This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. sec. 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).








Rory J. Pietsch,





Michael J. Darling,



Estate of Clinton N. Darling, et al.




Filed April 11, 2000


Toussaint, Chief Judge



Chisago County District Court

File No. CX97458



William F. Mohrman, Mohrman & Co., P.A., 4100 Multifoods Tower, 33 South Sixth Street, Minneapolis, MN  55402 (for respondent)



David J. Van House, Van House & Associates, P.A., 407 Edina Executive Plaza, 5200 Willson Road, Edina, MN  55424 (for appellant)



            Considered and decided by Toussiant, Chief Judge, Kalitowski, Judge, and Huspeni, Judge.*

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

TOUSSAINT, Chief Judge

            After a dispute arose involving the balance due on a contract for deed between appellant Michael J. Darling and respondent Rory J. Pietsch, Darling served notice of cancellation under Minn. Stat. § 559.21 (1996).  Ultimately, at a pretrial hearing at which Darling represented himself, the parties entered into a settlement agreement on the record.  After Darling attempted to withdraw from the settlement agreement, the district court granted respondent Pietsch's motion to enforce it.  Because the district court did not abuse its discretion or err as a matter of law, we affirm.


            An appeal from a decision on a motion to enforce a settlement agreement is reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard.  See Johnson v. St. Paul Ins. Co., 305 N.W.2d 571, 573 (Minn. 1981) (stating that vacating stipulation of settlement is within discretion of district court, whose action will not be reversed unless arbitrary).  “The settlement of a lawsuit is contractual in nature.”  St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co. v. National Chiropractic Mut. Ins. Co., 496 N.W.2d 411, 415 (Minn. App. 1993) (citations omitted), review denied (Minn. Apr. 29, 1993).  Absent ambiguity, the construction and effect of a contract are questions of law.  Trondson v. Janikula, 458 N.W.2d 679, 681 (Minn. 1990).  This court need not defer to the district court determinations on questions of law.  Frost-Benco Elec. Ass’n v. Minnesota Pub. Utils. Comm’n, 358 N.W.2d 639, 642 (Minn. 1984).

            Courts favor settlement of disputes without litigation.  Johnson, 305 N.W.2d at 573.  The party who seeks vacation of a settlement has the burden of showing that there are sufficient grounds to do so.  Id. 

            Darling argues that a careful review of the record of the settlement discussion shows that he never affirmatively accepted the terms of the agreement.  An acceptance occurs if the acts are “deemed a manifestation of assent when evaluated under an objective standard.”  Holman Erection Co. v. Orville E. Madsen & Sons, Inc., 330 N.W.2d 693, 695 (Minn. 1983) (citation omitted).

            The matter had been set for a pretrial conference when Pietsch’s counsel advised the court that the parties had agreed to settle.  After some discussion in which Darling, who was appearing pro se, expressed his desire to discuss the matter with an attorney, the district court advised Darling that he must decide whether to agree to the settlement.  The district court said the settlement appeared reasonable and went on to state:

                                    And you acknowledge that I’ll give you a ten-day period of time that unless I am convinced after counsel of your choice talks with [Pietsch’s attorney] and approaches me, unless I’m convinced there is a valid reason to withdraw, then the agreement you’re agreeing to is going to be final.  Is that all right with you?


Darling responded, “Works with me.”  Darling’s claim that this does not objectively constitute a manifestation of assent has no merit.

            Darling also argues that the district court has a duty to ensure fairness to a pro se litigant by allowing reasonable accommodations so long as the adverse party is not prejudiced.  Kasson State Bank v. Haugen, 410 N.W.2d 392, 395 (Minn. App. 1987).  The district court did ensure fairness when it reviewed the agreement, which allowed Darling to contact an attorney, and specifically found it was reasonable.

            Next, Darling claims that he complied with the terms of the agreement.  There is no evidence that he did so; he did not contact Pietsch’s counsel or provide a valid reason for withdrawing.  As the district court found, “[t]he reason Mr. Darling apparently advances is that he struck a bad bargain.”  Even in his appellate brief, Darling does not provide a specific reason for wishing to withdraw, other than stating that he decided to reject the agreement once he sought the advice of an attorney.  We agree that this does not constitute a valid reason.

            Darling also argues that he should be released from the agreement based on a mutual mistake theory.  See Speckel v. Perkins, 364 N.W.2d 890, 893 (Minn. App. 1985) (holding that when the defendant’s attorney sent an offer of settlement that was internally inconsistent, it raised a presumption of error and imposed a duty to investigate). Darling does not argue that there was any internal inconsistency in the agreement, but simply contends that he subjectively understood there was no settlement until he had the opportunity to review the agreement with counsel.  Contracts are enforced objectively, not subjectively.  Cederstrand v. Lutheran Bhd., 263 Minn. 520, 532, 117 N.W.2d 213, 221 (1962).  Consequently, Darling cannot prevail in this argument.

            Darling also argues that this case should be analyzed in a manner analogous to Minn. R. Civ. P. 60.02 to find that he made an excusable mistake.  See Gould v. Johnson, 379 N.W.2d 643, 646 (Minn. App. 1986) (analyzing district court decision denying motion to set aside settlement under Minn. R. Civ. P. 60.01, .02), review denied (Minn. Mar. 14, 1986).  Unlike Gould, the district court here did not analyze the case under this rule. This court cannot address an issue not decided by the trial court.  Thiele v. Stich, 425 N.W.2d 580, 582 (Minn. 1988).

            We also address Darling’s contention that the equitable remedy of rescission should relieve him of the settlement, based on his understanding of the agreement and because he acted promptly in seeking relief and Pietsch was not prejudiced.  “Equity will set aside a release and settlement if improvident or unconscionable and will prevent one party from taking an unconscionable advantage of another’s mistake.”  Jacobs v. Farmland Mut. Ins. Co., 377 N.W.2d 441, 444 (Minn. 1985) (citation omitted).  Darling’s allegations do not show the settlement should be set aside on equitable grounds.

            Finally, Darling argued that he was given insufficient notice of the hearing on Pietsch’s motion to enforce the settlement.  Because Darling has not shown prejudice, he cannot prevail.  Brault v. Acceptance Indem. Ins. Co., 538 N.W.2d 144, 149 (Minn. App. 1995), review denied (Minn. Nov. 21, 1995).

            The district court did not abuse its discretion or commit errors of law when it granted Pietsch's motion to enforce the parties' settlement agreement.



* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.