This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2006).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Therese J. Miska,
Justin Dennis Miska, et al.,
Robert Dennis Miska,
Jessica T. Miska, a minor,
Lindsey M. Miska, a minor,
Robert E. Curtis,
Dorothy A. Curtis,
Filed July 24, 2007
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded
Chisago County District Court
File No. 13-CV-05-129
John W. Lang, Nicholas J. Eugster, Messerli & Kramer, P.A., 1800 Fifth Street Towers, 150 South Fifth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for appellant)
Harvey N. Jones, Harvey N. Jones, P.A., 1350 South Frontage Road, Hastings, MN 55033 (for respondents Justin D. Miska, Jacob D. Miska, Lori L. Van Winkle)
Robert Dennis Miska, 6378 Farmer Trail,
Jessica T. Miska, c/o Therese Miska, 11216
Lindsey Miska, c/o Therese Miska, 11216 St. Croix Trail, North Branch, MN 55056 (respondent)
Robert E. Curtis,
Dorothy A. Curtis,
Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge; Halbrooks, Judge; and Hudson, Judge.
On appeal from the district court’s judgment granting appellant a one-half undivided interest in the homestead, appellant argues that respondents lack standing to challenge the antenuptial agreement to which they were not parties. In addition, appellant argues that the district court erred by denying her petition to reform the warranty deed because the antenuptial agreement between appellant and her now-deceased husband unambiguously placed the property in joint tenancy, and that tenancy was not severed. We affirm the district court’s determination that appellant’s stepchildren have standing. But because we conclude that clear and convincing evidence supports reformation of the warranty deed to effect the parties’ intent to establish a joint tenancy, we reverse that portion of the judgment and remand.
In preparation for their marriage in 1989, Dennis G. Miska (Miska) and appellant Therese J. Miska entered into an antenuptial agreement. To effectuate the agreement, Miska transferred by quit-claim deed “[a]n undivided one-half (1/2) interest as Joint Tenant, with right of survivorship in the East 1/2 of the Southwest 1/4 of Section 18, Township 35, Range 20, according to the United States Government survey thereof.” Miska also signed an assignment of contract for deed by individual vendor, vendee, or assignee in which he assigned and transferred “1/2 of Vendee interest in that certain contract” for the homestead, on which he then still owed $43,232.23. The antenuptial agreement identified the homestead by its legal description and provided:
By the execution of this Agreement the title to the aforesaid real property is hereby granted and transferred to the names of Dennis G. Miska and [appellant], as Joint Tenants, and not as Tenants in Common, with right of survivorship, and has been formalized by filing a Quit Claim Deed and Assignment of Vendee’s Interest in Contract for Deed.
2.3.1. It is understood by both parties that since
In addition, under “Disposition of Homestead,” the agreement states that “[i]n the event of the death of either party, all property, real and personal, except as stated herein to the contrary, shall descend to the survivor.” All three documents were timely filed in the Chisago County Recorder’s Office.
During their marriage, appellant used approximately $25,000 of her retirement funds to pay off the balance due on the contract for deed. As a result, on February 19, 1994, the vendors, Robert E. and Dorothy A. Curtis, executed a “Warranty Deed—Individual(s) to Individual(s),” transferring the parcel to “Dennis G. Miska and [appellant], husband and wife, Grantee(s).” Appellant testified that throughout their marriage, both she and Miska believed that they had created a joint tenancy in the homestead.
After Miska died, intestate, in a motor-vehicle accident on June 19, 2004, appellant filed a complaint in district court, seeking to be named owner of the homestead through survivorship of the joint tenancy. She joined as defendants Miska’s children from his first marriage and the Curtises, who subsequently executed a corrective warranty deed that conveyed the property to Miska and appellant as joint tenants with right of survivorship effective February 28, 1994, the date of the original warranty deed. Miska’s four children answered and counterclaimed that appellant acquired only an indivisible one-half interest in the homestead through survivorship.
