This opinion will be unpublished and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
In re the Estate of:
Gerald Lee Larson, a/k/a Jerry Lee Larson, Deceased.
Filed September 11, 2007
Reversed and remanded
Meeker County District Court
File No. 47-PR-05-234
Christina L. Kilby, Bradford Law Office, 45 Hassan Street South, P.O. Box 130, Hutchinson, MN 55350 (for appellant Jennifer Anderson)
David G. Berry, Rebecca M. Rue, Wood Berry & Rue, P.L.L.P., 34 East Second Street, P.O. Box 682, Litchfield, MN 55355 (for respondent Earl Larson)
Considered and decided by Kalitowski, Presiding Judge; Worke, Judge; and Ross, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant Jennifer Anderson challenges the district court order granting summary judgment to respondent Earl Larson, personal representative of decedent Gerald Lee Larson’s estate. Appellant argues that the district court erred in dismissing her action based on Minnesota’s anti-palimony statutes. We reverse and remand.
D E C I S I O N
Gerald Larson died on August 1, 2005. Appellant filed a claim with decedent’s estate for $500,000 in unpaid wages, and advice and counsel. The personal representative of decedent’s estate denied the claim, and appellant filed a petition with the district court for allowance of her claim. Respondent personal representative moved for summary judgment. After a hearing, the district court filed an order on September 25, 2006, granting summary judgment to respondent based on application of the anti-palimony statutes. See Minn. Stat. §§ 513.075, .076 (2006).
When reviewing summary-judgment determinations, this court considers “(1) whether there are any genuine issues of material fact and (2) whether the [district] court erred in [its] application of the law.” State by Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2, 4 (Minn. 1990). No genuine issue of material fact exists when “the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party . . . .” DLH, Inc. v. Russ, 566 N.W.2d 60, 69 (Minn. 1997) (quotation omitted). “[T]he party resisting summary judgment must do more than rest on mere averments.” Id. at 71. A genuine issue for trial must be established by “substantial evidence.” Id. at 69-70 (quotation omitted). Summary judgment is “inappropriate when reasonable persons might draw different conclusions from the evidence presented.” Id. at 69.
Appellant contends that the district court erred by granting summary judgment to respondent. Appellant argues that because her claim is supported by consideration independent of her extramarital cohabitation with decedent in contemplation of sexual relations, her claim is not barred by the anti-palimony statutes, Minn. Stat. §§ 513.075, .076. Statutory interpretation is a question of law, which this court reviews de novo. Brookfield Trade Ctr., Inc. v. County of Ramsey, 584 N.W.2d 390, 393 (Minn. 1998). This court is required to accept the plain meaning of a statute “[w]hen the words . . . in their application to an existing situation are clear and free from all ambiguity . . . .” Minn. Stat. § 645.16 (2006).
Minn. Stat. § 513.075 (2006) provides as follows:
If sexual relations between the parties are contemplated, a contract between a man and a woman who are living together in this state out of wedlock, or who are about to commence living together in this state out of wedlock, is enforceable as to terms concerning the property and financial relations of the parties only if:
(1) the contract is written and signed by the parties, and
(2) enforcement is sought after termination of the relationship.
Minn. Stat. § 513.076 (2006) reads:
Unless the individuals have executed a contract complying with the provisions of section 513.075, the courts of this state are without jurisdiction to hear and shall dismiss as contrary to public policy any claim by an individual to the earnings or property of another individual if the claim is based on the fact that the individuals lived together in contemplation of sexual relations and out of wedlock within or without this state.
The Minnesota Supreme Court has interpreted the anti-palimony statutes. In In re Estate of Eriksen, 337 N.W.2d 671, 674 (Minn. 1983), the court stated that the anti-palimony statutes “only apply where the sole consideration for a contract between cohabiting parties is their contemplation of sexual relations out of wedlock.” (quotation omitted). Subsequently, in In re Estate of Palmen, the court stated the following regarding claims by a cohabitant:
If the claimant can establish that his or her claim is based on an agreement supported by consideration independent of the couple’s living together in contemplation of sexual relations out of wedlock or that he or she is seeking to protect [his or] her own property and is not seeking to assert any rights in the property of cohabitant, the statutes do not operate to bar the claim.
588 N.W.2d 493, 496 (Minn. 1999).
Here, appellant argues that her claim is not based on cohabitation with decedent in contemplation of sexual relations. Rather, her claim is based on an oral agreement she had with decedent that he would pay appellant for the work she performed on decedent’s farm. Assuming, as the district court did for the purposes of summary judgment, that an oral agreement existed, appellant contends that her consideration was the work she performed and decedent’s consideration was his promise to pay her for that work.
