This opinion will be unpublished and may
not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In Re the Marriage of:
Judith Ann Gray, petitioner,
Joel Edward Gray,
Filed December 5, 2000
Olmsted County District Court
File No. F496183
Mary A. Richardson, Richardson Law Office, 18 Third Street Southwest, Suite 302, Rochester, MN 55902; and
Sharon L. Buffington, 608 Vine Street, Hudson, WI 54016 (for respondent)
Steven C. Youngquist, 421 First Avenue Southwest, Suite 301W, Rochester, MN 55902 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge, Stoneburner, Judge, and Mulally, Judge.
The district court scheduled a January 4, 1999, pretrial conference in the Grays’ dissolution action. In late December 1998, the Grays’ minor son was scheduled to enter inpatient chemical-dependency treatment. Judith Gray stated in an affidavit that around December 31, 1998, Joel Gray told her that “getting our son into treatment was a first priority” and, because of that, he would delay the pretrial and “get ahold of my attorney and take care of that.” Judith Gray was pro se at this point. In a responsive affidavit, Joel Gray denied that he told Judith Gray that he would delay the pretrial conference.
The pretrial conference was held as scheduled on January 4, 1999. Judith Gray did not attend. Joel Gray and his counsel both told the district court that they did not know why Judith Gray did not attend. Joel Gray moved for a default judgment, and the district court granted the motion. On January 11, 1999, Joel Gray told Judith Gray that he had proceeded with the pretrial conference and the matter was “resolved.” Judith Gray telephoned an attorney, met with him, and retained his services by the end of January.
On February 23, 1999, Judith Gray’s attorney filed a motion to vacate the judgment or, in the alternative, to modify certain parts of the judgment. The hearing on the motion was continued several times. On September 16, 1999, before the motion was heard, Judith Gray’s attorney withdrew. She retained a new attorney, who scheduled a motion hearing for February 29, 2000. Because of a scheduling conflict, the district court rescheduled the motion hearing to March 1, 2000.
The day after the March 1 hearing, the district court issued its order, denying Judith Gray’s motion to vacate the entire judgment but allowing modification of the maintenance and child-support provisions. The district court ordered the parties to enter mediation/ADR to resolve the maintenance and child-support issues. Joel Gray appealed. This court dismissed Joel Gray’s appeal without prejudice and remanded to the district court for a clarification of the basis for the modification order.
The district court issued a clarification order, finding that Judith Gray was entitled to reopen the issues of child support and spousal maintenance under Minn. Stat. § 518.145, subds. 2(1) and (3). Joel Gray appeals from this order, arguing that the district court erred in (1) hearing the motion to vacate, (2) finding that Judith Gray established a basis to vacate any judgment provision, and (3) vacating only certain provisions of the judgment.
While acknowledging that the motion to vacate was timely filed within the required one-year period, Joel Gray claims that Judith Gray then withdrew or abandoned her motion, and the district court erred in subsequently hearing the “renewed” motion to vacate beyond the one-year limitations period. The district court recognized in its clarification order that “allowing a motion to be continued for one year without hearing is not good judicial practice.” The district court nonetheless found that it was proper to hear Judith Gray’s motion to vacate based on the district court’s factual findings that Judith Gray filed her motion to vacate within one year after the judgment was entered, the motion was continued numerous times by both parties for various reasons, and Judith Gray’s motion to vacate had never been withdrawn.
This court will not set aside a district court’s findings of fact, whether based on oral or documentary evidence, unless the findings are clearly erroneous. Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01. “Findings of fact are clearly erroneous only if the reviewing court is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made.” Fletcher v. St. Paul Pioneer Press, 589 N.W.2d 96, 101 (Minn. 1999) (quotations and citation omitted).
It is undisputed that Judith Gray timely filed her motion to vacate. She denies that she withdrew her motion to vacate, and no evidence contravenes her denial. Joel Gray argues that the motion to vacate was “canceled,” citing an entry on the docket which states “CANCEL 092299 motion per Debbie.” The ambiguous clerical entry in the docketing statement does not establish withdrawal. We also reject Joel Gray’s argument that Judith Gray abandoned her motion. Judith Gray requested a hearing on her motion to vacate and presented evidence on the motion; accordingly, she did not abandon the motion. See Hicks v. Hicks, 533 N.W.2d 885, 886 (Minn. App. 1995) (explaining that a party is deemed to have abandoned a motion when the party conducts no discovery, requests no hearings, and presents no evidence to support the motion).
Thus, the district court did not err in finding that Judith Gray filed her motion to vacate within one year after the judgment was entered, the motion was continued numerous times by both parties, and Judith Gray’s motion to vacate had not been withdrawn.
Relief from a dissolution judgment is governed by the provisions of Minn. Stat. § 518.145, subd. 2 (1998). Shirk v. Shirk, 561 N.W.2d 519, 522 (Minn. 1997). Applying Minn. Stat. § 518.145, subd. 2, the district court found that Judith Gray’s failure to appear was excusable neglect or inadvertence and that Joel Gray misrepresented the nature of Judith Gray’s absence at the pretrial. See Minn. Stat. § 518.145, subd. 2(1) (permitting court to allow relief from judgment because of inadvertence or excusable neglect); subd. 2(3) (permitting court to allow relief from judgment because of misrepresentation by adverse party).
