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be unpublished and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
County of Ramsey, Minnesota,
Filed August 15,
granted in part, denied in part
File No. C2-02-9271
Alfred Stanbury, Stanbury Law Firm P.A., 2209 St. Anthony Parkway, Minneapolis,
Susan Gaertner, Ramsey County Attorney, David F. MacMillan, Assistant
County Attorney, 50 West Kellogg Boulevard, Suite 315, St. Paul, MN 55102 (for respondents)
Considered and decided by Willis,
Presiding Judge; Lansing, Judge; and Parker, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
district court denied Ba Lam’s motion to enforce a settlement agreement through
exercise of the district court’s constructive civil-contempt powers, and Lam
appeals. Because the allegations of
breach do not constitute disobedience of any lawful judgment, order, or process
of the court, we affirm.
A C T S
Ba Lam and Ramsey County
have been engaged in a dispute since 2001 over the drainage of surface water
from a road adjacent to Lam’s property on Lake Johanna Boulevard in Arden Hills. Lam sued Ramsey County
and several employees of the county’s public works department, alleging
trespass, nuisance, mental anguish, inverse condemnation, and racial
discrimination. After three years of
litigation, during which some claims and counterclaims were decided on summary
judgment, Lam and Ramsey
County executed and filed
a settlement agreement in April 2005. On
the basis of the settlement agreement, Lam and Ramsey County
stipulated to dismissal of the litigation, and the district court entered a
judgment of dismissal.
the terms of the settlement agreement, the county stipulated that it would
construct a new drainage system to reroute the surface water, extend a curb abutting
Lam’s property, and place a new catchbasinon the paved portion of the road. The county further agreed to complete the
work by October 31, 2005, and to pay Lam $2,100. The county completed the new system on
November 8. The curb was not extended,
however, and the new catch basin was installed on the unpaved portion of the
filed a motion requesting the district court to issue an order requiring the
county to show cause why it should not be held in contempt for breach of the
settlement agreement. At the motion
hearing, the district court, on the record, denied Lam’s motion for
constructive civil contempt, concluding that Lam had not presented evidence of
deliberate disregard of a court order.
Lam appeals and also moves to strike two statements from the county’s
E C I S I O N
law, a court may hold a person in contempt for disobedience of any lawful
judgment, order, or process of the court.
Stat. § 588.01, subd. 3(3)(2004).
Contempt is constructive when the contemner’s acts occur outside the
court’s immediate presence. Id.
§ 588.01, subd. 3 (2004). Beforethe
court may find a person in contempt, contempt proceedings must be initiated by an order to
show cause served on the alleged contemner.
Minn. R. Gen. Pract. 309.01(a). The district court has broad discretion to
exercise its contempt powers, but contempt is appropriate only when a party has
acted “contumaciously, in bad faith, and out of disrespect for the judicial
process.” Minn. State Bar Ass’n v. Divorce Assistance Ass’n, Inc., 311 Minn. 276, 284, 248
N.W.2d 733, 740 (1976). We review a
district court’s contempt decision for an abuse of discretion. Mower County Human Servs. v. Swancutt, 551 N.W.2d
219, 222 (Minn.
Because the primary purpose of the court’s contempt power
is to provide a court with the means to enforce its orders, the exercise of
civil-contempt power is conditioned on the existence of an underlying order or
judgment that clearly defines the acts that the court seeks to enforce. See
Erickson v. Erickson, 385 N.W.2d 301, 304 (Minn.
1986) (stating purpose of court’s contempt power); Mr. Steak v. Sandquist Steaks, Inc., 309 Minn.
408, 411, 245 N.W.2d 837, 838 (1976) (stating prerequisites for exercising
The Minnesota Supreme Court
has specifically determined that a court order that merely acknowledges with
approval that a plaintiff and a defendant have settled their pending lawsuit is
not a sufficient basis for the plaintiff to seek civil-contempt remedies for the
defendant’s violation of the settlement agreement. Mr.
