This opinion will be unpublished and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
James Russell Allen, petitioner,
Brenda Joyce Allen,
Filed August 3, 2004
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded
Cass County District Court
File No. F7-99-836
John E. Valen, Fifth & Michigan, P.O. Box 1105, Walker, MN 56484 (for appellant)
Michael R. Ruffenach, 504 Beltrami Avenue NW, P.O. Box 262, Bemidji, MN 56619-0262 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge; Lansing, Judge; and Hudson, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
In this marriage dissolution proceeding, appellant James Allen argues that the district court abused its discretion by adopting respondent Brenda Allen’s proposed findings, that the record does not support the district court’s valuation of certain assets, that the district court failed to address what appellant alleged to be his nonmarital interest in the parties’ home, that the record does not support awarding respondent maintenance, and that respondent should not have been awarded maintenance retroactive to the date the parties separated. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.
The parties married in 1976. After the parties’ 1999 separation, they entered a mediated stipulation to dissolve their marriage, and wife moved to New Mexico and got a job as a waitress. The district court subsequently granted husband’s motion to withdraw from the stipulation, and a dissolution trial was held in February 2001. The marriage was dissolved shortly thereafter, and an amended judgment addressing disputed issues was entered in August 2002. That judgment treated disability benefits received by husband as marital property; valued and divided the parties’ assets, including a café that the parties acquired during their marriage; and awarded wife temporary monthly maintenance retroactive to the date of the parties’ separation in August 1999. During the proceedings, the land on which the café was located was forfeited to the state for nonpayment of taxes. Citing this event, husband moved for posttrial relief. The district court stated that it lacked the information necessary to address the tax-forfeiture question and was “hopeful” that information on the subject would be submitted promptly. Husband submitted a copy of the tax-forfeiture statement but nothing else. On September 17, 2003, the district court denied husband’s motion for posttrial relief. Husband appeals.
D E C I S I O N
Husband alleges that the valuation and division of the parties’ marital estate is defective because the district court adopted many of wife’s proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law on these subjects. But even verbatim adoption of a party’s proposed findings and conclusions is not reversible error per se, although it does raise the question of whether the district court independently evaluated the evidence. Bliss v. Bliss, 493 N.W.2d 583, 590 (Minn. App. 1992), review denied (Minn. Feb. 12, 1993). When a district court adopts proposed findings and conclusions, the findings are still subject to a clearly erroneous standard of review. Sigurdson v. Isanti County, 408 N.W.2d 654, 657 (Minn. App. 1987), review denied (Minn. Aug. 19, 1987).
Husband challenges the district court’s valuation of various assets. A district court’s valuation of an asset is a finding of fact and will not be set aside by an appellate court unless the valuation is clearly erroneous. Hertz v. Hertz, 304 Minn. 144, 145, 229 N.W.2d 42, 44 (1975). A district court need not be exact in its valuation of an asset; it is necessary only that the valuation be “within a reasonable range of figures.” Johnson v. Johnson, 277 N.W.2d 208, 211 (Minn. 1979).
The district court valued the parties’ home at $60,000. Husband argues that the valuation is too high, noting that he testified that the home was worth $25,000. Parties are presumptively competent to testify to the value of their assets. Bury v. Bury, 416 N.W.2d 133, 136 (Minn. App. 1987). But here, because wife testified that the home was worth $60,000, there is evidence to support the district court’s valuation, and husband has not shown the $60,000 valuation is clearly erroneous.
Husband also argues that the district court erred by failing to find that husband has a nonmarital interest in the home. It is undisputed that during the marriage, husband received a workers’-compensation settlement of $63,000 and that he spent some of those funds on the home. Property received by either spouse during a marriage is presumed to be marital. Minn. Stat. § 518.54, subd. 5 (2002). A party can rebut this presumption by showing that the property fits into one of the categories of nonmarital property listed in Minn. Stat. § 518.54, subd. 5. See Robert v. Zygmunt, 652 N.W.2d 537, 541 (Minn. App. 2002) (discussing rebuttal of presumption). A recovery of noneconomic damages, including disability, is nonmarital property, while recovery for an economic loss suffered during a marriage is marital. Ward v. Ward, 453 N.W.2d 729, 731-32 (Minn. App. 1990), review denied (Minn. June 6, 1990); see Hafner v. Hafner, 406 N.W.2d 590, 593 (Minn. App. 1987) (stating that “[a] personal injury recovery is nonmarital property if it compensates for loss of long-held good health”). A party seeking to claim a recovery for an injury as nonmarital property must show that all or part of that recovery “was awarded for personal injuries and not for replacement of marital property, such as lost wages[.]” Id. Because the record does not show the basis for husband’s workers’-compensation recovery, husband did not rebut the presumption that the recovery was marital. Any equity in the marital home resulting from that recovery, therefore, is properly deemed marital, and the district court’s failure to find that husband has a nonmarital interest in the home is not clearly erroneous.
