This opinion will be unpublished and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 Marriage of:
Anthony Edward Pelzer, petitioner,
Monica Eleanor Pelzer,
Filed November 15, 2005
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
Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge; Randall, Judge; and Huspeni, Judge.*
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
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.
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 (
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);
Whether a writing
is ambiguous is a question of law subject to de novo review. State
by Humphrey v.
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.”
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, 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 (
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.
 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.”