This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

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








Missionary Evangelism, Inc., et al.,





Irene S. Peterson,




Filed July 18, 2000


Toussaint, Chief Judge


Lake County District Court

File No. C999186



Mitchel H. Costley, 609 First Avenue, Post Office Box 340, Two Harbors, MN 55616-0340; and

Frederick R. Kopplin, 5038 34th Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55417 (for respondents)

Bryan N. Anderson, Magie, Andresen, Haag, Paciotti, Butterworth & McCarthy, P.A., 1000 Alworth Building, Post Office Box 745, Duluth, MN 55801-1411 (for appellant)


            Considered and decided by Harten, Presiding Judge, Toussaint, Chief Judge, and Shumaker, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

TOUSSAINT, Chief Judge

Appellant Irene S. Peterson challenges adverse summary judgment in an unlawful-detainer proceeding, alleging that respondents are not entitled to evict her because she has the greater possessory interest.  Because Dahlberg v. Young, 231 Minn. 60, 42 N.W.2d 570 (1950), controls and disallows in an unlawful-detainer proceeding the types of equitable issues raised by appellant, we affirm.


            In the 1960s, Peterson and her husband Reverend Gordon Peterson, Sr., purchased property on the north shore of Lake Superior and built a home.  Reverend Peterson died in 1984 and appellant, now 83 years old, has continued to live on the property alone.  On April 17, 1987, at the request of her son, Gordon Peterson, Jr., appellant executed a deed to the property to respondent Missionary Evangelism, Inc.  Appellant’s son is the founder and president of Missionary Evangelism.  He mortgaged the property extensively. 

            On December 17, 1997, Missionary Evangelism, with appellant’s son executing on the corporation's behalf, entered into a purchase agreement for the property with respondents Joel and Patricia Thompson and, on February 24, 1998, appellant’s son executed a deed to the Thompsons.  On June 30, 1998, appellant’s son sent his mother a letter providing written notice that she must vacate the property as a tenant at will no later than midnight, July 31, 1998.

Respondents filed this unlawful detainer action in July 1999.  Peterson filed an answer admitting that she executed a deed to Missionary Evangelism but affirmatively alleging that the deed did not divest her of ownership interest and that the title was to be transferred back to her at any time she requested.  She raised defenses of service, duress, estoppel, failure of consideration, fraud, and superior rights as an owner-occupant.  The district court granted summary judgment, ruling that the defenses raised were not available in an unlawful-detainer proceeding.  Judgment was entered and Peterson appealed.


            On appeal from summary judgment, we ask whether there are any genuine issues of material fact and whether the district court erred in applying the law.  State by Copper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2, 4 (Minn. 1990).  Under the unlawful-detainer statute, a person may be evicted if the person unlawfully detains or retains possession of real property.  Minn. Stat. § 504B.301 (Supp. 1999) (1998).  An unlawful-detainer action provides a summary proceeding to quickly determine present possessory rights.  Lilyerd v. Carlson, 499 N.W.2d 803, 812 (Minn. 1993); Cloverdale Foods of Minn., Inc. v. Pioneer Snacks, 580 N.W.2d 46, 49 (Minn. App. 1998). 

The only issue in an unlawful-detainer proceeding is whether the facts alleged in the complaint are true.  Mac-Du Properties v. LaBresh, 392 N.W.2d 315, 317 (Minn. App. 1986), review denied (Minn. Oct. 29, 1986).  Unlawful-detainer "merely determines the right to present possession and does not adjudicate the ultimate legal or equitable rights of ownership possessed by the parties."  Gallagher v. Moffet, 233 Minn. 330, 333 46 N.W.2d 792-93 (1951).  Unlawful-detainer does not bar subsequent actions involving title or equitable rights.  Lilyerd, 499 N.W.2d at 812.

The complaint in this case alleged that Peterson had been unlawfully occupying the property since July 1998, due to her failure to vacate after the written notice. Peterson raised equitable defenses of duress, estoppel, failure of consideration, fraud, and superior rights as an owner-occupant.  The supreme court has addressed whether a defendant in an unlawful-detainer action may introduce evidence of fraud in the procurement of the deed upon which the plaintiff relies to establish right of possession.  Dahlberg v. Young, 231 Minn. 60, 61-62, 42 N.W.2d 570, 573 (1950).   "[A]n equitable matter which requires affirmative relief to make it a defense per se cannot be interposed in unlawful-detainer proceedings."  Id. at 65, 42 N.W.2d at 574.

The Dalhberg rule precludes consideration of Peterson's defenses in an unlawful-detainer proceeding.  Because her defenses can be asserted only with the aid of affirmative equitable relief they are "insufficient per se."  Id. at 67-68, 42 N.W.2d at 576.  Peterson nonetheless argues that the court should consider "whether any of the Respondents are more entitled to possession than she."  In order to establish a superior possessory interest appellant must argue against the plain terms of the 1987 deed.  But a voidable deed is no defense to unlawful-detainer.  Id. at 67, 42 N.W.2d at 575.

A voidable deed conveys the fee to the grantee and remains in force as a valid instrument of defeasance until such time, if ever, as it is set aside by an appropriate exercise of affirmative relief in equity.

Id.  Affirmative equitable relief is not permissible in an unlawful-detainer proceeding.

Appellant urges this court to consider whether the Thompsons are purchasers in good faith because her continued occupation of the property should have put them on notice of her potential interest.  She relies on Henschke v. Christian, 228 Minn. 142, 36 N.W.2d 547 (1949), an unlawful-detainer case indicating that purchaser-in-good-faith status was a fact question for a jury.  The Dahlberg court, however, specifically distinguished Henschke as a case involving a defense that was "adequate per se" because the deeds were void rather than merely voidable.  Dahlberg, 231 Minn. at 67, 42 N.W.2d at 575.  Because Dahlberg controls this unlawful-detainer proceeding, affirmative equitable relief must be sought elsewhere.