B. Concession Stand
The district court also valued at $30,000 a concession stand that the parties acquired during the marriage. Husband admits that this valuation is consistent with wife’s testimony, but he argues that wife’s valuation is her “unsubstantiated opinion,” essentially claiming that wife’s testimony was not credible. Appellate courts defer to district court credibility determinations. Sefkow v. Sefkow, 427 N.W.2d 203, 210 (Minn. 1988). Additionally, wife’s familiarity with the concession stand can be inferred from the fact that she worked at the stand for 18 years during the marriage. The record supports the presumption allowed by Bury that wife is familiar with the concession stand’s value, and the district court’s valuation is not clearly erroneous.
The district court treated husband’s social-security disability and Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.) disability payments as marital assets, valuing them at $12,749 and $39,900, respectively. Nothing in the record describes the precise nature of the disability payments, supports the valuations placed on them by the district court, or explains how the valuations were reached.
“[I]ncome” is statutorily defined to include “disability payments.” Minn. Stat. § 518.54, subd. 6 (2002). Therefore, prospective social-security disability benefits and military disability benefits are not generally treated as property but as income. See Maurer v. Maurer, 607 N.W.2d 176, 185 (Minn. App. 2000) (noting that district court “may properly consider [obligor’s] Veteran’s Administration disability benefits as income for the purpose of setting spousal maintenance” and the exemption of military disability benefits from property division in dissolution cases (citation omitted)), rev’d on other grounds 623 N.W.2d 604 (Minn. 2001); Sward v. Sward, 410 N.W.2d 442, 444 (Minn. App. 1987) (stating “both military and social security disability benefits may be considered as ‘income’ in setting child support and maintenance awards”), review granted (Minn. Sept. 30, 1987) and appeal dismissed (Minn. Dec. 2, 1987). We reverse the district court’s treatment of husband’s social-security disability benefits and his V.A. disability payments as assets and remand for the district court either to treat them as income or to explain fully why they should be treated as property and to value them with findings that explain the bases for the values. Cf. Ward, 453 N.W.2d at 732; Hafner, 406 N.W.2d at 593.
The district court valued the café at $85,108 and awarded it to husband. This valuation is higher than the $50,000 valuation that husband testified to, the $50,000 that a third party testified that she would pay for the café, and the county’s $50,400 assessed valuation of the café. It is even higher than the $85,000 price at which the café was unsuccessfully listed for sale in 1999. This record does not support the district court’s valuation of the café, and that question is remanded.
In a virtually unsupported motion for amended findings or a new trial, husband asked the district court to exclude the café’s value from the marital estate because of the tax forfeiture. The district court requested additional information, and husband submitted a copy of the tax-forfeiture statement but nothing else. The district court denied husband’s motion, stating it could not identify the reasons for the tax forfeiture and the failure to redeem the property when
[husband] was occupying the property with his business and the records of that business do not give the Court a picture of the operation. [Husband] testified as to the value of the property and it would appear that that testimony is correct that a redemption could have and should have occurred. In addition a sale [of the café] was pending which apparently fell through and there are allegations that one or both of the parties was uncooperative to permit the sale. However, the Court does not find sufficient evidence upon which it may or should amend its prior findings of fact, conclusions of law, order for judgment and judgment.
Husband challenges the denial of his posttrial motion, arguing that because the district court admitted that it lacked the evidence to determine who was responsible for the forfeiture, the value of the café should not have been included in the marital estate. Whether to amend findings of fact or to grant a new trial is discretionary with the district court. State ex rel. Fort Snelling State Park Ass’n v. Minneapolis Park & Recreation Bd., 673 N.W.2d 169, 177-78 (Minn. App. 2003), review denied (Minn. Mar. 16, 2004). Here, the district court lacked the information necessary to determine which party was responsible for the tax forfeiture because husband failed to submit evidence on that point both when he moved for posttrial relief and when the district court then requested forfeiture-related information. “On appeal, a party cannot complain about a district court’s failure to rule in [his] favor when one of the reasons it did not do so is because that party failed to provide the district court with the evidence that would allow the district court to fully address the question.” Eisenschenk v. Eisenschenk, 668 N.W.2d 235, 243 (Minn. App. 2003) (citing Tuthill v. Tuthill, 399 N.W.2d 230, 232 (Minn. App. 1987) (reciting this rule in maintenance-modification context); Taflin v. Taflin, 366 N.W.2d 315, 319 (Minn. App. 1985) (reciting this rule in support-modification context)), review denied (Minn. Nov. 25, 2003). The district court did not abuse its discretion by denying husband’s posttrial motion.
