This opinion will be unpublished and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
Norwest Bank Minnesota North, N.A., n/k/a/
Wells Fargo Bank, as Trustee of the
Stephen Lisle Trust,
Filed September 21, 2004
Scott County District Court
File No. 98-08467
James A. Wade, Roy J. Christensen, Johnson, Killen & Seiler, P.A., 230 West Superior Street, Duluth, MN 55802 (for appellant)
John F. Bonner, III, Robyn K. Johnson, Bonner & Borhart, LLP, 1750 Pillsbury Center, 220 South Sixth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Hudson, Presiding Judge; Lansing, Judge; and Willis, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
A promissory-note payee challenges the district court’s calculation of interest and its interpretation of the appellate mandate in a postappeal judgment implementing a jury verdict. By notice of review, the note’s payor challenges the district court’s jurisdiction in the absence of a specific remand and also its interpretation of the jury’s verdict. Because the district court retained jurisdiction, did not err in interpreting the jury verdict or the appellate mandate, and acted within its discretion in calculating interest, we affirm.
F A C T S
This litigation involves a dispute over a $150,000 promissory note payable to Stephen Lisle’s testamentary trust for which Wells Fargo Bank (formerly Norwest Bank) acts as a corporate trustee. Reed Beckler, the payor on the note, is Stephen Lisle’s former son-in-law.
The trust sued Beckler to enforce the note, and the case was tried to a jury. In the first appeal, challenging the jury verdict, we held that the evidence supported the jury’s findings that Beckler’s obligation to repay the note was conditioned upon receipt of a $125,000 devise to Beckler and his wife (now ex-wife) from the trust and that Catherine Lisle, the settlor’s widow, lacked testamentary capacity and was unduly influenced by her daughter, Beckler’s ex-wife, when she exercised an appointment power to remove funds from the trust to defeat Beckler’s devise. Norwest Bank Minn. North, N.A. v. Beckler, 663 N.W.2d 571, 582 (Minn. App. 2003) (Beckler I).
Following Beckler I, Wells Fargo moved for judgment conforming to this court’s opinion, asserting that the condition precedent had been satisfied and calculating Beckler’s repayment obligation under the note to be $204,217.21. This amount represents the $150,000 principal plus an additional amount of $54,217.21, computed by subtracting Beckler’s one-half share of the devise ($62,500) from the interest amount ($97,992.71) found by the jury. Beckler opposed the motion.
The district court rejected Wells Fargo’s calculation. The court instead computed the amount by starting with a determination that the trust owed Beckler $80,664.09. This number represents Beckler’s $62,500 share of the devise plus 4% statutory interest computed from the date that Catherine Lisle attempted to eliminate Beckler’s devise. The district court then concluded that upon Beckler’s receipt of $80,664.09, the condition precedent would be satisfied and Beckler would be obligated to pay the trust $165,750. This amount represents the $150,000 principal, plus accrued interest at the negotiated rate of 10.5% from the date that Beckler stopped making interest payments until the date that Catherine Lisle attempted to eliminate the devise.
Wells Fargo appeals the district court’s judgment, and Beckler seeks relief by notice of review. The five issues presented arewhether the district court (1) lacked jurisdiction to enter judgment absent a remand from this court, (2) erred in defining the terms of the condition precedent, (3) erred by failing to apply the jury’s finding to determine the interest due on the note, (4) erred by ordering interest on Beckler’s devise, or (5) abused its discretion by declining to apply the $62,500 as a set-off against the repayment due under the note.
The district court retains jurisdiction after an appeal to consider motions for fees, costs, disbursements, and collateral issues that are “independent of the underlying decision and do not seek to modify the underlying decision in any way.” Kellar v. Von Holtum, 605 N.W.2d 696, 700 (Minn. 2000). A remand from an appellate court is not a prerequisite to the district court’s exercise of jurisdiction over collateral issues which enforce but do not modify the decision. See id. (concluding that district court retained jurisdiction to hear motions for attorneys’ fees and costs after appeal resulting in affirmance, without remand, of district court’s summary judgment and dismissal of claims).
