This opinion will be unpublished and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:
Wilmer Edward Fritz, petitioner,
Filed January 17, 2006
Affirmed; motion denied
Scott County District Court
File No. 2004-00161
T. Burns, Jr., Burns Law Office, 115 Midway Bank Building,
Jodi J. Langhorst, Langhorst & Payne Law Office, PLLC, 16186 Main Avenue SE, Suite 200, Prior Lake, MN 55372 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge; Toussaint, Chief Judge; and Worke, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
On appeal, appellant Wilmer Edward Fritz challenges the district court order denying his motion to enforce certain terms of the judgment arguing that the district court erred in ruling that certain debts be paid by the family corporation, and the provisions regarding respondent Lynn Marie Fritz’s obligation to facilitate refinancing the home were ambiguous. Because we conclude that the district court did not err in ruling that the provisions in the judgment and decree were clear and unambiguous, we affirm.
D E C I S I O N
a general rule, property divisions in dissolution actions are final and can be
modified only if the standards that justify reopening a judgment exist,
including fraud, mistake, and inadvertent neglect. Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2(e) (2004);
Appellant argues that the language contained in paragraphs 8 and 9 of the judgment and decree is ambiguous. Paragraph 8 of the decree provides that “[appellant] has until December 13, 2004 to qualify for re-financing and buy out [r]espondent’s interest in the homestead[,]” and it describes the procedure to be used to determine the appraisal value of the home, as well as how the refinancing proceeds are to be distributed. According to the decree, the refinancing proceeds were to be distributed as follows:
(1) Expenses of the re-financing . . . ;
(2) The current mortgage debt;
(3) The outstanding federal and state corporate, income and payroll tax debt, including taxes due on loans to the parties, incurred by the parties’ now dissolved corporation . . . . The parties agree that each has fifty-percent (50%) liability for said corporate, federal and state debt incurred by [the corporation], as detailed in paragraph 9, infra.
. . .
Any remaining proceeds after the occurrence of the above events shall be divided so that one-half (1/2) of the proceeds shall be paid to [appellant] and one-half (1/2) shall be paid to [r]espondent.
Paragraph 9 of the decree states:
Each party has fifty-percent (50%) liability and shall pay one-half of the corporate, federal and State of Minnesota income and payroll tax debt, including taxes on loans to the parties incurred by the parties’ now dissolved corporation, . . . from the equity in the home as set forth herein, and shall indemnify and hold the other party harmless from their obligation as described above. Corporate credit card debt shall be paid by the corporation. Each party shall pay one-half of any credit card debt which is a joint obligation. Respondent may file bankruptcy following the entry of the decree to discharge the personal debt she has incurred, as provided in the Bankruptcy Code.
Appellant completed the refinancing process and the closing was scheduled for November 12, 2004. The parties agreed on an appraised value of $334,000 for the home, and they agreed to the following amounts: closing costs $7,079.23, mortgage payoff $123,969.85, and tax obligations $80,794.10. After these costs were deducted, approximately $122,000 in net equity remained. The November 12 closing did not occur. Respondent claims that she refused to sign the lien release because she disagreed with appellant’s argument that the remaining equity in the home is entirely offset by $146,898.78 in joint corporate credit card debt. Respondent believed that she was entitled to payment at closing of $67,640.52 for her equity in the homestead.
Appellant moved the district court for an order (1) requiring respondent to execute the necessary documents to allow appellant to refinance the homestead, (2) finding that respondent receive no payment from the proceeds of the refinancing, (3) requiring appellant to be responsible for satisfying the remaining debt of the parties, and (4) awarding appellant attorney fees in connection with the motion. Respondent filed a countermotion opposing appellant’s motion and requesting an order directing that the homestead be sold and awarding respondent attorney fees in connection with the motion. The district court ruled that the decree “clearly and unambiguously requires that only the expenses associated with re-financing or sale, the unpaid mortgage, and the corporate state and federal tax amounts, including taxes related to loans made to [the corporation], may be deducted from the proceeds of the re-financing or sale of the parties’ homestead.” The district court further stated, “it was clear to [appellant] at the time that [the] parties reached the property settlement that [r]espondent fully intended to file for bankruptcy to discharge her share of the debts.”
Appellant did not request that the district court reopen judgment and decree, but rather requested that the district court issue an order enforcing certain provisions within the decree. Appellant argues that paragraph 8(a)(3) of the decree is ambiguous because, while it can be read as limiting corporate debt to tax debt, it creates an ambiguity by referencing the parties’ 50% liability for corporate, federal and state debt as detailed in paragraph 9 of the decree. Paragraph 9 provides that the parties are equally responsible for tax debts, which were to be paid from the equity in the homestead, and equally responsible for joint credit card debt. Appellant argues that the sentence, “[c]orporate credit card debt shall be paid by the corporation” is ambiguous because the corporation had been dissolved. Appellant also argues that the effect of the next sentence, addressing respondent’s intent to file for bankruptcy on her “personal debt,” would permit respondent to evade payment and make appellant solely responsible for the payment obligation.
Paragraphs 8 and 9 of the decree are clear as to which debts were to be paid from the equity in the homestead: the expenses of the refinancing, the existing mortgage debt, and the outstanding federal and state corporate, income and payroll tax debt. The parties agreed on the specific amounts of those debts. After those debts were paid from the refinancing proceeds, each party was entitled to one-half of the remaining equity. Pursuant to the decree, those are the only debts to be paid from the equity in the homestead. Each party was separately responsible for one-half of the remaining “joint obligations” in paragraph 9. The only exception was the corporate credit card debt which was to be paid by the corporation. During a hearing on September 13, 2004, appellant’s trial attorney acknowledged that the parties’ corporation had already been dissolved, and stated, “[f]inally, any corporate credit card debt will be assumed by the corporation and paid off by the corporation.” Therefore, appellant’s argument that the statement in paragraph 9 regarding corporate credit card debt is ambiguous fails. The sentence clearly and unambiguously reflects the parties’ agreement that the corporate credit card debt is to be paid by the corporation. Appellant’s attorney also acknowledged the fact that appellant was aware that respondent intended to file bankruptcy on her share of the remaining debt following the refinancing or sale of the homestead. The district court stated that while it acknowledged appellant’s desire to pay off all marital debt, even though he was not obligated to do so by the terms of the decree, it would not allow him to rewrite the decree so as to facilitate his objective. Based on the record, the district court did not err in ruling that the judgment and decree clearly and unambiguously set forth the debts to be paid from the equity in the homestead, and those debts which the parties were each personally responsible for after the refinancing or sale of the homestead.
Finally, respondent moves for attorney fees on appeal. Respondent asserts that she does not have the financial resources to pay for the costs of this appeal. The documentation submitted in support of respondent’s request reflects $7,954.36 in fees associated with this appeal. Respondent also requests conduct-based attorney fees arguing that appellant has unreasonably contributed to the expense of these proceedings. Because we find that respondent has the ability to pay for her own attorney fees, and that appellant has not unreasonably contributed to the length and expense of this proceeding, respondent’s motion for attorney fees is denied.
Affirmed; motion denied.