This opinion will be unpublished and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
Stanley Thomas Olson,
as Personal Representative of the Estate of Violet Pilgrim,
individually and as Personal Representative of the Estate of Richard Bird, et al.,
Roseau County District Court
File No. C102372
Alan B. Fish, Alan B. Fish, P.A.,
Steven A. Anderson, Law Office of Steven A. Anderson,
Considered and decided by Shumaker, Presiding Judge; Stoneburner, Judge; and Worke, Judge.
Appellant challenges the district court’s judgment for respondents on appellant’s decedent’s unjust-enrichment claim against the estate and siblings of respondents’ decedent. Because appellant failed to prove unjust enrichment, we affirm.
Appellant Stanley Thomas Olson is the personal representative of the estate of Violet Pilgrim. Olson is Pilgrim’s son. In 1977, Pilgrim sold her home to Olson for $10,000. Pilgrim, who was not employed, used the money from the sale to pay living expenses.
In January 1980, Pilgrim moved into the home of decedent Richard Bird. At that time, Bird owned six acres of land, bank accounts, vehicles, farm equipment, and a fully furnished home. Pilgrim helped Bird operate his farm. She testified that her relationship with Bird was very similar to that of a husband and wife. Pilgrim did bookkeeping for the farm, but Bird made the decisions regarding what was included in his financial records and reported as income. Pilgrim was not a signatory on Bird’s bank account, and she never reported any income from or interest in the farm to government agencies from which she received financial assistance. Pilgrim’s benefits were used to pay for some household expenses.
Pilgrim and Bird did not have any agreement, oral or written, that Pilgrim would have an ownership interest in any of the personal property acquired in the farming operation. Bird died in June 2000. Pilgrim did not make any claim on his estate, the assets of which were distributed to Bird’s three siblings.
In 2002, Pilgrim sued respondents, the estate, and Richard Bird’s siblings, claiming an interest in property distributed to Bird’s siblings in the probate of his estate under theories of fraud and unjust enrichment. The district court granted summary judgment to respondents, and Pilgrim appealed. In an unpublished opinion, Pilgrim v. Bird¸ C1-02-372 (March 30, 2004), (Pilgrim I), this court affirmed summary judgment, dismissing Pilgrim’s claims based on fraud but found genuine issues of fact regarding her claim of unjust enrichment and the defense of unclean hands, and remanded for trial on those issues, limiting any such claim to “personal property in which [Pilgrim] is able to prove her ownership interest.” Pilgrim died before the trial, and Olson took over the litigation as her personal representative. The matter was tried to the court without a jury.
The district court granted judgment to respondents, concluding that Pilgrim’s claim was based solely on her long-term cohabitation with Bird and that she failed to provide any evidence of direct contributions to specific assets and also failed to establish unjust enrichment. This appeal followed.
Olson appears to argue that the
district court’s adoption of respondents’ proposed findings one day after they
were submitted calls into question the district court’s neutrality. We do not find any merit in this
assertion. Adoption of a party’s
proposed findings by a district court is generally an accepted practice, but
raises the question of whether the court independently evaluated the evidence. Schallinger
v. Schallinger, 699 N.W.2d 15, 23 (
Olson argues that the district court
clearly erred by finding that he did not prove that Pilgrim made a direct
contribution to the acquisition of any specific asset owned by Bird and did not
establish a claim to any asset under a theory of unjust enrichment. On review, the findings of a trial court will
not be set aside unless clearly erroneous.
Minn. Stat. §§ 513.075 and 513.076 (2004) “prevent an unmarried
couple living together in ‘contemplation of sexual relations’ from receiving
the legal rights conferred upon married couples.” In re Estate of Palmen, 588 N.W.2d
493, 496 (
Olson relies on Eriksen, in which the supreme court affirmed a constructive trust
placed on Eriksen’s home by the probate court, reasoning that the claimant’s
equal contribution to the acquisition and maintenance of an asset during her
cohabitation with Eriksen required the constructive trust to avoid unjust
Olson, by contrast, has neither alleged
nor proved that Pilgrim had an agreement with Bird to jointly own assets
acquired in the farming operation. The
only agreement Pilgrim asserted that she had with Bird was that “they would be
retiring together when the time was right and move to
Olson argues that Pilgrim’s claim is
identical with the claim in Palmen. But Palmen,
like Eriksen, involved the
enforcement of an oral agreement between cohabitants. Palmen,
588 N.W.2d at 495. The agreement in Palmen was to build a log cabin together
on property belonging only to Palmen, and if the relationship ended, Palmen
would reimburse claimant for labor and materials that she contributed to the
Furthermore, the issue on appeal to
the supreme court in Palmen was
whether the court of appeals correctly held that the district court lacked
jurisdiction over the claim because the agreement was not in writing as
required by Minn. Stat. §§ 513.075 and 513.076.
Olson concedes that Pilgrim I precludes any claim for services rendered to Bird by Pilgrim and asserts that because the claim is based on Pilgrim’s contribution of labor to the farming operation, it is not a claim for services. Olson does not provide any authority that a claim for services is distinct from a claim based on labor, and we find no basis for such a distinction in the context of this case.
Olson argues that Pilgrim provided “equal, direct contributions to the value of the farm assets” based on her “conservative estimations of 8 hours a day [labor] at $10.00 an hour for 6 days a week for only 20 of the 30 years” that she and Bird were together. Olson asserts that Pilgrim had an ownership interest in all of the property listed on the inventory of Bird’s estate that was filed in the probate court. Olson asserts that it is undisputed that all of the property listed on the inventory was acquired after Pilgrim and Bird began to live together, and therefore Pilgrim, through her labor, contributed to the acquisition of everything on the list. But the record does not support the assertion that all of the assets were acquired through direct contribution of Pilgrim’s labor or even if they were, that there was an agreement that her labor would result in an ownership interest. The finding that Olson failed to trace any specific asset to which Pilgrim made a direct contribution and that the only evidence presented at trial was a claim based on the value of her services as a “helpmate” to Bird is not clearly erroneous.
Olson argues that the district court
erred in determining that he failed to establish Pilgrim’s claim to Bird’s
assets under the theory of unjust enrichment.
Appellate courts review a district court’s denial of an unjust-enrichment
claim for an abuse of discretion. See City of Cloquet v. Cloquet Sand &
Gravel, Inc., 312
 In Pilgrim v. Bird,C1-02-372 (March 30, 2004), (Pilgrim I), this court accepted as true the assertion that Pilgrim brought $10,000 into the relationship with Bird, but her subsequent deposition testimony demonstrates that she used that money for living expenses before she moved in with Bird. There is no evidence in the record of any amount of cash that Pilgrim brought into Bird’s household.
 Pilgrim started receiving social-security disability benefits and medical assistance in 1988 due to heart problems.
 At trial, Olson agreed that Pilgrim’s contribution of labor was not equal to Bird’s.