may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Deon Carmill Bennett,
Carolyn Marie Gustafson,
Filed January 7, 1998
Olmsted County District Court
File No. C8943132
Kenneth R. White, Farrish, Johnson & Maschka, P.O. Box 550, Mankato, MN 56002 (for Appellant)
Considered and decided by Davies, Presiding Judge, Willis, Judge, and Forsberg, Judge.[*]
Appellant Carolyn Marie Gustafson challenges the district court's decision to vacate a judgment. We affirm.
The parties attended a pretrial conference on February 15, 1996. Appellant was represented by counsel, and respondent attended without counsel. The district court denied respondent's request for a continuance. Appellant's counsel, respondent, and the judge then met in chambers to discuss settlement. During the discussion, appellant's counsel showed the judge several of respondent's medical records. After reviewing the records, the judge suggested that respondent accept appellant's settlement offer of $7,000, which was an increase from previous offers. Respondent accepted, and the court placed the settlement agreement on the record.
After the conference, respondent signed a statement releasing appellant and her insurance company from liability in exchange for $7,000. Appellant's attorney delivered to respondent a check for $7,000, which respondent cashed. The court notified the parties of the order for judgment and entry of judgment of dismissal with prejudice on February 22, 1996.
On January 6, 1997, respondent filed a motion to vacate and reopen the judgment. Appellant argued that the court had no jurisdiction to vacate the judgment because it had been satisfied. The district court granted respondent's motion on May 13, 1997. The district court found that the stipulated settlement was "insufficient" because (1) respondent was not represented by counsel at the February 1997 pretrial; (2) there were no extensive or detailed negotiations; and (3) respondent did not offer, nor was he questioned about, his opinion as to whether the settlement was fair and equitable. The court then determined that respondent met all the elements for excusable neglect pursuant to Minn. R. Civ. P. 60.02(a) and vacated the judgment. The court also ordered respondent to return within 30 days after the order the $7,000 he accepted in settlement.
Whether a court has jurisdiction is a question of law that this court reviews de novo. American Sharecom, Inc. v. LDB Int'l Corp., 553 N.W.2d 433, 434 (Minn. App. 1996). A court cannot vacate a satisfied judgment. Boulevard Del, Inc. v. Stillman, 343 N.W.2d 50, 52 (Minn. App. 1984). Once a judgment is satisfied on the record, it no longer exists, leaving nothing to vacate. Id. "The purpose of the rule is to give finality to satisfied judgments." American Sharecom, 553 N.W.2d at 434.
A judgment is "satisfied" when any of the following is filed with the court administrator:
(1) an execution satisfied, to the extent stated in the sheriff's return on it;
(2) a certificate of satisfaction signed and acknowledged by the judgment creditor;
(3) a like certificate signed and acknowledged by the attorney of the creditor * * *;
(4) an order of the court, made on motion, requiring the execution of a certificate of satisfaction, or directing satisfaction to be entered without it;
(5) where a judgment is docketed on transcript, a copy of either of the foregoing documents, certified by the court administrator in which the judgment was originally entered and in which the originals were filed.
Minn. Stat. § 548.15, subd. 1 (1996). Appellant argues in essence that the parties' stipulation for settlement, respondent's execution of a release and acceptance of the settlement payment, and the court's entry of a judgment of dismissal with prejudice were the functional equivalent of a satisfaction of judgment. While appellant's argument has some merit, the fact remains that none of the statutory filings required for a satisfaction of judgment was made here. We decline to extend the holding in Boulevard Del to this case and conclude that the district court had jurisdiction to consider respondent's motion.
2. Excusable Neglect
Appellant claims that the district court abused its discretion when it vacated the judgment here on the ground of excusable neglect, pursuant to Minn. R. Civ. P. 60.02(a). This court will uphold a district court's decision to grant relief under rule 60.02 absent an abuse of discretion. Pearce v. Lindstrom, 443 N.W.2d 857, 860 (Minn. App. 1989). We will view the record in the light most favorable to the district court order. Bentonize, Inc. v. Green, 431 N.W.2d 579, 582 (Minn. App. 1988).
A court may vacate a judgment if it finds "[m]istake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect." Minn. R. Civ. P. 60.02(a). The moving party has the burden of proving sufficient grounds to vacate the judgment. Nelson v. Siebert, 428 N.W.2d 394, 395 (Minn. 1988). To obtain relief for excusable neglect, the moving party must show: (1) a reasonable claim on the merits; (2) a reasonable excuse for the failure or neglect to act; (3) action with due diligence after notice of entry of judgment; and (4) that no substantial prejudice will result to the other party. Hinz v. Northland Milk & Ice Cream Co., 237 Minn. 28, 30, 53 N.W.2d 454, 456 (1952). "[A] weak showing on one factor may be offset by a strong showing on the other three factors * * *." Hellerstedt v. MacGibbon, 489 N.W.2d 247, 250 (Minn. App. 1992).
