This opinion will be unpublished and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
John Holm, et al.,
Roseau County District Court
File Nos. C5-01-509, C2-01-564
Charles K. Maier, Dean C. Eyler, Charles D. Wilson, Adam M. Nathe, Gray, Plant, Mooty, Mooty & Bennett, P.A., 3400 City Center, 33 South Sixth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for appellants)
Michael L. Jorgenson, Charlson & Jorgenson, P.A., 119 West Second Street, P.O. Box 506, Thief River Falls, MN 56701 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Shumaker, Presiding Judge; Kalitowski, Judge; and Minge, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellants John Holm and Sonia Murphy challenge the district court’s decision conveying property to respondent Robert Quinn claiming the court’s order is contrary to the parties’ settlement agreement and the court’s earlier order. We affirm.
Respondent argues that this court does not have jurisdiction to hear appellants’ appeal because the appeal challenges a district court decision that merely enforces the court’s earlier order, which appellants failed to appeal. But Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 103.03(e), provides that an appeal can be taken “from an order which, in effect, determines the action and prevents a judgment from which an appeal might be taken.” And an order enforcing a settlement is such an order. See Speckel by Speckel v. Perkins, 364 N.W.2d 890, 892-93 (Minn. App. 1985) (stating that district court’s order compelling performance of the disputed settlement agreement was appealable under Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 103.03(e)). Therefore, we conclude that we have jurisdiction.
Appellants argue that the district court’s decision is directly contrary to the parties’ unambiguous settlement agreement as placed on the record at a settlement hearing and subsequently memorialized in the court’s previous order. The settlement of a lawsuit is essentially a contract and is subject to contractual rules of interpretation and enforcement. Beach v. Anderson, 417 N.W.2d 709, 711 (Minn. App. 1988), review denied (Minn. Mar. 23, 1988). The terms of a contract will be given their plain and ordinary meaning. Knudsen v. Transport Leasing/Contract, Inc., 672 N.W.2d 221, 223 (Minn. App. 2003). Absent ambiguity, the construction and effect of a contract is a question of law, which we review de novo. Turner v. Alpha Phi Sorority House, 276 N.W.2d 63, 66 (Minn. 1979); Wolfson v. City of St. Paul, 535 N.W.2d 384, 386 (Minn. App. 1995), review denied (Minn. Sept. 28, 1995).
Ambiguity exists if the language is reasonably susceptible to more than one interpretation. City of Virginia v. Northland Office Props. Ltd. P’ship, 465 N.W.2d 424, 427 (Minn. App. 1991), review denied (Minn. Apr. 18, 1991). Whether a contract is ambiguous is a question of law. Blattner v. Forster, 322 N.W.2d 319, 321 (Minn. 1982). When contract language is ambiguous, the intent of the parties becomes relevant, and a court may consider extrinsic evidence in construing the contract. Fena v. Wickstrom, 348 N.W.2d 389, 390 (Minn. App. 1984). Further, when the contract language is ambiguous and construction depends on extrinsic evidence, there is a question of fact for the fact-finder. Turner, 276 N.W.2d at 66. This court will not set aside the district court’s interpretation of an ambiguous contract provision unless it is clearly erroneous. Trondson v. Janikula, 458 N.W.2d 679, 682 (Minn. 1990).
In addition, a district court has authority to implement or enforce its own judgment and decree so long as the parties’ substantive rights are not affected. Kornberg v. Kornberg, 542 N.W.2d 379, 388 (Minn. 1996). And if a judgment is ambiguous, a district court may construe or clarify it. Stieler v. Stieler, 244 Minn. 312, 319, 70 N.W.2d 127, 131 (1955); Ladwig v. Chatters, 623 N.W.2d 266, 268 (Minn. App. 2001).
Appellants argue that the agreement provided that (1) they would retain ownership of the roadway that travels from the public highway onto and through their property, including that part of the roadway that travels through respondent’s property; and (2) respondent would retain an easement over part of the roadway to access his property. At the hearing where the parties announced their settlement, respondent stated on the record:
There’s also an issue concerning the roadway, because the other acres that belong to the [appellants] are beyond where [respondent] would have his acreage, so it was – what was agreed to is that the [appellants] would retain ownership of the – the approach, or coming into the place, but [respondent] would have an easement over and across that property or of that driveway, so he has access to his acres, as well, across that approach.
In memorializing the parties’ agreement in its earlier order, the district court stated: “[Appellants] shall maintain ownership of the approach off of Highway 11 onto the subject property. However, [respondent] is granted an easement for purposes of ingress and egress to his property. This easement shall run with the land.”
Appellants contend that the “approach” refers to the entire roadway from the highway to that part of their property that is on the other side of respondent’s property, including the roadway that travels through respondent’s property. But respondent contends that “approach” refers only to that part of the roadway that travels from the highway to the entrance to his property.
While a contract is not ambiguous merely because the parties dispute the meaning of a term, we conclude that the term “approach” is ambiguous because it is susceptible to more than one interpretation. See Knudsen, 672 N.W.2d at 223. And therefore, we defer to the district court’s interpretation and will affirm unless it is clearly erroneous. See Trondson, 458 N.W.2d at 682.
Here, the district court’s order awarded to respondent 4.66 acres and did not grant to appellants ownership of that part of the road that passed through respondent’s property. The record shows that the district court reviewed maps and considered the parties’ arguments concerning what was agreed to in the settlement, including their interpretations of the term “approach.” Moreover, the district court that issued the order being appealed was the same court that accepted the initial settlement on the record and issued the subsequent order.
We reject appellants’ argument that they are denied access to their property because the district court did not grant them ownership of the road through respondent’s property. The record indicates that appellants own the land adjacent to the approach and that they can build a driveway off of the approach through a tract of land that is approximately 38 feet wide to access their property. And we conclude that ultimately, the district court was in the best position to interpret and enforce the parties’ settlement. In addition, we cannot say that the district court’s interpretation is clearly erroneous.
Appellants also claim the district court erred because the initial settlement agreement provided that they would convey approximately 3 acres to respondent, and the district court’s order conveyed 4.66 acres. We disagree. At the settlement hearing, respondent stated on the record that under the agreement he would “receive the acreage that is defined by the mow line, and which we anticipate will be around three acres, but more or less, whatever it is, it’s the mow line that he defined . . . .” And in memorializing the parties’ agreement in its previous order, the court awarded respondent “those acres representing his homestead located upon the property of the plaintiffs. This homestead is defined by the mow line already established.”
Relying on a survey that defined the boundaries of respondent’s parcel by mow lines, the district court conveyed 4.66 acres to respondent. And under the plain language of the agreement, it is the mow lines, rather than the amount of acreage, that defines the parcel being conveyed to respondent. We therefore conclude that the district court did not err in interpreting and enforcing the parties’ agreement as memorialized, both on the record, and in the court’s previous order.
Appellants also argue that the district court erred by not making findings of fact. Under Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01, a district court is required to make findings of fact and conclusions of law when deciding a case on the merits, but not when deciding motions pursuant to rules 12 or 56 or any other motion except as provided in rule 41.02. Thus, a district court is not required to make findings of fact when issuing an order enforcing a settlement. Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01; Skalbeck v. Agristor Leasing, 384 N.W.2d 209, 212 (Minn. App. 1986). And while it would have been helpful if the district court had made findings explaining its interpretation of the parties’ agreement, because the record indicates the court was thoroughly advised regarding the parties’ competing interpretations, we cannot say the failure to include findings of fact was reversible error.