This opinion will be unpublished and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
James Richard Huntsman, petitioner,
Zenith Annette Huntsman,
Filed September 3, 2002
Washington County District Court
File No. F7982231
James Richard Huntsman, 2570 Moundsview Drive, Mounds View, MN 55112-4110 (pro se appellant)
Brad C. Eggen, Law Offices of Brad C. Eggen, 1100 Pillsbury Center, 200 South Sixth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Anderson, Presiding Judge, Lansing, Judge, and Kalitowski, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
During the pendency of a previous appeal from his amended marital-dissolution judgment, James Huntsman moved to vacate the amended findings. The district court denied the motion and imposed attorneys’ fees. Huntsman again appeals. Because the district court properly denied the motion and did not abuse its discretion in ordering conduct-based attorneys’ fees, we affirm.
F A C T S
James and Annette Huntsman dissolved their 31-year marriage in January 2000. Their dissolution judgment incorporated a stipulation on child support, custody, and property distribution. The Huntsmans were unable to reach agreement on spousal maintenance, and that issue has been the subject of recurring motions and, now, two appeals.
James Huntsman moved for amended findings in February 2000 and again in March 2000. In March 2000, Annette Huntsman moved to amend the findings to increase her spousal maintenance based on an allocation of transportation and housing expenses that would make her expenses in those two categories more comparable to James Huntsman’s.
The district court amended the judgment to provide a closer parity in the Huntsmans’ transportation and housing expenses and increased Annette Huntsman’s monthly spousal maintenance from $800 to $1,100. James Huntsman appealed. One of the primary issues raised at the motion hearing and in the appeal related to Annette Huntsman’s use of her marital property proceeds to make substantial down payments on the purchase of a townhome and a car. Although the appeal was initially dismissed as untimely, it was reinstated and decided on the merits. See Huntsman v. Huntsman, 633 N.W.2d 852, 856 (Minn. 2001); Huntsman v. Huntsman, No. C1-00-1923 (Minn. App. Dec. 27, 2000), on remand No. C1-00-1923 (Minn. App. Apr. 16, 2002).
During the pendency of the appeal, James Huntsman moved the district court to vacate the amended order that was the subject of the appeal. He based his motion to vacate on a claim that Annette Huntsman had fraudulently failed to disclose decreased monthly transportation and housing expenses that resulted from using her marital property proceeds to make substantial down payments on home and car purchases. The district court denied the motion to vacate, stating that the pending appeal made James Huntsman’s motion untimely and meritless. The court also ordered that he pay Annette Huntsman $2,400 in conduct-based attorneys’ fees.
James Huntsman now appeals the district court’s denial of his motion to vacate and the order for attorneys’ fees. In a previous order the special-term panel denied Annette Huntsman’s motion to dismiss the second appeal and James Huntsman’s motion to consolidate this appeal with his other pending appeal. Huntsman v. Huntsman, No. C9-02-85 (Minn. App. Feb. 1, 2002). Following that order, this court issued a decision in James Huntsman’s original appeal that affirmed the district court on all issues except the calculation of James Huntsman’s net monthly income. Huntsman v. Huntsman, No. C1-00-1923 (Minn. App. Apr. 16, 2002).
We review a district court’s decision on whether to vacate or re-open a dissolution judgment under an abuse-of-discretion standard. Kornberg v. Kornberg, 542 N.W.2d 379, 386 (Minn. 1996). The filing of a timely and proper appeal suspends the authority of the district court to make any order necessarily affecting the judgment that has been appealed. Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 108.01, subd. 1. The principles of res judicata bar relitigation of issues finally disposed of in a prior, appealable order and these principles apply to dissolution cases. Loo v. Loo, 520 N.W.2d 740, 744 (Minn. 1994).
For three independently sufficient reasons we affirm the district court’s denial of James Huntsman’s motion to vacate the amended dissolution judgment.
First, the district court did not have jurisdiction to hear James Huntsman’s motion during the pendency of his previous appeal. See Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 108.01, subd. 1 (stating that the district court has no authority to issue orders necessarily affecting the appealed order unless issues involve enforcement or are collateral, supplemental, or independent). James Huntsman’s motion, premised on the same facts and a parallel theory to his argument in his pending appeal, necessarily affected the judgment on appeal. The district court properly determined that it did not have jurisdiction to hear and decide the repackaged motion.
Second, James Huntsman’s motion essentially requested relitigation of the previous motion that was already on appeal. Attempting to label Annette Huntsman’s expenditure submissions as fraudulent does not change the core issue raised in each motion: whether Annette Huntsman could claim housing and transportation expenses equivalent to James Huntsman when she reduced those expenses by making substantial down payments from her marital property distribution. Litigants may not bring successive motions on fact issues that have already been determined. Kiesow v. Kiesow, 270 Minn. 374, 381, 133 N.W.2d 652, 659 (1965).
Third, the issue James Huntsman is now raising for a second time was decided against him on remand in the first appeal. We held that it is not proper to force Annette Huntsman to deduct from her maintenance award the money she used from the proceeds of the sale of the parties’ home as a down payment on her townhouse and her car. Huntsman v. Huntsman, No. C1-00-1923 (Minn. App. Apr. 16, 2002).
James Huntsman argues that regardless of the outcome of his motion he was entitled to an evidentiary hearing. But a district court is not required to hold an evidentiary hearing when the petition and the district court file conclusively demonstrate that the petitioner is not entitled to relief. Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2(f) (Supp. 2001) (“[t]he court need not hold an evidentiary hearing on a motion for modification of maintenance or support). See also Minn. R. Gen. Pract. 303.03(d) (stating that, unless the court orders otherwise for “good cause shown[,]” non-contempt motions “shall be” decided without an evidentiary hearing). The petition and the district court file conclusively demonstrated that James Huntsman was not entitled to be heard a second time on the same issue during the pendency of the appeal.
Appellate courts review a district court’s decision to impose attorneys’ fees for abuse of discretion. Gully v. Gully, 599 N.W.2d 814, 825 (Minn. 1999). Under Minn. Stat. § 518.14, subd. 1, district courts have the discretion to impose attorneys’ fees against a party “who unreasonably contributes to the length or expense of the proceeding.” Minn. Stat. § 518.14, subd. 1 (2000). An allocation of conduct-based attorneys’ fees may only be based on conduct that occurs during the litigation process. Geske v. Marcolina, 624 N.W.2d 813, 819 (Minn. App. 2001).
James Huntsman recast his argument in a new guise and attempted to relitigate it while his case was on appeal. Although courts provide some latitude and consideration to persons appearing pro se, this latitude does not include modifying ordinary rules and procedures. Gruenhagen v. Larson, 310 Minn. 454, 460, 246 N.W.2d 565, 569 (1976). James Huntsman’s attorney had previously submitted the motion on fraud and then withdrew it. James Huntsman could well anticipate that forcing Annette Huntsman to expend resources to oppose the motion could result in attorneys’ fees. The record supports the district court’s order for conduct-based attorneys’ fees.