This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).






Sue Gail Sinnamon,






Howard Ray Sinnamon,



Filed November 26, 2002


Stoneburner, Judge


Hennepin County District Court

File No. DC238890


Brian M. Olsen, P.O. Box 988, Cokato, MN 55321 (for appellant)


Marna L. Anderson, Hicken, Scott & Howard, P.A., 2150 Third Avenue, Suite 300, Anoka, MN 55303 (for respondent)


            Considered and decided by Anderson, Presiding Judge, Stoneburner, Judge, and Wright, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D  O P I N I O N



Appellant Howard Ray Sinnamon challenges the district court’s denial of his motion to reopen a dissolution judgment for alleged fraud and argues that the district court erred by allowing respondent to withdraw her request for maintenance and to seek enforcement of a property-division provision.  Because the record does not support appellant’s allegations of fraud and because the district court did not err by enforcing the judgment, we affirm.



            Appellant, acting pro se, signed a marital termination agreement prepared by respondent’s attorney.  The agreement specified that the parties had provided for respondent’s future support through a cash property settlement.  Specifically, appellant agreed to pay respondent $1,000 per month for 15 years (or until respondent remarries or sells the homestead), beginning at the emancipation of the youngest child.  The agreement divests the court of jurisdiction over maintenance unless appellant discharges any of his obligations in bankruptcy or fails to pay enumerated obligations, including the $1,000 per month property-division payment.  In the agreement, appellant acknowledged his right to, and waiver of, separate counsel.  Attached to the agreement is a separate waiver of right to counsel signed by appellant.  The language of the agreement is straightforward and unambiguous.

            Respondent appeared with counsel for a default hearing based on the marital termination agreement.  Appellant did not appear at the hearing.  Because the terms of the marital termination agreement so favored respondent, the referee declined to accept the agreement and the proposed findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order for judgment based on the agreement, until appellant signed an affidavit indicating that he understood his rights and obligations under the proposed judgment.[1]  The referee was concerned that appellant did not appreciate the tax consequences of having the $1,000 monthly property division labeled “additional property settlement” and did not understand that he was agreeing to pay above-guideline child support. 

            Appellant then signed a detailed affidavit, prepared by respondent’s attorney, explaining his understanding of his rights concerning child support and the tax consequences of providing for respondent’s future support through property division rather than maintenance.  The affidavit states that appellant has freely and voluntarily agreed to pay the $1,000 per month property-division payment as “fair and equitable given all of the facts and circumstances in my marriage.”  The affidavit asserts that appellant has consulted with an attorney and is freely and voluntarily willing to be bound by the agreement.  The referee and district court then accepted the marital termination agreement and the findings of fact, and conclusions of law, and judgment based on the agreement.  The judgment was filed in July 1998.

            In December 2000, appellant became unemployed.  In January 2001, he stopped making the $1,000 per month property division payments to respondent.  Respondent moved for contempt and requested an award of maintenance.  Appellant moved to reopen the judgment alleging fraud, misrepresentation, and mistake, and later moved to have the property-division payment labeled as maintenance.  After a series of hearings, the district court denied appellant’s motions to reopen the judgment for fraud and to label the property-division payments as “maintenance,” denied respondent’s motion for contempt, and concluded that the judgment allowed respondent to pursue maintenance.  The district court also determined that the judgment allowed respondent to withdraw her maintenance request and to request instead reinstatement of appellant’s obligation to pay the monthly property-division payments retroactive to September 1, 200l.  The district court ordered appellant to resume making the property-division payments as requested.  This appeal followed.



            The district court’s decision not to reopen a judgment “will not be disturbed absent an abuse of discretion.”  Harding v. Harding, 620 N.W.2d 920, 922 (Minn. App. 2001); review denied (Minn. Apr. 17, 2001) (citations omitted).  Unless they are clearly erroneous, we must affirm the district court’s findings of fact on the questions of whether or not the judgment was prompted by fraud, duress, or mistake.  Hestekin v. Hestekin, 587 N.W.2d 308, 310 (Minn. App. 1998) (citing Kornberg v. Kornberg, 542 N.W.2d 379, 386 (Minn. 1996)).

