This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In re the Matter of:
Wayne Harold Chevalier, petitioner,
Kathleen Jean French,
f/k/a Kathleen Jean Chevalier,
Affirmed; motion denied
Anoka County District Court
File No. F2-89-1030
Joseph E. Marvin, Marvin Law
Elizabeth A. Schading, Barna,
Guzy & Steffen, Ltd.,
Considered and decided by Schumacher, Presiding Judge; Peterson, Judge; and Wright, Judge.
In this pension-division dispute arising in a dissolution case, appellant-husband argues that the district court erred when it declined to amend the dissolution decree’s division of his pension because its value was reduced as a result of a corporate merger. Respondent-wife moves for attorney fees incurred in defense of this appeal. We affirm and deny the motion.
Appellant Wayne Chevalier and respondent Kathleen French dissolved their 20-year marriage by a judgment and decree on September 12, 1989. During the marriage, Chevalier was employed at Federal Cartridge Company. The division of Chevalier’s various retirement benefits, which accrued during his employment, comprised the majority of the parties’ property settlement. To divide Chevalier’s Federal Cartridge pension, the district court established a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO), which was incorporated in the divorce decree. In accordance with the QDRO, the divorce decree named French as an “alternate payee” and irrevocably assigned French 50 percent of Chevalier’s accrued monthly pension under the Federal Cartridge plan, known as the Federal-Hoffman pension plan, as of December 31, 1988.
On December 31, 1988, Pentair, Inc. (Pentair) acquired Federal Cartridge Company and merged the Federal-Hoffman pension plan with the Pentair pension plan. Under the Pentair pension plan, Pentair adopted a different formula for calculating retirement benefits. But it preserved certain features of the Federal-Hoffman pension plan for those employees who were participating in the Federal-Hoffman pension plan as of December 31, 1988. For these employees, Pentair guaranteed a “minimum benefit equal to the vested benefits earned under the plan as of December 31, 1988.”
A May 1992 amended judgment adopted the parties’ stipulation to reduce French’s share of the pension from 50 percent to 47.5 percent. Although the amended decree included language to reflect the merger of the Federal-Hoffman pension plan with the Pentair pension plan, the language of the original decree awarding French an interest in the Federal-Hoffman pension plan remained unaltered.
The district court further amended the judgment and decree on January 22, 1993 and July 16, 1993 by adoption of the parties’ pension-related stipulations. The judgment now provides in relevant part:
That [French] is awarded forty-seven and 50/100 percent (47.50%) of [Chevalier’s] Accrued Monthly Pension as of December 31, 1988 (as defined by Section 4.6 of the Plan) under the “Federal-Hoffman, Inc., Pension Plan” (the “Plan”).
That [French’s] portion of said [Accrued Monthly] Pension is $590.00 payable for the life of [Chevalier] commencing on the first day of the month which follows his attainment of age 65.
That effective December 31, 1988, the Plan was merged into and became part of the Pentair, Inc. Pension Plan (the “Pentair Plan”) and as a result, all benefits accrued under the Plan became payable from the Pentair Plan.
The amended decree also provides: “[French] shall not be entitled to any additional or future benefit accruals [by Chevalier] under the plan after January 1, 1989.”
On July 2, 2004, Chevalier moved to amend the dissolution decree, seeking a reduction in French’s monthly pension award from $590.00 to $366.18. Chevalier argued that, after the merger, his monthly pension decreased from an estimated $1,242.10 per month under the Federal-Hoffman pension plan to $770.91 per month under the Pentair pension-plan formula. Therefore, he argued, French is entitled to $366.18, which is 47.5 percent of $770.91.
The district court denied the motion to amend the judgment and decree. Because the decree expressly provided that French would receive “47.50% of the Federal-Hoffman Pension Plan,” the district court declined to use the Pentair formula to calculate the pension benefit. Applying the plain language of the decree, the district court concluded that, “[French] is entitled to receive 47.50% of the Federal-Hoffman Pension Plan calculated as of December 31, 1988, which is $590.00 per month[.]” This appeal followed.
A district court has broad
discretion in dividing property upon dissolution of a marriage. Maurer
v. Maurer, 623 N.W.2d 604, 606 (
Chevalier argues that the district court abused its discretion in refusing to amend the dissolution decree. According to Chevalier, an amendment is necessary to give effect to the intent of the parties as embodied in the decree. Chevalier contends that, given the change in the formula used to calculate his pension, the provision requiring a monthly payment of $590 to French no longer reflects the parties’ intent to award French 47.5 percent of Chevalier’s Federal-Hoffman pension.
