Thursday, February 28, 2008

Maintenance: Karon Waiver Invalid Without Independent Findings Required in Minn. Stat. 518.552(5)

In an unpublished decision in McDaniel v. McDaniel, MN COURT OF APPEALS 06-2446, the Court of Appeals held that the district court's failure to make the required findings made the parties' Karon Waiver ineffective.
In McDaniel, the parties’ marriage was dissolved on August 21, 2000. The dissolution decree, which was based on a stipulated agreement, awarded the wife spousal maintenance of $600 per week for 20 years and provided that payments would not terminate upon her remarriage. The Karon waiver was included, stating:
It is further stipulated and agreed that except for the aforesaid maintenance, each party waives and is forever barred from receiving any spousal maintenance whatsoever from one another, and this court is divested from having any jurisdiction whatsoever to award temporary or permanent maintenance to either of the parties.
It is further understood and agreed that both parties specifically waive any right to return to court to seek a modification of either the amount or the term of the aforesaid maintenance, based upon a change of circumstances . . . or to seek cost-of-living increases . . .
It is further agreed that the court shall retain jurisdiction solely to enforce husband's obligation to pay maintenance to wife . . . . Wife's waiver of the right to further or additional maintenance is null and void if wife's economic rights and/or responsibilities are adversely affected by husband's discharge of any obligation in a bankruptcy proceeding or non-payment .
Husband then moved for modification of his spousal maintenance obligation in August 2006, claiming that "the terms of the Judgment and Decree were unfair and inequitable" and that he and the wife both had a substantial change in income. Husband also claimed that, when he signed the marital termination agreement, he was suffering from major depression and was not represented by counsel.
The district court denied husband’s motion for modification, concluding that the dissolution court had met the requirements of 518.552 (5) by specifically finding that the marital termination agreement’s waiver provision was fair and equitable and supported by consideration and that full disclosure of financial circumstances occurred between the parties.
The aforementioned statute requires the following specific findings of the district court in order to preclude or limit modification of maintenance:
1. The stipulation is fair and equitable;
2. The stipulation is supported by consideration described in the findings;
3. Full disclosure of each party’s financial circumstances has occurred.
The Court of Appeals relied on the plain language of the statute, which requires the district court itself to specifically make the findings, not to merely recite the parties’ agreed-upon stipulations.
The Court of Appeals found that the District Court merely recited the parties' agreement into the findings, and that this mere repetition of the parties’ language did not fulfill the statutory requirement that the dissolution court specifically find that the agreement was 1.fair and equitable, 2. supported by consideration, and 3. that full disclosure has occurred.
Based on the foregoing the Court of Appeals ruled that the dissolution court’s judgment failed to divest the district court of subject matter jurisdiction over modification of appellant’s spousal maintenance obligations because the dissolution court did not make its own independent findings as required by Minn. Stat. § 518.552(5).

Thursday, February 14, 2008

MN DUI Law: One foot in the car and tossing the keys to a third party is not "Physical Control"

Snyder v. Comm'r of Pub. Safety, 2008 Minn. App. LEXIS 11
On September 2, 2006, Jason Snyder attended a wedding reception, where he was involved in an altercation with some of the other guests. The police arrived as Snyder, his wife, and two of their friends were walking toward a vehicle parked in a lot adjoining the reception site. As they approached, they observed Snyder unlock the driver's side door. Snyder opened the door, placed his right foot inside the passenger compartment, and had his left hand, which was holding keys, on the door. Snyder noticed Deputy Wirkkula approaching, and turned around and began walking toward the squad car. As he walked, he tossed the keys to his wife. Snyder was then arrested for DWI and his license was revoked under the implied consent law.

In reversing the decision of the District Court, the Court of Appeals stated that, "a person's license is revoked if he or she was in physical control of a vehicle and had an alcohol concentration higher than .08. "The term 'physical control' is more comprehensive than 'drive' or 'operate.'" The Minnesota Supreme Court has determined that an acceptable jury instruction describing "physical control" may read as follows: Being in a position to exercise dominion or control over the vehicle. Thus, a person is in physical control of a vehicle if he has the means to initiate any movement of that vehicle and he is in close proximity to the operating controls of the vehicle, and this is true whether the vehicle can be driven on the highway at that point or not.Furthermore, "physical control is meant to cover situations where an inebriated person is found in a parked vehicle under circumstances where the car, without too much difficulty, might again be started and become a source of danger to the operator, to others, or to property." Intent to operate does not have to be shown in order to find that an individual is in physical control. But mere presence in or about the vehicle is not enough to show physical control; a court examines the overall situation in making its determination. In certain circumstances, the overall situation has indicated that a defendant was in "physical control" of a vehicle even when not located inside the passenger compartment. For example, a motorist standing at the rear of the vehicle was found to be in "physical control" when the vehicle had a flat tire, the engine was running, the key was in the ignition, no one else was present, and she owned the vehicle. But often, whether the motorist involved is seated in the motor vehicle is an important factor involved in the overall consideration of whether he or she is exercising physical dominion over a vehicle. Moreover, Snyder handed his keys to a third party before getting into the car, ending the prospects for his driving or taking control of the vehicle. Before appellant relinquished his keys, he was someone who could start the car without much trouble. But a showing that he had physical control, creating danger, required evidence of special circumstances surrounding recent use, or evidence that he became seated or otherwise dealt with the operation of the car.
Based on the record the Court of Appeals found that Snyder could not be found to have been in "physical control" sufficient for license revocation under the implied consent law therefore the decision sustaining revocation of his license was reversed.