This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

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






In Re:  Estate of Lawrence Charles Dahlheimer,

a/k/a Lawrence C. Dahlheimer.


Filed July 11, 2000

Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded

Randall, Judge

Concurring Specially, Willis, Judge


Hennepin County District Court

File No. PX981229


Adrian V. Dahlheimer, 16241 North Diamond Lake Road, Dayton, MN  55327 (pro se appellant)


G. Craig Howse, 360 Brookdale Corporate Center, 6300 Shingle Creek Parkway East, Brooklyn Center, MN  55430 (for respondent Estate of Lawrence Charles Dahlheimer)


            Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge, Randall, Judge, and Willis, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            Adrian Dahlheimer appeals pro se from the district court’s order granting summary judgment to respondent and dismissing his claim for $334,907.50 against his father’s estate.  We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.


Lawrence and Delvina Dahlheimer were first married to each other in 1936.  They owned and operated a farm in Dayton, Minnesota and had 11 children, including appellant Adrian Dahlheimer.  Appellant has lived on the farm since his birth in 1938, with the exception of four years when he served in the Air Force.  Since 1961, appellant has worked on the farm with his father.  In addition to working on the farm, appellant held jobs with several different employers, including General Mills, Honeywell, and the federal government.  

            In 1983, appellant bought a portion of his parents’ land by contract for deed.  The purchase price was $80,000 ($5,000 down), with the balance payable in monthly installments of $650 at nine percent interest until the contract was paid in full. There is evidence in the record that appellant did not make regular monthly payments on the contract, but with the sellers’ (parents’) acquiescence, he contributed labor to the farming operation and money toward farm machinery and taxes, as payment in kind.

In 1995, Lawrence and Delvina Dahlheimer began divorce proceedings, and in April 1996, a hearing was held on their stipulated dissolution agreement.  Because appellant owned a portion of his parents’ land by this contract for deed, he was a party to the stipulated agreement.  Lawrence Dahlheimer’s attorney read the parties’ stipulated agreement, which included a waiver of claims between appellant and his father, into the record.  Appellant testified that he concurred with the agreement.  The stipulation called for appellant to relinquish his contract for deed claim so the land could be divided between his parents. In July 1996, appellant executed quitclaim deeds reconveying the land to his parents.  

Lawrence and Delvina Dahlheimer remarried in 1997.  Then Lawrence died that same year.  Appellant filed a claim against his father’s estate for $334,907.50, seeking compensation for services rendered on his father’s farm from 1967 through 1997.  In his amended statement of claim, appellant alleged that his claim is secured by the 1983 contract for deed.

The probate court found that there was no written contract between appellant and his father to compensate appellant for his labor or financial contributions to the farm.   Based on the lack of a written contract and appellant’s waiver of his rights at his parents’ dissolution proceeding, the probate court granted summary judgment to respondent and dismissed appellant’s claim.  This appeal follows. 


On appeal from summary judgment this court must determine if any genuine issues of material fact exist and whether the district court erred in its application of the law.  State by Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2, 4 (Minn. 1990); In re Estate of Tourville, 366 N.W.2d 380, 381 (Minn. App. 1985), review denied(Minn. June 27, 1985).  The evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party against whom judgment was granted.  Fabio v. Bellomo, 504 N.W.2d 758, 761 (Minn. 1993).

I.          Waiver

            Appellant argues that he did not waive his rights at his parents’ dissolution hearing.  A waiver occurs when a person intentionally or voluntarily relinquishes a known right.  Adam v. Adam, 358 N.W.2d 487, 489 (Minn. App. 1984).  “Both intent and knowledge, actual or constructive, are essential elements” of waiver.  Engstrom v. Farmers & Bankers Life Ins. Co., 230 Minn. 308, 311-12, 41 N.W.2d 422, 424 (1950) (citations omitted).  Consideration is not required to support a waiver, and once established, a waiver is irrevocable. 312, 41 N.W.2d at 424.

First, appellant argues that he should not have to give up his rights because the divorce was a fraud.  Appellant alleges that he was asked to reconvey his land to his parents as part of the divorce action, so partition of the land would result in favorable rezoning for purposes of future resale.  However, neither appellant nor the personal representative raised fraud claims before the district court.  This court will generally not consider matters not argued and considered in the court below.  Thiele v. Stich, 425 N.W.2d 580, 582 (Minn. 1988).  We decline to consider this issue because it is raised for the first time on appeal.  

Next, appellant argues that he agreed to relinquish his rights in the 1983 contract for deed in exchange for his parents’ homestead.  However, nothing in the record supports this contention.  The record shows that the divorce agreement was contingent upon appellant’s agreement to return the land and that his agreement was contingent upon the court’s acceptance of the stipulated divorce agreement.  At the divorce proceeding, the district court specifically ordered that the homestead be given to appellant’s mother, Delvina Dahlheimer.  

