This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. ß 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Elizabeth A. Fritz, petitioner,
Steven L. Fritz,
Scott County District Court
File No. F0014781
Elizabeth A. Fritz, 4905A Jewell Lane North, Plymouth, MN 55446 (pro se respondent)
Steven L. Fritz, 385 Kincora Court, San Jose, CA 95136 (pro se appellant)
††††††††††† Considered and decided by Kalitowski, Presiding Judge, Minge, Judge, and Hudson, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D†† O P I N I O N
††††††††††† In this marital dissolution postjudgment-enforcement proceeding, appellant contends that the district court erred in granting a judgment to respondent because (1) the record does not support the award; (2) appellantís attorney was denied an opportunity to present appellantís case; (3) the district court failed to adequately consider the case; and (4) respondentís counsel lied to and misled the court.† We affirm.
D E C I S I O N
††††††††††† As an initial matter, we address respondentís claim that appellantís brief should be disregarded and the case dismissed because appellant failed to file a motion for permission to submit an informal brief to this court.† Respondent is correct in asserting that appellant failed to comply with this courtís rules.† But because respondent is not prejudiced by appellantís informal brief and appellantís arguments are adequate for our review, we decline to dismiss this appeal without addressing appellantís arguments.† See Boom v. Boom, 361 N.W.2d 34, 36 (Minn. 1985) (addressing standard for dismissing an appeal for technical, nonjurisdictional failure to comply with rules).
Appellant first contends that the findings of the district court are not supported by the evidence.† We disagree.† Because appellant failed to file any posttrial motions, our review is limited to determining whether the evidence sustains the findings of fact and whether such findings sustain the conclusions of law and the judgment.† Erickson v. Erickson, 434 N.W.2d 284, 286 (Minn. App. 1989) (citation omitted).†
††††††††††† Appellant challenges the entry of judgment against him in the amount of $54,253.† The judgment amount was composed of:† (1) $27,000 for failing to turn over half the proceeds from the sale of the homestead pursuant to a previous court order; (2) $25,753 for monies owed to respondent pursuant to the judgment; and (3) $1,500 for respondentís attorney fees.
††††††††††† With regard to the award of $27,000, appellant argues that respondent signed a document agreeing that half of the total proceeds from the sale of the homestead would go to him.† But appellant disregards the subsequent court order directing him to turn over the $27,000 from the sale of the homestead to respondent within ten days of the filing of the order.† The court never withdrew this order and therefore, appellant was required to comply, and he did not.† Moreover, appellant has never credibly explained what happened to the $27,000.† Thus, there is evidence in the record to support the district courtís finding that appellant was required to turn over $27,000 to respondent.
††††††††††† Similarly, the $25,753 was required to be paid by appellant to respondent pursuant to the terms of the judgment.† Appellant offers no evidence that the district court amended or vacated the judgment or that he has complied with its requirements.† Therefore, there is evidence in the record to support the district courtís finding that appellant must pay these monies to respondent pursuant to the judgment.
††††††††††† Appellant also claims that the award of $1,500 for respondentís attorney fees was improper because respondent sought only $750 for fees.† But under Minn. Stat. ß 518.14, subd. 1 (2002), a court may award additional fees, costs, and disbursements against a party ďwho unreasonably contributes to the length or expense of the proceeding.Ē† And an award of attorney fees rests within the discretion of the district court and ďwill not be disturbed absent a clear abuse of discretion.Ē† Crosby v. Crosby, 587 N.W.2d 292, 298 (Minn. App. 1998) (quotation omitted), review denied (Minn. Feb. 18, 1999).† Here, the district court noted its displeasure with appellantís conduct and found that appellant unreasonably contributed to the length and expense of the proceeding.† Specifically, the district court stated that appellant ďmakes a mockery of the CourtsĒ and found appellant in contempt.† These findings enable us to conduct a meaningful review on the issue of attorney fees.† Kronick v. Kronick, 482 N.W.2d 533, 536 (Minn. App. 1992) (holding that findings are necessary for the award of conduct-based attorney fees).† Because appellant repeatedly failed to comply with court orders or to provide credible explanations for his failure to comply, the district courtís award of attorney fees was within its discretion.
††††††††††† Finally, appellant challenges the district courtís determination that appellant was in contempt.† The purpose of civil contempt is to vindicate the rights of an opposing party by compelling compliance with an order through imposition of a sanction of indefinite duration, to be lifted upon compliance.† See, e.g., Minn. State Bar Assín v. Divorce Assistance Assín, Inc., 311 Minn. 276, 285, 248 N.W.2d 733, 741 (1976).† In reviewing a district courtís decision to hold a party in contempt, the courtís decision is subject to reversal only for an abuse of discretion.† Mower County Human Servs. v. Swancutt, 551 N.W.2d 219, 222 (Minn. 1996).
††††††††††† Here, the district court did not abuse its discretion by holding appellant in contempt.† Appellant violated a court order by refusing to turn over the money he owed to respondent.† Moreover, appellant failed to provide a credible explanation of what happened to the money.† Once appellant complied with the order, the sanctions against appellant would be lifted.† Thus, the court acted within its discretion.
††††††††††† Appellant contends that his attorney was denied a fair opportunity to present appellantís case.† We disagree.
††††††††††† The right to a trial includes the right to be heard, to produce witnesses and documents, to examine and cross-examine witnesses, to present arguments, and to have the case decided on the merits.† Gutsch v. Hyatt Legal Servs., 403 N.W.2d 314, 315-16 (Minn. App. 1987) (citation omitted).† After careful review of the record, we conclude that appellantís counsel was given a fair opportunity to present his case, and appellantís case was properly decided on the merits.†††
††††††††††† Appellant also argues that the district court failed to adequately consider appellantís case. We disagree.† The ďobject of a trial is to secure a fair and impartial administration of justice between the parties to the litigation.Ē† Hansen v. St. Paul City Ry. Co., 231 Minn. 354, 360, 43 N.W.2d 260, 264 (1950). †The responsibility of striving for an atmosphere of impartiality during the course of a trial rests on the district court judge whose conduct must be fair to both sides.† Id.
††††††††††† Here, the record indicates the district court was fair and impartial to appellant and respondent.† The district court allowed both sides to submit memoranda, affidavits, and exhibits and to present their arguments at the hearing.† The district court was not biased against appellant.† Rather, appellant was subjected to the legal consequences of not complying with previous court orders.
††††††††††† Finally, appellant argues that respondentís counsel deliberately lied to and misled the district court in order to confuse the facts and ďdemonizeĒ appellant.† But the record indicates that respondentís counsel merely recounted for the district court what he believed to be the facts of the case.† Moreover, respondentís counselís statements are all supported by affidavits.† Appellate courts defer to the district courtís resolution of factual issues presented by conflicting affidavits.† Straus v. Straus, 254 Minn. 234, 235, 94 N.W.2d 679, 680 (1959).† Thus, appellantís allegations that respondentís counsel lied to the court are without support.