This opinion will be unpublished and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:
James Richard Huntsman, petitioner,
Zenith Annette Huntsman,
f/k/a Zenith Annette Morgan,
Filed September 26, 2006
Washington County District Court
File No. F7-98-2231
C. Eggen, Law Offices of Brad C. Eggen, 1100
Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding Judge; Lansing, Judge; and Minge, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
In this appeal from judgment following remand in a child-support and spousal-maintenance proceeding, James Huntsman raises five issues. He contends that the district court failed to comply with this court’s remand instructions; erred by denying his motions to reopen the record to reconsider his child-support and maintenance obligations; and abused its discretion by ordering him to pay attorneys’ fees, releasing funds held on deposit, and maintaining the supersedeas bond at its current amount. Because the district court properly complied with the remand directions, correctly applied the law, reasonably exercised its discretion, and relied on facts supported by the record, we affirm.
F A C T S
James and Zenith (Annette) Huntsman dissolved their marriage in January 2000. They stipulated that Annette Huntsman would have sole physical custody of their minor child but were unable to agree on issues relating to child support and spousal maintenance. Following a contested hearing, the district court established James Huntsman’s child-support obligation and ordered on-going spousal maintenance with an increased amount for a two-year period, which would allow Annette Huntsman to complete an educational program that would enhance her employment prospects. Because this appeal builds on several years of litigation and multiple earlier appeals related to child support and spousal maintenance, the facts essential to its resolution are enmeshed with the facts of the full course of the Huntsmans’ litigation.
James Huntsman first appealed from
the district court’s September 2000 amended dissolution judgment setting his
support obligations. We affirmed the
district court’s support determinations, but remanded “for a clear calculation
of [James Huntsman’s] net income.” Huntsman v. Huntsman, No. C1-00-19236,
2002 WL 556142, at *1, *4 (Minn. App.
On April 2, 2002, James Huntsman received notice that 3M was terminating his position as a senior intellectual-property specialist. He had the option to work until ninety days after the notice, through June 2002, but chose to end his employment in mid-May, after only forty-five days. On April 29, before his employment ended, he moved to reduce his support obligations based on a substantial change of circumstances. The district court considered his motion along with the issues remanded in Huntsman II. In April 2003 the district court recalculated James Huntsman’s net income, upheld a cost-of-living adjustment to his support obligations, upheld income-withholding from his unemployment benefits, and found that James Huntsman was voluntarily underemployed.
The district court amended its order in June 2003 to reflect the total amounts James Huntsman owed Annette Huntsman, because few of the maintenance and support obligations had been honored. In December 2002 and February 2004 the court ordered attachment and seized James Huntsman’s 3M severance payments as security for these obligations. The district court also entered judgment on the 2003 orders in February 2004, and ordered James Huntsman to pay conduct-based attorneys’ fees and reimburse Annette Huntsman for costs incurred to respond to frivolous motions. James Huntsman appealed.
In November 2004 we affirmed the
district court’s denial of James Huntsman’s motion to modify, affirmed the
validity of the district court’s attachment orders, and affirmed its
calculation of income for child support.
Huntsman v. Huntsman, No.
A04-286, 2004 WL 2710044 (Minn. App.
We also affirmed the district court’s
determination that James Huntsman had not demonstrated that a substantial
change in circumstances made his existing maintenance obligation unfair. We noted, however, that because James
Huntsman received a severance package following his employment termination in
April 2002 and his severance income was included as income in determining his maintenance
and support obligations, the case would be subject to automatic review one year
from his final paycheck.
Following our decision in Huntsman IV, James Huntsman moved in
June 2005 for partial release of his supersedeas bond and to compel
discovery. The district court denied the
motion to compel discovery in July 2005 and reserved the remaining issues. Annette Huntsman moved in July 2005 for the
district court to address the remanded issues, and the district court scheduled
a hearing for
In September 2005 the district court amended its February 2004 judgment to reflect its findings on remand. The district court found that its previous calculation of James Huntsman’s income was correct and expressly stated that it had deducted the health-insurance payment to calculate his net income. The court further found that, after a thorough review of the record, its previous determinations of his maintenance and support obligations remained fair and reasonable. The district court denied James Huntsman’s motions as untimely and alternatively found that the motions lacked a legal and factual basis. The court made findings under Minn. Stat. § 518.14 (2004) and ordered James Huntsman to pay Annette Huntsman attorneys’ fees based on motions James Huntsman filed in 2002 and 2003, and also ordered him to pay attorneys’ fees that Annette Huntsman incurred in responding to his 2005 motions. Finally, the district court directed the court administrator to release the funds on deposit to Annette Huntsman. The order provided that any residual balance would remain on deposit and be released monthly to Annette Huntsman.
James Huntsman now appeals from the
district court’s September 2005 orders, challenging the district court’s
determinations on remand, its denial of his August 3 motions as untimely, its
imposition of attorneys’ fees, and its denial of his motion to return part of
the supersedeas bond that he posted in Huntsman
II. In January 2006 James Huntsman
moved this court to order
D E C I S I O N
On remand a
district court must faithfully follow the mandate of the remanding appellate
court. Halverson v.
determine net income, the costs of health-insurance coverage should be deducted
from an obligor’s gross income. Minn.