The district court found that appellant waived his interest in the land and any other claim that he might have had against his father.

From this record, sketchy as it is, we agree with the district court that appellant waived all rights in his parents’ land, including any possible rights in that portion of the land that he originally had purchased under the contract for deed, and then quitclaimed back to his parents as part of their stipulated divorce agreement, which the district court accepted.

 But it is unclear whether appellant knowingly and intentionally waived his right to bring any and all other claims against his father.  Parts of the transcript of the dissolution hearing refer specifically to a waiver of all claims related to real estate.  Other parts of the transcript refer to a general relinquishment of all claims.  From the transcript, it is unclear whether appellant intended to waive claims that were unrelated to real estate.  

II.        Quasi-contract

The district court said in its order for summary judgment that

[t]here is no written contract between Adrian and his father to reimburse him for his labor or expenses incurred on behalf of the farm.  Adrian Dahlheimer never billed his father for his time, labor, or expenses.  Mr. Dahlheimer claims that his claim is secured by a 1983 contract for deed. 


However, written contracts (although valuable and certainly prudent) are not needed as a matter of law for appellant to have, at least, “a claim” for reasonable monetary compensation for services rendered.  Appellant may be entitled to the reasonable value of his labor and financial contributions under quasi-contract principles or quantum meruit.  The quasi-contractual obligation is imposed by law and is independent of any expressed intent of the parties.  Mjolsness v. Mjolsness, 363 N.W.2d 839, 842 (Minn. App. 1985).   Under quasi-contract principles, the right to recover is based in equity.  Lundstrom Constr. Co. v. Dygert, 254 Minn. 224, 231, 94 N.W.2d 527, 533 (1959).  The remedy is imposed by law to prevent unjust enrichment at the expense of another.  Id. 

The elements of a quasi contract are (a) a benefit conferred on the defendant by the plaintiff; (b) appreciation of that benefit by the defendant; and (c) acceptance and retention of that benefit by the defendant under such circumstances that it would be inequitable for him to retain the benefit without paying for its value.  Acton Constr. Co. v. State, 383 N.W.2d 416, 417 (Minn. App. 1986), review denied (Minn. May 22, 1986).

First, we do not pass on the merits of appellant’s reasonable compensation claim.  Appellant bears the burden on remand of proving that all the essential elements of a quasi-contract exist.  Second, such issues as damages and possible defenses, including but not limited to latches, statute of limitations, etc., have yet to be considered by the district court.  While we specifically do not address the merit of appellant’s claim, we conclude that the district court erred in dismissing appellant’s claim on the ground of lack of a written contract.  Recovery in quasi-contract does not depend on a written contract.  Thus, appellant’s claim for compensation for his years of labor and financial contributions to the farm survives the present motion for summary judgment. 

III.       Presumption of Gratuity

Respondent argues that even if appellant did not waive his right to bring a claim against his father’s estate, the claim is barred by the presumption of gratuity. The presumption of gratuity arises when, absent an agreement to the contrary, services are rendered by one family member to another.  See, e.g., Johnson v. Kistler (In re Estate of Anderson), 157 Minn. 217, 219, 197 N.W. 671, 672 (1923) (recognizing where relatives live in same household, there is presumption that no pecuniary compensation is expected for services or support provided by one household member to another).  The doctrine applies when the services rendered are “of the type which members of a family usually and ordinarily render to each other by reason of the family relation.”  Olson v. Tilghman (In re Estate of Tilghman), 240 Minn. 494, 496, 61 N.W.2d 743, 745 (1953).  The courts may presume that services rendered by an adult child are gratuitous so long as the child remains in the parental home.  Klessig v. Lea (In re Estate of Klessig, 153 Minn. 27, 29, 189 N.W. 424, 425 (1922).  But the presumption “may be overcome by facts and circumstances from which an implied promise to compensate may be inferred.”  Id.

Here, there is no such presumption.  Appellant provided extensive and regular (for years) labor and financial contributions to his parents’ farm.  That is not the type of services ordinarily rendered just because of a familial relationship.  The understanding, supported by the record and the mother’s testimony, that his contributions were valued at least at $650 a month further supports a finding against the presumption.  For instance, appellant’s services were not formal care and nursing-type services that adult children often extend to elderly parents in distress.  Both of appellant’s parents acknowledged the value of his services while they were healthy, and before they divorced and remarried.  There is evidence that appellant’s parents did not collect the $650 per month that appellant owed them under the contract because they believed that his labor and financial contributions to the farm were worth at least that much.  Appellant’s mother testified at the dissolution hearing that “[appellant] has kept the farm going since 1983.  * * *  [Appellant] has more than paid for the C.D. in payment of kind.” This testimony supports appellant’s claim that the contract for deed was security for his labor.  (Emphasis added.)  The fact that appellant quitclaimed that land back to his parents in 1996, and the fact that we affirm the district court’s conclusion that he no longer has any interest in that land, does not prevent appellant from introducing the 1983 contract for deed as evidence in his claim for quantum meruit compensation.  Appellant can introduce the fact that he paid on the contract for deed for approximately 13 years in money or in kind (labor), with his parents’ acquiescence, as evidence that the contract for deed was to secure his right to at least some reasonable compensation for undisputed regular work on the farm.

