This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

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






In re:  Conservatorship of

William Donald Douglas.


Filed August 24, 2004

Forsberg, Judge


Wright County District Court

File No. P0-01-2120


William M. Hart, Timothy W. Ridley, Livia E. Babcock, Meagher & Geer, P.L.L.P., 33 South Sixth Street, Suite 4200, Minneapolis, MN 55402; and


Cynthia Spence Matt, Johnson, Larson, Peterson & Matt, P.A., 908 Commercial Drive, Buffalo, MN 55313 (for appellant Ralph Douglas)


James M. Crist, Steinhagen & Crist, P.L.L.P., 5001 Chowen Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55410-2150 (for respondent Terrence McCool)


C. Thomas Wilson, Sara N. Wilson, Gislason & Hunter, L.L.P., 2700 South Broadway, P.O. Box 458, New Ulm, MN 56073-0458 (for respondents WDD Properties, et al.)


Timothy C. Matson, Abdo, Abdo, Broady & Satorius, P.A., 710 Northstar West, 625 Marquette Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55402; and


Richard A. Grinley, Grinley & Tukua, 120 North River, Delano, MN 55328 (for respondent Westar Ventures, LLC)


            Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge, Shumaker, Judge, and Forsberg, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


On the ground that appellant lacks standing, the district court denied his petition to invalidate certain real estate transactions or, alternatively, to compel a conservator to bring a petition to set aside the transactions.  Because we see no error of law in the denial, we affirm. 


            In 1990, William Donald Douglas (Douglas), then about 80, and his wife, Katherine Douglas, executed a Trust Agreement (the 1990 trust).  It provided that upon their deaths, their son, appellant Ralph Douglas, would inherit real property known as the Waverly Farm.  Katherine Douglas died in 1998.

In July 2001, appellant filed a petition seeking appointment of a conservator of the person and estate of Douglas.  A hearing was held on the petition in January 2002.

Douglas devised a new estate plan in 2002.  After consulting with his attorneys and financial advisor, Douglas wrote a new will and established respondents WDD Properties-I, LP (WDD-I); WDD Properties-II, LP (WDD-II); WDD Management Company, LLC (WDD Management);[1] and the William D. Douglas Living Trust of May 2, 2002, (the 2002 Trust).  Respondents Shirley J. Setterberg, Douglas’s daughter, and C. Loring Davis, Douglas’s grandson, are trustees of the 2002 Trust.  The ownership of four certificates of deposit totaling $51,000 was changed from the 1990 trust to the 2002 trust. 

Three of Douglas’s assets, the Waverly farm, the Montrose farm, and the Old Broll farm, were transferred by quitclaim deeds to WDD-I and WDD-II.  The Montrose farm and the Waverly farm were listed for sale. The Montrose farm was sold and the proceeds deposited with WDD-II.  In October 2002, appellant filed a notice of lis pendens on the Waverly farm.  In November 2002, respondent Westar Ventures, LLC (Westar) entered into a purchase agreement with WDD-I and WDD-II to purchase the Waverly farm for $1,997,500. 

In June 2003, respondent Terrence McCool, an independent fiduciary, was appointed as conservator of Douglas’s estate.[2]  His inventory of Douglas’s assets showed that Douglas had $7,863 available to him for his care.

In September 2003, appellant petitioned the district court for an order that would, in effect, invalidate Douglas’s 2002 estate plan and restore the status quo of 1990.  Specifically, appellant asked the district court to:  (1) invalidate the purchase agreement between Westar and WDD-I and WDD-II for the Waverly farm; (2) invalidate the conveyance of the Waverly farm from the 1990 Trust to WDD-I; (3) invalidate the distribution of funds from the sale of the Montrose farm to WDD-II and order that the funds be held in a conservatorship account; (4) invalidate a deed conveying part of the Waverly farm and the Old Broll farm from the 1990 Trust to WDD-II; (5) invalidate the transfer of ownership of the certificates of deposit from the 1990 Trust to the 2002 Trust; (6) invalidate the 2002 Trust; and (7) revoke Douglas’s 2002 will.  In the alternative, appellant asked the district court to order the conservator to bring such a petition if the court found that appellant lacked standing.

            Both Westar and the conservator opposed appellant’s petition.  Westar notified the conservator that it would hold him and any others involved responsible for interference with the purchase agreement and offered an additional $150,000 to avoid further delays and attorney fees.