Appellant contends that he is entitled to reopen the judgment for fraud pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 518.145, subd. 2(3) (2000).  Because the alleged fraud took place more than three years ago, appellant must prove fraud on the court.  Doering v. Doering, 629 N.W.2d 124, 129-30 (Minn. App. 2001), review denied (Minn. Sep. 11, 2001) (limiting motion to reopen judgment for fraud to one year after judgment was entered unless motion is to set aside judgment for fraud on the court).  Fraud on the court is

an intentional course of material misrepresentation or non-disclosure, having the result of misleading the court and opposing [party] and making the property settlement grossly unfair.


Maranda v. Maranda, 449 N.W.2d 158, 165 (Minn. 1989).  In this case there is no evidence of material misrepresentation or non-disclosure.

Appellant contends that he was misled about the reason for the property-division payments and about whom respondent’s attorney represented.  But appellant has not alleged that anyone explicitly told him that respondent’s lawyer represented him or that anyone asserted that the property-division payments were to be used only for post-graduate education of his daughter.  Appellant argues that these were his understandings, but does not allege any facts that would support a finding that respondent or respondent’s counsel made such representations.  Furthermore,

[w]here an oral representation completely contradicts a written contract provision, reliance on the oral representation is unjustifiable as a matter of law.


Boyd v. DeGardner Realty & Constr., 390 N.W.2d 902, 904 (Minn. App. 1986) (citing Johnson Bldg. Co. v. River Bluff Dev. Co., 374 N.W.2d 187, 194 (Minn. App. 1985), review denied (Minn. Nov. 18, 1985)); review denied (Minn. July 24, 1986).

Appellant admits that he signed the agreement, the waiver of counsel, and the affidavit setting out his understanding of the agreement, but now claims that he did not read the documents before he signed them.  He does not allege that anyone kept him from reading the documents. 

“Vacation is not an appropriate remedy to deal with unanticipated consequences of a settlement or inexcusable mistake.”  Hestekin, 587 N.W.2d at 310 (citations omitted).  In Hestekin, we stated that the value of the court’s “thorough questioning of a party not represented by counsel, covering critical topics addressed by the stipulation, cannot be overstressed.”  Id. at 311.  But appellant cannot fault the court process in this case.  The referee recognized the advantage of the agreement to respondent and refused to proceed until satisfied that appellant clearly understood the consequences of the agreement.  Appellant obliged by providing an affidavit assuring the court of his understanding and desire to abide by the agreement and even asserted that he had consulted independent counsel.  Appellant’s failure to read the clear and unambiguous documents before he signed them does not equate to fraudulent non-disclosure by respondent.  Powell v. Trans Global Tours, Inc., 594 N.W.2d 252, 256 (Minn. App. 1999).  The district court acted within its discretion by denying appellant’s motion to reopen the judgment for fraud.

            Appellant argues that the district court erred by failing to treat the property-division payments as maintenance.  Appellant has provided no authority for this argument.  The judgment clearly provides that respondent’s future support is being provided by the property division rather than maintenance and reserves respondent’s right to seek maintenance if the property-division payments are discharged in bankruptcy or unpaid.

            Appellant asserts that the district court’s order of June 13, 2001 designated the payments as maintenance and, because respondent did not appeal from that order, res judicata precludes the district court from later labeling the payments as property division.  The argument is without merit because the June 13, 2001 order does not designate the payments as “maintenance.”  Respondent’s right to the property-division payments is established in the judgment.  She has the right to seek maintenance only in the event the property division is discharged in bankruptcy or appellant fails to make the payments.  Although we recognize that respondent has chosen to pursue the provision most advantageous to her by withdrawing her claim for maintenance, the court did not abuse its discretion by allowing respondent to pursue the payments appellant agreed to make.

            Appellant’s final argument is that it is inequitable to make him pay the property settlement given the change in his financial circumstances.  Although we are sympathetic to appellant’s plight, appellant has no authority for the proposition that he should be relieved of a bad bargain because it is worse than he expected.



[1] The referee also required that an emancipated child be removed from the child-support provision.