This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).







In re the Marriage of: 

Anthony Edward Pelzer, petitioner,





Monica Eleanor Pelzer,




Filed November 15, 2005


Huspeni, Judge*



Stearns County District Court

File No. F5-93-3805



Virginia A. Bell, Mary R. Vasaly, Maslon Edelman Borman & Brand, LLP, 3300 Wells Fargo Center, 89 South 7th Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402-4140 (for respondent)


John R. Koch, Reichert, Wenner, Koch & Provinzino, P.A., 501 St. Germain Street, P.O. Box 1556, St. Cloud, MN 56302 (for appellant)



            Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge; Randall, Judge; and Huspeni, Judge.*

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            On appeal after a remand to address clerical errors in the parties’ dissolution decree, appellant argues that the district court abused its discretion in correcting and clarifying the judgment’s property distribution.  Because the determinations made by the district court upon remand are not clearly erroneous, we affirm.


            Prior to their marriage dissolution in 1994, appellant Monica Pelzer and respondent Anthony Pelzer owned approximately 134 acres of real property in Stearns County.  Minnesota Highway 23, running north-south, bisected the property, separating the 33-acre homestead and an additional ten acres to the west of the highway (the western portion) from the remaining 91 acres to the east (the eastern portion). 

            The stipulated dissolution decree provided that respondent was to be awarded the homestead and contained a legal description of the 33-acre property, but made no mention of the additional ten acres located in the western portion.  Appellant was awarded “the real estate located across from the homestead . . . of approximately 101 acres.”  The real estate awarded to appellant is described in the decree by an erroneous reference to Exhibit A.  Exhibit A is, in fact, a legal description of the entire property, including the ten-acre parcel to the west of Highway 23, the homestead, and the entire parcel to the east of the highway. 

In September 2001, respondent entered into an agreement to sell the homestead, which he believed to be the entire western portion, including the ten-acre parcel.  The prospective buyer surveyed the property and informed respondent that the decree’s legal description of the homestead property “omitted” the ten acres located to the west of Highway 23. 

            Respondent subsequently moved the court to amend the decree under Minn. R. Civ. P. 60.01, which authorizes correction, at any time after judgment, of “[c]lerical mistakes in judgments . . . arising from oversight or omission.”  Respondent argued that a clerical error had given rise to three irreconcilable assertions in the decree: (1) that appellant was awarded “the real estate located across [the highway] from the homestead”; (2) that appellant was to receive “approximately 101 acres” (when the property across the highway was in fact only 91 acres); and (3) that appellant’s property, as described in Exhibit A, included the ten acres on the west side of the highway (in the southern half of the Northwest Quarter).  Respondent sought to change the legal description of his property award to include the ten acres west of the highway.

The district court concluded that the alleged error was not clerical, and that respondent’s motion should be considered not under rule 60.01, but under Minn. R. Civ. P. 60.02, which imposes a one-year limit on a court’s authority to amend a judgment based upon mistake, inadvertence, surprise, inexcusable neglect, or fraud.  The court denied respondent’s motion as time-barred, concluding that none of the conditions required by rule 60.02 were present.

            On appeal, this court reversed, holding that the error in the judgment was, in fact, a clerical one, and was therefore susceptible to correction, at any time, under rule 60.01.  Pelzer v. Pelzer, No. A03-1328, 2004 WL 837872, at *1 (Minn. App. Apr. 20, 2004).  Quoting Egge v. Egge, 361 N.W.2d 485, 488 (Minn. App. 1985), this court observed that clerical errors under rule 60.01 are “the errors of form made by the court itself,” while mistakes under rule 60.02 are errors of a more substantial nature and include “error[s] of the parties in expressing their basic intent.”  Pelzer, 2004 WL 837872, at *2.  We held that the error in the parties’ decree was not “solely an ‘error of the parties in expressing their basic intent.’  Instead, the decree is erroneous and ambiguous on its face, and should be corrected to clarify this ambiguity.”  Id.  This court concluded that the district court “erred in determining that it could not re-open and correct the judgment to reflect its contemporaneous intent,” and remanded “to the district court to correct its clerical errors under rule 60.01, and to clarify the terms of the original decree.”  Id.     

            At the hearing on remand, the district court received extrinsic evidence of the parties’ intent regarding the property division, including evidence of prior transactions involving the marital property and evidence concerning the parties’ use of their property following the divorce.  The court concluded that the parties intended that respondent receive all the land west of Highway 23 and that appellant receive all the land east of Highway. 23.  The court observed that (1) the judgment and decree refers to appellant’s property award as “across the highway” and “across from the homestead”; (2) appellant conceded that Exhibit A was erroneous in that, although it purported to describe only her property, it described the homestead and property the parties had previously sold as well; and (3) the decree contains a total acreage and states that appellant’s property is “approximately 101 acres,” but does not specify the acreage of respondent’s property.  The court took this last fact as an indication that the parties were unaware of the exact acreage of their respective parcels and that the acreage set forth in the decree may not be used as a definitive measure of the intended distribution. 