            On the ground that appellant lacked standing, the district court denied his petition, discharged the lis pendens against the Waverly farm, and approved a purchase agreement and settlement plan whereby Douglas would receive $800,000 for his care.   Appellant moved for amended and additional findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order.  The district court granted his motion for amended findings but otherwise denied it.  Appellant challenges that denial, arguing that some of Douglas’s transactions are void by operation of law and that appellant does not lack standing to set aside the other transactions.



            The district court denied appellant’s petition and motion after concluding that he lacked standing to bring them.  The facts in this case are not disputed; all of appellant’s challenges to this denial are statutory.   Application of a statute to the undisputed facts of a case involves a question of law, and the district court’s decision is not binding on this court.  O’Malley v. Ulland Bros., 549 N.W.2d 889, 892 (Minn. 1996).  Moreover, when facts relating to standing are not in dispute, an appellate court reviews de novo whether the district court erred as a matter of law.  Conant v. Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi, L.L.P., 603 N.W.2d 143, 146 (Minn. App. 1999), review denied (Minn. Mar. 14, 2000).

I.  Minn. Stat. §  525.543

            To argue that Douglas’s 2002 estate plan and transactions are void, appellant relies first on Minn. Stat. § 525.543 (2002),[3] which provides:

            After the filing of the petition [for a conservatorship], a certificate of the district court certified to that fact may be filed for record in the office of the county recorder of any county in which any real estate owned by the proposed ward or conservatee is situated and if a resident of this state, in the county of residence.  The certificate shall state that a petition is pending and the name and address of the person for whom a guardian or conservator is sought.  If a guardian or conservator is appointed on the petition, and, in the case of a conservatorship, if the conservatorship order removes or restricts the right of the conservatee to transfer property or to contract, then all contracts except for necessaries, and all transfers of real or personal property made by the ward or conservatee after the filing and before the termination of the guardianship or conservatorship shall be void.


            As the district court noted, this statute says nothing about standing.  Without standing, no petitioner’s cause of action may go forward.  State by Humphrey v. Philip Morris, Inc., 551 N.W.2d 490, 493 (Minn. 1996). “Standing is acquired in two ways: either the plaintiff has suffered some ‘injury in fact’ or the plaintiff is the beneficiary of some legislative enactment granting standing.”  Id.  No legislative enactment has granted standing to appellant, and he does not show any injury in fact:  he owned none of the property involved.

            Appellant argues that the transactions should be voided because Douglas lacked capacity and was under undue influence.  But if that were the case, the conservator, not appellant, had standing to ask the court to void the transactions. 

If a protected person has made a financial transaction or gift or entered into a contract during the two-year period before establishment of the conservatorship, the conservator may petition for court review of the transaction, gift, or contract.  If the court finds that the protected person was incapacitated or subject to duress, coercion, or undue influence when the transaction, gift, or contract was made, the court may declare the transaction, gift, or contract void except as against a bona fide transferee for value and order reimbursement or other appropriate relief.


Minn. Stat. § 524.5-417(e) (Supp. 2003).  The conservator, unlike appellant, was an independent fiduciary who stood neither to gain nor to lose by Douglas’s transactions and who had a statutory obligation to act in Douglas’s best interests.[4]  See Minn. Stat. § 524.5-411(g) (Supp. 2003) (“conservator owes no duty to any person other than the protected person”).

            Appellant argues that he had standing to void the transactions because he had standing to file a conservatorship petition.  But a petition for conservatorship may be filed by many people, including anyone “interested in [the conservatee’s] estate . . .[.]”  Minn. Stat. § 524.5-403(a)(2) (Supp. 2003).  The legislature would not have intended to enable those having an interest in a conservatee’s estate to petition to set aside the conservatee’s estate plan, as appellant has done.  See Minn. Stat. § 645.17(1) (2002) (legislature does not intend an absurd or unreasonable result).

            Moreover, appellant did not comply with the statute he invokes.  Minn. Stat. § 525.543 provides that

a certificate of the district court certified to that fact [of the petition for conservatorship] may be filed for record in the office of the county recorder of any county in which any real estate owned by the proposed ward or conservatee is situated  and if a resident of this state, in the county of residence.  The certificate shall state that a petition is pending and the name and address of the person for whom a guardian or conservator is sought. 


Appellant concedes that he did not file a certificate of the district court but argues that he fulfilled the statute by filing notices of lis pendens on Douglas’s property.[5]  But a notice of lis pendens is filed to warn prospective purchasers that the title to property is in litigation.  First Const. Credit, Inc. v. Simonson Lumber of Waite Park, Inc., 663 N.W.2d 14, 19 (Minn. App. 2003); see also Minn. Stat. § 557.02 (2002) (relating to notice of lis pendens).  The legislature did not intend that notice of lis pendens be used to set aside an estate plan or usurp the authority of a conservator.  See Minn. Stat. § 645.16(3) (2002) (“the mischief to be remedied” is a valid consideration in establishing legislative intent); Stamsell v. City of Northfield, 618 N.W.2d 814, 819 (Minn. App. 2000) (same), review denied (Minn. Jan. 26, 2001).

