This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. ß 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).

 

STATE OF MINNESOTA

IN COURT OF APPEALS

A05-1082

 

 

In re:

Estate of Aural Alma Greenstreet,

Decedent

 

 

Filed October 17, 2006

Affirmed

Lansing, Judge

 

Stearns County District Court

File No. P8-01-2274

 

 

Richard Greenstreet, 315 Division Street, Apt. 106, Sauk Rapids, MN 56379 (pro se appellant)

 

Gerald W. Von Korff, Rinke-Noonan, 1015 West St. Germain Street., Suite 300, P.O. Box 1497, St. Cloud, MN 56302 (for respondent)

 

††††††††††† 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

LANSING, Judge

Richard Greenstreet appeals the district courtís decisions denying his claims against the estate of his mother, Aural Greenstreet.† First, he appeals the district courtís order granting a family allowance but finding that the allowance has been fully satisfied by benefits received following his motherís death.† Second, he appeals the district courtís directed verdict dismissing his claims for compensation from the estate for his alleged services to his mother.† He also appeals the district courtís orders denying his posttrial motions following each decision. †Because the evidence supports the district courtís conclusions, and the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying Greenstreetís motions for amended findings or for a new trial on either his family-allowance or compensation-for-services claims, we affirm.

F A C T S

In 1995, Richard Greenstreet (Greenstreet), at age 55, moved in with his mother, Aural Greenstreet.† Although he had previously been employed, Greenstreet had no current source of income and no financial assets. †He lived in his motherís home rent-free, and he testified that his mother provided support to him valued at approximately $450 a monthóincluding clothing, groceries, utilities, spending money, and vehicle maintenance and gasoline. †Greenstreet provided companionship to his mother and assisted her by bringing in the groceries and helping with some of the cooking.

After sustaining injuries from a fall in June 2000, Aural Greenstreet moved to a nursing home.† Greenstreet continued to live in his motherís home. †Greenstreetís sister, their motherís special conservator, paid all property taxes and insurance on the home.

Aural Greenstreet died in January 2001. †Following his motherís death, Greenstreet remained in the home and had free use of her possessions and her automobile. †Between June 2000 and March 2004, Greenstreet collected and retained the total income from the rental unit in his motherís home. †This amount appears to have fluctuated between $375 and $425 a month.† The record confirms that the income was $425 a month in 2004.† Aural Greenstreet had a life estate in her home and a two-fifths remainder interest; Greenstreet and his two siblings each had a one-fifth remainder interest.†

††††††††††† Greenstreet asserted a family-allowance claim and a compensation-for-services claim against his motherís estate.† The district court found that he was entitled to a family allowance but that he had received benefits from the estate that exceeded the amount of the family allowance.† The compensation-for-services claim was tried to a jury.† At the close of evidence, the district court directed a verdict against the claim.† Greenstreet unsuccessfully brought posttrial motions, and he now appeals the district courtís orders denying his family-allowance and compensation-for-services claims and the orders subsequently denying his motions for amended findings or for new trials.

D E C I S I O N

I

Greenstreet argues that he is entitled to a new trial or amended findings on the district courtís family-allowance determination because he established the existence of newly discovered evidence, the district court committed errors of law in its calculation of his family allowance, and the determination is not justified by the evidence.†

First, Greenstreet contends that his motherís checkbook is newly discovered evidence that justifies a new trial.† A new trial may be granted if material evidence is newly discovered, which could not have been found and produced at trial with reasonable diligence.† Minn. R. Civ. P. 59.01(d).† ďA motion for a new trial on the ground of newly discovered evidence is addressed to the sound discretion of the [district] court, which must be exercised cautiously and sparingly, and its decision will not be disturbed on appeal except upon a showing of a clear abuse of discretion.Ē† Schiro v. Raymond, 237 Minn. 271, 277, 54 N.W.2d 329, 333 (1952).

††††††††††† Greenstreet argues that an analysis of the entries in his motherís checkbook would demonstrate that he was dependent on his mother for more support than the $450 a month that the district court determined he had received.† But the district court found, in its order denying Greenstreetís motion, that the checkbook was not newly discovered evidence because it was presumably in Greenstreetís possession, and he had failed to either introduce it at trial or provide any explanation for why it was not produced. †Greenstreet does not directly dispute this finding but alternatively argues that the checkbook should be considered part of the record because the district court permitted posttrial submission of †any document that was ďpart of the estate.Ē† This argument is based on a factual error.† The district court granted leave of the parties to submit any ďdocuments filed in regard to the estateĒ (emphasis added).† Greenstreet has not established that the checkbook had been filed in connection with the probate of the estate.†

