This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

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






William H. Otis,





Dona E. Conway,



Filed January 10, 2006

Klaphake, Judge


Fillmore County District Court

File No. CX-02-472


William H. Otis, 1 Alarcon Lane, Hot Springs Village, AR  71909 (pro se appellant)


Thomas M. Manion, Jr., 600 Kenilworth Avenue South, P.O. Box 420, Lanesboro, MN  55949 (for respondent)


            Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Wright, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            Pro se appellant William H. Otis brought this suit against respondent Dona E. Conway in 2002 after their engagement was cancelled.  Appellant sought recovery of certain personal property, including a diamond engagement ring and compensation for services he provided to respondent in the form of tax work.  Appellant alleged that the property and services were not gifts to respondent, but given in anticipation of the marriage.  Following a one-day trial, the district court issued detailed findings and conclusions.  In particular, the court concluded that the tax services rendered, cash advances, furniture bought, and bills paid were not gifts made in contemplation of marriage.  The court further concluded that appellant failed to prove by a fair preponderance of the evidence that respondent owes him money or that she continues to possess the engagement ring.  The district court dismissed appellant’s complaint and amended complaint with prejudice.  The court also denied appellant’s motions to reconsider and for a new trial.

            Because the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying appellant’s posttrial motions, we affirm.


            Appellant argues that he is entitled to reconsideration or a new trial because “the only defense offered by [respondent as of] the date of trial was that money and property given [to her by appellant] were [i]rrevocable gifts” and that no other defense was raised in respondent’s answer.  Appellant insists that in this defense, respondent “admits [that] she took the property as gifts.”  Appellant further insists that he was surprised by respondent’s trial testimony, which denied the existence of these gifts and which he claims constituted perjury.

            Appellant’s complaint alleged that during the parties’ engagement, he allowed certain assets to be kept by respondent in anticipation of marriage and claimed that these gifts should be returned to him as the grantor.  As such, his claims appear based on the doctrine set out in Benassi v. Back & Neck Pain Clinic, Inc., 629 N.W.2d 475, 483-86 (Minn. App. 2001) (holding that engagement ring given in contemplation of marriage is  conditional gift that should be returned to donor if marriage plans are abandoned by parties), review denied (Minn. Sept. 11, 2001).  Respondent’s answer “denies each and every allegation of the complaint,” denies that she owes any money to appellant, and “to the extent any property . . . was transferred to [her], said transfers were completed and irrevocable gifts.”  Thus, respondent’s answer cannot be considered an admission of the existence of these gifts.  To the contrary, she was free to deny that she owed appellant money, that she still had the ring, or that any gifts she did receive were accepted by her in contemplation of marriage.

            A motion to reconsider is “prohibited except by express permission of the [district] court, which will be granted only upon a showing of compelling circumstances.”  Minn. Gen. R. Pract. 115.11.  A district court has broad discretion when determining whether to grant a new trial.  Siegler v. Conner, 396 N.W.2d 612, 616 (Minn. App. 1986) (stating that appellate court defers to district court’s exercise of authority on new trial motion, as district court has feel for trial).  Appellant, however, fails to specify the grounds for his new trial motion.  See Waldner v. Peterson, 447 N.W.2d 217, 219 (Minn. App. 1989) (holding that new trial motion that fails to identify specific grounds must be affirmed on appeal).

            Even if we liberally construe appellant’s motion as raising specific grounds, we cannot conclude that the district court abused its discretion in denying him a new trial.  See, e.g., Minn. R. Civ. P. 59.01(a) (irregularity of proceedings “whereby the moving party was deprived of a fair trial”), (b) (misconduct of prevailing party), (c) (surprise “which could not have been prevented by ordinary prudence”), (d) (“[m]aterial evidence newly discovered, which with reasonable diligence could not have been found and produced at the trial”).  As the district court recognized, the majority of appellant’s arguments “boil down to him being unprepared for trial and not having any rebuttal witnesses available or ready to testify.”  The district court noted that appellant “had ample opportunity to prepare for the [October 2003] court trial” because the original complaint was filed in August 2002.  The court further noted that even though appellant was appearing pro se, it was his duty to present his case and submit evidence.  The court finally noted that because the evidence appellant sought to submit was known to him at the time of trial, appellant’s request to reopen the case for additional discovery would be denied.

            Pro se litigants are generally held to the same standards as attorneys and must comply with court rules.  Fitzgerald v. Fitzgerald, 629 N.W.2d 115, 119-20 (Minn. App. 2001) (affirming finding that pro se appellant failed to meet his burden of proof, where record shows that district court explained, and appellant understood, necessity of presenting evidence at trial).  Here, appellant had the burden to present evidence in support of his claims, yet he failed to properly prepare for trial and conducted no discovery.  See Gebhard v. Niedzwiecki, 265 Minn. 471, 476, 122 N.W.2d 110, 114 (1963) (stating that purpose of discovery is to prevent unjust surprise by ascertaining all relevant facts prior to trial).

            A district court nevertheless has a duty to ensure fairness to a pro se litigant by allowing reasonable accommodation so long as the adverse party is not prejudiced.  Kasson State Bank v. Haugen, 410 N.W.2d 392, 395 (Minn. App. 1987) (reversing grant of summary judgment against pro se litigant where litigant requested continuance at hearing after learning of summary judgment motion day before).  The district court here provided reasonable accommodation to appellant, and, as the court indicated, it was “as patient as possible in its dealings with” appellant.  Contrary to appellant’s argument on appeal, the district court did not violate Minn. Code of Jud. Conduct, Canon 3, which requires a judge to perform his duties impartially and diligently; to be patient, dignified and courteous to litigants; and to accord every person the right to be heard.

            Finally, it should be noted that appellant does not really challenge the district court’s findings as not reasonably based on the evidence and testimony that was presented at trial.  The district court specifically found respondent’s testimony to be more credible than appellant’s.  See Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01 (providing that fact-finder has ability to judge credibility of witnesses).  The findings made by the district court are reasonably based on the evidence, not clearly erroneous, and support the court’s conclusions and its decision to dismiss appellant’s claims against respondent.