This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In Re the Marriage of:
Carla Renee Schmakel, petitioner,
William Charles Schmakel,
Isanti County District Court
File No. F698260
Rita Clare Steinhagen, PO Box 200, 6344 Elm Street, North Branch, MN 55056-0200 (for appellant)
Rhonda Swanson, Spear & Swanson Law Office, 615 Third Avenue West, Pine City, MN 55063 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge, Kalitowski, Judge, and Willis, Judge.
Appellant Carla Schmakel appeals from the judgment and decree dissolving her marriage with respondent William Schmakel. Appellant contends that the district court erred in (1) accepting the parties’ marital termination agreement (MTA) when she revoked her consent to it and (2) modifying the terms of the MTA without an evidentiary hearing or a trial. Appellant also asks that a new judge hear the case if it is remanded. We affirm the district court.
Appellant Carla Schmakel and respondent William Schmakel married in September 1983 and separated in October 1997. In February 1998, the parties became involved in marriage-dissolution negotiations. Both parties were represented by counsel. Negotiations lasted several months and included the exchange of several marital termination agreements (MTA), including one in May 1998. In September, appellant sent a letter containing a detailed settlement proposal to respondent. This letter specifically referenced the May 1998 MTA.
On October 10, 1998, shortly before the pretrial conference, the parties and their attorneys met at the office of appellant’s attorney. After two hours of negotiations, the parties reached an agreement resolving all of the major issues in their marriage dissolution. The four-page settlement agreement was signed by both parties and their counsel. The parties then faxed the following memo to the district court administrator:
The parties have agreed that the following would be the terms for their MTA and J and D. [Appellant’s attorney] will draft the MTA to be sent to [respondent’s attorney] for review and signing in advance of the prehearing conference now set for 19 October 1998.
Following the court’s receipt of the memo and settlement agreement, the pretrial hearing was stricken from the calendar.
Appellant submitted the completed MTA setting forth the terms of the parties’ October settlement to respondent on October 23, 1998. According to appellant, respondent refused to accept the terms that had been included in the May 28 MTA and that appellant understood to have been accepted at the settlement negotiation. Respondent also demanded new additional terms. According to respondent, the October 23 MTA provided by appellant included additions and changes from the parties’ October 10 settlement agreement.
In November 1998, appellant indicated that she would no longer accept the terms of the settlement agreement and sent written notice to the court administrator requesting that the matter be reset for pretrial and trial. On December 15, 1998, respondent moved the trial court for entry of a judgment and decree under the terms of the October 10, 1998 settlement agreement and submitted a proposed judgment and decree to the court. Appellant filed a counter-motion seeking the return of the case to the trial calendar for pretrial and trial.
Respondent’s motion to enforce the settlement agreement was heard January 11, 1999, and the court granted the motion. Because appellant objected to some of the terms in respondent’s proposed judgment and decree, the court gave the parties 40 days to resolve their differences and continued the hearing to determine the final terms of the judgment and decree. At the July 6, 1999 hearing, appellant argued that the proposed judgment and decree submitted to the court by respondent made substantive changes to the terms of the parties’ October 10 settlement. The parties reached agreement on some of these issues, and the court entered an order on July 12, 1999, resolving the remaining issues. The final judgment and decree was filed on August 4, 1999. This appeal followed.
D E C I S I O N
I. Refusal to Vacate Stipulation
A. Existence of stipulation
Appellant initially argues that the parties never entered a valid stipulation because there was “no meeting of the minds.” She contends that respondent sought modifications to the parties’ October 10, 1998 stipulated “settlement agreement” after the settlement negotiation and that she, therefore, rescinded her consent to the terms of the settlement agreement.
Courts favor stipulations in dissolution cases because they simplify and expedite litigation. Shirk v. Shirk, 561 N.W.2d 519, 521 (Minn. 1997) (citation omitted). Stipulations are treated like binding contracts. Id. And like contracts, stipulations require a meeting of the parties’ minds regarding their essential elements in order to be valid. Angier v. Angier, 415 N.W.2d 53, 56 (Minn. App. 1987).
[But] [t]he requisite mutual assent for the formation of a contract * * * does not require a subjective mutual intent to agree on the same thing in the same sense[.] [It] may be based on objective manifestations whereby one party by his words or by his conduct, or by both, leads the other party reasonably to assume that he assents to and accepts the terms of the other’s offer.
