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be unpublished and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
Evelyn C. Wallace,
of the Estate of
Filed August 15, 2006
Hennepin County District Court
File No. C2-05-6546
Evelyn C. Wallace, 9613 Glenside Court, Sun Lakes, Arizona
85248 (pro se appellant)
Mike Hatch, Attorney General,
John S. Garry, Assistant Attorney General, 1100 Bremer
Tower, 445 Minnesota Street,
St. Paul, Minnesota
Ronald J. Riach, Franke &
Riach, P.A., 1000 West County Road E, Suite 200, Shoreview, Minnesota 55126
(attorney pro se)
Considered and decided by Worke, Presiding Judge;
Hudson, Judge; and Dietzen, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
this pro se action against respondent Ramsey County
district court and respondent Ronald Riach, the special administrator of the
estate of James Kayser, appellant Evelyn Wallace is seeking injunctive relief
and damages based on her claim that she owns the decedent’s homestead. Because the district court correctly
concluded that the doctrine of collateral estoppel barred Wallace’s action, we
April 1978, the marriage of James H. Kayser and appellant Wallace was dissolved
by a judgment and decree. In October
1978 a quit-claim deed was executed in favor of James H. Kayser to the
homestead—an approximately 12.5-acre property located in Maplewood, Minnesota. In July 1986, decedent recorded an amended
judgment and decree that was dated October 6, 1978. The amended decree awarded the homestead to
the decedent, divesting Wallace’s interest in the homestead and conveying it to
decedent. The quit-claim deed was
recorded in 1999.
June 3, 2003 James H. Kayser died testate.
Decedent’s will left all of the residue of his estate to his current
spouse, Jesusa Kayser, and their two minor children. The will expressly disinherited all other
parties not specifically named in the will.
On June 13, Ronald Riach, decedent’s longtime attorney, filed an
application for informal probate of the will and appointment of personal
representative of the Kayser estate.
William Kayser and Nancy Johnson Lazaryan, two of the adult children of
decedent and Wallace, contested the will, alleging that decedent lacked
June 2004, acting on behalf of Wallace, William Kayser filed an affidavit of
survivorship with the Ramsey County Recorders Office, claiming that Wallace was
the surviving joint tenant of the homestead property. Sometime before June 16, Wallace and her
agents, without the permission of the special administrator, changed the locks
on the homestead, posted no-trespassing signs, and took possession of the
homestead property. On June 18, Riach,
as the special administrator of the estate, requested a temporary restraining
order (TRO) prohibiting Wallace, her two children, or their agents from
entering the property. The judge hearing
the probate matter granted the request and issued the TRO. Within a day or two after the issuance of the
TRO, appellants or their agents returned to decedent’s property and again
changed the locks. Based primarily on
its determination that the homestead was owned solely by decedent at the time
of his death, on June 28, the Ramsey
County district court issued
a temporary injunction against Wallace, her two children, or their agents.
the probate trial in August 2004, the Ramsey County
district court considered the issue of testamentary capacity and the special
administrator’s request for a permanent injunction. In its September 9, 2004 order, the district
court concluded that decedent possessed testamentary capacity and that: (a) at
the time of his death, decedent’s homestead was owned in fee simple by the
decedent and was a probate asset, rightfully under the control of the special
administrator; and (b) Wallace had no right, title, or interest in the
March 2005, the Ramsey
County district court
authorized the special administrator to sell the homestead for $1,150,000. In July, Wallace filed a separate action
against the special administrator and the Ramsey County
district court and sought a temporary injunction to prohibit destruction of the
homestead. Because the Ramsey County
district court was named as a defendant, the case was transferred to the Hennepin County district court. By order dated July 15, 2005, Wallace’s
motion for an injunction was denied. The
district court based its decision on the collateral-estoppel effect of the
determination in the underlying probate case that Wallace had no ownership
interest in decedent’s property. Citing Dahlberg, the district court concluded
that Wallace had little likelihood of success on the merits. See Dahlberg Bros. v. Ford Motor Co., 272 Minn. 264, 275, 137
N.W.2d 314, 321 (1965) (providing a five-factor test, one of which is to
consider “[t]he likelihood that one party or the other will prevail on the
merits when the fact situation is viewed in light of established precedents
fixing the limits of equitable relief”).
In August 2005, Riach filed a motion to dismiss and for rule 11
sanctions regarding this separate action. The Hennepin
County district court granted the
motion to dismiss, concluding that Wallace’s claims were barred by collateral
estoppel and that the Ramsey
County district court was
not properly included as a defendant in the action. In addition, the order granted sanctions as
Wallace is prohibited from filing any new court actions related to the estate
of [James] Kayser and/or the property located [in] Maplewood, Minnesota
unless and until she pays all of the costs imposed in this action and posts a
$2,000 cost bond with the court in which she brings the action.
