may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
Arnold Olson, Sr., et al.,
Gary Olson, et al.,
File No. CO971149
Delray L. Sparby, Ihle & Sparby, P.A., 312 North Main Avenue, P.O. Box 574, Thief River Falls, MN 56701 (for respondents)
Kenneth F. Johannson, Johannson, Taylor, Rust & Fagerlund, 407 North Broadway, P.O. Box 605, Crookston, MN 56716 (for appellants)
Considered and decided by Harten, Presiding Judge, Short, Judge, and Amundson, Judge.
Arnold Olson, Sr. (father) and his wife Mervyn Olson (now deceased) deeded property to their six children in equal shares, reserved for themselves a life estate, and continued to live on that property. The father and his children subsequently executed a second deed to his son and daughter-in-law, Gary and Patricia Olson (the Olsons), granting them part of that property, which included the home and several buildings. The deed, which was prepared by an attorney and signed by the father and his children, did not reserve a life estate for the father. Approximately four years after execution of this deed, the Olsons decided to sell the property. The father and his other children sued the Olsons seeking to enjoin the sale and to reform the deed to reflect the parties' intent that a life estate be reserved for the father. After trial, the court ordered reformation of the deed based on mutual mistake. On appeal, the Olsons argue the trial court improperly: (1) reformed the deed; and (2) admitted oral testimony concerning the deed. We affirm.
This court will not set aside a trial court's findings of fact unless clearly erroneous. Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01; Gjovik v. Strope, 401 N.W.2d 664, 667 (Minn. 1987). On appeal from the decision of a trial court sitting without a jury, we determine whether the evidence sustains the findings of fact and whether such findings sustain the conclusions of law and judgment. Minn. R. Crim. P. 52.01. While we afford due regard to the trial court's opportunity to judge witness credibility, we do not defer to a trial court's decision on purely legal issues. Id. (witness credibility); Frost-Benco Elec. Ass'n v. Minnesota Pub. Utlis. Comm'n, 358 N.W.2d 639, 642 (Minn. 1984) (legal issues).
The Olsons argue the facts do not support reformation based on mutual mistake. However, the record shows: (1) the father owned the disputed property for over 50 years; (2) while the initial deed to his children reserved a life estate for the father, the second deed to the Olsons failed to do so; (3) prior to executing the second deed to the Olsons, the father told them he would give them the part of the land with the buildings, but that they couldn't sell the property while he was alive because he wanted to live on the property; (4) the father claims the Olsons agreed to this arrangement, and that he would not have transferred the property under different circumstances; (5) two of the father's other children, who were present during this conversation, confirmed the parties reached this agreement; (6) the father's other children understood the agreement to be that the father would stay in a trailer house on the property for as long as he lived or wanted to live there, and that the property would not be sold until he chose to leave or until his death; (7) after executing the deed, the father moved a trailer home and garage onto the property, without the Olsons' permission or consent, and remained there until 1997; (8) the father paid no rent while living on the property; and (9) the Olsons are the only parties to the deed who deny the existence of this oral agreement.
Viewing the record in the light most favorable to the trial court's decision, there is ample evidence that the parties orally agreed to reserve a life estate for the father, that the deed failed to reflect this agreement, and that the mistake was made by all parties involved. Under these circumstances, we cannot say the trial court erred by reforming the deed. See Metro Office Parks Co. v. Control Data Co., 295 Minn. 348, 353, 205 N.W.2d 121, 124 (1973) (concluding trial court's determination regarding reformation will not be disturbed unless it is manifestly contrary to evidence); see, e.g., Hines v. Bauer, 158 Minn. 298, 299, 197 N.W. 483, 483 (1924) (concluding trial court did not err in reforming deed where, on conflicting evidence, plaintiffs convinced trial court truthfulness and right on their side, and ample evidence supports conclusion).