This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In re the Marriage of:
Barbara L. Schable,
f/k/a Barbara L. Boyle, petitioner,
Paul R. Boyle,
Filed September 17, 2002
Ramsey County District Court
File No. F6983435
William E. Haugh, Jennifer A. Jameson, Collins, Buckley, Sauntry & Haugh, P.L.L.P., W-1100 First National Bank Building, 332 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent)
John G. Westrick, Tammy L. Merkins, Westrick & McDowall-Nix, P.L.L.P., 400 Minnesota Building, 46 East Fourth Street, St. Paul, MN 55101; and
Robert D. Miller, Robert D. Miller & Associates, Suite 3102, 111 Marquette Ave., Minneapolis, MN 55401 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge, Kalitowski, Judge, and Parker, Judge.*
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
In this civil contempt proceeding arising from Paul Boyle’s failure to make payments imposed by a marital-dissolution judgment, the district court ordered Boyle’s conditional confinement. On appeal from the contempt order, Boyle challenges the reasonableness of the purge conditions, the denial of his motion to decrease spousal support, the requirement that he sell his interest in his recently purchased home, and the imposition of attorneys’ fees. Because the district court did not misapply the law, abuse its discretion, or make a finding against logic and the facts, we affirm.
F A C T S
Barbara Schable and Paul Boyle’s January 1999 dissolution judgment incorporated a stipulated marital-termination agreement. The judgment provided that Boyle would pay $2,070 in monthly child support for the couple’s four children and $1,082 in monthly spousal maintenance. The judgment also provided that the marital home would continue to be held in joint tenancy, that Schable and the children would occupy the home, and that Boyle would pay the mortgage, the home equity loan, the real estate taxes, and the homeowners’ insurance. The payments relating to the home were denominated spousal support. Paul Boyle received exclusive ownership of the couple’s condominium.
Boyle failed to pay the real estate taxes on the marital home for the second half of 2000 and the first half of 2001, stopped making payments on the mortgage and the home equity loan in early 2001, and failed to pay the premium due on the homeowner’s insurance in the summer of 2001. During this time, Boyle purchased a $570,000 home in common tenancy with Anne Goetz. Boyle remained current on all the payments for his own living expenses, including a monthly mortgage payment of $5,400, all utilities, and a home equity loan. Part of the proceeds of that loan were used to purchase a vehicle for Goetz.
Schable moved for a contempt order in the fall of 2001. The district court found Boyle in contempt of court, ordered 180 days’ confinement, and stayed execution on the condition that Boyle become current on all payments owed and penalties incurred.
Boyle did not make the ordered payments, and, in November 2001, Schable moved to execute the confinement order. At the hearing on Schable’s motion, Boyle argued that he was unable to meet the purge conditions and, arguing that his income had decreased, requested a reduction in spousal maintenance.
The district court found that despite Boyle’s financial ability to meet the conditions, he had failed to make the required payments. The court ordered 180 days’ confinement, again listing the terms by which Boyle could secure release. The court denied Boyle’s request for a reduction in spousal maintenance, ordered the immediate sale of Boyle’s interest in his newly purchased home, and ordered Boyle to pay Schable $10,000 in attorneys’ fees.
Boyle appeals, arguing that the district court erred in finding that he had the ability to meet the purge conditions, abused its discretion in denying his motion to modify his spousal maintenance payments, and abused its discretion by ordering him to pay attorneys’ fees. Boyle also argues that the district court did not have jurisdiction to order the sale of his interest in the newly purchased home because Goetz is not a party to the dissolution and contempt proceedings.
D E C I S I O N
We will reverse a district court’s contempt order only if the underlying findings are clearly erroneous or if the court abused its discretion by invoking its contempt power. Mower County Human Servs. v. Swancutt, 551 N.W.2d 219, 222 (Minn. 1996).
A civil contempt proceeding has two stages: (1) the district court holds a hearing to determine whether conditional contempt is warranted and, if warranted, sets conditions to allow the contemnor to purge the contempt; and (2) before confinement, the contemnor is entitled to a second hearing on issues of performance or excusable non-performance of the purging conditions. Mahady v. Mahady, 448 N.W.2d 888, 891 (Minn. App. 1989). At both stages, the contemnor’s financial condition is an issue, and the court may order confinement at the second hearing only if it determines that the contemnor currently has the ability to purge. Id. But it has long been recognized that a contemnor who voluntarily undertakes financial commitments that interfere with his ability to pay cannot argue that these commitments should excuse his contempt. See Fjeld v. Fjeld, 201 Minn. 512, 514, 277 N.W. 203, 204 (1937).
