This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Joyce S. Dupont, petitioner,
Thomas H. Dupont,
Affirmed in part, Reversed in part, and Remanded
Hennepin County District Court
File No. DW231725
Sonja Trom Eayrs, Sarah B. Stroebel, Lindquist & Vennum P.L.L.P., 4200 IDS Center, 80 South Eighth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent)
William E. Haugh, Jr., Christopher K. Wachtler, Collins, Buckley, Sauntry & Haugh, P.L.L.P., W-1100 First National Bank Building, 332 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Kalitowski, Presiding Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Harten, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant Thomas H. Dupont contends that the district court abused its discretion by: (1) not considering new evidence submitted with appellant’s motion for amended findings; (2) not considering new evidence submitted with appellant’s motion for modification and failing to make findings on modification; and (3) awarding attorney fees to respondent. We affirm the denial of appellant’s motion for amended findings and reverse and remand the district court’s denial of appellant’s motion for modification and award of attorney fees to respondent.
D E C I S I O N
Determination of spousal maintenance is within the district court’s broad discretion. Stich v. Stich, 435 N.W.2d 52, 53 (Minn. 1989). This court reviews a district court’s maintenance award under an abuse of discretion standard. Dobrin v. Dobrin, 569 N.W.2d 199, 202 (Minn. 1997); Erlandson v. Erlandson, 318 N.W.2d 36, 38 (Minn. 1982). For this court to conclude the district court abused its broad discretion with respect to an award of spousal maintenance, the district court’s findings must be “against logic and the facts on [the] record.” Rutten v. Rutten, 347 N.W.2d 47, 50 (Minn. 1984) (citation omitted).
Appellant moved for amended findings pursuant to Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.02. Appellant submitted new evidence regarding appellant’s earnings in 2001 with the motion. The district court determined that it would not consider the new evidence, citing two cases, Rathbun v. W.T. Grant Co., 300 Minn. 223, 238, 219 N.W.2d 641, 651 (1974), and Johnson v. Johnson, 563 N.W.2d 77, 78 (Minn. App. 1997).
The district court correctly concluded that new evidence may not be considered in a motion for amended findings. In considering a motion for amended findings, “the trial court must apply the evidence as submitted during the trial of the case.” Rathbun, 300 Minn. at 238, 219 N.W.2d at 651. The rationale behind the evidentiary limitation is that a motion for amended findings allows the district court to review its own exercise of discretion. Johnson, 563 N.W.2d at 78.
Here, appellant submitted his daily calendar for the year 2001 and an affidavit from a CPA who conducted an analysis of appellant’s 2001 earnings through the end of November of 2001 with his motion for amended findings. The district court had not seen this evidence prior to appellant’s motion for amended findings. Thus, the district court did not abuse its discretion by correctly concluding that the new evidence was not properly before the court.
In appellant’s motion for amended findings, appellant made an alternative motion for modification based on changed circumstances. The district court’s order dated April 3, 2002, denied appellant’s motion for modification without considering the new evidence appellant submitted.
In an earlier order dated November 5, 2001, the district court decided to set spousal maintenance according to appellant’s earnings in the year 2000. The district court concluded that the year 2000 provided the most accurate picture of appellant’s income because the figures for 2000 were verified by appellant’s documentation. The district court also determined that appellant self-limited his income in 2001.
Appellant argues that he did not voluntarily self-limit his income in 2001 and that the district court was required to make findings as to why it concluded that appellant self-limited his income. We agree that the district court is required to make findings to support a conclusion that a party self-limited his income and also whether the self-limitation was justified, i.e. whether the party acted in good faith. See Hedberg v. Hedberg, 412 N.W.2d 43, 46-47 (Minn. App. 1987). But if it is evident from the record that the district court believed a party unjustifiably limited his income, then a specific finding of bad faith is unnecessary. See Warwick v. Warwick, 438 N.W.2d 673, 678 (Minn. App. 1989).
Here, the record demonstrates that appellant’s lifestyle and spending habits did not comport with his reported income. Moreover, appellant had previously understated his income to the district court. We conclude that any error the district court made regarding a specific finding of bad-faith self-limitation was harmless. See Minn. R. Civ. P. 61 (harmless error to be ignored).
In the district court order dated April 3, 2002, the district court denied appellant’s motion for modification, refusing to consider the new evidence that appellant submitted. Appellant argues that the district court abused its discretion by denying the motion to modify without making findings and without considering the new evidence. We agree.
On a motion for modification, the district court must apply the factors for an award of spousal maintenance under Minn. Stat. § 518.552 that exist at the time of the motion. See Minn. Stat. § 518.64 subd. 2(c) (2002). Effective appellate review of the exercise of the district court’s discretion regarding spousal maintenance “is possible only when the trial court has issued sufficiently detailed findings of fact to demonstrate its consideration” of the relevant factors. Stich, 435 N.W.2d at 52. Here, the district court denied appellant’s motion for modification without making any findings of fact. We conclude that the failure to make findings on the motion for modification was an abuse of discretion.
Respondent argues that making an alternative motion for modification in a motion for amended findings is procedurally improper. But respondent did not make this argument to the district court and on appeal cites no rule or case supporting this contention.
Appellant also argues that it was an abuse of discretion for the district court to refuse to consider the new evidence. We agree. Appellant’s motion for modification based on a decrease in income allowed the district court to consider the subsequent information on income. See Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2(a) (2002). Thus we remand to the district court to apply the appropriate statutory factors, consider appellant’s new evidence, and make the required statutory findings regarding appellant’s motion for modification.
An award of attorney fees “rests almost entirely within the discretion of the trial court and will not be disturbed absent a clear abuse of discretion.” Crosby v. Crosby, 587 N.W.2d 292, 298 (Minn. App. 1998) (quotation omitted), review denied (Minn. Feb. 18, 1999). The court shall award attorney fees when it finds: (1) that the fees are necessary for a good-faith assertion of the party’s rights and will not contribute unnecessarily to the length and expense of the proceeding; (2) that the party ordered to pay attorney fees has the means to do so; and (3) that the party receiving the attorney fees does not have the means to pay them. Minn. Stat. § 518.14, subd. 1 (2002). But “there is neither a mandate nor discretion to award [need-based] fees without those findings and the evidence to sustain them.” Mize v. Kendall, 621 N.W.2d 804, 810 (Minn. App. 2001), review denied (Minn. Mar. 27, 2001). A district court may also award additional fees against a party who unreasonably contributes to the length or expense of a proceeding. Minn. Stat. § 518.14, subd. 1. The district court must make findings regarding conduct-based fees “to permit meaningful appellate review” of the award. Kronick v. Kronick, 482 N.W.2d 533, 536 (Minn. App. 1992).
Here, the district court awarded attorney fees to respondent in the order denying appellant’s motion for amended findings, or in the alternative, for modification based on changed circumstances. But the district court did not indicate whether the award of attorney fees was based on respondent’s need or appellant’s conduct. In fact, the district court made no findings whatsoever regarding attorney fees. See Geske v. Marcolina, 624 N.W.2d 813, 819 (Minn. App. 2001) (remanding attorney fee award where district court failed to identify reason for fees and failed to make adequate findings).
We are unable to review the award of attorney fees because the district court failed to make findings to support the award. Therefore, we reverse the district court’s award of attorney fees and remand to the district court to apply the statutory factors to determine the appropriateness of an award and, if fees are awarded, to make the required findings.
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.