Steak,309 Minn. at 410, 245 N.W.2d at 838. In concluding that the order approving the
settlement in Mr. Steak did not
provide a basis for a contempt procedure, the supreme court noted that the
order did not enjoin the parties from violating the settlement agreement, did
not order either party to perform a specific act, and did not incorporate any
references to the executory terms of the agreement. Id. at 410,
245 N.W.2d at 838. The supreme court
also observed that the district court neither participated in the settlement
negotiations nor undertook an analysis of whether the agreement was fair and in
the public interest. Id.
The facts of this case parallel those in Mr. Steak. Lam and Ramsey County
signed a written stipulation to dismiss Lam’s claims and the county’s
counterclaims with prejudice because the claims had “been compromised and
settled by separate agreement.” On the
basis of this stipulation, the district court “ordered that all claims and
counterclaims in the above-entitled matter are dismissed with prejudice and on
the merits.” The order dismissing the
litigation did not enjoin the parties from violating the agreement, did not
include any directives to either party, and acknowledged the signed settlement
agreement only by referring to the written stipulation to dismiss, which, in
turn, refers to the settlement agreement.
Lam argues that the rationale of Mr. Steak does not apply because the district court participated in
settlement negotiations between Lam and the county. But the record does not support this
assertion. Lam and Ramsey County
listed the essential terms of the settlement on the record at a pretrial
settlement conference and later drafted the agreement for signature. The agreement specifically states that it is
“deemed to have been drafted by the joint efforts of the attorneys representing
the parties.” The partial transcript of
the settlement conference confirms that the court made only minimal comments. The comments do not suggest active participation
in settlement negotiations, and, as in Mr.
Steak, the court undertook no analysis of whether the agreement was fair or
in the public interest.
Specific directives that
would provide a basis for a civil-contempt order are not present in the court
order that Lam seeks to enforce. The
district court did not abuse its discretion by denying Lam’s motion attempting
to enforce the settlement by using constructive civil-contempt procedures. As the court in Mr. Steak observed, the proper remedy for breach of a settlement
agreement is an action in contract, not an order for contempt. Mr.
Steak, 309 Minn. at 410, 245 N.W.2d at 838;
see also Theis v. Theis, 271 Minn.
199, 204-05, 135 N.W.2d 740, 744-05 (1965) (noting that settlement agreement is
contractual in nature and subject to contractual rules of interpretation and
Lam has moved to strike two statements from the county’s
appellate brief. The record on appeal consists of “[t]he
papers filed in the trial court, the exhibits, and the transcript of the
proceedings.” Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 110.01. The court may not base its decision on
matters outside the record and will only consider evidence produced and
received in the district court. Thiele v. Stich, 425 N.W.2d 580, 582-83
first moves to strike the county’s statement that the “defendants, through no
fault of [their] own, could not construct the basin and underground pipe by the
agreed-upon date.” The county’s
argument, however, is fairly supported by the record. The county specifically stated at the hearing
on the motion to show cause that the delay was caused by the inability to
obtain the necessary permits from the watershed district to reroute the
drainage of the surface water. The
district court orally stated that it saw no intentional disregard of the settlement
agreement by the county.
Lam’s second challenge is to the county’s characterization
of the district court’s limited participation in reaching the settlement. The partial transcript of the pretrial
settlement conference does not extend to conversations between the parties and
district court before the agreement was read on the record. Consequently, the county’s statements could pertain
to matters outside the record on appeal.
We note, however, that the county provides this account in response to a
similarly unsupported statement in Lam’s brief.
Lam states that before the agreement was put on the record, “the
parties’ attorneys reached an agreement to settle in the judge’s chambers with
the judge participating in the negotiations.”
If the district court made participatory statements, Lam, as appellant,
has the duty to provide a record of these statements if he intends to have them
considered on appeal. See Mesenbourg v. Mesenbourg, 538 N.W.2d
489, 494 (Minn. App. 1995) (stating that
appellant bears burden of providing adequate record). Nonetheless, we agree with Lam’s contention
that the county’s reference to a discussion that may have preceded the text of
the partial transcript would be outside the record. Because we do “not consider matters outside
the record on appeal,” we will “strike references to such matters from the
parties’ briefs.” Stageberg v. Stageberg, 695 N.W.2d 609, 613 (Minn.
App. 2005), review denied (Minn. Jul. 19, 2005).
We therefore grant Lam’s motion to strike the unsupported reference in
the county’s brief.
motion granted in part, denied in part.