Husband challenges the division of the marital property. In a dissolution, the district court must make a just and equitable division of the parties’ marital property. Minn. Stat. § 518.58, subd. 1 (2002). But “just and equitable” does not necessarily mean equal. Ruzic v. Ruzic, 281 N.W.2d 502, 505 (Minn. 1979). A district court has broad discretion to divide marital property, and its division will be affirmed if it has an acceptable basis in fact and principle even though the appellate court might have divided the property differently. Rohling v. Rohling, 379 N.W.2d 519, 522 (Minn. 1986). An equal division of marital property is presumptively equitable upon dissolution of a long-term marriage. Miller v. Miller, 352 N.W.2d 738, 742 (Minn. 1984). Because these parties were married for approximately 23 years when they separated, their marriage can be deemed long-term. See Gales v. Gales, 553 N.W.2d 416, 421 (Minn. 1996) (refusing to “quibble with” district court’s finding that parties’ 11-year marriage was a “long-term” marriage).
Because the district court apparently erred by treating husband’s disability benefits as property and clearly erred by overvaluing the café, the district court’s attempted equal division of the marital estate was based on a misunderstanding of the size of that estate. Also, because husband’s disability benefits and the café are a substantial portion of what the district court found to be the net marital estate, we cannot say that the district court’s errors can be ignored. See Minn. R. Civ. P. 61 (requiring harmless error to be ignored); Wibbens v. Wibbens, 379 N.W.2d 225, 227 (Minn. App. 1985) (refusing to remand for de minimis technical error). On remand, the district court shall, in light of its rulings on husband’s disability benefits and the value of the café, make any adjustments to the division of marital property that are necessary to achieve the equitable division of marital property required by Minn. Stat. § 518.58, subd. 1.
Husband challenges the award to wife of maintenance of $500 per month for 24 months, retroactive to the date of the parties’ separation. Absent an abuse of the trial court’s “wide discretion” in setting maintenance, “the [district] court’s determination is final.” Erlandson v. Erlandson, 318 N.W.2d 36, 38 (Minn. 1982) (citations omitted). An abuse of discretion occurs if the district court resolves the matter in a manner that is “against logic and the facts on record.” Rutten v. Rutten, 347 N.W.2d 47, 50 (Minn. 1984). An appellate court will not disturb a maintenance award if it has a “reasonable and acceptable basis in fact and principle.” DuBois v. DuBois, 335 N.W.2d 503, 507 (Minn. 1983). While Minn. Stat. § 518.552 (2002) lists factors to be considered in setting the amount and duration of maintenance, no single factor is dispositive; the issue is basically the recipient’s need balanced against the obligor’s financial condition. Erlandson, 318 N.W.2d at 39-40. Maintenance-related findings of fact are not set aside unless clearly erroneous. McCulloch v. McCulloch, 435 N.W.2d 564, 566 (Minn. App. 1989).
Maintenance determinations are partially dependent on the property division. See Minn. Stat. § 518.552, subd. 1(a) (stating that maintenance may be awarded if party “lacks sufficient property, including marital property” for self-support); Minn. Stat. § 518.552, subd. 2(a) (requiring consideration of financial resources of party seeking maintenance, “including marital property apportioned to the party”). Because we are remanding substantial portions of the property division, we also remand the maintenance award. We also note that the district court’s sole maintenance-related finding states: “That [husband] is receiving disability income from the V.A. and Social Security Disability and [wife] is not currently employed and would need assistance in seeking training and rehabilitation in order to become self sufficient.” This finding does not address either party’s income or expenses. Nor does it address the extent of husband’s ability to pay maintenance or the extent of wife’s need for maintenance. Absent findings on these questions, review of the merits of the maintenance question is not possible. Stich v. Stich, 435 N.W.2d 52, 53 (Minn. 1989). Further, the record suggests that wife in fact is employed. On remand, the district court must readdress the maintenance issue in light of its resolution of the remanded property questions and must make findings supporting its maintenance ruling.
Husband argues that there is no authority for allowing a maintenance award in a dissolution judgment to be made retroactive to the date of the parties’ separation. But the maintenance statute allows the district court to award maintenance “for periods of time . . . as the court deems just” without requiring those periods to be prospective. Minn. Stat. § 518.552, subd. 2. Additionally, on this record, much of the delay in entering an amended dissolution judgment is attributable to husband’s withdrawal, albeit with court approval, from an existing mediated settlement. On this record, we will not preclude the district court, on remand, from using the date of the parties’ separation as the effective date of any maintenance award that it may determine is appropriate.
Whether to reopen the record on remand is discretionary with the district court.
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.