The district court did not abuse its discretion by denying Greenstreetís motion for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence. †Greenstreet failed to establish that the evidence was newly discovered, and his alternative argument for inclusion of the checkbook as an estate document is not factually supported.†

Greenstreet next argues that the district court committed two legal errors in calculating his family allowance.† In all actions tried to the district court without a jury, we will not set aside findings of fact, whether based on oral or documentary evidence, unless the findings are clearly erroneous, and we give due regard to the district courtís opportunity to judge witnessesí credibility.† Rogers v. Moore, 603 N.W.2d 650, 656 (Minn. 1999); Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01.† We independently review issues of law.† Modrow v. JP Foodservice, Inc., 656 N.W.2d 389, 393 (Minn. 2003).†

The Uniform Probate Code provides that a decedentís children who were in fact being supported by the decedent, shall be allowed a reasonable family allowance in money out of the estate for their maintenance: †(1) for one year if the estate is inadequate to discharge allowed claims; or (2) for eighteen months if the estate is adequate to discharge allowed claims.† Minn. Stat. ß 524.2-404(a) (2004).

Greenstreet first alleges that the district court should have granted him a family allowance for eighteen months rather than one year.† Greenstreet argues that the estate was not insolvent, because it had approximately $27,000 at the time of the conservatorís final account in May 2001, and his claim was required to be satisfied before that money could be used for other purposes.† See Minn. Stat. ß 524.2-404(d) (2004) (ďThe family allowance is exempt from and has priority over all claims.Ē).† Therefore, according to Greenstreetís argument, the estate was adequate to cover his claim.† We conclude otherwise.†

The district court found that it was not possible to address Greenstreetís family-allowance claim before August 2002, because Greenstreet had objected to the probate of the will, the venue of the proceeding, and the appointment of the personal representative.† The estate, which had been solvent at the time of Aural Greenstreetís death, became insolvent due to administrative and legal costs incurred in resolving these challenges.† Because of this depletion, the funds remaining in the estate were inadequate to discharge any allowed claims, including Greenstreetís priority claim for a family allowance.† The record demonstrates that the estate was inadequate to discharge allowed claims, and the district court did not err by limiting the family allowance to one year rather than eighteen months.

The second alleged legal error is that the district court overestimated, as an offset to any family-allowance entitlement, the amount of financial benefits Greenstreet had already received since his motherís death.† Greenstreet contends that the court erred by crediting him with forty months of rental income that he had collected and kept for himself, from the date of his motherís death in January 2001 until the hearing in April 2004.† He contends that the district court should have offset only the first eighteen months.† Greenstreet has not provided a legal basis for limiting the offset to eighteen months or for his related argument that the district court should only have credited him with one-fifth of the rental income rather than the entire amount.† The one-fifth fraction represents Greenstreetís ownership interest in his motherís home.† But the record demonstrates that Greenstreet collected and kept the total income from the rental property beginning in June 2000 and continuing until the hearing in April 2004.

Finally, Greenstreet contends that the district court erred in its family-allowance decision because the evidence does not support the district courtís determination that the amount of benefits he received exceeds the family allowance to which he is entitled.† We disagree.†

The record supports the district courtís findings, based primarily on Greenstreetís own testimony, that he lived rent-free in his motherís home and that she provided him monthly benefits amounting to about $450.† The district court further found that, from the time of Aural Greenstreetís death through the date of the hearing in March 2004, Greenstreet retained the entire rental income from the property.† The district court determined that this income totaled approximately $16,000, and the record supports the calculation.† Reasoning that the estate was entitled to rental income equivalent to Aural Greenstreetís two-fifths remainder share, the district court concluded that Greenstreet had appropriated approximately $6,500 in rental income that belonged to his motherís estate.† Because this amount exceeds his $5,400 family allowance, the family allowance was fully satisfied by the benefits he received from the estate after his motherís death.

The district court did not err or abuse its discretion in determining the family allowance, and the record supports the district courtís determination.† We therefore affirm the district courtís order and its subsequent denial of Greenstreetís motion for amended findings or for a new trial on his family-allowance claim.

II

Greenstreet also challenges the district courtís denial of his claim that he is entitled to compensation for providing care to his mother from August 15, 1995, to June 12, 2000.† The district court directed a verdict against this claim at the close of evidence in the jury trial.† In reviewing a directed verdict, we make an independent determination of whether the evidence was sufficient to present a fact question to the jury and evaluate the evidence in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party.† Boone v. Martinez, 567 N.W.2d 508, 510 (Minn. 1997).†

When a person provides services to another, there is an implied promise from the receiving person to pay for the services.† In re Estate of Tilghman, 240 Minn. 494, 496, 61 N.W.2d 743, 745 (1953).† But when services are provided by one family member to another, the presumption is that the services are gratuitous.† Id.† The presumption is dependent on a family relationship and only arises if the services provided are of a type that family members usually and ordinarily provide to each other by reason of the family relationship.† Id.† A claimant can overcome a presumption of gratuity and recover for services provided to relatives by offering sufficient evidence to prove that an implied contract exists.† See In re Estate of Beecham, 378 N.W.2d 800, 803 (Minn. 1985).

