EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Sunday, July 11, 2010

It's Settled: Court Of Appeals Of Minnesota Finds Affidavit Seeking To Vacate Settlement Not Covered By Rule 408

Similar to its federal counterpart, Minnesota Rule of Evidence 408 provides that

Evidence of (1) furnishing or offering or promising to furnish, or (2) accepting or offering or promising to accept, a valuable consideration in compromising or attempting to compromise a claim which was disputed as to either validity or amount, is not admissible to prove liability for or invalidity of the claim or its amount. Evidence of conduct or statements made in compromise negotiations is likewise not admissible. This rule does not require the exclusion of any evidence otherwise discoverable merely because it is presented in the course of compromise negotiations. This rule also does not require exclusion when the evidence is offered for another purpose, such as proving bias or prejudice of a witness, negativing a contention of undue delay, or proving an effort to obstruct a criminal investigation or prosecution.

And, as the recent opinion of the Court of Appeals of Minnesota in Engle v. Engle, 2010 WL 2650433 (Minn.App. 2010), makes clear, an affidavit seeking to vacate a settlement is not covered by Rule 408.

In Engle, in April 2004, Bonnie Engle obtained an order of protection against her husband, Joseph Engle, and petitioned for the dissolution of their more than 30-year marriage. Eventually, the parties entered into a settlement agreement, under which certain items of personal property were specifically awarded to each party, and the remaining personal property was to be sold at an auction, with the proceeds to be split evenly between the parties.

In May 2006, however, Joseph

moved to vacate the settlement agreement, claiming it was not an equitable distribution of assets and that he did not understand the agreement when he entered into it. [Bonnie] moved to enforce the agreement and for attorney fees. As part of his motion to vacate the settlement, [Joseph] submitted an affidavit that included a proposed equitable division of assets. In his affidavit, [Joseph] alleged that the property division under the settlement resulted in an award to [Bonnie] of assets valued at $466,450 and that the assets awarded to him were worth only $389,200. He reached his asset valuation by valuing the personal property awarded to him under the settlement-a Camaro ($10,000), a motorcycle ($1,800), all of his tools and tool boxes ($8,500), a Suburban ($1,000), a Jeep ($500), and “various personal property” ($5,000)-at $26,800. To correct this alleged inequity, he “request [ed] that all the vehicles and equipment stored in the sheds, the depot and outside on the property and up at [the parties' son]'s farm” be awarded to him. He claimed that this property “together with the personal property [he] would receive under the settlement [agreement], [was] worth approximately $50,000.” [Joseph] also requested $18,400 in stocks and his 401(k) to allegedly balance the division of assets between the parties. His motion was denied.

Meanwhile, Bonnie's motion to enforce the settlement agreement was granted, and a dissolution judgment memorializing the terms of the settlement agreement was entered. The auction agreed to by the parties was thereafter held and grossed approximately $40,000, which netted the parties approximately $13,000 each. Joseph thereafter appealed, moving to enforce the judgment and for damages, claiming that the items sold at the auction included items that he was specifically awarded in the settlement agreement and that the auction did not include all of the personal property available for sale. Relying in part on Joseph's affidavit, the court denied his motion, finding that (besides two trailers) "none of the personal property specifically awarded to husband in the dissolution was intentionally sold at the auction and that there was not sufficient evidence to show that any property that should have been included in the auction was intentionally excluded.

Joseph thereafter appealed, claiming, inter alia, that the affidavit was inadmissible under Minnesota Rule of Evidence 408. The Court of Appeals of Minnesota disagreed, initially noting that the Rule "states that evidence is inadmissible if (1) it constitutes an offer to compromise a disputed claim, (2) it is offered to prove the invalidity of the claim or the amount of the claim, and (3) it is not being offered for a different, legitimate purpose." The court then held that the affidavit was not inadmissible under this Rule because "[t]he purpose of the affidavit was to show why the settlement that had already been reached should be vacated. Because it was not a settlement offer, the affidavit [wa]s not inadmissible under rule 408."



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