This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
In Re the Matter of Michael Joseph Grice,
Terry Lynn Grice,
Hennepin County District Court
File No. DC234366
Michael Joseph Grice, 2929 West Third Street, Duluth, MN 55806 (pro se appellant)
Ryan E. Langsev, Bale, Anderson, Polstein, Rendall, & Hill, Ltd., 607 Marquette Avenue South, Suite 400, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge, Anderson, Judge, and Halbrooks, Judge.
Appellant father challenges the district court’s dissolution judgment awarding legal and physical custody of the parties’ daughter to respondent mother. Appellant contends that the district court (1) denied appellant adequate time during the custody hearing to present his case; (2) abused its discretion by excluding evidence; and (3) made clearly erroneous findings. Because the district court provided sufficient hearing time to appellant, made evidentiary rulings within its discretion, and made findings that have a basis in the record, we affirm.
Appellant Michael Joseph Grice and respondent Terry Lynn Grice were married in 1991. Their only child, a daughter, is presently nine years old. In December 1997, appellant, pro se, petitioned to dissolve the marriage, and in the two years that followed, the parties engaged in settlement negotiations. The parties were unable to resolve all their differences and the district court conducted a pretrial conference on October 25, 1999. The district court ordered, among other things, a one-day hearing on the issues of child custody, visitation, and child support.
At that hearing, appellant, appearing pro se, presented his case in the morning and called two witnesses. The district court sustained several objections to appellant’s questions on grounds of relevance or improper witness examination. Respondent, represented by counsel, presented her case in the afternoon. The district court made findings of fact and conclusions of law addressing the statutory “best interests of the child” factors. The judgment awarded sole legal and sole physical custody of the child to respondent.
Appellant first argues that the district court denied him due process of law. Notice and hearing are basic requirements of due process. Ruberto v. County of Washington, 572 N.W.2d 293, 298 (Minn. 1997). Appellant claims he did not receive due process because the district court did not allow him sufficient time during the custody hearing to present his case. After closely reviewing the record, we disagree.
“Pro se litigants are generally held to the same standards as attorneys.” Heinsch v. Lot 27, Block 1 For’s Beach, 399 N.W.2d 107, 109 (Minn. App. 1987). Though courts may provide some latitude to pro se litigants, disregard of rules and requirements or disruption of trial schedules is not permitted. Liptak v. State ex rel. City of New Hope, 340 N.W.2d 366, 367 (Minn. App. 1983). The district court (1) advised appellant of the time limitations both by pretrial order and at trial, to which appellant did not object; (2) granted both appellant and respondent equal time and, in addition, granted appellant’s first request for an additional half hour of time; (3) advised appellant to take the stand himself if he wished to present matters within his own knowledge and concentrate on the statutory “best interest” factors; and (4) granted appellant latitude concerning the form of his questions. A review of the transcript shows that appellant chose to question his witnesses on many marginally relevant matters, such as disagreements between the parties and reconciliation efforts, and did not use the additional time granted him to testify as a witness himself or to address the statutory factors at issue.
In addition, appellant fails to explain on appeal what additional evidence he would have presented had he been granted more time. See Toughill v. Toughill, 609 N.W.2d 634, 639(Minn. App. 2000) (to prevail on appeal, appellant must show both error and that error caused prejudice);Minn. R. Civ. P. 61 (harmless error ignored). Appellant now claims that he needed more time to question respondent about alleged fraud and medical treatment of their child. The record shows, however, that appellant addressed those subjects. His failure to give them more attention was his own trial strategy decision, and not district court error. Because appellant has shown neither error nor prejudice, we conclude that appellant has not shown that he was denied due process of law.
Appellant next contends that the district court abused its discretion by excluding relevant evidence. The district court has broad discretion regarding the admission or exclusion of evidence and will not be reversed absent an abuse of discretion or erroneous view of the law. Uselman v. Uselman, 464 N.W.2d 130, 138 (Minn. 1990). Appellant does not point to specific instances of exclusion. Instead, appellant claims that the court “excluded evidence” and used a “restrictive approach to the relevancy of testimony given at trial” that shows “a bias” against him.
Appellant’s lack of specificity hinders our review. The record, however, shows the district court sustained objections to: (1) testimony from witnesses not appearing in appellant’s witness list; (2) narrative testimony; (3) hearsay testimony; (4) irrelevant testimony concerning appellant’s past conversations with friends; (5) speculative testimony of a nonparty witness concerning matters that could be asked of respondent on direct examination; and (6) appellant’s argumentative question, “How many days in a week?”