The district court made specific findings on Boyle’s ability to meet the required payments. The court found that: Boyle has been paying $5,400 each month for his mortgage on his new home; Boyle recently took out a home equity loan, $20,000 of which was used to buy a vehicle for Goetz; Boyle has monthly net income of about $8,240; although Boyle will pay virtually no taxes for 2001 he has withheld taxes throughout, thus generating a tax refund; and Boyle has the means to seek refinancing on his interest in the marital home. The court also found that Boyle’s claim of financial hardship was not credible in light of the purchase of the $570,000 home, his $1,300 worth of maintenance payments on his swimming pool, his regular payments to his home cleaning service, his installation of a $7,000 floor in his new home, and his opulent lifestyle.
Boyle challenges some of these findings. He argues that he has suffered a 43% decrease in net income, lacks salable business assets, has no equity in his newly purchased furniture, has only $18,000 equity in his new home, is unable to secure any future loans or lines of credit, and will not receive a tax refund because he had taxable income for 2001. Even without considering the validity of these challenges, the unchallenged findings arguably list more than adequate resources to make the less than $30,000 payment that the court ordered.
In addition, several of the challenges are not well grounded. On cross-examination at the hearing, Boyle’s accountant admitted that Boyle had a positive cash flow from the sale of his previous home; that if Boyle added to his salary the income from his wholly-owned S-corporation, his monthly income would be about $8,400 per month; and that if Boyle is able to take a tax deduction for the interest and principal on his newly purchased home, claim exemptions for himself and his four children, claim a deduction for spousal maintenance payments he actually made, and deduct a $7,000 capital loss he sustained, he would have no taxable income, which would generate a tax refund for the amount of taxes he has withheld from his salary for 2001.
Despite Boyle’s assertions that he is unable to keep current on the court-ordered payments, the record supports the district court’s findings that Boyle had adequate assets to make the court-ordered payments but chose to use these assets to support his own opulent life style. The district court did not err in its finding that Boyle had the financial ability to make the payments or abuse its discretion in ordering confinement for the contempt.
A district court’s decision on a motion to modify spousal maintenance is discretionary, and will not be reversed on appeal absent a clear abuse of that discretion. Erlandson v. Erlandson, 318 N.W.2d 36, 38 (Minn. 1982). Reversal is appropriate only when the district court’s conclusions are against logic and the facts on record. Rutten v. Rutten, 347 N.W.2d 47, 50 (Minn. 1984).
A party seeking to modify a maintenance award must demonstrate that there has been a substantial change in the needs or earnings of either party since the dissolution or the time the award was last modified and that the change renders the existing award unreasonable and unfair. Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2(a) (1998); Hecker v. Hecker, 568 N.W.2d 705, 709 (Minn. 1997). The district court must make findings to demonstrate that it considered the relevant factors. Stich v. Stich, 435 N.W.2d 52, 53 (Minn. 1989); Minn. Stat. § 518.552 (1998) (listing factors to consider in maintenance determinations). Boyle argues on appeal that the district court abused its discretion when it denied his motion to modify spousal maintenance without making particularized findings.
We reject Boyle’s argument that the facts in this case require a remand for additional findings. First, Boyle has previously moved unsuccessfully for a decrease in spousal maintenance before another district court judge. The record indicates that this motion was based on the same facts. Second, Boyle provided only sketchy and contradictory information on his purported change in income, and, third, the court found that Boyle’s testimony about his financial circumstances was not credible. The court noted that Boyle had been able to keep current on the payments necessary to support his extravagant lifestyle and that in a loan document that Boyle filled out in January 2001 he stated that he had monthly earning of $14,500, a figure substantially greater than the $7,927 monthly income stated in the original dissolution decree. In his brief to this court, Boyle stated that his net income amounted to $8,240 a month. This amount also exceeds the amount in the original judgment. The record adequately supports the district court’s finding that Boyle has not demonstrated a change in circumstances that warrants a reduction in spousal maintenance.