Appellant moved for summary judgment, arguing that the antenuptial agreement is unambiguous and that any errors in the conveyancing documents should be reformed by the district court based on mutual mistake. The district court denied the motion on the ground that the inconsistent documents raised “a question of material fact as to what Dennis Miska’s intentions were regarding transference of the property.” Following a bench trial, the district court held that appellant has an undivided one-half interest in the homestead, and the children have the remaining undivided one-half interest. Appellant brought a posttrial motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) or for amended findings of fact, conclusions of law and order or new trial. The district court denied the motion, making nondispositive amendments to its findings of fact. This appeal follows.
argues that respondents lack standing to challenge the antenuptial agreement
because they were neither signatories to the agreement nor able to represent
Miska’s probate estate. “Standing is a jurisdictional
question to be determined by this court.”
In re Implementation of Util. Energy Conservation Improvement
Programs, 368 N.W.2d 308, 312 (
is the requirement that a party has a sufficient stake in a justiciable controversy
to seek relief from a court.” State
by Humphrey v. Philip Morris, Inc., 551 N.W.2d 490, 493 (
Appellant’s complaint included the children as defendants “due to their potential property rights as surviving children and intestate heirs of decedent, Dennis G. Miska[,] pursuant to the provisions of Minnesota Law relating to the descent of homestead property.” The determination of appellant’s property rights following Miska’s death affects the potential inheritance that the children will receive. Because the children have a stake in how the antenuptial agreement is interpreted, they have standing in this matter.
Joint tenancy in
joint-tenancy statute, “one or more owners of an interest in real estate may
convey all or part of the interest directly to one or more other persons or to
one or more of themselves, or to any combination of one or more of themselves
and other persons.”
agreements are valid and enforceable in
conveyance of real estate includes any “instrument in writing whereby any
interest in real estate is created, aliened, mortgaged, or assigned or by which
the title thereto may be affected in law or in equity.”
None of the parties disputes the legitimacy of the antenuptial agreement. But the parties disagree as to the effect of three documents: the quit-claim deed, the antenuptial agreement, and the 1994 warranty deed. The quit-claim deed transferred to appellant “[a]n undivided one-half (1/2) interest as Joint Tenant, with right of survivorship” in the homestead, and the parties dispute whether that granting language gave appellant a joint tenancy in the entire parcel or only in an undivided one-half of the homestead. The parties also disagree as to whether the antenuptial agreement acted as a conveyance and thus created a joint tenancy in the entire parcel. Similarly, the parties differ about whether the 1994 warranty deed, which granted the entire parcel to “Dennis G. Miska and [appellant], husband and wife, Grantee(s),” severed joint tenancy.
The antenuptial agreement identifies the parties (appellant and Miska), gives a legal description of the homestead, and indicates that appellant receives a joint tenancy in the entire homestead. Therefore, the antenuptial agreement is a conveyance of real estate. Furthermore, the parties filed the agreement and the supporting transactions in the recorder’s office, thus placing other parties on notice of the homestead’s title. The documents were filed on the same day and have consecutive filing numbers, suggesting the parties’ intent to establish the homestead in joint tenancy. The joint tenancy is not lost by the drafting error in the quit-claim deed that by its terms granted appellant a joint tenancy only in a one-half undivided interest in the homestead. The presence of the filed agreement gives notice of the parties’ intent as to the homestead’s title. And although the Curtises failed to indicate joint tenancy on the warranty deed, they willingly provided appellant with a corrective deed, maintaining joint tenancy.
Nonetheless, if appellant and Miska created a joint tenancy, an issue remains as to whether the warranty deed effected a severance. The district court found that recording the deed effected a severance because the Curtises did not recall the parties’ intent at the time it was executed in 1994. Severance of a joint tenancy is possible only if
(1) the instrument of severance is recorded in the office of the county recorder or the registrar of titles in the county where the real estate is situated; or (2) the instrument of severance is executed by all of the joint tenants; or (3) the severance is ordered by a court of competent jurisdiction; or (4) a severance is effected pursuant to bankruptcy of a joint tenant.
Initially, the Curtises transferred the property by warranty deed to “Dennis G. Miska and [appellant], husband and wife, Grantee(s).” That deed, which was recorded, did not mention joint tenancy as required to create such title. But Robert Curtis testified at trial concerning his intent associated with the warranty deed as follows:
Q. Did you believe that that Warranty Deed put the title of the property into Dennis and Therese Miska’s names as joint tenants with the right of survivorship?