††††††††††† At trial, the evidence was undisputed that Aural Greenstreet made no express promise that, in addition to the financial benefits she already provided, she would pay Greenstreet for services.† And the evidence was insufficient to support any claim of an implied promise.† Greenstreet testified that he never expressed to his mother or either of his siblings that he expected to be paid for his services, nor could he infer from his motherís conduct that she ever intended to pay him for services during the five years he lived with her.† Nothing in the record suggests an explicit or implicit promise to provide future payment for services, and the district court did not err in concluding that a reasonable jury could not find that an express or implied contract existed.†

In his motion for amended findings or a new trial on his compensation-for-services claim, Greenstreet raised a number of issues relating to evidentiary rulings and trial procedures.† None of the alleged errors in the evidentiary rulings involves evidence that pertains to Greenstreetís essential burden to prove an express or implied promise of compensation for services provided to his mother.† We perceive no error in the evidentiary rulings, but we do not address them separately because they do not affect the issue of whether the district court erred in directing a verdict dismissing Greenstreetís compensation-for-services claim.† See Uselman v. Uselman, 464 N.W.2d 130, 138 (Minn. 1990) (stating that party is not entitled to reversal of judgment based on erroneous evidentiary ruling unless party demonstrates that error was prejudicial).

Three alleged procedural errors are also peripheral to the central question of whether the evidence was sufficient to raise a fact question for the jury.† But because these allegations are related to the structural elements of the trial, we will address them.† Greenstreet contends that the district court was impermissibly biased against him, that the district court put him in a bad light in front of the jury, and that he was unfairly surprised at trial by the use of exhibits, which he had not received in advance.†

The allegation of trial-court bias is based on discussions about the directed verdict and the language of the special-verdict form.† Greenstreetís allegation that the district court instructed the attorney for the estate to prepare a motion for a directed verdict and repeatedly referred to a directed-verdict order is not factually supported in the record.† Greenstreet acknowledges that the pretrial-hearing transcript he provided does not include the comments that Greenstreet alleges the district court made.† In its order denying Greenstreetís motion for a new trial, however, the district court stated that it had previously indicated it would consider a directed-verdict motion if the estateís attorney chose to bring one.† Nonetheless, the absence of evidence on the central element of Greenstreetís trial claim provides a solid basis for the court to reasonably conclude that the evidence was insufficient to go to a jury.† The record before us does not demonstrate impermissible bias.† Greenstreetís claim of ex parte conversations about the special-verdict form is similarly unsupported.† Greenstreet has not provided any factual basis for his claim of ex parte communications, and he made no objections on that basis in the district court proceeding.† The record shows that both parties participated in the discussion of the form, and we discern no bias.

Greenstreetís claim that the district court put him in a bad light in front of the jury relates to the district courtís attempt to maintain order in the proceeding and also to an evidentiary ruling, which allowed the jury to hear testimony about an incident at the nursing home.† Again, we discern no error in the district courtís conduct of the trial, but we also note that the insufficiency of evidence prevented the case from being submitted to the jury, and, consequently, Greenstreetís claims would not amount to reversible prejudice.

Finally, Greenstreet argues that he is entitled to a new trial because of unfair surprise.† He claims that the estateís attorney refused to exchange exhibits before trial, and, therefore, Greenstreet was caught unprepared at trial.† The district court, in its order denying Greenstreetís new-trial motion, pointed out that Greenstreet was aware of the estateís exhibits, because Greenstreet had moved to strike some of them before trial and he had previously submitted many of those exhibits himself. †Although the estateís exhibit list and notice of service is missing from our copy of the district courtís file, the district court administratorís record indicates, contrary to Greenstreetís assertion, that the estate provided him with copies of its exhibits.† We see no error in the district courtís finding that Greenstreet received proper notice of the estateís exhibits and was not unfairly surprised.

The district court did not abuse its discretion in issuing its directed verdict or in denying Greenstreetís motion for amended findings or a new trial on his compensation-for-services claim.† In granting the motion for a directed verdict, the district court properly considered the evidence in a light most favorable to Greenstreet before concluding that no reasonable jury could find in his favor.† The remaining claims lack legal or factual support.†

††††††††††† Affirmed.