            The court ordered that the decree’s legal description of the homestead awarded to respondent be amended to include the disputed ten acres located west of Highway 23; that Exhibit A be corrected to reflect that appellant’s property was located only in the eastern portion; and that the decree’s reference to approximate acreage be corrected to reflect that appellant’s property is approximately 91 acres and respondent’s approximately 43 acres.  This appeal follows.


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).  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.  Redmond, 594 N.W.2d at 275.  If the dissolution decree is ambiguous, the decree may be clarified, provided such clarification does not change the parties’ substantive rights.  Kornberg v. Kornberg, 542 N.W.2d 379, 388 (Minn. 1996); see also Thompson v. Thompson, 385 N.W.2d 20, 22 (Minn. App. 1986) (explaining that a clarification does not result in a judgment different from the original but “serves only to express accurately the thoughts the judgment intended to convey”). 

Whether a writing is ambiguous is a question of law subject to de novo review.  State by Humphrey v. Delano Cmty. Dev. Corp., 571 N.W.2d 233, 236 (Minn. 1997).  But here, this court has already concluded that the dissolution decree was ambiguous due to clerical error and that amendment was necessary to implement the parties’ intent.  Pelzer v. Pelzer, No. A03-1328, 2004 WL 837872 (Minn. App. Apr. 20, 2004).  That conclusion is controlling as the law of the case.  See Brezinka v. Bystrom Bros., Inc., 403 N.W.2d 841, 843 (Minn. 1987) (explaining that under the doctrine of law of the case, “where an appellate court has passed on a legal question and remanded to the court below for further proceedings[, t]he legal question thus determined by the appellate court will not be re-examined on a second appeal of the same case”). 

We reject the argument of appellant that our standard of review of the district court’s determinations must be de novo.  Where, as here, the district court admits extrinsic evidence to resolve ambiguity and determine the parties’ intent, “the meaning of ambiguous language is a question of fact.”  Anderson v. Archer, 510 N.W.2d 1, 4 (Minn. App. 1993).  A district court’s findings of fact will not be reversed unless clearly erroneous.  Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01; see also Ladwig v. Chatters, 623 N.W.2d 266, 267 (Minn. App. 2001) (stating that “[t]he appellate court gives great weight to the trial court’s construction of its own judgment”).  A finding is “clearly erroneous” if the reviewing court is “left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made.”  Fletcher v. St. Paul Pioneer Press, 589 N.W.2d 96, 101 (Minn. 1999) (quotation omitted).    

In light of this court’s previous opinion in this matter, we must also reject appellant’s argument that any ambiguity in the decree was not the result of clerical error and that relief was therefore unwarranted under rule 60.01.  Brezinka, 403 N.W.2d at 843.  The issue now before us is whether the district court clearly erred by finding that the parties’ intent was that respondent receive the entire portion of the land of the parties located west of Highway 23.  We see no error.

The district court made two principal findings of fact in support of its interpretation of the ambiguous language in the decree.  First, the court found that when the parties sold, and subsequently repurchased in 1987, the portion of the land west of Highway 23, the legal description used in the transactions excluded the ten acres disputed here; that the other parties involved in those transactions testified at the hearing that they believed they had purchased, and subsequently sold back to appellant and respondent, all of the property on the west side of the highway.  Second, the court found that the language of the decree variously designated the property awarded to appellant as “the real estate located across from the homestead” and the “[p]roperty [a]cross the [h]ighway.”  These findings of the court have support in the record and are not clearly erroneous.  Although findings concerning the parties’ use of the land following the divorce were also included,[1] we do not rely on those findings; they have little relevance to the issue of the parties’ intent at the time the decree was drafted.

Appellant urges that the parties’ intent is best ascertained by the statements of acreage in the decree and that the contradictory references therein to Highway 23 as the boundary between the parties’ portions must be disregarded.  She maintains that the decree unambiguously intended to grant her 101 acres, located on either side of the highway.  This court, however, has already determined that the decree is ambiguous.  Appellant’s objections to the district court’s resolution of the decree’s ambiguities are, in essence, challenges to the weight accorded certain evidence and to the logic of the court’s analysis.  Both challenges address areas that are clearly within the district court’s discretion.  See Ladwig, 623 N.W.2d at 267; Fontaine v. Hoffman, 359 N.W.2d 692, 694 (Minn. App. 1984) (stating amount of weight accorded evidence is a matter for the district court). 

This court, in its remand to the district court, stated:

Because we find conflicting and ambiguous language on the face of the decree concerning the distribution of the parties’ property, we reverse and remand to the district court to correct its clerical errors under rule 60.01, and to clarify the terms of the original decree.


Pelzer, 2004 WL 837872, at *2.

On remand, the district court credited respondent’s position that the parties’ intent was best ascertained by the references to the highway as a dividing line, regardless of the decree’s acreage awards.  This resolution by the district court of the ambiguities in the decree has reasonable support in the record and is not clearly erroneous.


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

[1]  The order issued after the remand hearing includes an observation that “[b]etween the divorce proceedings and motion proceedings, [respondent] has exercised exclusive dominion and control over the property on the west side of the highway.  [Appellant] did not object to [respondent’s] use of this property.”