D E C
I S I O N
Wallace raises numerous issues challenging the validity of the Hennepin County district court’s dismissal of her
“quiet-title” action. The vast majority of issues raised by Wallace
directly relate to decisions made by the probate division of the Ramsey County
district court. In the probate action, the
court heard testimony on the issue of ownership of the decedent’s property and
specifically found that Wallace did not have an interest in the homestead
property. Appellant argues that the Hennepin
County district court erred by determining that her right, title, and interest
in real property was properly adjudicated in the Ramsey County district court’s
probate hearing on her request for injunctive relief. Because appellant’s challenge is an improper
collateral attack on the decision of another court in a separate suit, the
issue is not whether her ownership interest in decedent’s estate was properly adjudicated, but whether it was
finally adjudicated. The probate issues were adjudicated, that
decision was affirmed on appeal to this court, and review was denied. Estate
of Kayser, No. A04-1910 (Minn. App. June 28, 2005), review denied (Minn.
Aug. 24, 2005). In the interest of
finality, this court will not reexamine the findings and conclusions of law in
that prior action.
three issues that remain are (1) whether the doctrine of collateral estoppel
was available to the district court; (2) whether the Ramsey County
district court was properly dismissed from the action; and (3) whether the
sanctioning of appellant was appropriate.
challenges the availability of collateral estoppel as a method of dismissing
her action. Collateral estoppel is a
legal doctrine that bars the relitigation of issues that are both identical with
issues already litigated by the parties in a prior action and essential to the
resulting judgment. Heine v. Simon, 674 N.W.2d 411, 421 (Minn. App. 2004). The availability of collateral estoppel is a
mixed question of law and fact subject to de novo review. Falgren
v. State, Bd. of Teaching, 545 N.W.2d 901, 905 (Minn. 1996).
Collateral estoppel is available when: “(1) the issue was identical to
one in a prior adjudication; (2) there was a final judgment on the merits; (3)
the estopped party was a party or in privity with a party to the prior
adjudication; and (4) the estopped party was given a full and fair opportunity
to be heard on the adjudicated issue.” Heine, 674 N.W.2d at 421.
of the essential issues in the probate action was Wallace’s ownership right in
the property. After hearing testimony,
the probate court determined that Wallace did not have an ownership interest in
the property. An essential issue in
Wallace’s current action is whether Wallace has an ownership interest in the
property. Because Wallace’s ownership
interest in the property was one of the principal issues in the prior probate adjudication,
the first factor is satisfied.
order of the probate court was appealed to and affirmed by this court. Estate
of Kayser, No. A04-1910 (Minn. App. June 28, 2005), review denied (Minn.
Aug. 24, 2005). Because there was a
final judgment on the merits, the second factor is satisfied.
argues that she was not a party to nor in privity with parties in the
underlying suit that determined she had no legal interest in the homestead
property. The Hennepin County
district court specifically found that Wallace “was either party to the TRO and
permanent injunction portion of the probate proceeding or that she was in
privity with William Kayser and Nancy Lazaryan.” This court will not set aside a district court’s
findings of fact unless the findings are clearly erroneous. Minn.
R. Civ. P. 52.01. In addition, due
regard is given to the opportunity of the district court to judge the
credibility of the witnesses. Id. The record indicates that Wallace was
specifically named in both the TRO and the injunction actions. Wallace is the mother of both William Kayser
and Lazaryan, and all three have brought actions against the estate of
decedent, decedent’s personal representative, the probate court, and the
district court judge in this probate matter. William Kayser filed a notice of lis pendens
with the Ramsey County recorder on behalf of his mother,
claiming that she was the fee owner of decedent’s homestead. In the most recent action, Nancy Lazaryan
listed herself on the notice of lis pendens as “attorney in fact for Evelyn C.
Wallace.” Although not listed as an
appellant, this court’s unpublished decision affirming the permanent injunction
refers to Wallace by name nine times. See Estate of Kayser, No. A04-1910
(Minn. App. June 28, 2005), review denied
24, 2005). There is sufficient support
in the record for the district court’s findings that Wallace and her children
were claiming the same legal rights with respect to Wallace’s alleged ownership
interest in decedent’s property and were working in privity with each
other. Accordingly, the district court’s
findings are not clearly erroneous, and the third factor is satisfied.