If the district court finds circumstances that might permit vacating the judgment, this court will uphold a district court’s decision on whether to vacate a judgment unless the district court has abused its discretion. Hestekin v. Hestekin, 587 N.W.2d 308, 310 (Minn. App. 1998). We defer to the district court’s findings of fact on the question of whether the judgment was prompted by fraud, duress or mistake and reverse only when the findings are clearly erroneous. Id. Minnesota has virtually no caselaw interpreting section 518.145, subdivision 2(1); however, the language of its operative provision is identical to Minn. R. Civ. P. 60.02(a). We rely on precedent interpreting the identical language in rule 60.02(a) to analyze subdivision 2(1). See Peterson v. Eishen, 512 N.W.2d 338, 341 (Minn. 1994) (applying precedent interpreting rule 60.02(d) in construing functionally identical language in § 518.145, subd. 2(4)).
A party seeking relief under rule 60.02, and thus § 518.145, subd. 2(1), must show (1) a reasonable claim on the merits; (2) a reasonable excuse for failure to act; (3) due diligence after notice of entry of judgment; and (4) no substantial prejudice to the opposing party if the motion to vacate is granted. Conley v. Downing, 321 N.W.2d 36, 40-41 (Minn. 1982) (citing Finden v. Klaas, 268 Minn. 268, 271, 128 N.W.2d 748, 750 (1964)). These factors, known as the Finden factors, must all be satisfied in order to justify relief under rule 60.02. Nguyen v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 558 N.W.2d 487, 490 (Minn. 1997). Because the district court did not specifically apply the Finden test, we address each of the factors individually. Charson v. Temple Israel, 419 N.W.2d 488, 491-92 (Minn. 1988) (analyzing Finden factors de novo when district court failed to apply test).
On the first Finden factor, the record demonstrates that Judith Gray has a reasonable claim on the merits. The judgment limited spousal maintenance to one year of mortgage payments even though the record suggests some uncertainty about Judith Gray’s ability to be self-supporting following her long absence from employment outside the home. Minn. Stat. § 518.552, subd. 1 (1998). Joel Gray argues that other provisions balanced the limitation on maintenance and affected the amount provided for child support. But these arguments may still be made to the trial court. Judith Gray has custody of one of the children, and the judgment set the amount of child support without her input. A claim need only be “debatably” meritorious to satisfy this first factor. Charson, 419 N.W.2d at 491-92.
On the second Finden factor, the district court found that Judith Gray “reasonably believed that the January 4, 1999 hearing was going to be continued.” Although the evidence underlying this finding was disputed, the district court credited Judith Gray’s affidavit testimony, and we defer to the district court’s resolution of factual issues presented by conflicting affidavits. Straus v. Straus, 254 Minn. 234, 235, 94 N.W.2d 679, 680 (1959); Shirk, 551 N.W.2d at 506 n.1.
On the third Finden factor, the record demonstrates that Judith Gray acted with due diligence after notice of entry of judgment by filing her motion to vacate within six weeks of the default judgment and well before expiration of the one-year time period for filing the motion. Although the hearing was delayed for almost a year, the record supports the district court’s finding that the continuances were primarily attributable to the lawyers and not Judith Gray.
On the fourth Finden factor, no evidence in the record indicates prejudice other than the normal expense and delay of litigation. Delay and expense to the opposing party is not sufficient prejudice to deny a motion to vacate. Charson, 419 N.W.2d at 491.
In sum, Judith Gray has satisfied the four requirements for vacating the judgment. Accordingly, the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that the judgment should be vacated pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 518.145, subd. 2(1). The district court also found that the judgment should be vacated pursuant to section 518.145, subd. 2(3). Because the district court did not abuse its discretion in vacating the judgment under subdivision 2(1), we do not address the alternative basis.
Joel Gray’s final argument is that the district court did not have the authority under Minn. Stat. § 518.145, subd. 2, to vacate only the provisions in the judgment relating to child support and spousal maintenance. Contrary to Joel Gray’s argument, the district court is authorized under Minn. Stat. § 518.145, subd. 2, to modify the final judgment without having to vacate the entire judgment. Minn. Stat. § 518.145, subd. 2 (1998) (providing that a district court may “grant other relief as may be just”); see Hafner v. Hafner, 237 Minn. 424, 430-31, 54 N.W.2d 854, 858 (1952) (holding that only the part of the decree and the stipulation resulting from fraud or mistake should be modified); see also Sanborn v. Sanborn, 503 N.W.2d 499, 504 (Minn. App. 1993), review denied (Minn. Sept. 21, 1993) (affirming a district court’s vacation of provisions in dissolution decree relating to spousal maintenance, child support, and property division).