Our careful review of these evidentiary rulings shows that each comports with the rules of evidence. See Johnson v. Ramsey County, 424 N.W.2d 800, 806 (Minn. App. 1988) (the district court did not abuse its discretion by excluding three fact witnesses not on a witness list), review denied (Minn. Aug. 24, 1988); see also Minn. R. Evid. 402 (irrelevant evidence inadmissible); Minn. R. Evid. 602 (personal knowledge requirement); Minn. R. Evid. 611(a) (providing court may exercise reasonable control over questioning of witnesses so as to further effective presentation of evidence and avoid needless consumption of time); Minn. R. Evid. 802 (providing out-of-court statements are inadmissible unless they qualify under an exception to or exclusion from the hearsay rule).
Moreover, the evidentiary rulings do not indicate bias against appellant. Each ruling served to direct appellant’s examination toward relevant, admissible evidence. In addition, appellant’s bias argument is undercut by the fact that, in several instances, the district court ruled against respondent. We conclude that the district court’s evidentiary rulings do not constitute an abuse of its broad discretion.
Finally, appellant claims that many of the district court’s custody findings concerning the best interests of the child are clearly erroneous because they are unsupported by the record. “Appellate review of custody determinations is limited to whether the trial court abused its discretion by making findings unsupported by the evidence or by improperly applying the law.” Pikula v. Pikula, 374 N.W.2d 705, 710 (Minn. 1985) (citations omitted). In determining the custody of a child, district courts must consider many factors relating to the child’s best interests. See Minn. Stat. § 518.17, subd. 1(a) (2000) (listing 13 factors). In this case, the district court made specific findings addressing the best interest factors.
Findings of fact must be upheld unless they are “clearly erroneous.” Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01. A finding is “clearly erroneous” if the reviewing court is “left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made.” Gjovik v. Strope, 401 N.W.2d 664, 667 (Minn. 1987). Appellate courts review findings in the light most favorable to the district court findings and defer to a district court’s credibility determinations. Vangsness v. Vangsness, 607 N.W.2d 468, 472 (Minn. App. 2000). “That the record might support findings other than those made by the trial court does not show the court’s findings are defective.” Id. at 474 (citations omitted).
First, appellant claims that the district court erred by finding “Respondent has a close and loving relationship with the child, while Petitioner only appears to have a close and loving relationship with the child.” Appellant misquotes the finding. The district court found, “Petitioner appears to also have a close, loving relationship with his daughter * * * ,” and “[b]oth parents have a close relationship with the minor child.” The record supports this finding; district court services workers observed the child’s positive interaction with each parent.
Appellant next claims that the district court erred by finding that the child once exhibited sexualized behavior, but ceased that behavior after counseling. The district court’s finding, however, has a basis in the record. The 1999 court-ordered custody evaluation states that respondent sought immediate counseling for the child’s behavior, and that the child thereafter ceased the behavior.
Appellant next claims that the district court erred by finding “the doctor’s prescriptions are merely suggestions.” Again, appellant misstates the finding. The child has junior rheumatoid arthritis. The district court found that “Respondent believes that some suggestions [given by the child’s physician were] not requirements but merely suggestions.” The district court found that “[t]here has been no indication from medical reports that any harm has been caused to the child by Respondent’s actions or that Respondent has been uncooperative with her daughter’s care providers.” These findings have a basis in the record. Medical reports and testimony show that the child’s arthritic symptoms abated for two years and reappeared when appellant moved to the city where the child and respondent lived and conflict between the parties increased. The medical evidence did not show symptoms reappearing because of neglect by respondent.
Appellant claims the district court erred by finding appellant’s “extremely critical view of the Respondent’s family is detrimental to the minor child.” This finding is supported by the custody evaluation, which states that appellant is very critical of respondent’s family. The custody evaluation concludes that the child is “certain to suffer if she continues to receive negative messages” about her mother’s family.
Appellant argues the district court erred by finding incidents of domestic abuse in the parties’ relationship. This finding has ample basis in the record. Both parties reported to the custody evaluator that appellant struck respondent, and the record shows appellant was convicted of domestic assault.
Finally, appellant argues that the district court should have given more weight to facts reflecting negatively on respondent. But reweighing evidence is not the province of this court. See Sefkow v. Sefkow, 427 N.W.2d 203, 210 (Minn. 1988) (criticizing appellate court as going beyond its scope of review in a custody appeal by reweighing evidence).
Because each contested finding of fact has evidentiary support, we conclude that the district court’s findings are not clearly erroneous.
 Appellant supports this and a number of other arguments with counseling reports that predate the court-ordered custody evaluation. Appellant did not offer the reports as evidence in the district court proceeding. Because the reports are not part of the record in this case, we do not consider them. Minn. R. Civ. App. 110.01.