Wallace argues that she did not have
a full and fair opportunity to be heard on the ownership issue. The district court in Hennepin County
specifically found that Wallace “had a full and fair opportunity to be heard on
the ownership issue or that those in privity with [her] (i.e., Ms. Lazaryan and
Mr. Kayser) had a full and fair opportunity to be heard on the ownership
issue.” Again, this court will not
overturn the findings of the district court unless they are clearly erroneous. Minn.
R. Civ. P. 52.01. The record indicates
that both William Kayser and Lazaryan attended the temporary injunction hearing
on June 25, 2004. The record further
indicates that both were present for at least portions of the probate/permanent
injunction trial and chose not to be represented. Lazaryan was allowed to read a short
statement at the beginning of the trial, but neither Lazaryan nor William Kayser
called any witnesses to support their claims.
Further, Lazaryan and William Kayser were again present, pro se, for two
days of hearings on the proposed sale of the property. There is ample support in the record for the
district court’s findings that Wallace had a full and fair opportunity to be
heard on the ownership issue by appearing at these hearings or appearing through
those in privity with her. The district
court did not clearly err in its findings that the fourth factor of collateral
estoppel was satisfied.
Because all four factors were satisfied,
the doctrine of collateral estoppel was available to the Hennepin County
district court on the issue of Wallace’s ownership interest.
it is determined that collateral estoppel is available, the decision to apply
the doctrine is left to the trial court’s discretion.” In re Trusts
Created by Hormel, 504 N.W.2d 505, 509 (Minn. App. 1993), review denied (Minn. Oct. 19, 1993). Because appellant has not argued that the
application of the doctrine was an abuse of discretion, we do not consider this
matter. See Melina v. Chaplin, 327 N.W.2d 19, 20 (Minn. 1982) (stating that issues not briefed
on appeal are waived). Thus, we conclude
that the district court did not err in finding that collateral estoppel was
available and that the district court properly exercised its discretion by
applying it to dismiss appellant’s cause of action.
argues that Ramsey
County district court was
improperly dismissed from this action.
Because appellant’s cause of action was properly dismissed due to a
failure to meet an essential requirement—namely, plaintiff’s ownership interest
in the property—all parties were properly dismissed, and we do not reach this
argues that because the issue of ownership was not “properly adjudicated” in
the probate action, the district court had no basis for awarding sanctions for
bringing a frivolous and unsupported lawsuit.
courts are reluctant to sanction a pro se party with costs and disbursements,
but have the discretion to do so when a party’s conduct warrants it. Liedtke
v. Fillenworth, 372 N.W.2d 50, 52 (Minn. App. 1985), review denied (Minn.
Sept. 13, 1985). On review, this court
will not reverse a district court’s sanctions under rule 11 or Minn. Stat. § 549.211
absent an abuse of discretion. Uselman v. Uselman, 464 N.W.2d 130, 145
(Minn. 1990); Leonard v. Nw. Airlines, 605 N.W.2d 425, 432 (Minn. App. 2000). “Although some accommodations may be made for
pro se litigants, this court has repeatedly emphasized that 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 (Minn. App. 2001).
Rule 11 of the
Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure provides, in pertinent part, as follows:
presenting to the court (whether by signing, filing, submitting, or later
advocating) a pleading, written motion, or other paper, an attorney or
unrepresented party is certifying that to the best of the person’s knowledge,
information and belief, formed after an inquiry reasonable under the
it is not being presented for any improper purpose, such as to harass or to
cause unnecessary delay or needless increase in the cost of litigation[.]
. . . .
after notice and a reasonable opportunity to respond, the court determines that
[the rule] has been violated, the court may . . . impose an
appropriate sanction upon the [persons] responsible for the violation.
Minn. R. Civ. P.
11.02–.03 (2006); see also Minn.
Stat. § 549.211, subds. 2, 3, 5 (2004) (giving the court authority to
sanction parties but limiting the sanctions imposed to “what is sufficient to
deter repetition of the conduct or comparable conduct by others similarly
the district court sanctioned appellant because the issue of ownership of the
property had been finally decided and this action was frivolous and
unwarranted. The district court found
that appellant was “acting in concert with her children in the multiple
lawsuits involving the estate and the [p]roperty” as a way to harass and cause
a needless increase in litigation costs.
The district court then fashioned sanctions that it believed would be
the least restrictive to deter appellant’s conduct. The sanctions imposed required payment of costs
and disbursements incurred by respondent, plus requiring appellant to post a
$2,000 cost bond before filing any future action in Minnesota concerning the same property
and/or the estate of the decedent. The
sanctions imposed appear reasonably calculated to deter similar future conduct
by appellant or her children, and we conclude that the district court did not
abuse its discretion.