Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Kathleen C. Miller,
Herlandah A. Henry,
Olmsted County District Court
File No. FX962407
Gail D. Baker, Southwest Law Center, 2212 Second Street Southwest, Rochester, MN 55902 (for respondent)
William L. Bodensteiner, 309 South Main Street, Austin, MN 55912 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Harten, Presiding Judge, Short, Judge, and Amundson, Judge.
Herlandah Henry appeals from the district court's order denying his motion to vacate judgment and his request for a new trial. We affirm.
parties have read this Agreement, have given it serious thought and consideration, and understand its contents. This Agreement is fair, just and equitable under the circumstances, and it has been made in aid of an orderly and just determination of the property settlement in this matter, satisfactory to both parties. This Agreement is being entered into by the parties subsequent to the definite understanding between them that there can be no reconciliation.
Henry claims that after he realized the documents he signed did not reflect his understanding, he told court personnel to note the file, telling the judge that he did not want the judge to sign the final papers. On February 25, 1997, however, the court did sign the findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order for judgment and decree, which incorporated the terms of the agreement. On March 3, Henry wrote to the judge requesting that he reopen the case, claiming that "the paper [Henry's attorney] had me sign was different from the conditions that were presented to you in Court." On March 6, the court administrator entered judgment.
Henry moved to vacate the judgment and asked for a new trial, claiming that the property settlement was unfair, that he did not want to waive tort claims against Miller, and that he did not understand the agreement to be a full and complete settlement of his share of the property. After a hearing on May 28, the court denied Henry's motion to vacate the judgment as well as his request for a new trial. The court found that Henry did not provide sufficient grounds for a new trial under Minnesota Rule of Civil Procedure 59.01. The district court said that Henry
asserts that he did not understand what he was agreeing to when he signed the Marital Termination Agreement which subsequently became the Judgment and Decree. It is undisputed that the Marital Termination Agreement was agreed upon, initialed and signed by both parties and their attorneys * * *. Thus, [Henry] wishes to relitigate specific matters that are, in retrospect, not agreeable to him.
Henry appeals from the order denying his motion to vacate the judgment and also denying the request for a new trial. Miller, by notice of review, appeals from the district court's denial of her request for reimbursement of certain tax payments, for copies of Henry's medical records, and for reduction of Henry's property settlement by $1,000 for attorney fees and costs.
Although the district court did not cite to Minn. Stat. § 518.145 (1996), we view the findings in light of subdivision 2 of that statute, which provides:
On motion and upon terms as are just, the court may relieve a party from a judgment and decree, order, or proceeding under this chapter, except for provisions dissolving the bonds of marriage, * * * and may order a new trial or grant other relief as may be just for the following reasons:
(1) mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect;
(2) newly discovered evidence which by due diligence could not have been discovered in time to move for a new trial under the rules of civil procedure, rule 59.03;
(3) fraud, whether denominated intrinsic or extrinsic, misrepresentation, or other misconduct of an adverse party;
(4) the judgment and decree or order is void; or
(5) the judgment has been satisfied, released, or discharged, or a prior judgment and decree or order upon which it is based has been reversed or otherwise vacated, or it is no longer equitable that the judgment and decree or order should have prospective application.
Minn. Stat. § 518.145, subd. 2.
Henry argues that the judgment should be vacated because there was a cognizable mistake under subdivision 2(1). Because he did not understand the contents or consequences of the agreement, he urges reversal of the district court. Our supreme court recently addressed this issue. In Kornberg, the district court vacated a stipulated judgment, holding that a mistake can prevent the requisite meeting of the minds. 542 N.W.2d at 382. In Kornberg, however, the court found the provision in question was reached by agreement, that each party was represented by counsel during extensive negotiations, and that the provision in question "anticipated" the contingency on which the motion to vacate was based. A successor judge reinstated the judgment. Id. at 387. The supreme court found that these findings were supported by the record and were not clearly erroneous, and that the successor judge "did not abuse his discretion in denying [the] motion to reopen." Id.
Henry claims that because of his unilateral mistake, the judgment should be reopened. The district court's factual findings belie this contention. The court found that Henry, represented by counsel, read and initialed the agreement, which later became part of the judgment and decree. In addition, the agreement itself contained unequivocal acknowledgment that the parties read and understood it and that it was intended to be a final document binding on both parties.
Because the language of Minn. Stat. § 518.145 closely parallels the language of the rule, we look to cases interpreting Minn. R. Civ. P. 60.02. Shirk v. Shirk, 561 N.W.2d 519, 522 n.3 (Minn. 1997). Interpreting the mistake provision in rule 60.02, the supreme court held that unilateral mistake does not justify reopening a judgment under rule 60.02. Kubiszewski v. St. John, 518 N.W.2d 4, 7 (Minn. 1994). Henry's mistake, if any, is unilateral. His mistake alone does not justify reopening the decree.
The district court found that the agreement, the terms of which were incorporated into the judgment, was "agreed upon, initialed and signed by both parties and their attorneys," and that Henry now wanted to "relitigate specific matters that are, in retrospect, not agreeable to him." These findings are supported by the record and are not clearly erroneous.
Henry claims that there was no meeting of the minds because he did not understand the contents and consequences of the agreement. He argues that the judge should have considered factors in Tomscak v. Tomscak, 352 N.W.2d 464 (Minn. App. 1984), because Henry informed the court of his misunderstanding of the judgment before it was signed. The Tomscak case provides four factors to determine if a stipulation should be vacated. Id. at 466. However, the supreme court recently held that when a judgment and decree is entered based on a stipulation,
the stipulation is merged into the judgment and decree and the stipulation cannot thereafter be the target of attack by a party seeking relief from the judgment and decree. The sole relief from the judgment and decree lies in meeting the requirements of Minn. Stat. § 518.145, subd. 2.
Shirk, 561 N.W.2d at 522.
The Shirk court cited to Tomscak, but did not apply its factors when determining whether the district court properly reopened the judgment and decree. Therefore, our analysis centers on whether subdivision 2 provides relief, not on the Tomscak factors.
The district court's analysis focused primarily on whether a new trial should be granted. But can denial of Henry's request for a new trial be appealed where the parties entered into a stipulation and no trial was held? Of course not. See Johnson v. Johnson, 439 N.W.2d 430, 431 (Minn. App. 1989) ("A motion for a new trial is an anomaly where there has been no trial and the denial of such a motion is not appealable."). In this case, the district court's factual findings underpinning the denial of a new trial equally support denying of the motion to vacate the judgment and decree. The district court did not abuse its discretion by specifically denying both the motion to vacate and the new trial motion.
Henry also argues that he lacked the mental capacity to understand the nature and effect of what he was doing, citing Lindsey v. Lindsey, 369 N.W.2d 26, 30 (Minn. App. 1985), aff'd as modified, 388 N.W.2d 713 (Minn. 1986). No facts in the record support Henry's failure of the requisite mental capacity to understand the plain importance of what he signed. Although Henry did not finish high school and has lived in the United States for only 11 years, the record contains several examples of his English proficiency.
The district court did not abuse its discretion by denying Henry's motion to vacate the judgment and decree.