This opinion will be unpublished and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

C7-00-257

 

 

In Re the Marriage of:

Merry D. Hendricks, petitioner,

Appellant,

 

vs.

 

Dennis L. Hendricks,

Respondent.

 

 

Filed December 5, 2000

Affirmed in part and remanded

Halbrooks, Judge

 

Beltrami County District Court

File No. F4981278

 

 

Thomas T. Smith, Smith Law Firm, P.A., 115 5th Street NW, Bemidji, MN 56601-3004 (for appellant)

 

George L. Duranske, Duranske Law Firm, 1435 Anne Street NW, PO Box 1383, Bemidji, MN 56619-1383 (for respondent)

 

 

            Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge, Randall, Judge, and Harten, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

HALBROOKS, Judge

            On appeal from an amended dissolution judgment, appellant Merry Hendricks challenges (1) the trial court’s adoption of findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order for judgment proposed by respondent Dennis Hendricks, (2) the valuation and division of various assets, (3) the adequacy of the trial court’s findings regarding the property division, and (4) the property-equalization payment required by the judgment.  We reject appellant’s challenges to the trial court’s adoption of respondent’s proposed findings, conclusions, and order and affirm the valuation and division of the parties’ assets.  But, because the findings do not provide a basis for the amount of the property-equalization payment, we remand on that issue. 

FACTS

            A trial occurred on July 7, 1999, to resolve issues the parties had not settled by stipulation.  The issues before the court included the valuation and division of real and personal property and the apportionment of debt.  While both parties provided the court with opinions concerning the value of the property at issue, neither presented expert valuation testimony.

            The trial court asked for submission of proposed findings from both parties within two weeks after trial.  The court adopted the findings submitted by respondent and signed them on July 27, 1999.

            Because that order contained errors in the description of real property, amended findings prepared by respondent were circulated and submitted to the court.  The trial court signed the amended findings on September 24, 1999. 

            The parties’ cross-motions for amended findings or a new trial were heard on November 8, 1999, after which the trial court instructed counsel for respondent to prepare a proposed order.  The trial court signed the second amended findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order for judgment.  This appeal follows the December 16, 1999 entry of judgment on that order. 

D E C I S I O N

            Appellant alleges that the trial court adopted respondent’s proposed judgment and, as a result, uniformly adopted respondent’s valuations of assets and rejected hers.  “[W]holesale” adoption of proposed findings “is not reversible error per se” but “raises the question of whether the trial court independently evaluated each party’s testimony and evidence.”  Bliss v. Bliss, 493 N.W.2d 583, 590 (Minn. App. 1992), review denied (Minn. Feb. 12, 1993).  Here, the second amended order and the memorandum accompanying it explain that the trial court found the respondent’s valuation testimony to be more credible than appellant’s.  A trial court may refuse to adopt even a party’s uncontradicted testimony.  See Varner v. Varner, 400 N.W.2d 117, 121 (Minn. App. 1987) (stating that fact-finder “is not required to accept even uncontradicted testimony if the surrounding facts and circumstances afford reasonable grounds for doubting its credibility”) (citing Waite v. American Family Mut. Ins. Co., 352 N.W.2d 19, 22 (Minn. 1984)).  Given the trial court’s credibility determinations and the reasons it articulated for those determinations, we conclude that the trial court independently evaluated the testimony and evidence and defer to its rulings on that subject.  See Sefkow v. Sefkow, 427 N.W.2d 203, 210 (Minn. 1988) (stating that appellate court defers to district court credibility determinations). 

            Appellant also uses non-credibility-based arguments to challenge the valuation of various assets as an inappropriate, unequal division of property.  A property division need not be equal, only equitable.  White v. White, 521 N.W.2d 874, 878 (Minn. App. 1994).  When dividing property, a trial court has broad discretion and its division will be affirmed if the division has an acceptable basis in fact and principle, even if this court may have decided the case differently.  Rohling v. Rohling, 379 N.W.2d 519, 522 (Minn. 1986).  Asset valuations are findings of fact and will be affirmed if they fall within the limits of credible estimates made by competent witnesses, “even if [the valuation] does not coincide exactly with the estimate of any one [witness].”  Hertz v. Hertz, 304 Minn. 144, 145, 229 N.W.2d 42, 44 (1975). 

Findings of fact will not be set aside unless clearly erroneous.  Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01.  To successfully demonstrate that findings are clearly erroneous,

the party challenging the findings must show that despite viewing [the] evidence in the light most favorable to the trial court’s findings (and accounting for an appellate court’s deference to a trial court’s credibility determinations and its inability to resolve conflicts in the evidence), the record still requires the firm conviction that a mistake was made.  Only if these conditions are met, that is, only if the findings are “clearly erroneous,” does it become relevant that the record might support findings other than those that the trial court made.

 

Vangsness v. Vangsness, 607 N.W.2d 468, 474 (Minn. App. 2000). 

Here, having reviewed appellant’s challenges to the trial court’s asset valuations, we conclude that the district court’s findings are adequate to permit review.  We also conclude that, when the record is viewed in the light most favorable to the valuations, appellant has not shown them to be clearly erroneous.  Therefore, we affirm the valuations.  See Wilson v. Moline, 234 Minn. 174, 182, 47 N.W.2d 865, 870 (1951) (stating that appellate court’s function “does not require [it] to discuss and review in detail the evidence for the purpose of demonstrating that it supports the trial court’s findings” and that its duty “is performed when [it] consider[s] all the evidence * * * and determine[s] that it reasonably supports the findings”); see also Vangsness, 607 N.W.2d at 474-75 n.1 (noting that Wilson is “one of a series” of cases with a similar holding (citing cases)).[1] 

            Appellant also challenges the $14,500 property-equalization payment she must pay to respondent.  It is clear that the trial court specifically considered this issue.  The amount of the payment was reduced from $16,500 in the original and amended order to $14,500 in the second amended order.  But the rationale for a $14,500 payment is unclear.  After addressing the net value of the real property awarded to each party, the second amended order contains a finding that the amount of the property-equalization payment is based on the amount necessary to equalize the real estate awards.  In its conclusions of law, however, the second amended order states that the amount of the payment is based on the amount required to equalize both the real and personal-property awards.  But neither the real-property award nor the sum of the real and personal property awards appears to have a $29,000 difference.  Because the trial court’s rationale for arriving at a $14,500 property-equalization payment is neither explained nor obvious, we must conclude that the judgment lacks the findings necessary to allow review of the payment.  See Bliss, 493 N.W.2d at 590 (stating that trial court “must scrupulously assure that findings and conclusions — whether they be the court’s alone, one or the other party’s, or a combination — are always detailed, specific and sufficient enough to enable meaningful review by this court”) (footnote omitted).

Therefore, we remand the issue of the property-equalization payment to the trial court to make any necessary adjustment to the amount and to explain the basis for the calculation.  Similarly, because the judgment does not address respondent’s failure to make all of the payments required by the temporary order, the trial court shall address this issue as well. 

            Whether to reopen the record on remand shall be discretionary with the trial court. 

            Affirmed in part and remanded.



[1]  We also conclude that, even if the trial court misvalued some assets, on this record and considering the breadth of the trial court’s discretion in dividing property, any such misvaluations, even in the aggregate, would not require a remand.  See Rohling, 379 N.W.2d at 522 (referring to district court’s “considerable discretion” in dividing property); see also Wibbens v. Wibbens, 379 N.W.2d 225, 227 (Minn. App. 1985) (refusing to remand for de minimis error); cf. Minn. R. Civ. P. 61 (stating harmless error to be ignored).