Appellant does not dispute that respondent has a reasonable claim on the merits. Appellant argues, however, that respondent does not have a reasonable excuse for failing to take action to preserve his cause of action either before or at the February 1996 pretrial conference because respondent contacted only one attorney to represent him after his first two lawyers withdrew. But the record shows that (1) respondent was left without representation when his first two attorneys withdrew shortly before the February 1996 pretrial conference, (2) respondent did not know that the district court had set a trial date until his attorneys withdrew in late January and early February 1996, respectively, and (3) the lawyer respondent contacted shortly before the pretrial conference agreed to represent him, but only if the court granted a continuance so that he could review the file and prepare for trial. The district court did not address the request for a continuance until the pretrial conference on February 15, 1996, where respondent, a non-lawyer, appeared without counsel. It appears from the record, therefore, that respondent did not know that he was unrepresented until the district court denied a continuance and suggested that respondent settle. Cf. Peterson v. Skutt Ceramic Prods., Inc., 417 N.W.2d 648, 652 (Minn. App. 1987) (finding appellants' conduct to be inexcusable neglect where one appellant was attorney and appellants knew they had six months to prepare for trial, but left town assuming that court would grant request for continuance), review denied (Minn. Mar. 18, 1988). We conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that under the circumstances here respondent had a reasonable excuse for failing to seek more than one replacement attorney during the two weeks preceding the February 1996 pretrial conference.
Appellant also argues that the record contains no evidence to support the district court's finding that respondent acted with due diligence after notice of the entry of judgment in proceeding with his motion to vacate. Respondent acted within the one-year period provided by rule 60.02 for motions based on excusable neglect. But he did not file his motion until approximately ten months after receiving notice of entry of judgment. While there is some evidence in the record to support the district court's finding that respondent was waiting for a medical report before deciding whether to proceed with a motion to vacate, that evidence does not explain the delay entirely. But respondent's weak showing on the due diligence factor is offset by his strong showing on the other three factors. See Hellerstedt, 489 N.W.2d at 250.
Appellant contends that the district court abused its discretion in finding that she had not shown she would suffer substantial prejudice if the court vacated the judgment. The burden of proof is on the moving party to show that the other party will not suffer substantial prejudice if the court vacated the judgment. Nelson, 428 N.W.2d at 395. The district court erred in placing the burden on appellant to show that she would not suffer substantial prejudice if the case were reopened, but the error was harmless because the record shows that appellant would be prejudiced only if the court vacated the judgment and respondent kept the $7,000 he received in settlement. To avoid that possibility, the district court conditioned vacating the judgment on repayment by respondent to appellant of the $7,000 he had accepted in settlement.
Appellant also argues that the risk and uncertainty of an excess verdict is substantial prejudice. Parties have a right to expect that a judgment is final unless relief is warranted under rule 60. Carter v. Anderson, 554 N.W.2d 110, 115 (Minn. App. 1996), review denied (Minn. Dec. 23, 1996). Moreover, the courts recognize that any time a court vacates a judgment and reopens a case, some prejudice is inherent to the party opposing the motion. Riley ex rel. Swanson v. Herbes, 524 N.W.2d 523, 526 (Minn. App. 1994). But "where the only prejudice is added expense and delay, substantial prejudice of the kind necessary to keep a judgment from being reopened does not exist." Peterson, 417 N.W.2d at 651. Appellant correctly states that she will experience added risk and uncertainty from reopening the judgment, but that is not the substantial prejudice necessary to defeat a motion to vacate. Because respondent has made a strong showing on three of the four elements needed to show excusable neglect under Minn. R. Civ. P. 60.02(a), the district court did not abuse its discretion in vacating the judgment.
Appellant also argues that the district court erroneously determined whether the stipulation was "sufficien[t]" by applying a test used for stipulated property settlements in dissolution cases. Because we have determined that the district court did not abuse its discretion in vacating the judgment for excusable neglect, we need not address that issue.
Judge Bruce D. Willis
[ ]* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.
[ ]1 Respondent argues that appellant did not raise the jurisdictional issue before the district court, so this court should not consider it. See Thiele v. Stich, 425 N.W.2d 580, 582 (Minn. 1988) (stating that appellate courts refuse to address issues and theories not raised in or decided by district court). But appellant raised this issue in her memorandum in opposition to respondent's motion to vacate although the court did not address this issue in its order. Even if appellant had not raised this issue to the district court, a party may raise lack of subject matter jurisdiction at any time. Berke v. Resolution Trust Corp., 483 N.W.2d 712, 714 (Minn. App. 1992) (citing Minn. R. Civ. P. 12.08(c)), review denied (Minn. May 21, 1992).