For purposes of its summary-judgment analysis, the district court properly assumed an agreement existed between appellant and decedent: “In this case, at best, [appellant] has shown the existence of an oral agreement between her and the decedent that she would be compensated for the work she did on the farm.” The district court nevertheless concluded that “[the] oral agreement is not enforceable” because appellant and decedent were in a long-term romantic relationship and “[t]here is also no question that the work that Jennifer performed on the farm was based upon that relationship.” But by acknowledging for purposes of summary judgment there was an oral agreement between appellant and decedent that she would work on the farm in exchange for money, the district court’s conclusion that the work appellant performed on the farm was clearly based on their relationship does not follow. Appellant alleges that the work she performed was based on the agreement, not the relationship.
The district court further determined that because appellant did not contribute financially to the farm operation, In re Estate of Palmen does not apply. But Palmen does notrequire a financial contribution. Rather, it requires that there be consideration other than contemplation of sexual relations. In Palmen, a cohabitant was entitled to bring an action against a decedent’s estate based on the financial investment and the labor that she performed in constructing a cabin on decedent’s property. Palmen, 588 N.W.2d at 496 (cohabitant claimed $48,051.03 from the estate, $30,370.00 of which was for her own labor). We conclude that the reasoning in Palmen applies here. The form of consideration supporting an agreement between cohabitants, whether it is cash, labor, or a combination of the two, is not determinative, so long as the claim is not based on the couple’s extramarital cohabitation in contemplation of sexual relations.
Thus, we also reject respondent’s argument that Palmen and Eriksen can be distinguished because the surviving cohabiter in each of those cases was attempting to recover her own property. Assuming the existence of the oral agreement, appellant’s past wages are her own property. Appellant’s claim is based on her labor contributions to the operation of decedent’s business and not a claim for the value of general contributions she made to the relationship. See, e.g., id. at 496-97 (stating that “Because we conclude that Schneider’s claim seeks to recover her own contributions to the log cabin’s construction and is not based solely on the fact that she and Palmen lived together in contemplation of sexual relations out of wedlock, Minn. Stat. §§ 513.075 and 513.076 do not bar her claim.”); Eriksen, 337 N.W.2d at 674 (stating that “[a]lthough they lived together ‘out of wedlock’ and ‘in contemplation of sexual relations,’ their sexual relations did not provide the sole consideration for the agreement.”).
Appellant argues that summary judgment was improper because there exists a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the anti-palimony statutes apply. We agree.
Here, for purposes of summary judgment, the district court properly assumed that there existed an oral agreement between appellant and decedent: “For purposes of this decision, the estate must concede that there was an agreement between Gerald and Jennifer to compensate Jennifer for her work and advice on the Larson farm.” The district court thus implicitly determined that appellant provided sufficient evidence (more than mere averments) that an oral agreement existed.
Respondent cites Tourville v. Kowarsch, 365 N.W.2d 298, 300 (Minn. App. 1985), a case in which this court affirmed the district court’s determination that the claimant did not meet the burden of proving that there was an agreement. In Tourville, this court concluded that without a written agreement, a cohabiter could not recover labor and material costs for home improvements when the house was in the other party’s name, and the district court accepted the other party’s testimony that he and the cohabiter had no agreement. Id. at 300. But Tourville was not an appeal from an order for summary judgment. Rather, on appeal, this court reviewed the district court’s findings after a trial. Tourville, 365 N.W.2d at 299 (“After a trial to the court, the district court found that appellant failed to prove any interest in the property, and appellant brought this appeal.”). The standard of review for a district court’s findings after a trial is distinct from the standard of review of a district court’s summary-judgment findings. After a trial, upon review, the findings of a trial court will not be set aside unless clearly erroneous. Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01. Upon reviewing an order for summary judgment on appeal, the reviewing court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party against whom judgment was granted. Fabio, 504 N.W.2d at 761.
Here, appellant has presented material-fact questions as to whether the anti-palimony statutes apply, including whether the parties’ sexual relationship was the sole consideration for any contract between them and, consequently, whether appellant is seeking to preserve her own property or to acquire decedent’s property. On this record, we conclude that the district court erred by granting summary judgment to respondent based on application of the anti-palimony statutes. We reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Reversed and remanded.