This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Affirmed in part and reversed in part; motion denied
Clearwater County District Court
File No. CX00274
Michael R. Ruffenach, 504 Beltrami Avenue Northwest, P.O. Box 262, Bemidji, MN 56619-0262 (for appellant)
James C. Fischer, Fischer Law Office, PLLC, 310 South Broadway, P.O. Box 644, Crookston, MN 56716 (for respondents)
Considered and decided by Toussaint, Chief Judge, Randall, Judge, and Forsberg, Judge.
Appellant Ed Gitz challenges the district court’s grant of respondents’ motion for summary judgment and award of attorney fees to respondents. Because no genuine issues of material fact exist in the present case and because the district court abused its discretion by awarding attorney fees to respondents, we affirm in part and reverse in part.
In addition, respondents moved to strike appellant’s reply brief, arguing that the reply brief is not confined to new matters raised in respondents’ brief. Because appellant’s reply brief is proper, we deny respondents’ motion to strike.
Respondent Dorothy I. Tjolsen sold her farm to appellant in April 1988. Edward Rasmussen, an attorney in Bagley, Minnesota, for over 40 years, prepared the contract for deed for the sale of the Tjolsen farm. Rasmussen testified that the complete contract for deed included a typewritten contract and exhibits A and B and that exhibit A provided that the interest to be charged appellant was eight percent.
Rasmussen further testified that, after he recorded the contract for deed, he believes that he mailed appellant copies of the contract for deed including exhibits A and B. Appellant conceded that the copy of the contract he received from the county recorder’s office included exhibits A and B and that he failed to read the recorded documents.
Appellant, at the time of the contract signing, failed to read the contract for deed. Appellant testified that he had no idea what the terms of the contract were when he signed it and that he believed that the interest rate applicable to the contract was seven percent.
On February 14, 2000, respondent Tjolsen transferred her rights to the Tjolsen farm to respondents Dennis and Jacqualin Mershman as a gift. Appellant indicated that the Mershmans “threatened” to commence cancellation of the contract for deed proceedings if appellant did not pay them a demanded payoff. Appellant sold the Tjolsen farm and gave a portion of the proceeds to the Mershmans.
Appellant ultimately brought suit against respondents. Respondents moved for summary judgment and an award of attorney fees of $2,305, asserting that appellant failed to provide any factual support for his contention that the contract for deed did not contain an interest rate. Appellant also filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming that because the district court found that the contract for deed was subject to two different interpretations, summary judgment is appropriate. The district court granted respondents’ summary judgment motion, dismissing appellant’s claim with prejudice and awarding respondents attorney fees of $2,305. This appeal followed.
I. Summary Judgment
A reviewing court asks two questions when reviewing a district court’s grant of summary judgment: “(1) whether there are any genuine issues of material fact and (2) whether the lower courts erred in their application of the law.” State by Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2, 4 (Minn. 1990) (citation omitted). No genuine issue of material fact exists “[w]here the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party.” DLH, Inc. v. Russ, 566 N.W.2d 60, 69 (Minn. 1997) (alteration in original) (quotation omitted). “[T]he party resisting summary judgment must do more than rest on mere averments.” Id. at 71. A genuine issue for trial must be established by substantial evidence. Id. at 69-70.
Appellant argues that the interest rate term in the contract for deed is ambiguous and, therefore, that summary judgment is inappropriate. We disagree.
A contract term is ambiguous when it is susceptible to more than one meaning. Current Tech. Concepts, Inc. v. Irie Enters., Inc., 530 N.W.2d 539, 543 (Minn. 1995). The determination of whether a contract is ambiguous is a question of law and is reviewed de novo. See Kauffman Stewart, Inc. v. Weinbrenner Shoe Co., 589 N.W.2d 499, 501 (Minn. App. 1999).
The interest rate term, applicable to the contract for deed, is unambiguous. The contract for deed clearly provides that monthly installments up to December 1, 1988, shall be paid according to “Exhibit ‘A.’” The contract for deed also mentions that interest will accrue on the contract and that additional interest payments are due on the contract. Exhibit A clearly provides that the interest rate is eight percent. Because the contract for deed refers to exhibit A, mentions interest payments, and exhibit A provides that the interest rate is eight percent, the interest rate term is unambiguous. Therefore, summary judgment is appropriate so long as no genuine issues of material fact exist with regard to whether exhibit A was attached to the contract for deed.
Exhibit A as an Attachment
Appellant argues that a genuine issue of material fact exists with regard to whether exhibits A and B to the contract for deed and, therefore, the interest rate term, were a part of the contract at the time the parties signed the contract making summary judgment inappropriate. We disagree.
Appellant candidly admits that at the time of the contract signing he failed to read the contract before signing it and that he had no idea what the terms of the contract were when he signed it. Appellant further concedes that he failed to read the copy of the contract, which included exhibits A and B, that he received from the county recorder.
Respondents presented substantial evidence that exhibit A was attached to the contract for deed. Rasmussen, in his deposition, testified that the total contract for the sale of the Tjolsen farm included the contract for deed and exhibits A and B. Rasmussen indicated that the recorded contract for deed included exhibits A and B and that it was his recollection that exhibits A and B were attached to the typewritten contract when the parties signed it. Respondent Tjolsen also testified that it was her understanding that an eight percent interest rate would apply to the contract for deed at the time of the closing and that the eight percent figure was included in the contract for deed.
Because appellant merely raised metaphysical doubts that exhibit A was not attached to the contract for deed, while respondents presented substantial evidence that exhibit A was attached to the contract, we hold that the district court did not err by granting respondents’ motion for summary judgment.
II. Attorney Fees
A reviewing court examines a district court’s award of attorney fees for an abuse of discretion. Minn. Council of Dog Clubs v. City of Minneapolis, 540 N.W.2d 903, 904 (Minn. App. 1995), review denied (Minn. Jan. 25, 1996).
Appellant argues that the district court abused its discretion and exceeded its authority by awarding respondents attorney fees. We agree.
The district court awarded attorney fees without indicating which rule or statute made the attorney fees award appropriate. Appellant contends that the district court awarded attorney fees pursuant to Minn. R. Civ. P. 11 and respondents contend that the district court awarded attorney fees pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 549. 211 (2000). The district court’s failure to indicate what authority supported its award for attorney fees makes meaningful review of this award impossible. See Minn. Stat. § 549.211, subd. 5(c) (2000) (“When imposing sanctions, the court shall describe the conduct determined to constitute a violation of this section and explain the basis for the sanction imposed.”).
Because the district court failed to indicate what statute or rule it was making the award of attorney fees pursuant to, we reverse the district court’s award.
III. Motion to Strike Reply Brief
Respondents brought a motion to strike appellant’s reply brief, arguing that appellant did not limit his reply brief to the issues raised in respondents’ brief. Because appellant’s reply brief discusses the arguments raised in respondents’ brief and does not repeat the arguments raised in appellant’s primary brief, we deny respondents’ motion to strike.
Affirmed in part and reversed in part; motion denied.