Stat. § 518.551, subd. 5(b) (2004). On
remand the district court clarified that it had deducted the cost of Annette
Huntsman’s health-insurance coverage when it calculated James Huntsman’s net
monthly income. James Huntsman is now challenging
the duration of his obligation to provide health-insurance coverage. But this is a new issue that could have been
raised earlier and was not. James
Huntsman did not raise it in his earlier motions or appeals, it is outside the
scope of this court’s remand order, and his untimely motion following remand
does not preserve it for appeal. See Thiele v. Stich, 425 N.W.2d 580, 582-83
Huntsman next challenges the district court’s determination on remand that he did
not make good-faith efforts to find reemployment. James Huntsman’s employment involuntarily
terminated in May 2002. Although his
severance payment of approximately $93,800 was divided into two payments
distributed in 2003 and 2004, we held that the severance payments should be
viewed as one year of income covering the twelve months after his 3M employment
ended. Huntsman IV, 2004 WL 2710044, at *7. We therefore directed the district court to
examine on remand whether James Huntsman had demonstrated that, despite good-faith
efforts, he was unable to find employment one year from his last 3M payment.
unjustifiable limitation of income will not suspend a maintenance and support obligation. Fulmer v. Fulmer, 594 N.W.2d 210, 213 (Minn. App.
1999) (providing for imputation of income when it is unjustifiably
self-limited). To evaluate whether
unemployment or underemployment is in good faith, a court should consider an
individual’s ability to work, the availability of gainful employment, the
individual’s willingness to provide for dependents, and the individual’s efforts
to seek employment. Garcia v. Garcia, 415 N.W.2d 702, 705 (
James Huntsman has a Ph.D. in physical chemistry, has an M.B.A. in management, has completed one year of law school, and is a licensed patent agent with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He chose to leave his company six weeks earlier than required, foregoing nearly $11,000 in income. At the time of a December 2002 deposition, James Huntsman was still unemployed and testified that he did not anticipate finding employment in the next three months. He testified that, after he received his termination notice, he sent a letter to “all the major intellectual property law firms in the Twin Cities.” He regularly “perused” newspaper want ads, but did not inquire about any intellectual property positions outside of law firms. He never met with the 3M human-resources manager to examine employment opportunities within 3M and he also told this manager that he intended to go on deferred retirement. In August 2002 James Huntsman enrolled in a paralegal program at a community college. He testified that his “prime objective” was to finish the two-year program and obtain an intellectual property paralegal position. Huntsman had a six-figure salary at 3M; his 2002 tax returns reflect an adjusted gross income of nearly $180,000. He expected his starting salary as a paralegal would be between $40,000 and $50,000. In October 2002 he temporarily stopped filing for unemployment benefits because he objected to income withholding. Huntsman did not work until July 2003 when he accepted a temporary job, paying $14 an hour, doing document production at a law firm. Based on James Huntsman’s minimal efforts to find employment within his areas of specialization and his sudden pursuit of a career that pays significantly less than his established earning capacity, the district court’s finding that he remained voluntarily underemployed in mid-2003 is not clearly erroneous.
James Huntsman argues that the district court exceeded the scope of remand by ordering him to pay interest on his overdue maintenance and child-support obligations. But his responsibility for interest is not a discretionary directive from the district court; it is statutorily based. See Minn. Stat. § 549.09, subd. 2 (2004) (stating that unpaid balance stemming from judgment accrues interest from time judgment is entered).
Finally, we directed the district court to clarify the distribution of the severance payments subject to the district court’s attachment orders. The district court added findings that the amount held as security, approximately $100,000, had not been distributed. The court ordered a prompt distribution of funds to Annette Huntsman, with the remaining balance kept on deposit with the court for monthly distributions to Annette Huntsman. The district court complied with each of this court’s directives in Huntsman IV.
Nine days before the hearing scheduled to address the remanded issues, James Huntsman filed a motion to reopen the entire record. Including his motion and supporting documents, he presented the court with nearly 400 pages of material and sought modification of his maintenance and support obligations dating back to 2002. The district court denied the motions as untimely and further held that James Huntsman’s motions lacked a legal and factual basis. The law and the record support the district court’s decisions.
and Annette Huntsman dispute which court rule governs the timeliness of James
Huntsman’s August 2005 motion. The
Minnesota General Rules of Practice for the District Courts provide that
motions in family court proceedings are governed by rule 303. Minn. R. Gen. Pract. 301 (stating that family
law matters are governed by rules 301 through 313). Rule 303.03 requires a moving party to
serve and file motion papers at least fourteen days before a hearing.