            Minn. Stat. § 525.543 does not provide a basis for granting appellant’s petitions or compelling the conservator to set aside Douglas’s transactions.

II.  Minn. Stat. § 524.5-414

            Appellant also seeks relief under Minn. Stat. § 524.5-414(a) (Supp. 2003), which provides that after the appointment of a conservator, “an interested person may file a petition in the appointing court for an order . . . (6) granting other appropriate relief.”  Appellant, as an adult child of Douglas, is an “interested person” by operation of Minn. Stat. § 524.5-102, subd. 7(iv) (Supp. 2003), but the relief he seeks is not “other appropriate relief” within the meaning of Minn. Stat. § 524.5-414(a).  That statute provides for petitions seeking various types of control over the power of a conservator.  For example,

(1) requiring bond or collateral or additional bond or collateral, or reducing bond; (2) requiring an accounting for the administration of the protected person’s estate; (3) directing distribution; (4) removing the conservator and appointing a temporary or successor conservator; (5) modifying the type of appointment or powers granted to the conservator . . .[.] 


Minn. Stat. § 524.5-414(a).  The phrase, “other appropriate relief,” is general language following an enumeration of specific items.  “Where general language follows an enumeration of specific subjects, the general language is presumed to include only subjects of a class similar to those enumerated.”  School Sisters of Notre Dame at Mankato, Minnesota, Inc., v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 476 N.W.2d 523, 525 (Minn. App. 1991).  The relief appellant seeks, setting aside a conservatee’s estate plan and transactions occurring prior to the appointment of the conservator, has no similarity to the types of relief enumerated in the statute. 

            Moreover, Minn. Stat. § 524.5-418(e) (Supp. 2003) provides specifically that, when a conservatee has real estate that is desired by another, the conservator has the power to agree on compensation for the real estate, subject to the approval of the court.  The legislature clearly intended petitions such as appellant’s to be brought by conservators, not by parties having their own interest in the outcome of a conservatee’s real estate transactions.

            Appellant did not have standing to bring his petition under the Minn. Stat. § 524.5-414(a)(6) provision for “other appropriate relief.”

III.  Minn. Stat. § 524.5-411(a)(4) and (9)

            Finally, appellant argues that he has standing under these statutes, providing that, with the court’s authorization, a conservator may create a trust of property of the estate under Minn. Stat. § 524.5-411(a)(4) (Supp. 2003) and make or revoke a conservatee’s will under Minn. Stat. § 524.5-411(a)(9).  Appellant argues that because the statute does not provide that a conservator may petition to do these things, any interested person may petition.  But a statute would not both authorize conservators to do certain things and provide that the conservators may petition to do those things.  Minn. Stat. § 524.5-411(a)(4) and (9) give control over a conservatee’s estate to the conservator; they make no provision for others who wish to obtain control of the estate unless they can show that the conservator is not acting in the conservatee’s best interests.  Appellant has not shown or even suggested this.

            None of the statutes on which appellant relies operate to void Douglas’s 2002 estate plan.  No transactions entered into in accord with that estate plan give appellant standing to bring his petition or provide a basis for ordering Douglas’s conservator to bring that petition.  The district court did not err in denying appellant’s petition. 



* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.

[1] WDD Management, of which Douglas is president and chief operating officer, is the general partner of the limited partnerships WWD-I and WDD-II.

[2] The order appointing McCool also provided that Douglas’s former caretaker, Victoria Mealey, was to have no communication, contact, or involvement with him.  The Minnesota Department of Health found that Mealy financially exploited Douglas; she is being prosecuted on felony charges of financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult.

[3] The statute is now recodified, with minor changes, at Minn. Stat. § 524.5-418(l), effective August 1, 2003.  See 2003 Minn. Laws, ch. 12, art. 1 § 57.

[4] We note that appellant does not assert that the transactions are not in Douglas’s best interests. 

[5] In any event, the court ordered that appellant discharge the lis pendens in January 2002 when it continued the petition for conservatorship for a year. The disputed transactions occurred in March-April 2002.  Although appellant failed to follow the court’s order until June 18, 2002, there was no valid lis pendens at the time the transactions occurred.