subd. 2. Shirk, 561 N.W.2d at 522. The doctrine of unjust enrichment cannot be
employed as an extra-statutory mechanism for reopening the judgment and degree.
D E C I S I O N
Because the record supports the district courts finding that wife did not commit
fraud on the court, the district court did not abuse its discretion when it denied husbands
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motion to reopen the judgment and decree under Minn. Stat. 518.145, subd. 2(3)
(2006). And because husband failed to establish good cause for an evidentiary hearing
on his motion under Minn. Stat. 518.145 subd. 2(5) (2006), the district court did not
abuse its discretion by denying husbands request for a hearing.
Affirmed.
 

 
 
 

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