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Kukla v. Kukla

Supreme Court of North Dakota

October 22, 2013

Roberta (Bobbi) Marie KUKLA, Plaintiff and Appellee
Wayne KUKLA, Defendant and Appellant.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Suzanne M. Schweigert (argued) and Stacy M. Moldenhauer (on brief), Bismarck, N.D., for plaintiff and appellee.

Zachary E. Pelham (argued) and Meredith Vukelic (appeared), Bismarck, N.D., for defendant and appellant.


[¶ 1] Wayne Kukla appeals from an amended judgment entered after the district court granted Roberta (" Bobbi" ) Marie Kukla's motion to amend and vacate a 2004 divorce judgment. We conclude the district court abused its discretion in granting Bobbi Kukla's motion under N.D.R.Civ.P. 60. We therefore reverse the amended judgment and reinstate the 2004 divorce judgment.


[¶ 2] This case involves the propriety of amending a divorce judgment to alter ownership of mineral acres located within certain farm property located in Dunn County. Bobbi Kukla and Wayne Kukla were divorced in a judgment entered on February 11, 2004, after the parties reached a stipulated settlement. The parties did not execute a written agreement, but rather an oral representation of the terms and conditions of the parties' agreement was read into the record at a January 15, 2004, hearing in the district court.

[¶ 3] Both parties acknowledged their agreement with what was read into the record at the time of the 2004 hearing. Regarding the distribution of the parties' real property, Bobbi Kukla's attorney stated the following:

With regard to the property division, Your Honor, the real estate will be divided, as follows:
The farm real estate will be awarded to [Wayne Kukla] and [Bobbi Kukla] shall execute any necessary deeds as quitclaim or whatever that's needed to transfer that.
The residence in Killdeer will be awarded to [Bobbi Kukla].
The mineral acres that are currently in existence will be divided equally. They will each have an undivided one-half interest in those mineral acres.

[¶ 4] The findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order for judgment entered at the time of the divorce distributed the residence and farm property but made no reference to any mineral acres. Notably, the parties also owned other mineral interests together as joint tenants. The subsequently entered divorce judgment distributed to Bobbi Kukla the residence in Killdeer and distributed to Wayne Kukla the farm property, " [s]ubject to all encumbrances of record, but free and clear

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of any claim on the part of [Bobbi Kukla]." The judgment also made no reference to mineral acres owned by the parties or the parties' agreement to equally divide the mineral interests " currently in existence." In March 2004, Bobbi Kukla executed and delivered a quitclaim deed for the farm property to Wayne Kukla, without any reservation or exception for the minerals.

[¶ 5] In April 2012, over eight years after entry of the divorce judgment and filing of the quitclaim deed, Bobbi Kukla moved the district court for relief under N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(a) and 60(b)(1) and (6). In her motion, she requested the court correct a " clerical error" because the court failed to address the mineral acres in the divorce judgment and award her an undivided one-half interest in the mineral acres under the parties' agreement. Wayne Kukla opposed the motion, arguing Bobbi Kukla was not entitled to relief, because there was no error or omission in the judgment and eight years had passed since their divorce judgment was entered. In August 2012, the court held an evidentiary hearing during which both Bobbi Kukla and Wayne Kukla testified and were cross-examined on their submitted affidavits.

[¶ 6] In November 2012, the district court granted relief from the divorce judgment under N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(a) and 60(b)(6). The court held there was no ambiguity in the oral agreement regarding division of the mineral estate, in that the parties " intended to divide all of the mineral acres they owned, both severed and non-severed, equally between them." The court found " exceptional circumstances" existed justifying relief because the divorce judgment did not reflect the parties' full agreement put on the record. The court also found Bobbi Kukla " did what she could to correct the error in a timely fashion." The court ordered the judgment be amended to grant Bobbi Kukla an undivided 1/2 interest in all of the mineral interests owned by the parties at the time of the divorce, whether the mineral interests were severed at that time or not; and ordered Wayne Kukla to account to her for one-half of the proceeds attributable to the one-half share of the mineral estate of the farm property. An amended judgment was subsequently entered.

[¶ 7] The district court had jurisdiction under N.D. Const. art. VI, § 8, and N.D.C.C. § 27-05-06. Wayne Kukla's appeal is timely under N.D.R.App.P. 4(a). We have jurisdiction under N.D. Const. art. VI, §§ 2 and 6, and N.D.C.C. § 28-27-01.


[¶ 8] Wayne Kukla argues the district court abused its discretion in granting Bobbi Kukla's motion to amend and vacate the divorce judgment entered more than eight years ago.

[¶ 9] Generally, when a stipulation is incorporated into a judgment, this Court is concerned only with interpretation and enforcement of the judgment, not with the underlying contract. See Serr v. Serr, 2008 ND 56, ¶ 8, 746 N.W.2d 416; Botner v. Botner, 545 N.W.2d 188, 190 (N.D.1996). When incorporated into a judgment, " the stipulation and judgment are merged, and courts look to the incorporating judge's intent, not the intent of the parties to the stipulation." Webster v. Regan, 2000 ND 18, ¶ 7, 605 N.W.2d 808. " Extrinsic evidence of the parties' intent is considered only if, after an examination of the judgment, the stipulated language is ambiguous and the incorporating court's intent cannot be determined." Id. " The interpretation of a judgment is a question of law, and an unambiguous judgment may not be modified, enlarged, restricted, or diminished." Serr, at ¶ 8.Rule 60, N.D.R.Civ.P., however, provides for relief

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from a judgment under certain circumstances.


[¶ 10] Wayne Kukla argues the district court erred in granting Bobbi Kukla's motion to amend the 2004 divorce judgment under N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(a).

[¶ 11] Under N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(a), a district court may correct " a clerical mistake or a mistake arising from oversight or omission whenever one is found in a judgment, order, or other part of the record." In Fargo Glass and Paint Co. v. Randall, 2004 ND 4, ¶ 5, 673 N.W.2d 261, we explained our standard in applying this rule:

" This Court has clearly held that Rule 60(a) is not a substitute for an appeal on the merits.
‘ Generally, Rule 60(a) can only be used to make the judgment or record speak the truth and cannot be used to make it say something other than what originally was pronounced. We believe it clear that Rule 60(a) was not designed to affect substantive portions of a judgment or order, nor to act as a substitute for appeal. The rule is appropriately utilized only for " the correction of irregularities which becloud but do not impugn [the judgment]." United States v. Stuart, 392 F.2d 60, 62 (3d Cir.1968). The problem is essentially one of characterization. Kelley v. Bank [ Bldg. & Equip. Corp. of Am. ], 453 F.2d 774, 778 (10th Cir.1972). It must be determined " whether a substantive change or amendment was made or whether the amended conclusions and judgment were in the nature of corrections." Kelley, supra.
‘ A court may correct, pursuant to Rule 60(a), errors created by oversight or omission that cause the judgment to fail to reflect what was intended at the time of trial. However, Rule 60(a) is not a vehicle for relitigating matters that have already been litigated and decided, nor to ...

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