The issues raised in Wells Fargo’s motion for judgment were necessary to implement the jury’s verdict and finally to resolve the dispute over enforcement of the promissory note. We reject Beckler’s argument that the absence of a specific remand provision in Beckler I eliminated the district court’s jurisdiction to consider Wells Fargo’s motion to enter judgment to conform with that opinion.
In Beckler I we affirmed the jury’s determination that a condition precedent existed to Beckler’s repayment of the note. The condition, referred to throughout the opinion, was the gift of $125,000 that Beckler was to receive, along with his former wife, on Stephen Lisle’s death, pursuant to the terms of a trust created by Lisle. Beckler now contends that the condition precedent is not only receipt of a $125,000 devise from Stephen Lisle’s estate but also a $125,000 devise from Catherine Lisle’s estate.
Beckler cannot prevail on this argument for two reasons. First, an issue once decided, becomes the “law of the case” and may not be reexamined or readjudicated on a second appeal of the same case. Mattson v. Underwriters at Lloyds of London, 414 N.W.2d 717, 719-20 (Minn. 1987). The doctrine of “law of the case” is based on a policy requiring issues, once fully litigated, to be set at rest. Lange v. Nelson-Ryan Flight Serv., 263 Minn. 152, 156, 116 N.W.2d 266, 269 (1962). The specific condition precedent affirmed in Beckler I was “Beckler’s receipt of his portion of the $125,000 gift from Stephen Lisle’s trust.” Norwest,663 N.W.2d at 582. That determination is the law of the case.
Second, the description of the condition precedent in Beckler I is consistent with the entire trial record, including Beckler’s answer to Wells Fargo’s complaint. A litigant is bound on appeal by the theories presented in the district court. Mattson, 414 N.W.2d at 720. When counsel tries a case and submits it for decision on the issues expressly presented, that submission “automatically excludes what it does not include.” Allen v. Cent. Motors, Inc., 204 Minn. 295, 298, 283 N.W. 490, 492 (1939).
Beckler’s answer to the complaint alleged an understanding of repayment of the note on receipt of “[Beckler’s] portion of a specific bequest which Stephen Lisle advised that he had made within his estate plan.” (Emphasis added.) In discussing jury instructions after the close of evidence, Beckler’s counsel indicated an agreement with the understanding that the condition precedent was the receipt of funds from “the trust.” The case was tried on the theory that the condition precedent was the receipt of Beckler’s devise from Stephen Lisle’s trust. Beckler first asserted the definition of the condition precedent as the receipt of devises from both trusts at posttrial motions, after the case had gone to the jury.
The district court judge who ruled on the postappeal motion stated that it was clear throughout the trial that the condition precedent at issue was receipt of the $125,000 devise from Stephen Lisle’s trust, and that is what the jury found. This same judge presided over the jury trial and fully participated in the procedural development of the case. We find no error in the district court’s denial of Beckler’s attempt to redefine the fully litigated condition precedent.
Wells Fargo asserts that the district court legally erred by determining the amount of interest owed on the note because the amount conflicts with the jury’s finding. A jury’s answers to special interrogatories are binding on the court. Majerus v. Guelsow, 262 Minn. 1, 11, 113 N.W.2d 450, 457 (1962). But the district court retains authority to reconcile the jury’s answers. See Orwick v. Belshan, 304 Minn. 338, 343, 231 N.W.2d 90, 94 (1975) (observing that district court may partially direct verdict to reconcile jury’s special verdict answers). “The test is whether the answers can be reconciled in any reasonable manner consistent with the evidence and its fair inferences.” Reese v. Henke, 277 Minn. 151, 155, 152 N.W.2d 63, 66 (1967).
The district court reconciled the jury’s answers to the special interrogatories consistently with the evidence presented. The jury found, first, that Beckler owed $97,992.21 on the loan, with interest accruing at the rate of $43.75 a day, “[n]ot considering the affirmative defenses addressed below.” In the jury’s second answer, under the heading “[a]ffirmative [d]efenses,” it found a condition precedent to repayment of the loan. Reading the answers to these two special interrogatories in light of each other, it is apparent that the district court correctly concluded that the jury’s answer to the first question was qualified by its answer to the second: in other words, that the calculation of interest was affected by the affirmative defense of a condition precedent.