Q. So if – if it’s determined that that Deed doesn’t put it in the names as joint tenants with the right of survivorship would you believe that that Deed was incorrect?
A. State that again please?
Q. Well, you just testified that you note that that Warranty Deed put the title into Dennis and Therese Miska’s name as joint tenants with a right of survivorship. The effect of that is that it doesn’t put the names or title the joint tenancy with the right of survivorship with Dennis and Therese Miska. Would you believe that that is incorrect and should be corrected?
A. Well, I believe it should have been put in there as her right of survivors, ya.
. . . .
Q. Now Mr. Curtis, I’m showing you what has been marked as Plaintiff’s Exhibit 5. Which says Corrective Warranty Deed on the top. Did you sign that Corrected Warranty Deed?
A. It certainly looks like it, nobody writes like me.
Q. If – if the legal affect of that Corrective Warranty Deed is to put the property which is the subject of this lawsuit into joint tenancy with Dennis Miska and Therese Miska, with the right of survivorship, do you believe that that would be the correct Warranty Deed that should be given to the Miskas?
Q. Is that a yes?
. . . .
Q. Mr. Curtis, so it’s your testimony that you believed that husband and wife meant that the parties received it as joint tenants with the right of survivorship on that original Deed?
Q. It doesn’t say in that Deed anywhere that they are named as Tenants in Common does it?
While Curtis’s recollection of the events has faded over time, a fair reading of his intent supports appellant’s position. We therefore conclude that the filing of the warranty deed did not effect a severance.
the intent expressed by the Miskas and supported by Curtis requires
consideration of whether the Curtis deed should be reformed to preserve the
joint tenancy. A court may reform an
instrument if all the following elements are proven: (1) the parties had a
valid agreement expressing their real intentions; (2) the written instrument
failed to express their intent; and (3) the failure was due to the parties’
mutual mistake. Johnson v. Giese,
essential facts supporting reformation “must be proved by evidence that is
clear, unequivocal and convincing.
Something more than a mere preponderance of evidence is required.” Johnson, 231
Here, the antenuptial agreement provides clear and convincing evidence of the parties’ intent to create a joint tenancy in the homestead for appellant. Appellant’s affidavit and her subsequent testimony state that both appellant and Miska believed that the antenuptial agreement transferred the homestead to appellant as a joint tenant with the intention that the survivor would control and own the entire property. Furthermore, appellant’s conduct before Miska’s death, using $25,000 of her retirement funds and thus incurring early-withdrawal penalties, to pay off the contract for deed, was consistent with her belief that she had a joint tenancy in the homestead.
facts and documents in this case are similar to the evidence that was deemed
sufficient to support reformation in Magnuson. In Magnuson, the grantor filed a
quit-claim deed, reserving a life interest and deeding the property after his
death to his three children without indicating joint tenancy. 689 N.W.2d at 273. He later executed a deed conveying the
property to the children as joint tenants.
Here, Curtis testified that he believed the warranty deed transferred the property to the Miskas, named as “husband and wife” in the deed, as joint tenants and, if not, that the deed should be reformed. The Curtises provided appellant with a corrective warranty deed in order to effectuate that outcome. Although Curtis also testified that he never asked the Miskas about the nature of the title that they wanted and did not remember many details of the 1994 transaction, his stated intent was to transfer the land in joint tenancy. Finally, appellant’s conduct, affidavit, and testimony are consistent with the existence of a joint tenancy; and no party testified that there was ever any contrary intent. Because we conclude that, based on this record, a mutual mistake occurred, reformation to ensure the intended joint tenancy is appropriate.
Therefore, on remand, the parties shall create and file, with the district court’s approval, any documents necessary to effectuate the reformation described in this opinion.
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.
 Miska’s other children named as respondents include Robert D. Miska, appellant’s stepson, whose counterclaim and answer the district court dismissed upon his wishes at start of trial, and appellant’s minor daughters, Jessica and Lindsey Miska.