This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Raymond Waddell, et al.,
Scott Krueger, et al.,
Morrison County District Court
File No. C2011108
Paul A. Jeddeloh, Jeddeloh & Snyder, P.A., 803 West St. Germain Street, St. Cloud, MN 56301 (for appellants)
Gerald W. Von Korff, Kurt A. Deter; Rinke-Noonan, 700 Wells Fargo Center, P.O. Box 1497, St. Cloud, MN 56302-1497 (for respondents)
Considered and decided by Wright, Presiding Judge; Peterson, Judge; and Stoneburner, Judge.
Appellants challenge the district court’s order granting a motion to enforce a mediated settlement agreement and dismissing appellant’s complaint with prejudice. Appellants contend that the district court abused its discretion because appellants produced evidence of non-compliance with the agreement. We affirm.
Appellants Raymond and Claudia Waddell (Waddells) sued their neighbors, respondents Scott and Mary Krueger (Kruegers), seeking removal of a dam, a road, and a culvert from the Kruegers’ property to alleviate flooding on the Waddells’ property. The parties entered into mediation and reached a settlement. The mediated settlement extended the time for trial indefinitely to allow United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to install beaver levelers and perform other related services. The parties agreed to dismissal of the pending lawsuit if USFWS performed the specified services to improve drainage on the Waddells’ land. The agreement states:
1. The water held by the beaver dam will be drained by Fish and Wildlife on a one-time basis, (by them removing approximately 10-12 feet of length of the dam).
2. While the water is drained, a total of three beaver levelers will be installed at the dam location.
3. In addition, two additional beaver levelers will be installed at the access road.
4. The assumption is that the elevation of the levelers so installed at the dam will be within three to four inches of the levelers at the road, with the levelers at the road being at the bottom elevation of the trench as it existed in 1996 when the road leveler was initially installed. If the beaver levelers at the beaver dam are within this three to four-inch elevation of the beaver leveler location as it was initially installed in approximately 1996, then Fish and Wildlife will install said levelers, and that will be a resolution of any and all claims to date between the parties, . . . At the appropriate time, the parties authorize their respective attorneys to execute a Stipulation of Dismissal With Prejudice of the pending lawsuit.
5. The above resolution is subject to Fish and Wildlife going to the property and shooting the elevations, and making a determination as to whether or not the levelers at the beaver dam are within this three to four-inch tolerance.
6. If the levelers at the beaver dam upon shooting said elevations are not within said three to four-inch tolerance, then the matter is not resolved, and the dispute is then subject to additional negotiation between the parties.
Ronald Beam of the USFWS certified by affidavit that in April and May 2002 he (1) surveyed the disputed area to ensure elevations could be achieved, (2) installed two beaver levelers at the access road, (3) opened a 12-foot wide gap in the dam to draw down the beaver pond upstream, (4) installed two additional beaver levelers in the dam itself, and (5) used laser leveling instruments to ensure that the levelers at the dam and those at the road were placed as closely as possible to the elevations in the agreement.
In response to an inquiry by the Waddells’ attorney, Beam visited the site to inspect the newly installed beaver levelers. By letter, Beam certified that all work had been completed according to the settlement agreement specifications.
The Waddells hired their own expert in September 2002 to inspect the area in dispute. The Waddells’ expert concluded that the elevation of the beaver levelers in the dam was within between 2.4 and 3.7 inches of the elevation of the beaver levelers in the road; but the elevation of the beaver levelers at the road was not placed at the bottom elevation of the trench as it existed in 1996.
In response to this disagreement among the parties, the district court went on a site visit to examine the contested area. On August 18, 2003, USFWS repositioned the beaver levelers in the road to alleviate the Waddells’ concerns.
Based on this evidence, the district court dismissed the Waddells’ claims with prejudice pursuant to the agreement, finding that USFWS had fully performed its obligations under the settlement agreement. The Waddells filed a motion for amended findings, which the district court denied. This appeal followed.
The Waddells argue that, because the evidence does not sustain a finding that the terms of the mediated settlement agreement were performed, the district court abused its discretion in enforcing the agreement and dismissing the lawsuit with prejudice. We review the district court’s decision to enforce a settlement agreement for an abuse of discretion. See Johnson v. St. Paul Ins. Cos., 305 N.W.2d 571, 573 (Minn. 1981) (stating that vacating stipulation of settlement is within district court’s discretion, whose action will not be reversed unless arbitrary). A mediated settlement agreement is essentially a contract, subject to rules of contract interpretation and enforcement. Theis v. Theis, 271 Minn. 199, 204, 135 N.W.2d 740, 744 (1965); St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co. v. Nat’l Chiropractic Mut. Ins. Co., 496 N.W.2d 411, 415 (Minn. App. 1993), review denied (Minn. Apr. 29, 1993). The construction and effect of a contract are questions of law, which we review de novo. Turner v. Alpha Phi Sorority House, 276 N.W.2d 63, 66 (Minn. 1979). Absent ambiguity, contractual language is to be construed according to its plain and ordinary meaning. Reliable Metal, Inc. v. Shakopee Valley Printing, Inc., 407 N.W.2d 684, 687 (Minn. App. 1987). When the facts are in dispute, whether a party’s actions constitute performance in conformity with the contract terms is a question of fact. Ylijarvi v. Brockphaler, 213 Minn. 385, 392, 7 N.W.2d 314, 319 (1942). We will not disturb the district court’s factual findings as to a party’s performance unless they are clearly erroneous. See id.
