may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
David Determan, Kevin Determan,
d/b/a Determan Farms, a Partnership,
Filed August 26, 1997
Cottonwood County District Court
File No. C0-97-1
James B. O'Leary, O'Leary & Moritz, Chartered, 102 N. Marshall, P.O. Box 76, Springfield, MN 56087 (for appellant)
Ronald J. Schramel, McDonald & Gudmestad, 906 Fourth Avenue, P.O. Box 505, Windom, MN 56101 (for respondents)
Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge, Randall, Judge, and Harten, Judge.
Appellant Lowell Determan appeals from an unlawful detainer judgment that denied him a writ of restitution to recover certain farmland leased to respondents David Determan and Kevin Determan, d/b/a Determan Farms. Appellant argues that the district court misapplied the doctrine of res judicata. We affirm.
Later, the Trust brought two separate unlawful detainer actions to remove the hog operation from the land awarded to it by the district court. Appellant also brought two separate unlawful detainer actions to remove respondents from the farmland awarded to him. In appellant's first unlawful detainer action against respondents, the district court found no cause of action and dismissed. Appellant filed a notice of appeal, but later voluntarily dismissed the appeal as untimely.
In December 1996, appellant brought a second unlawful detainer action against respondents. The district court dismissed the second action on res judicata grounds, concluding that the second action involved the same cause of action and issue litigated in appellant's first unlawful detainer action.
We review de novo whether the doctrine of res judicata is applicable to a given set of facts. Erickson v. Commissioner of Dep't of Human Servs., 494 N.W.2d 58, 61 (Minn. App. 1992). If the doctrine is applicable, the ultimate decision whether actually to apply it is within the district court's discretion. Id.
1. Appellant argues that the district court erred in finding that the farmland lease with respondents did not expire until December 31, 1998. Review of the entire record, including the original partnership dissolution action and the subsequent unlawful detainer actions brought by both appellant and the Trust, indicates that the district court treated the farmland lease and the farm-equipment lease as interdependent coextensive agreements. That is, although the farmland lease ran for a fixed term with automatic renewal unless terminated by September 1, the district court construed this provision in conjunction with the December 31, 1998, expiration date of the farm-equipment lease. The district court explained that the leases "must be read together" and concluded that the farmland lease expired at the same time as the farm-equipment lease.
Appellant did not challenge the district court's construction of the farmland and farm-equipment leases together in the original partnership dissolution action or in the subsequent unlawful detainer actions. Therefore, we cannot conclude in this action that the district court erred in finding that the farmland lease expired on December 31, 1998. See Dieseth v. Calder Mfg. Co., 275 Minn. 365, 370, 147 N.W.2d 100, 103 (1966) ("Even though the decision of the trial court in the first order may have been wrong, if it is an appealable order it is still final after the time for appeal has expired.").
2. Appellant argues that the district court erred when it applied res judicata to the facts in the instant case and dismissed the action--his second unlawful detainer action against respondents. We disagree.
The doctrine of res judicata in its broadest sense encompasses two separate doctrines: (1) claim preclusion, which forecloses further litigation on a cause of action; and (2) issue preclusion or collateral estoppel, which precludes further litigation of an issue. Gulbranson v. Gulbranson, 408 N.W.2d 216, 217 (Minn. App. 1987). Claim preclusion is applicable when there has been a final judgment on the merits, a second suit involving the same claim, and identical parties or parties in privity. In re Trusts by Hormel, 543 N.W.2d 668, 671 (Minn. App. 1996). The second doctrine, that of issue preclusion (collateral estoppel), prevents a party from relitigating an issue previously determined in a suit between the same parties or their privies. Cole v. Paulson, 380 N.W.2d 215, 218 (Minn. App. 1986). The issue must have been actually litigated and necessary to the outcome of the prior action. Id.
We have recognized that the collateral estoppel effect of a writ of restitution is limited. Id. Generally, an unlawful detainer action is a summary proceeding designed to determine the right to possession; it does not serve as a bar to subsequent actions concerning title or other equitable defenses. Pushor v. Dale, 242 Minn. 564, 568-69, 66 N.W.2d 11, 14 (1954). Nonetheless, a final judgment in an unlawful detainer action may be given res judicata effect. See Ferch v. Hiller, 210 Minn. 3, 7, 297 N.W. 102, 104 (1941) ("A judgment of restitution is conclusive not only of the right of possession but the facts upon which such right rested."); see also Ellis v. Minneapolis Comm'n on Civil Rights, 319 N.W.2d 702, 704 (Minn. 1982) (giving collateral estoppel effect to a prior unlawful detainer action where parties were given a full and fair opportunity to litigate the particular issue).
Here, the district court in its memorandum concluded that the "cause of action and issue" involved in appellant's first action--whether appellant, as owner of the farmland pursuant to the partnership dissolution order, was allowed to give notice to respondents and terminate the farmland lease--was the same as appellant's second action. Accordingly, the district court found that both claim preclusion and issue preclusion applied to the facts of the instant action.
With respect to issue preclusion, the district court was presented with the same issue in the first and second unlawful detainer actions (i.e., whether appellant could terminate respondents' farmland lease). Moreover, this issue was essential to the district court's determination of appellant's right of possession in the unlawful detainer actions--because the district court found that appellant could not terminate respondents' farmland lease, it followed that appellant had no right of possession. Therefore, the district court correctly found that issue preclusion applied to the facts of the instant action.
Furthermore, with respect to claim preclusion, appellant does not dispute that there has been a final judgment in the first unlawful detainer action and that the parties in the first action are identical with the parties in the instant action. Appellant contends, however, that the district court never decided in the first action whether he could terminate the farmland lease prior to December 31, 1998. We disagree. In the first action, the district court concluded that appellant
but for the right to rents, has no further interest in the farm leases with [respondents] until their expiration, at which time he can do what he pleases with the land assigned * * *.
Thus, the district court ruled that appellant could not terminate the farmland lease with respondents until its expiration.
Appellant further contends that there was no record in the first action. The parties' voluntary waiver of a hearing does not mean there was no record. The record consisted of appellant's complaint, respondents' answer, and the parties' stipulated facts; the 1989 and 1994 farmland leases were attached as stipulated exhibits. See Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 110.01 ("[T]he papers filed in the trial court, the exhibits, and the transcript of the proceeding, if any, shall constitute the record on appeal in all cases."). (Emphasis added.) Therefore, appellant, given a full and fair opportunity to litigate the claim, voluntarily decided to waive a hearing and submit the matter on stipulated facts.
Appellant also maintains that his successive unlawful detainer actions differed because the first action did not involve the 1994 farmland lease. The record in the first action, however, demonstrates to the contrary: (1) appellant's complaint based his action on the 1994 farmland lease; (2) he stipulated to submission of the 1994 farmland lease; and (3) in its decision, the district court referenced both the 1989 and 1994 farmland leases. Moreover, when questioned by the district court in the second action, appellant conceded that there probably was not any difference between his first and second actions. Accordingly, the doctrine of claim preclusion may be applied to facts in the instant case. On this record, we conclude the district court did not abuse its discretion in applying res judicata.
Finally, we observe that our decision in no way alters or abrogates respondents' continuing obligation to pay rent under the farmland lease until the lease's expiration on December 31, 1998.
[ ]1 The district court ordered that parts of the district court file in the partnership dissolution action and the subsequent unlawful detainer actions by appellant and the Trust be included in the record of this appeal. The district court stated that inclusion of information from these proceedings would "provide a more complete picture" for the appellate court and would "be of assistance in analyzing the legal issues presented by" this appeal.