Soli v. Soli, 940353

Citation534 N.W.2d 21
Decision Date27 June 1995
Docket NumberNo. 940353,940353
PartiesJohn B. SOLI, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. Edith F. SOLI, Defendant and Appellee. Civ.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of North Dakota

John O. Moosbrugger (argued), Moosbrugger, Ohlsen, Dvorak & Carter, Grand Forks, for plaintiff and appellant.

Constance L. Triplett (argued), Triplett Law Office, Grand Forks, for defendant and appellee.

NEUMANN, Justice.

John Soli appeals the vacation of an amended judgment which had been entered pursuant to a stipulation, and from the reinstatement of the prior amended judgment. We affirm.

Edith and John Soli were married January 1953. The parties were legally separated in February 1983 pursuant to a written stipulation. At three different times the issue of property distribution between the parties has been determined by written stipulations. Because not all of the property issues were contemplated by their February 1983 judgment, a second stipulation was made in April of 1983 allowing the entry of an amended judgment.

John had severe financial problems both before and after the parties' separation, and he was abusive, both physically and verbally, towards Edith. The abuse escalated in 1991, around the time John entered an alcohol treatment program which he failed to complete. Edith obtained a temporary adult abuse protection order against John. That order eventually was made permanent. Despite the order his harassment continued, and eventually he convinced Edith to have the order vacated.

John also convinced Edith to move out of the house which had been awarded her under the preceding stipulations because, as he told her, he had lost his railroad disability payments and could no longer make the mortgage payments. He claimed the sale of the house was the only way he could continue to provide for her under the stipulated property agreement. John proceeded to present Edith with several different proposals for the readjustment of their property settlement.

After rejecting several proposals, Edith, acting without counsel, eventually agreed to one. Edith signed the third stipulation, which was incorporated into the second amended and final judgment, at John's attorney's office in July 1991. In accordance with this third stipulation, Edith deeded the marital home to John, who agreed to sell it as soon as reasonably possible. In return Edith was to receive 10 percent of the proceeds of the sale and payments of $500 per month until she reached 65.

John now admits he never stopped receiving his railroad disability. John also failed to sell the house and apparently moved in permanently (as suggested by his new furniture purchases), all after Edith vacated the premises in accordance with the third stipulation. Finally, John made only one $500 payment to Edith.

At this point, Edith retained counsel and moved to rescind the property settlement stipulation underlying the second amended judgment. After a lengthy delay for valid reasons, Edith's motion was granted. The trial court reinstated the previous property distribution and ordered entry of a third amended judgment, which also granted a divorce. 1

John argues the trial court erred on two separate grounds. He argues Edith's motion to rescind the stipulation was an improper procedural vehicle in light of our adoption of the merger doctrine of judgments in Sullivan v. Quist, 506 N.W.2d 394 (N.D.1993). John asserts the only proper motion would have been one for relief from judgment under NDRCivP 60(b) without reference to the stipulation, and that Edith failed to make such a motion. He also argues the title of Edith's motion misled him and prevented his proper response. On both counts we disagree.

I. Edith's Motion As an Improper Procedural Vehicle

Edith's motion to the trial court was titled "Motion to Rescind Property Settlement Stipulation." John asserts this was an improper procedural vehicle in light of Sullivan v. Quist, 506 N.W.2d 394, and argues the trial court's decision in this matter therefore was improper. John claims the only proper way for Edith to attack the judgment was through the use of a motion made under NDRCivP 60(b).

John reads Edith's motion as being an attack only on the underlying stipulation and not upon the judgment. Such a narrow construction of her motion, however, is unreasonable, especially since, in her brief in support of her motion she quotes NDRCivP 60(b) in its entirety.

We conclude, just as the trial court concluded, that this is a Rule 60(b) motion and was presented in that way. We agree that a more complete title might have included a reference to Rule 60(b), NDRCivP, and to vacation of the judgment, but this alone cannot be fatal.

Because the judgment Edith is attacking was based on a stipulation, she bears the burden of a two-step process in order to have it set aside.

Where the judgment sought to be set aside has been entered pursuant to a contractual stipulation, such as the property settlement agreement at issue, the party challenging the judgment under Rule 60(b) has the additional burden of showing that under the law of contracts there is justification for setting the contract aside.

Hill v. Hill, 392 N.W.2d 819, 821 (N.D.1986); see also Wolfe v. Wolfe, 391 N.W.2d 617, 620 (N.D.1986). The trial court's ruling addresses both steps.

In our review we determine whether the trial court abused its discretion in granting ...

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11 cases
  • Estate of Steven H. Harris Bruce G. Harris v. Harris
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of North Dakota
    • February 28, 2017
    ...and should be granted only in exceptional circumstances." Grinaker v. Grinaker, 553 N.W.2d 204, 207 (N.D. 1996) (citing Soli v. Soli, 534 N.W.2d 21, 23 (N.D. 1995)). "[A] Rule 60(b) motion 'is not to be used to relieve a party from free, calculated, and deliberate choices,' and 'a party rem......
  • Harris v. Harris (In re Estate of Harris), 20160084
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of North Dakota
    • February 28, 2017
    ...and should be granted only in exceptional circumstances." Grinaker v. Grinaker , 553 N.W.2d 204, 207 (N.D.1996) (citing Soli v. Soli , 534 N.W.2d 21, 23 (N.D.1995) ). "[A] Rule 60(b) motion ‘is not to be used to relieve a party from free, calculated, and deliberate choices,’ and ‘a party re......
  • Riak v. State
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of North Dakota
    • May 27, 2015
    ...there is justification for setting the contract aside. ” Peterson v. Peterson, 555 N.W.2d 359, 361 (N.D.1996) (citing Soli v. Soli, 534 N.W.2d 21, 23 (N.D.1995) ). We are not convinced the trial court abused its discretion in denying Thomas' motion to vacate the order distributing the estat......
  • Palmer v. State
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of North Dakota
    • May 17, 2012
    ...there is justification for setting the contract aside.” Peterson v. Peterson, 555 N.W.2d 359, 361 (N.D.1996) (citing Soli v. Soli, 534 N.W.2d 21, 23 (N.D.1995)). We are not convinced the trial court abused its discretion in denying Thomas' motion to vacate the order distributing the estate.......
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