This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Judy L. Loppe, f/k/a Judy L. Bethel, petitioner,
Bradley J. Steiner,
Filed August 15, 2006
Hennepin County District Court
File No. DC 03-12588
John G. Westrick, Kirk M. Anderson, Westrick & McDowall-Nix, P.L.L.P., 450 Degree of Honor Building, 325 Cedar Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for appellant)
Stanford P. Hill, Bassford Remele, P.A.,
Considered and decided by Minge, Presiding Judge; Worke, Judge; and Forsberg, Judge.*
On appeal in this real-estate sale dispute, appellant argues that the district court erred by determining, with respect to her damages claim, that she abandoned her interests in the purchase agreement. Because of appellant’s failure to tender payment, equivocation over the terms of the purchase, reversion to a landlord-tenant relationship, and delay in asserting any claim from the purchase agreement, we conclude that the district court’s decision was not erroneous and affirm.
appeal arises from the district court’s decision on remand from this court in Loppe
v. Steiner, 699 N.W.2d 342 (Minn. App. 2005). The facts, as set forth in that opinion,
concern the parties’ claims over a certain
The litigation began with respondent filing an action to evict appellant from the property for nonpayment of rent in July 2003. Two weeks later, appellant filed a separate suit, claiming that respondent breached the purchase agreement for the property, and sought specific performance or damages.
The district court consolidated the actions. After a bench trial, the district court entered judgment dismissing appellant’s claims with prejudice and ordering her to vacate the property. The district court subsequently amended its conclusions of law to state in part that:
[Appellant’s] attempt to reduce the contract price to $52,500 and her subsequent failure to initiate a specific performance action within the six (6) months specified by the black letter of the purchase agreement constitute an abandonment of the purchase agreement by [appellant]. [Appellant] has also failed to establish the reasonableness of her failure to exercise her rights pursuant to the black letter of the purchase agreement and, as such, has failed to prove up the elements of her claim for relief.
The district court’s attached memorandum also stated that respondent “concedes that [appellant] may be correct that her demand for a $52,500.00 actual purchase price did not constitute a rejection of the purchase agreement.”
the earlier appeal, this court considered in part whether appellant abandoned
her interests in the purchase agreements, thus abandoning her claim for
damages. Loppe, 699 N.W.2d at 350.
Concluding that the district court erred by failing to specifically
address appellant’s claim for damages, this court noted the presence of several
facts that were inconsistent with abandonment.
On remand, the district court directed the parties to submit memoranda on the issues and ultimately decided that with respect to the damages claim appellant had abandoned her interest in the purchase agreement. The district court based its finding of abandonment on appellant’s “demand that the purchase price of the property at issue be reduced to $52,500 and her actions subsequent to the [scheduled] May 2001 closing date.” This appeal follows.
basic issue is whether the record supports the district court’s determination
that with respect to the damages claim appellant abandoned her interests in the
purchase agreement. Whether a purchase
agreement has been abandoned is a mixed question of law and fact. See Langford Tool & Drill Co. v.
Phenix Biocomposites, L.L.C., 668 N.W.2d 438, 442 (
As this court noted in our first decision in this case,
the “voluntary relinquishment of an interest by the owner with the intent of
terminating his ownership.” Melco Inv. Co. v. Gapp, 259
Loppe v. Steiner,699 N.W.2d 342, 350 (
Appellant relies heavily upon this court’s emphasis of the facts contradictingabandonment in our first review of the case, when we stated
appellant took steps to proceed
with the closing, checked title to the property, retained possession of the
abstract of title, arranged for homeowner’s insurance, extended the interest
rate commitment from her lender, requested a new closing date, remained on the
premises – albeit as a tenant, and ultimately refused to pay rent to force
resolution of the matter. During this
entire time, the parties represented to
On remand, the district court determined that, together with her actions after the planned closing date, appellant’s post-purchase agreement demand that the purchase price of the property be reduced to $52,500 constituted an abandonment of the purchase agreement as to appellant’s right to pursue damages. The district court pointed particularly to the facts that appellant failed to pay respondent under the contract, including a failure to pay any earnest money, and that she waited until two years after the scheduled closing date to assert her rights under the contract. The district court also noted that appellant continued to pay rent as respondent’s tenant after the scheduled closing date.
contends that because the purchase agreement did not limit the time in which a
claim for damages can be brought, the six-year statute of limitations applies
to her claim. See Minn. Stat. § 541.05, subd. 1(1) (2004). Appellant contends that she did not abandon
her claim because she brought it well within the statute of limitations period. The statute of limitations is a legislative
declaration limiting the time period in which a claim may be brought: “[t]he
purpose of a statute of limitations is to prescribe a period within which a right
may be enforced and after which a remedy is unavailable for reasons of private
justice and public policy.” Entzion
v. Ill. Farmers Ins. Co., 675 N.W.2d 925, 928 (
operates independently of the statute of limitations, and a contract may be
abandoned before the statute of limitations for a claim runs. Lapse of time may show an intent to abandon,
but it is not the sole indicator of abandonment. See
Real estate purchase agreements are invariably short-term contracts to bind the parties until they complete the transaction with a closing. The limiting time for specific performance in this case and in the standard forms is designed to avoid title disputes. Although damage claims are not similarly limited in this document, a party who walks away from the purchase situation demonstrates a lack of interest in the transaction. As the controversy before us indicates, the fluctuating value in property and the parties’ understanding of the temporary nature of the agreement make the principle of abandonment crucial. Stale claims expose participants in the real estate market to far-reaching risks.
We recognize that the circumstances in this case could lead to more than one conclusion. In the period shortly after the closing date, appellant took steps to protect her position as a purchaser and indicated her willingness to close. She alludes to her romantic relationship with appellant as an explanation of why she did not move more aggressively. However, she did ask for a better deal, paid rent, and allowed the situation to simply sit for almost two years.
The district court conducted a trial in this case, heard the witnesses, and was in the best position to determine the credibility of witnesses and the intentions of the parties. The district court found that appellant decided to abandon the purchase. Based on this finding, appellant does not have a claim under the purchase agreement for damages. We conclude that in this area of real estate purchase agreements, the district court did not misapply the law and that its ultimate conclusions are not an abuse of discretion.
Finally, we note that appellant argues that the district court erred in determining that appellant failed to produce sufficient evidence to determine the amount of damages. Because we affirm the district court’s determination that appellant abandoned her interests in the purchase agreement as to damages, we do not reach this issue regarding the calculation of damages.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.