Western Insulation Servs., Inc. v. Central Nat’l Ins. Co., 460 N.W.2d 355, 358 (Minn. App. 1990) (quoting Holt v. Swenson, 252 Minn. 510, 516, 90 N.W.2d 724, 728 (1958)). A party who signs a contract is bound by it unless the other party has reason to know that the party signing the contract did not read or understand its content. State Bank of Hamburg v. Stoeckmann, 417 N.W.2d 113, 118 (Minn. App. 1987), review denied (Minn. Feb. 17, 1988).
Appellant’s use of the words “rescind” and “revocation” in her appellate brief belie her argument that the parties did not reach a contractual agreement. If the parties had not had a meeting of the minds, it would not have been necessary for appellant to rescind or revoke her consent.
The settlement agreement itself also militates against appellant’s argument. The first line of the agreement states, “The parties have agreed that the following would be the terms of their MTA and J&D.” The agreement is signed by both parties and their attorneys. The settlement contains all of the essential terms for a marriage termination agreement and appears to be a culmination of the parties’ previous written negotiations. Moreover, appellant has provided no evidence that she did not read or understand the terms of the settlement agreement. Thus, despite the parties’ subsequent wrangling over the language of the MTA implementing the settlement agreement, we conclude that they reached a mutual understanding on the terms of the October 10 settlement agreement and that the district court correctly found that it was a binding stipulation.
B. Revocation of stipulation
Appellant next argues that she “has a right to rescind” her consent to the settlement terms prior to the court’s acceptance of the terms and that there is no settlement until the district court actually hears the parties accept the terms of their settlement. Thus, she argues that the district court abused its discretion by enforcing the settlement agreement.
In support of her argument, appellant relies on the four factors discussed in Tomscak v. Tomscak, 352 N.W.2d 464, 466 (Minn. App. 1984), for determining whether a party properly entered into a stipulation. These factors include whether: (1) the party had competent representation of counsel; (2) “extensive and detailed negotiations occurred”; (3) “the party agreed to the stipulation in open court”; and (4) “when questioned by the judge, the party acknowledged understanding the terms” and that the terms were “fair and equitable.” Pekarek v. Wilking, 380 N.W.2d 161, 163 (Minn. App. 1986) (citing Tomscak, 352 N.W.2d at 466).
Appellant is correct that this court has previously indicated that “good stipulation practice” can support affirming a trial court’s exercise of its discretion to refuse to vacate a judgment. See Tomscak, 352 N.W.2d at 466. But while using evidence on “good stipulation practice” remains appropriate, the supreme court has made it clear that indication of deficient practices, independent of facts showing mistake, fraud, or duress, or other grounds stated in Minn. Stat. § 518.145, subd. 2 (1998), does not establish a basis for vacating a judgment. Hestekin v. Hestekin, 587 N.W.2d 308, 310 (Minn. App. 1998) (citing Shirk, 561 N.W.2d at 522).
Once a stipulation is merged into the decree, the sole relief from the decree lies in meeting the requirements of Minn. Stat. § 518.145, subd. 2. Shirk, 561 N.W.2d at 522. This statute provides in relevant part:
Subd. 2. Reopening. On motion and upon terms as are just, the court may relieve a party from a judgment and decree, order, or proceeding under this chapter, * * * and may order a new trial or grant other relief as may be just for the following reasons:
(1) mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect;
* * * *
(3) fraud whether denominated intrinsic or extrinsic, misrepresentation, or other misconduct of an adverse party;
Minn. Stat. § 518.145, subd. 2.
Here, appellant did not allege or demonstrate any of the section 518.145 factors. We conclude, therefore, that the district court did not abuse its discretion in enforcing the terms of the October 10, 1998 settlement agreement. See Hestekin, 587 N.W.2d at 310 (stating that district court’s decision on whether to vacate judgment must be upheld in absence of abuse of discretion).
II. Evidentiary Hearing
At the July 6, 1999 hearing regarding the terms of the decree, appellant alleged that respondent had made substantive changes to the parties’ October 10, 1998 agreement when drafting his proposed order. In the district court’s order following the hearing, it resolved each of the remaining terms on the basis of the terms in the parties’ May 28, 1998 proposed MTA.
On appeal, appellant argues that the district court erred in determining which additions to make in the parties’ dissolution decree without holding an evidentiary hearing. Because appellant did not specifically request an evidentiary hearing on the disputed issues in her December 30, 1998 motion or at the July 6, 1999 hearing, we conclude the issue is not properly before this court. Thiele v. Stich, 425 N.W.2d 580, 582 (Minn. 1988) (stating this court generally will not consider matters not argued and considered in court below).
III. Removal of District Court Judge
Finally, our resolution of the foregoing issues makes it unnecessary to address appellant’s request to remove the district court judge.