As a general rule, a
property division in a dissolution action is final unless one of the bases for reopening
a judgment, such as fraud, mistake, or inadvertent neglect, can be established. Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2(e) (2004); Redmond v. Redmond, 594 N.W.2d 272, 275
(Minn. App. 1999); see also Boom v. Boom,
367 N.W.2d 536, 538 (Minn. App. 1985) (stating that property division becomes
final for the purposes of section 518.64 when the period for appealing from the
judgment and decree has expired), review
denied (Minn. June 27, 1985). A
party may not seek modification of a property division based on changed
Although the district court
may not modify a final division of property, it may issue orders that implement
or enforce provisions of a dissolution decree.
Our review requires us to determine whether amendment of the dissolution decree is necessary to resolve ambiguity or to implement the parties’ intent. The fourth amended judgment and decree awards French “forty-seven and 50/100 percent (47.50%) of [Chevalier’s] Accrued Monthly Pension as of December 31, 1988 . . . under the ‘Federal-Hoffman, Inc., Pension Plan[.]’” The decree specifies that French’s portion of the pension is “$590.00 payable for the life of [Chevalier] commencing on the first day of the month which follows his attainment of age 65.” The language is not susceptible of more than one meaning. The intent of the parties, as expressed in the decree, is plain: French shall receive $590 per month, which is 47.5 percent of the value of Chevalier’s Federal-Hoffman pension on December 31, 1988. Because the parties agreed that French would “not be entitled to any additional or future benefit accruals . . . under the plan after January 1, 1989,” the precise amount that French is entitled to receive was quantifiable in September 1989 when the dissolution decree became final. A clear expression of the parties’ intent is manifest in their stipulation to the exact amount French is entitled to receive under the Federal-Hoffman plan based on its value as of December 31, 1988—$590 per month.
Chevalier has not demonstrated that amendment is necessary to implement the provisions of the judgment or to give effect to the intent of the parties. Rather, the decree’s terms entitle French to a fixed percentage of the value of a specifically designated pension plan as of a date certain. As such, the dollar amount of Chevalier’s pension awarded to French is also fixed. Applying the plain language of the dissolution decree, the intent of the parties is evident without amendment.
v. McGowan, 532 N.W.2d 258, 260 (
Indeed, the record demonstrates that, following the Pentair-Federal Cartridge merger, Pentair adopted a less desirable pension plan for its employees. But for employees, such as Chevalier, who were participating in the Federal-Hoffman pension plan as of December 31, 1988, Pentair guaranteed a “minimum benefit equal to the vested benefits earned under that plan as of December 31, 1988.” Thus, the value of Chevalier’s monthly pension benefit under the Federal Hoffman plan as of December 31, 1988—$1,242.10—is the guaranteed “minimum benefit.” Regardless of the new Pentair formula, the record is undisputed that Pentair guaranteed that the value of Chevalier’s Federal-Hoffman pension would not fall below the amount contemplated in the dissolution decree. Chevalier’s argument is premised on a calculation of his pension benefit under the “Pentair formula,” valued as of December 31, 1988, which is only $770.91 per month. But this premise ignores the guaranteed minimum of $1,242.10, which is the precise amount on which French’s award is based.
Chevalier has not demonstrated that the value of his pension has been substantially reduced. Nor is there a need to amend the decree to clarify the intent of the parties. Rather, Chevalier seeks an impermissible modification of a final property division, which the district court correctly declined to grant. The district court’s denial of Chevalier’s motion to amend the dissolution decree was a sound exercise of its discretion.
French seeks an award of attorney
fees pursuant to Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 139.06.
An appellate court may grant attorney fees when an appeal is frivolous,
an appeal is taken in bad faith, or the relative resources of the parties
indicate that an award is warranted. Dabrowski v. Dabrowski, 477 N.W.2d 761,
Although Chevalier’s argument was not meritorious, it was not so unfounded as to be frivolous or establish bad faith. We, therefore, deny French’s motion for attorney fees.
Affirmed; motion denied.
A QDRO assigns to an alternate payee the right to receive all or a portion of a
participant’s pension-plan benefits. 29
U.S.C. § 1056(d)(3)(B) (2000); Boggs
v. Boggs, 520
 These amounts are based on a retirement age of 65.