The district court acted within its authority by reconciling the two answers and finding that Beckler owed interest on the note at the negotiated 10.5% rate only from the time he stopped paying on the note until the date Catherine Lisle attempted to defeat Beckler’s devise. After that time, as the district court observed, Beckler would have believed in good faith that the condition precedent to repayment, his receipt of a devise from Stephen Lisle’s trust, would not occur. See 451 Corp. v. Pension Sys. for Policemen & Firemen, 310 N.W.2d 922, 924 (Minn. 1981) (determining that when condition precedent is not satisfied, contract no longer exists, and party cannot be held liable for breach). The district court’s reconciliation of the special-interrogatory answers was thus consistent with the evidence presented at trial.
Wells Fargo challenges the district court’s calculation of statutory interest on Beckler’s $62,500 devise. Because the district court’s order is in the nature of an allocation of preverdict interest, we conclude that the court did not err.
“The prevailing party in any action is one in whose favor the decision or verdict is rendered and judgment entered.” Borchert v. Maloney, 581 N.W.2d 838, 840 (Minn. 1998). Because the jury’s finding on the ineffective exercise of Catherine Lisle’s appointment power had the legal effect of reinstating Beckler’s devise, he may be considered a prevailing party for purposes of recovering prejudgment interest. See In Re Rosenfeldt’s Will, 185 Minn. 425, 434, 241 N.W. 573, 576 (1932) (affirming analogous taxation of costs and disbursements to trust beneficiaries even though “they did not obtain all they sought”); see also Kusniryk v. Arrowhead Reg’l Corr. Bd., 413 N.W.2d 182, 184 (Minn. App. 1987) (rejecting argument that party who recovers less than initial demand is not prevailing party).
The district court did not err by computing prejudgment interest from the date Catherine Lisle attempted to exercise her power of appointment to defeat Beckler’s devise. Although caselaw in the area of prejudgment interest in Minnesota has been somewhat unsettled, the supreme court has interpreted Minn. Stat. § 549.09, subd. 1 (2002), to provide that prejudgment interest shall be computed whether or not the damages are ascertainable. Schwickert, Inc. v. Winnebago Seniors, Ltd., 680 N.W.2d 79, 88 (Minn. 2004). Beckler’s asserted claim against Wells Fargo arose when Catherine Lisle attempted to use her special power of appointment to defeat Beckler’s devise. Accordingly, the district court did not err in ordering interest at the prevailing statutory rate accruing from that date.
Minnesota recognizes both a contractual and an equitable right to set-off. Nietzel v. Farmers & Merchs. State Bank, 307 Minn. 147, 152-53, 238 N.W.2d 437, 440 (1976). But absent a contractual right, a judgment debtor is not entitled, as a matter of right, to offset one judgment against another; this remedy is discretionary with the district court. La Fleur v. Schiff, 239 Minn. 206, 209, 58 N.W.2d 320, 323 (1953). “Even though a set-off may legally be made, yet if, in the exercise of its discretion, the court can see that an injustice will be done by granting the set-off, it will be refused.” Lundberg v. Davidson, 68 Minn. 328, 332, 72 N.W. 71, 71 (1897).
The district court ordered that the condition precedent be satisfied by Wells Fargo’s payment of the $62,500 devise, plus interest, and that Wells Fargo could then collect its judgment on the note. The district court’s order conformed to the legal requirement that the condition precedent must be satisfied before the right to collect principal and interest on the note accrues. See Carl Bolander & Sons, Inc. v. United Stockyards Corp., 298 Minn. 428, 433, 215 N.W.2d 473, 476 (1974) (defining condition precedent as act that must be performed or event that must occur before contractual right accrues or contractual duty arises). It was within the district court’s discretion to conclude that, given the good faith dispute between the parties, ordering the full amount requested by Wells Fargo, minus an offset, would create a disparate and unjust result. The district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to order an offset, and we affirm.