This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2006).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In re the Custody and Visitation of: A.P. and K.W.
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded
Benton County District Court
File No. FA-05-3110
Michael L. Perlman, Perlman Law Office, 10520 Wayzata Boulevard, Minnetonka, MN 55305 (for appellant Sharon Pearson)
Cynthia J. Vermeulen, Jacob T. Erickson, Vermeulen Law Office, 26 North Seventh Avenue, St. Cloud, MN 56303 (for respondent Craig Weyer)
Considered and decided by Wright, Presiding Judge; Stoneburner, Judge; and Minge, Judge.
Appellant challenges the district court’s entry of summary judgment on her third-party petition for custody or grandparent visitation, arguing that the district court erred in its application of the law when it held that the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel bar the petition. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.
Appellant Sharon Pearson is the maternal grandmother of A.P. and K.W. Respondent Craig Weyer is their father. Weyer was married to the children’s mother at the time of her death in May 1999.
In September 2004, Pearson and her husband filed a petition as interested third parties under Minn. Stat. §§ 257C.01, subd. 3(a), .03, subd. 7(a) (2004), in which they sought custody of A.P. and K.W. While that petition was pending, Pearson and her husband moved for a temporary visitation schedule with the children. The district court denied the custody petition, holding that it did not establish a prima facie case that grounds exist to modify custody because the petition did not identify specific incidents to support the general allegations that the children were abused, endangered, and neglected. It also denied the motion for temporary visitation on the ground that Pearson and her husband had not requested permanent grandparent visitation under Minn. Stat. § 257C.08, subd. 1 (2004), as an alternative to their custody request. We dismissed as untimely Pearson’s appeal of the decision denying the September 2004 petition.
In December 2005, Pearson filed the instant petition as an interested third party. Therein, she seeks joint legal and joint physical custody of the children or, alternatively, grandparent visitation under Minn. Stat. § 257C.08, subd. 1. The petition alleges that Weyer has denied Pearson routine visitation with the children since September 2004 and includes specific examples of the alleged abuse, endangerment, and neglect. Weyer moved for judgment on the pleadings under Minn. R. Civ. P. 12.03, arguing that Pearson’s petition is barred by the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel. Because the district court considered matters outside the pleadings, including affidavits submitted by both parties, it treated this motion as one for summary judgment, as required by Minn. R. Civ. P. 12.03 (“If . . . matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the [district] court, the motion [for judgment on the pleadings] shall be treated as one for summary judgment . . . .”). The district court entered summary judgment in favor of Weyer, concluding that Pearson’s petition for custody is barred by the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel and her alternative request for visitation is barred by the doctrine of res judicata. This appeal followed.
On review from a grant of
summary judgment, we consider whether there are any
genuine issues of material fact and whether the district court erred in its
application of the law. State by Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2,
is a finality doctrine that mandates that there be an end to litigation. Hauschildt,
686 N.W.2d at 840. It requires a party
to assert all alternative theories of recovery in its initial action.
of res judicata and collateral estoppel have limited applicability in
family-law matters. Maschoff v. Leiding, 696 N.W.2d 834, 838 (Minn. App. 2005) (citing Loo v. Loo, 520 N.W.2d 740, 743-44 (
We begin our
analysis of the district court’s entry of summary judgment by observing the
limited nature of our review that results from Pearson’s failure to satisfy her
burden to provide an adequate record on appeal. See
Noltimier v. Noltimier, 280
From this limited record, we can glean that the 2004 petition involved the same set of factual circumstances as the instant petition. The 2004 petition alleged, in general terms only, that Weyer abused, endangered, and neglected A.P. and K.W. The instant petition identifies specific incidents of this alleged abuse, endangerment, and neglect. But because it does not refer to the dates of the alleged incidents, the instant petition does not establish that any of these alleged incidents occurred after the 2004 petition was filed. Rather, the petition suggests that these alleged incidents predate the 2004 petition because Pearson states that she has been denied access to the children since September 2004. We, therefore, conclude that the factual circumstances alleged in both petitions are the same, and the instant petition is not based on changed circumstances. As such, limitations on the applicability of the doctrine of res judicata in family-law matters are not relevant here. See Loo, 520 N.W.2d at 743 (holding that res judicata does not preclude subsequent motion to modify custody, visitation, and spousal maintenance when that motion is based on changed circumstances since the prior petition because district court has continuing jurisdiction over such motions).
The second element of the doctrine of res judicata is also satisfied because the 2004 petition involved the same parties as the instant petition, namely, Pearson, Weyer, A.P., and K.W. The third element, which requires the earlier petition to have been resolved through a final judgment on the merits, is satisfied when, as here, the district court denied the earlier petition because it did not state a claim on which relief may be granted. See H.J., Inc. v. Nw. Bell Corp., 420 N.W.2d 673, 677 (Minn. App. 1988) (holding that dismissal for failure to state claim on which relief may be granted is judgment on merits), review denied (Minn. May 16, 1988). And the final element of the doctrine of res judicata—that the party asserting the earlier claim had a full and fair opportunity to litigate that claim—is satisfied because Pearson had the opportunity to, but did not, present evidence in support of her 2004 petition for custody.
Because the elements of
the doctrine of res judicata are satisfied, the district court did not err as a
matter of law when it determined that the doctrine may be applied so as to bar the
instant petition for joint legal and joint physical custody and the alternative
request for grandparent visitation, which the district court concluded that
Pearson could have, but did not, raise in the 2004 petition. That the doctrine of res judicata may be
applied, however, does not compel a district court to apply it. Rather, application of the doctrine of res
judicata to bar a particular claim is an exercise of the district court’s
discretion, which we review for an abuse of that discretion.
Here, Pearson had a full and
fair opportunity to be heard on her 2004 petition for custody. She also had ample opportunity to appeal the
district court’s dismissal of that petition.
We, therefore, cannot conclude on this record that the district court
abused its discretion when it applied the doctrine of res judicata to bar the
instant petition for joint legal and joint physical custody. See,
e.g., id. at 756 (holding that
district court did not abuse discretion when it applied res judicata when
appellant “had his day in court and ample opportunity for appeal”); D.H. Blattner & Sons, Inc. v. Firemen’s
Ins. Co., 535 N.W.2d 671, 674 (
But we reach a different
conclusion regarding the alternative request for grandparent visitation. In its order denying the requested relief and
dismissing the 2004 petition, the district court declined to consider whether Pearson
was entitled to grandparent visitation under Minn. Stat. § 257C.08, subd.
1, because Pearson “did not alternatively request grandparent visitation
rights.” Nor did it do so in the instant
order. Rather, the district court
concluded that it need not consider the merits of the instant request for
grandparent visitation because Pearson could have, but did not, request such
alternative relief in her 2004 petition.
Although we agree that res judicata may be applied to bar this request,
we conclude that the district court abused its discretion when it chose to
apply it. At stake here is A.P.’s and
K.W.’s right to know their grandmother. See Olson v. Olson, 534 N.W.2d 547, 549
Because important rights and interests are at stake here, the district court abused its discretion when it applied the doctrine of res judicata to bar Pearson’s alternative request for grandparent visitation. We, therefore, remand to the district court for consideration of the merits of that request.
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.
 Because we conclude that the district court did not commit legal error or abuse its discretion when it applied the doctrine of res judicata to bar Pearson’s request for joint legal and joint physical custody, we need not consider whether the district court correctly applied the doctrine of collateral estoppel to bar this request.