This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. ' 480A.08, subd. 3 (1994).


In Re the Marriage of:
Robert F. Odell, petitioner,


Frances A. Odell,

Filed August 6, 1996
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded
Huspeni, Judge

Anoka County District Court
File No. F4921511

Kay Nord Hunt, Stacy A. DeKalb, Lommen, Nelson, Cole & Stageberg, P.A., 1800 IDS Center, 80 South Eighth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for Appellant)

Rebecca H. Frederick, Rebecca H. Frederick Law Offices, Suite 550, 7301 Ohms Lane, Edina, MN 55439 (for Respondent)

Considered and decided by Huspeni, Presiding Judge, Toussaint, Chief Judge, and Foley, Judge.*



Appellant Robert Odell contests the trial court's appointment of a special master to review appellant's financial transactions for the purpose of enforcing a provision of the judgment and decree awarding an interest in appellant's stock and businesses to respondent Frances Odell. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.


The parties were divorced in October 1993. During their marriage, they derived a significant portion of their income from five nursing home businesses owned by appellant. Upon the parties' divorce, respondent elected not to take a shareholder status in the five businesses, and appellant was awarded all interest in the businesses, subject to a lien in respondent's favor. This arrangement was set forth in the judgment and decree as follows:

NURSING HOMES AND STOCK. [Appellant] is awarded as his own, free of any interest of Respondent, all of his stock in the following nursing home corporations, subject to a lien in favor of Respondent as set forth herein:

a. Pelican Lake Health Care Center, Inc.;

b. Crestview Manor, Inc.;

c. Cannon Falls Manor Nursing Home, Inc.;

d. McIntosh Nursing Home, Inc.; and

e. McIntosh Apartments, Inc.;

At such time as the stock of each of said nursing homes is sold, or when there is a sale in which substantially all of the assets of each of said corporations is sold, Respondent shall receive a portion of the proceeds [appellant] receives from each of said sales, in an amount as set forth herein * * *.

In July 1995, respondent moved for "a full accounting of all [appellant's] transactions affecting the Respondent's interests, as provided for in * * * the Judgment and Decree." In her affidavit in support of this motion, respondent contended that appellant sold one of the five nursing home businesses, McIntosh Apartments, without giving respondent any of the proceeds as directed in the judgment, instead sending respondent a letter explaining that she would not be paid anything from the sale of the McIntosh Apartments because appellant made no profit from the sale.

The trial court held two hearings on respondent's motion and ultimately issued an order appointing a special master to "review all financial transactions affecting the Respondent's interests, as provided for in [the nursing home provision] of the Judgment and Decree," explaining that "the Court is not qualified to make in-camera review * * * based on the kinds of accountings that we anticipate." Appellant contests the appointment of the special master.


Trial courts have the authority to appoint experts to assist them to enforce or interpret a judgment and decree. Minn. R. Civ. P. 53 (describing court's authority to appoint a referee "when issues are complicated" and particularly when the court is faced with "matters of account"); Minn. R. Gen. Pract. 310.01 (family court referee may appoint mediator "upon [its] own initiative" to address any or all issues of controversy between the parties). It was within the discretion of the trial court to appoint a special master in this case to review the complicated issue of whether appellant has complied with the decree provision governing respondent's rights with respect to the sale of his nursing home assets. We affirm that appointment. C.f. Haala v. Haala, 387 NW.2d 678, 679 (Minn. App. 1986) (a trial court has inherent equitable power to enforce and interpret a dissolution judgment).

The trial court's order is problematic, however, insofar as it has the potential to extend beyond enforcing the decree to improperly modifying the decree. While the order details with some specificity what materials the parties are to provide the special master, and how the master's fees are to be paid, the order's only statement with respect to the master's authority is:

Stephen Dennis is appointed as a Special Master in this matter to review all financial transactions affecting the Respondent's interests, as provided for in [the nursing home provision] of the Judgment and Decree.

We believe this language is too limited and too vague to inform Mr. Dennis of his duties. It does not mention the McIntosh Apartments sale. Further, it does not direct Mr. Dennis to consider only appellant's past actions, leaving room for Mr. Dennis to oversee appellant's future decisions regarding the businesses; decisions that the decree places entirely in appellant's control. The decree did not limit appellant's authority with regard to the properties awarded to him; it requires only that respondent receive a portion of the proceeds from sale of stock or assets.

Having reviewed the record and the transcripts, we find no indication that respondent challenges appellant's actions other than his failure to pay respondent after the sale of the McIntosh Apartments. The order appointing a special master should thus be drawn so as to authorize the master to review the sale of the McIntosh Apartments and determine whether appellant complied with the judgment and decree; it should not authorize the master to take action beyond the scope of that issue.

We remand to give the trial court the opportunity to issue a narrower order framed to accomplish the purpose of reviewing the McIntosh Apartments sale that respondent contends violated the decree. Respondent's request for attorney's fees is denied.

Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.


* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, ' 10.