We review a district court’s decision to award attorneys’ fees under an abuse-of-discretion standard. Korf v. Korf, 553 N.W.2d 706, 711 (Minn. App. 1996). The district court may impose additional attorneys’ fees against a party “who unreasonably contributes to the length or expense of the proceeding.” Minn. Stat. § 518.14, subd. 1 (2000). Boyle raises three challenges to the order for attorneys’ fees: (1) insufficient findings; (2) inability to pay; and (3) good faith in asserting his claims.
The district court did not explicitly state whether the $10,000 attorneys’ fees award was conduct-based or need-based. See Geske v. Marcolina, 624 N.W.2d 813, 816 (Minn. App. 2001) (noting that fee awards under Minn. Stat. § 518.14 must identify the extent to which the award is based on conduct and the extent to which it is based on need). But from the district court’s findings, it is apparent that the order for attorneys’ fees is based on Boyle’s conduct during the litigation process.
The district court found that Boyle’s demeanor at the hearing was “defiant, self-righteous, and manipulative;” that Boyle’s conduct had caused unnecessary pain to his family and former spouse; and that Boyle’s conduct demonstrated an attempt to avoid jail and his financial obligations by spending down his bank balances until he no longer had money in his checking or savings account. During 2001, Boyle brought at least three motions to terminate spousal maintenance payments, all of which were denied. The district court stated that Boyle had subjected Schable to the slow “torture of legal proceedings.” Boyle cannot reasonably argue that the district court failed to find that he unnecessarily contributed to the length and expense of the proceedings. Although bad faith is not necessary to trigger conduct-based attorneys’ fees, the district court’s findings more than suggest bad faith. Geske, 624 N.W.2d at 818-19 (explaining that bad faith is not required to impose conduct-based attorneys’ fees). The district court had ample basis to require Boyle to pay legal fees for his conduct.
Finally, Boyle argues that the district court impermissibly ordered the sequestration and sale of his new home because he and Goetz own it as tenants-in-common, Goetz is not a party to the litigation, and the district court may not exercise jurisdiction over a non-party. As authority for this argument Boyle relies on In re Marriage of Sammons, 642 N.W.2d 450 (Minn. App. 2002). Boyle fails to observe a crucial distinction between this case and Sammons. In Sammons, the person who challenged the disposition of the property was the property owner herself, who had not been a party to the litigation and whose property rights were affected without notice or a hearing. In this case Boyle purports to make those claims on behalf of Goetz.
Only parties who have suffered an injury to a legitimate interest have standing to raise that injury as a basis for litigation. Annandale Advocate v. City of Annandale, 435 N.W.2d 24, 27 (Minn. 1989). Generally, a litigant may not base his claims on the rights of a third party not involved in the litigation. Singleton v. Wulff, 428 U.S. 106, 114, 96 S. Ct. 2868, 2874 (1976). The rationale behind this rule is two-fold: courts should not adjudicate rights unnecessarily and third parties are usually the best proponents of their own rights. Id. Courts deviate from this general rule only when the litigant has suffered an injury in fact, the litigant has a close relationship with the third party, and the third party is somehow hindered from asserting his or her own rights. Campbell v. Louisiana, 523 U.S. 392, 397, 118 S. Ct. 1419, 1422-23 (1998).
Two of the criteria are arguably met: Goetz has a close relationship with Boyle and she may be economically affected by the sale. It is noteworthy, however, that the district court has only ordered the sale of Boyle’s interest, not Goetz’s. But nothing in the record demonstrates that Goetz is hindered from protecting her own rights. Goetz appeared through counsel at one of the hearings and was, thus, aware of the potential of a court-ordered sale of the home. She has not attempted to intervene in the proceedings. At oral argument, it was undisputed that Schable had attempted to bring Goetz in as a party, but Boyle opposed the motion.
For these reasons we conclude that Boyle does not have standing to raise Goetz’s alleged injury. But even if Boyle had been able to establish standing, an ordered and reasoned judicial process could not permit Boyle to oppose adding Goetz as a party in the district court proceeding and then to successfully assert Goetz’s status as a nonparty to thwart the payment of his overdue obligations to Schable.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.