Because the motion related to a remand, we conclude that subpart (a)(1) of rule 303, rather than subpart (a)(2), governs the time computation. Of the eight issues raised in his August 3 motions, only James Huntsman’s request to find that he made good-faith efforts to secure reemployment is responsive to Annette Huntsman’s motion to address the remanded issues. The remaining issues were wholly unrelated to this court’s opinion in Huntsman IV. Instead, James Huntsman sought to reopen the record and substantially amend the district court’s previous findings. The district court therefore properly denied his motions as untimely. But even if we were to apply the more generous time provisions in rule 303.03(a)(2), James Huntsman’s motion was still untimely because he did not file his motion papers with the district court until August 3, the day after he served his motions on Annette Huntsman. The rules governing motion practice plainly require a moving party to serve the opposing party and file with the district court within the prescribed time limits.
if the court had applied no time limit, the result would have been the
same. The record supports the district
court’s conclusion that James Huntsman provided no legal or factual basis that
would justify his motions to reopen the record and reevaluate all of the
district court’s previous findings related to his maintenance and support obligations. Refusal to reopen a record is reviewed for an
abuse of discretion. Bolander v. Bolander, 703 N.W.2d 529,
James Huntsman contends that his current income is insufficient to continue the
pre-2003 amounts, he did not provide the district court with documentation of
his income after 2002. Hence, the
district court did not have any information indicating a substantial change in
James Huntsman’s financial circumstances. See
Bormann v. Bormann, 644 N.W.2d 478, 481 (
James Huntsman also argues that his maintenance obligation should be reduced because Annette Huntsman’s income has substantially increased, she has been voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, and because she did not obtain the teaching credentials that she had identified as a goal during the dissolution proceeding. This argument is flawed for two reasons. First, Annette Huntsman supplied the district court with her current financial records, and the documents do not indicate a substantial change in circumstances. Her tax returns indicate her income in 2004 was approximately $20,000, which does not approach the standard of living established during the Huntsmans’ marriage. See Peterka v. Peterka, 675 N.W.2d 353, 358 (Minn. App. 2004) (“The purpose of a maintenance award is to allow the recipient and the obligor to have a standard of living that approximates the marital standard of living, as closely as is equitable under the circumstances.”). Second, in 2000 the district court directed James Huntsman to pay, in addition to spousal maintenance, $500 a month for two years so Annette Huntsman might fulfill her education plans. James Huntsman, who has not complied in any way with this order, now argues that Annette Huntsman should not receive maintenance because she failed to fulfill her educational plans and is underemployed. Exclusive of interest and attorneys’ fees, he owes Annette Huntsman nearly $95,000 in maintenance and child support. Having failed to supply what may be critical financial support, James Huntsman cannot credibly argue that Annette Huntsman’s inability to obtain the necessary education for her teaching certification should be a basis for reducing his maintenance obligation. The record amply supports the district court’s conclusion that, even if James Huntsman had filed timely motions, the record and the applicable law would not support his requests to reopen the record to reduce or eliminate his support obligations.
court may order attorneys’ fees based either on a party’s need or on another
party’s conduct. Minn. Stat. § 518.14,
subd. 1 (2004). To impose
attorneys’ fees based on need, the court must find that the fees are necessary
for the good-faith assertion of rights; the recipient does not have the means
to pay the fees; and the party who is ordered to pay the fees does have the
means. Id. Alternatively, a court may
order attorneys’ fees when a party “unreasonably contributes to the length and
expense of the proceeding.”
Huntsman first contests the order requiring him to pay need-based attorneys’
fees related to motions he made in 2002 and 2003 after we reversed the order
for conduct-based fees in Huntsman IV.
The district court did not abuse its
discretion by ordering him on remand to pay the need-based attorneys’ fees. Annette Huntsman initially moved for
attorneys’ fees in May 2003. Because the
February 2004 order for attorneys’ fees was based on conduct, the court did not
address whether the need-based requirements of section 518.14 were satisfied. Consideration of the alternative basis on
remand is permissible because the remand is equivalent to a continuation of the
original proceeding. McClelland v. Pierce, 376 N.W.2d 217,
James Huntsman next challenges the district court’s imposition of attorneys’ fees based on his June and August 2005 motions. Before the district court addressed the remanded issues, which would determine James Huntsman’s maintenance and support obligations and the extent of his arrearages, James Huntsman moved to release the funds deposited with the court as security for these payments. He then moved to reopen the record and essentially relitigate a wide range of issues. The record supports the district court’s findings that James Huntsman’s first motion was premature and that his second motion was unreasonable. The district court concluded that it was unreasonable not only because it was untimely, but because the motion alleged a change in financial circumstances, without providing “basic tax return evidence” or other documentation of his income. By requiring Annette Huntsman to respond to these motions, James Huntsman unreasonably contributed to the length and expense of the proceedings. The district court’s order requiring James Huntsman to pay the $2,440 Annette Huntsman incurred in responding to the motions was not an abuse of discretion.
appellate rules do not provide for a rehearing in the Minnesota Court of
the special-term order was decided correctly.
James Huntsman asserts that he could not have asked the district court
to return the funds because the supersedeas bond he posted in January 2006
stayed the district court’s jurisdiction over the case. But the rules of appellate procedure
specifically provide that the district court “retains jurisdiction as to
matters independent of, supplemental to, or collateral to the order or judgment
appealed from, and to enforce its order or judgment.”
of a supersedeas bond is to assure that, pending a resolution on appeal, the
party that prevailed in the district court does not bear the economic risk of