This opinion will be unpublished and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:
Jacqueline M. Theisen,
n/k/a Jacqueline M. Lee,
Mark R. Theisen,
Stearns County District Court
File No. F9981607
Don C. Aldrich, 840 Midland Square, 331 2nd Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55401 (for appellant); and
Mark R. Theisen, 5830 408th Street, Rice, MN 56367 (respondent pro se).
Considered and decided by Toussaint, Presiding Chief Judge, Kalitowski, Judge, and Stoneburner, Judge.
Appellant Jacqueline Lee challenges the district court’s order denying her request for an evidentiary hearing and refusing to vacate the dissolution judgment, that was based on a Marital Termination Agreement (MTA) presented to the district court by appellant and her attorney at a default hearing. Appellant asserts the MTA was the product of duress and was fraudulent. Appellant asserts that the district court improperly weighed affidavit evidence and judged credibility to determine that appellant was not entitled to an evidentiary hearing on her claims. We affirm.
D E C I S I O N
Appellant contends that the district court improperly evaluated affidavits submitted by both parties. Motions in family-law matters, except for contempt proceedings, are to be “submitted on affidavits, exhibits, documents subpoenaed to the hearing, memoranda, and arguments of counsel unless otherwise ordered by the court for good cause shown.” Minn. R. Gen. Pract. 303.03(d). In this case the district court implicitly found that appellant had not established good cause for an evidentiary hearing and determined, on the basis of the submissions of both parties, that appellant was not entitled to the relief she sought. We agree.
Appellant alleges that the district court abused its discretion by failing to vacate the judgment based on her claims. See Kornberg v. Kornberg, 542 N.W.2d 379, 386 (Minn. 1996) (noting district court’s refusal to reopen judgment and decree will not be reversed absent abuse of discretion); Maranda v. Maranda, 449 N.W.2d 158, 164 (Minn. 1989) (“On appeal, a trial court’s determination whether or not to vacate a stipulation will not be disturbed in absence of an abuse of discretion.”).
The statutory prerequisites contained in Minn. Stat. § 518.145, subd. 2 (1998), provide the exclusive grounds for relief from the judgment. See Shirk v. Shirk, 561 N.W.2d 519, 522 (Minn. 1997) (stating stipulation merges into the judgment). Pursuant to the statute a court may vacate a judgment on the basis of “fraud, * * * misrepresentation, or other misconduct of an adverse party.” Minn. Stat. § 518.145, subd. 2(3) (emphasis added).
Appellant contends she signed the MTA while under duress because respondent Mark Theisen allegedly threatened her. Threats or similar forms of duress may constitute “other misconduct” for purposes of § 518.145, subd. 2(3). See Hestekin v. Hestekin, 587 N.W.2d 308, 310 (Minn. App. 1998) (demonstrating this court’s willingness to read “duress” into Minn. Stat. § 518.145, subd. 2). The jurisprudence on duress provides that:
Minnesota courts only recognize duress as a defense to a contract when there is coercion by means of physical force or unlawful threats, which destroys one’s free will and compels compliance with the demands of the party exerting the coercion.
St. Louis Park Inv. Co. v. R.L. Johnson Inv. Co., Inc., 411 N.W.2d 288, 291 (Minn. App. 1987) (emphasis added) (citation omitted) review denied (Minn. Oct. 30, 1987); see also Shirk, 561 N.W.2d at 521 (according stipulations “the sanctity of binding contracts”); Angier v. Angier, 415 N.W.2d 53, 56 (Minn. App. 1987) (favoring stipulation as expediting litigation in dissolution actions and considering it a binding contract not to be set aside absent fraud, duress or mistake).
Here appellant asserts that respondent (1) physically assaulted her in February 1997 and threatened to kill her if she “f***** with him or his kids”; (2) referenced that threat on numerous occasions thereafter; and (3) threatened to prove she was a “bad mother” if she fought him on custody issues. Appellant says she had “what amounted to a nervous breakdown” in January 1998 and told her attorney to draft the MTA “giving Respondent whatever he wanted.”
Rejecting appellant’s claim based on duress, the district court noted that appellant was at all times represented by competent counsel, appellant’s attorney drafted the MTA, and appellant had full knowledge of the parties’ assets. See St. Louis Park Inv. Co., 411 N.W.2d at 291 (indicating “a claim of duress will not be sustained when the claimant entered into the contract with full knowledge of all the facts, advice from an attorney, and ample time for reflection.”); see also Merickel v. Merickel, 414 N.W.2d 208, 212 (Minn. App. 1987) (holding district court did not abuse its discretion in finding appellant was not under duress where, among other things, appellant was represented by competent counsel who drafted the stipulation). Appellant signed the MTA in April of 1998, almost a year after she moved out of the marital home and began to reside with her current husband. The judgment was entered after a default hearing in July 1998, three months after the parties signed the MTA. Respondent was pro se throughout the dissolution processand did not appear at the default hearing. Appellant and her attorney presented the MTA to the district court.
The time between the original threat, the signing of the MTA, and the default hearing provided appellant ample time for reflection. Appellant had the benefit of legal advice and representation, as well as counsel and support from her current husband, both at the time the MTA was signed and at the hearing. The district court did not err in refusing to grant an evidentiary hearing and did not abuse its discretion in failing to set aside the dissolution on the allegation that the MTA was the product of duress.
Appellant also claims the MTA was fraudulent. Under Minn. Stat. § 518.145, subd. 2, a judgment may be set aside for fraud. Kornberg, 542 N.W.2d at 386. In the context of a marital dissolution, “fraud” consists of:
(1) an intentional course of material misrepresentation or nondisclosure,
(2) having the result of misleading the court and opposing counsel, and
(3) making the property settlement unfair.
Id. at 387 (citing Maranda, 449 N.W.2d at 165). We also consider “whether the offending party engaged in an unconscionable scheme or plan to influence the court improperly.” Maranda, 449 N.W.2d at 165.
The district court noted that appellant and her attorney were aware of the parties’ assets and liabilities. Appellant’s counsel acknowledged at oral argument that appellant presented the information now alleged to be fraudulent. In rendering its decision, the district court correctly stated that “[t]here is no evidence that Respondent engaged in an ‘unconscionable scheme or plan’ to improperly influence the court.”
Appellant further argues that the stipulation, on its face, is evidence of an unfair property settlement. See Kornberg, 542 N.W.2d at 387 (articulating elements of fraud in dissolution context as requiring third element that property settlement be unfair). Because neither the MTA nor the judgment recites the values of assets or encumbrances, this assertion is incorrect. Appellant argues that because a $5,000 motor home owned by the parties is not referenced in the MTA, she has established fraud. Appellant ignores the fact that the MTA, while acknowledging an equitable division of personal property, does not list any of the personal property other than automobiles or provide any values of personal property. In addition, appellant was awarded her pension plan, also not valued in the MTA, but potentially of sufficient value to make the MTA equitable on its face. Typically, this court will not speculate as to the various trade-offs and negotiations that led to the personal-property division or its impact on the other asset divisions in the MTA. Appellant argues that the stipulation giving respondent the parties’ home and respondent’s business (subject to encumbrances) is manifestly unjust, but she provides no support for that claim. Nothing in the record convinces this court that the MTA embodies an unfair or unconscionable property settlement. The district court did not err in refusing to grant an evidentiary hearing on the issue of fraud and did not abuse its discretion in denying appellant’s motion to set aside the judgment for fraud.