Even though appellant cannot now claim the land, he may still be entitled to monetary compensation under quasi-contract principles.  There is, obviously, an unresolved issue in this case, a missing piece so to speak.  Appellant contracted to buy a valuable piece of land for which he agreed to pay $80,000 in 1983.  That was a legal transaction evidenced by a contract for deed.  For the next 13 years, although there is no evidence of timely payments on the contract for deed, there is evidence that the parents never considered appellant in default.  Thus, the parties by implication, supported by the direct testimony of appellant’s mother, agreed that his labor and other contributions to the farm fulfilled his contract for deed obligation for 13 years.  At $650 a month, appellant’s obligation, including principal and interest, was $7800 per year.  $7800 a year for 13 years comes to $101,400.  Appellant, paying $650 a month with interest at nine percent simple per annum, would amortize his obligation in approximately 25 years.  Thus, appellant had paid continuously on this contract for just over 50% of its full life.  Then, at his parents’ request, he quitclaimed his valuable equity back to them in 1996 for, ostensibly, according to the record, nothing!  Under the circumstances of this transaction, and his elderly parents’ divorce, which was followed within one year by their remarriage, it cannot be presumed that, as a matter of law, appellant deeded away his valuable interest in his parents’ land because he believed that nothing at all, not even quantum meruit, might be owed to him.

Appellant has the burden of proof on his claim.  Perhaps it will be that he cannot prove anything was owed to him, but we will not “presume” that.  As noted above, it was erroneous for the district court to dismiss his reasonable compensation/quantum meruit claim at summary judgment simply because it was not evidenced by a written contract. 

We affirm the district court’s finding that appellant waived his right to his parents’ land.  We reverse and remand for findings about whether appellant has a viable claim against his father’s estate under quasi-contract principles.  The district court has the discretion to order the parties to continue discovery, if it wishes.  

Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.


WILLIS, Judge (concurring specially)


            I agree that there is a question of fact regarding whether appellant knowingly and intentionally waived his right to bring any and all claims against his father.  I therefore concur in the result reached by the majority.  But I write separately to address several issues:

(1) I agree with the majority that there is evidence in the record that appellant’s parents accepted appellant’s farm labor and money he contributed toward farm machinery and taxes as payment in kind on appellant’s contract for deed.  But if appellant’s labor was accepted by his parents as in-kind payment on the contract for deed, I do not see how it can on remand be the subject of a claim for reimbursement under quasi-contract principles.  If the labor was an in-kind payment, it took the place of cash.  If appellant had made cash payments on the contract for deed and then voluntarily terminated the contract, as the majority have found he did, I am aware of no principle of law that would give appellant a claim for the return of his cash.  Therefore, I do not think that appellant has a claim now for payment for labor that was accepted in lieu of cash.

            (2) It is not clear from the record that appellant did not receive compensation for some or all of his labor and other in-kind contributions to the operation of his parents’ farm.  In a hearing in his parents’ dissolution proceedings, appellant testified that “[w]e made all the money running the farm, him and I,” apparently referring to his father.  The extent to which appellant may have received income from farm operations as compensation for his labor and other contributions will have to be developed on remand. 

            (3) Appellant asserts that his claim for compensation for his labor and other contributions is somehow “secured” by the now-terminated contract for deed.  And the majority apparently agree, suggesting that “[a]ppellant can introduce the fact that he paid on the contract for deed for approximately 13 years in money or in kind (labor), with his parents’ acquiescence, as evidence that the $80,000 contract for deed was to secure his right to at least some reasonable compensation for undisputed regular work on the farm.”  I can understand how appellant might conceivably have used his interest in the contract for deed to secure his payment of an obligation to a third party.  But I do not understand how, in any legally cognizable way, the existence of the contract for deed could “secure” appellant’s right to claim compensation for the very services that are being accepted as payment on the contract for deed.

            (4) Respondent raised the issue of the presumption of gratuity in the district court, but the court made no determination of that issue because it found that appellant had waived any claim against his father.  Nevertheless, the majority have found that the presumption of gratuity does not apply here.  I would not foreclose the district court from accepting evidence on that issue on remand, and I certainly do not think that the district court is precluded from finding that some or all of appellant’s contributions to the operation of the family’s farm were gratuitous.  Contrary to the majority’s assumption, I do not believe that family members contributing labor to the operation of a family farm necessarily expect to be compensated for that labor.