Performance under a contract ordinarily means full and substantial performance. Id. at 389-90, 7 N.W. at 318; Steffl v. Roediger, 406 N.W.2d 535, 537 (Minn. App. 1987). Performance is defined as “such a thorough fulfillment of a duty as puts an end to obligations by leaving nothing more to be done.” McGuire v. J. Neils Lumber Co., 97 Minn. 293, 298, 107 N.W. 130, 132 (1906) (quotation omitted).
The mediated settlement agreement and stipulation at issue here required USFWS to perform the following: (1) drain the water held by the beaver dam by removing approximately 10 to 12 feet in length from the dam; (2) install three beaver levelers at the dam location while the water is drained; (3) install two additional beaver levelers at the bottom elevation of the trench as it existed in 1996 when the road leveler was initially installed at the access road so that the elevation of the levelers installed at the dam are within three to four inches of the levelers at the road; and (4) measure the elevations and determine whether the levelers at the beaver dam are within this three- to four-inch tolerance.
The record establishes that USFWS performed according to the terms of the settlement agreement. Beam’s sworn affidavit certified that, as a representative of USFWS, he surveyed the disputed area to ensure elevations could be achieved; opened a 12-foot-wide gap in the dam to draw down the beaver pond upstream; installed two additional beaver levelers in the dam itself; installed two beaver levelers at the access road; and used laser-leveling instruments to ensure that the beaver levelers at the dam and those at the road were placed “as closely as possible” to the elevations set forth in the agreement. In two subsequent letters, Beam confirmed that all work was completed according to the settlement agreement’s specifications. Specifically, Beam stated that, using the laser level, he set the pipe elevations at “the agreed upon elevations.” Beam also specifically stated that all specifications listed in paragraphs one through four were met. Taken together, the affidavit and the clarifying correspondence demonstrate that USFWS performed according to the terms of the settlement agreement.
In addition to demonstrating that USFWS fully performed according to the terms of the settlement agreement, the record also establishes finality in that USFWS’s fulfillment of its obligations left nothing more to be done under the agreement. See McGuire, 97 Minn. at 298, 107 N.W. at 132. The district court scheduled a site visit approximately one year after USFWS completed work to settle remaining disagreements between the parties. Following this visit, USFWS realigned the beaver levelers at the road in an attempt to satisfy the Waddells. Because neither a transcript nor any other record from the site visit is available for our review, we must assume that the district court’s observations during this visit support the district court’s findings that “Ron Beam of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service completed the undertakings contemplated by the parties’ mediated settlement” and “U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that the levelers at the beaver dams are within the three- to four-inch tolerance contemplated by the parties’ mediated settlement agreement.” See Loth v. Loth, 227 Minn. 387, 392, 35 N.W.2d 542, 546 (1949) (appellate courts cannot assume district court error); Luthen v. Luthen, 596 N.W.2d 278, 283 (Minn. App. 1999) (applying Loth).
The Waddells rely on their expert’s findings that the beaver levelers were not placed precisely in accordance with the settlement agreement to support their claim of USFWS’s noncompliance. Where there is conflicting evidence as to whether the terms of the agreement have been fulfilled, we will not disturb the district court’s factual determination unless it is clearly erroneous. Ylijarvi, 213 Minn. at 392, 7 N.W.2d at 319. The terms of the settlement agreement require USFWS to perform under the agreement and to make a determination as to whether the beaver levelers are within the three- to four-inch tolerance. The agreement does not condition a determination of USFWS’s performance on review and approval by a third-party expert. Nor is there a legal basis to reform the agreement to include such a provision. See Gethsemane Lutheran Church v. Zacho, 258 Minn. 438, 442-43, 104 N.W.2d 645, 648 (1960) (to justify rewriting a contract, the court must have clear and convincing evidence of mutual mistake or mistake induced by and taken advantage of by one of the contracting parties).
On this record, the district court’s determination that USFWS performed according to the terms of the settlement agreement is not clearly erroneous. Applying the plain language of the mediated settlement agreement, the district court did not abuse its discretion when it dismissed the Waddells’ complaint with prejudice.