This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

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






Kay Marie Caccia,

f/k/a Kay Marie Petersen,





Randall Gene Petersen,

by Leroy E. Petersen,

his guardian ad litem,



Filed June 27, 2006

Klaphake, Judge


Beltrami County District Court

File No. CX-04-0078


Thomas L. D’Albani, 205 Seventh Street N.W., Bemidji, MN  56601 (for respondent)


Michael R. Ruffenach, 504 Beltrami Avenue, P.O. Box 262, Bemidji, MN  56619 (for appellant)


            Considered and decided by Stoneburner, Presiding Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Dietzen, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            Appellant Randall Gene Petersen challenges the district court’s grant of summary judgment to respondent Kay Marie Caccia, permitting partition by sale of the parties’ former marital homestead, which the parties held as tenants in common pursuant to the dissolution judgment.  Appellant argues that the district court abused its discretion by refusing to consider equitable principles that would bar respondent from relief.

            Because appellant’s challenge is a collateral attack on the dissolution judgment, the district court did not abuse its discretion by granting summary judgment.  We therefore affirm.


            The district court may grant summary judgment if, based on the pleadings, affidavits, and discovery, there are no genuine issues of material fact and either party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.  Minn. R. Civ. P. 56.03. 

            A person having an interest in real property as a tenant in common with others may bring an action for partition.  Minn. Stat. § 558.01 (2004).  If physical partition of the property cannot be made without great prejudice to the owners, the court may order the property sold and the proceeds divided among the owners according to their interests in the property.  Id.  Although a partition action is governed by statute, the district court is guided by principles of equity.  Anderson v. Anderson, 560 N.W.2d 729, 730 (Minn. App. 1997), review dismissed (Minn. May 28, 1997).  The district court’s exercise of its equitable powers is reviewed for an abuse of discretion.  Nadeau v. County of Ramsey, 277 N.W.2d 520, 524 (Minn. 1979).  Findings of fact are reviewed for clear error.  Anderson, 560 N.W.2d at 730.

            The dissolution judgment gave each party a one-half interest in the marital homestead as tenants in common, but appellant was given sole possession of the property until it was sold.  In the partition action, the district court determined that both parties had an interest in the property, that partition of the 80 acres with improved home was not possible, and that the property should be sold.  These facts are undisputed by the parties, and neither party challenged the district court’s conclusion that partition by sale, rather than in kind, was preferred. 

            Appellant nevertheless argues that because a partition action is governed by equitable principles, respondent should be barred from asserting partition because of unclean hands.  See Swogger v. Taylor, 243 Minn. 458, 461, 68 N.W.2d 376, 380 (1955); Anderson, 560 N.W.2d at 730.  The baseline standard for equitable relief is that “he who seeks equity must do equity, and he who comes into equity must come with clean hands.”  Gully v. Gully, 599 N.W.2d 814, 825 (Minn. 1999) (quotation omitted).  “The doctrine of unclean hands ‘will be invoked only against a party whose conduct has been unconscionable by reason of a bad motive, or where the result induced by his conduct will be unconscionable.’”  Medtronic, Inc. v. Advanced Bionics Corp., 630 N.W.2d 438, 450 (Minn. App. 2001) (quoting Creative Comm’ns Consult., Inc. v. Gaylord, 403 N.W.2d 654, 658 (Minn. App. 1987)).  “Unclean hands” requires more than “improper purpose” or recklessness; the doctrine requires illegal or unconscionable conduct or a showing of bad faith.  Id.

            Appellant asserts that respondent took advantage of his mental illness and orchestrated a dissolution decree in which he received only one-half interest as tenant in common in the marital homestead, instead of a one-half interest and a life estate.  Appellant suggests that respondent had a fiduciary duty to him, particularly because he was not represented by counsel, and that she led him to believe that he had a life estate in the homestead.  Appellant argues that respondent should not be granted partition because of unclean hands.

            Divisions of marital property are final and may not be modified, except in narrow circumstances.  Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2(e) (2004).  The court may modify an otherwise final property division if a party can show mistake, inadvertence, surprise, excusable neglect, newly discovered evidence, or fraud, but the party alleging these circumstances must request modification within one year after the judgment was entered.  Minn. Stat. § 518.145, subd. 2 (2004). 

            The parties’ dissolution judgment was entered in 1998 and has not been challenged by either party; the division of property is therefore final.  By raising the issue of unclean hands, appellant is seeking to overturn the dissolution judgment.  Generally, a judgment valid on its face is not subject to collateral attack in another proceeding.  Greer v. Greer, 350 N.W.2d 439, 441 (Minn. App. 1984).  Under these circumstances, the district court did not err by granting summary judgment, despite appellant’s claim of unclean hands.

            Appellant also argues that respondent committed a fraud on the dissolution court by failing to disclose his mental illness.  This action is neither the dissolution action nor an independent action raising the issue of fraud on the court.  As such, appellant’s claim of fraud on the court is relevant only so far as it raises questions of equity.  In a dissolution matter, fraud on the court generally involves a material misrepresentation or nondisclosure that misleads the court and opposing counsel and results in an unfair property settlement.  Sanborn v. Sanborn, 503 N.W.2d, 499, 503 (Minn. App. 1993), review denied (Minn. Sept. 21, 1993).  Arguably, respondent’s failure to inform the court of appellant’s mental illness and possible incompetence satisfies the first two factors; but the property settlement itself was not unfair.  The homestead was divided equally between the parties and appellant was given exclusive possession, despite the fact that respondent received custody of the parties’ two minor children.  Respondent received no compensation for the years of exclusive possession enjoyed by appellant, except that she would be awarded half of the value when sold.  Under these circumstances, the property settlement was fair, and the record does not support a charge of fraud on the court, or establish that respondent acted with unclean hands.

            Finally, appellant argues that he is a vulnerable adult within the meaning of Minn. Stat. § 626.5572, subd. 21 (Supp. 2005), and that respondent financially exploited him by claiming an interest in the marital homestead and seeking partition of the property.

            A vulnerable adult is one who is either in a licensed facility, receives services at a licensed facility, receives homecare assistance from a licensed provider, or, as appellant claims to be,

            (4)    regardless of residence or whether any type of service is received, possesses a physical or mental infirmity or other physical, mental, or emotional dysfunction:

            (i)     that impairs the individual’s ability to provide adequately for the individual’s own care without assistance, including the provision of food, shelter, clothing, health care, or supervision; and

            (ii)    because of the dysfunction or infirmity and the need for assistance, the individual has an impaired ability to protect the individual from maltreatment.


Id.  Appellant does not fit this definition.  He participates in the work force, was awarded custody of the parties’ daughter with approval of the court, has bought and sold real estate, worked with a mental health counselor for a number of years, remarried, and lived without supervision, despite the recent appointment of a guardian ad litem.  Nor has respondent financially exploited appellant within the meaning of Minn. Stat. § 626.5572, subd. 9 (2004).  Financial exploitation includes the misuse of funds intended for the support of a vulnerable adult or the acquisition of funds intended for the vulnerable adult through harassment, duress, deception, or fraud.  Id.  Respondent had a legitimate interest in the partitioned property, and her request for partition does not involve harassment, duress, deception, or fraud.

            The district court’s decision to grant partition is well supported by the record and is not an abuse of discretion.  The factual elements essential to a partition action are not disputed by the parties, and respondent was entitled to judgment as a matter of law.  We therefore affirm the district court’s grant of summary judgment to respondent.