St. Louis County District Court File No. 69DU-CV-09-852
Daniel A. Eller, Eller Law Office, Waite Park, Minnesota (for appellants)
Richard E. Prebich, Law Offices of Richard E. Prebich, Hibbing, Minnesota (for respondents)
Considered and decided by Hudson, Presiding Judge; Schellhas, Judge; and Stauber, Judge.
After a bench trial involving alleged fraudulent misrepresentation in the sale of a home, appellant-home-buyers challenge the district court's damages award of $100. Because we conclude that the district court abused its discretion by excluding appellants' testimony about the value of the home and denying appellants' motion for a new trial, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for a new trial on the issue of damages.
In September 2008, appellants James Alexander and Joydell Alexander (Alexanders) sued respondents Christopher Raps and Amanda Raps (Rapses) for fraudulent misrepresentation, negligence, and negligent misrepresentation arising out of Rapses' sale and conveyance of a home on Lake Vermillion to Alexanders in March– May 2007 (the property). All of Alexanders' allegations pertained to water leakage in the property. The Rapses moved for summary judgment. The district court granted summary judgment to Rapses on Alexanders' negligence and negligent-misrepresentation claims but denied summary judgment on Alexanders' fraudulent-misrepresentation claim.
After a bench trial, the district court concluded that Alexanders proved their fraudulent-misrepresentation claim by a preponderance of the evidence but awarded them only $100 in nominal damages on the basis that Alexanders did not present "any evidence of what the fair market value of the property was in the condition received." The court denied Alexanders' motion for a new trial.
This appeal follows.
As an initial matter, we conclude that Rapses waived any challenge to the district court's conclusion that Alexanders proved their claim of fraudulent-misrepresentation against them. The district court entered judgment against Rapses on February 23, 2012; Alexanders filed their notice of appeal from that judgment on August 15, 2012; and Rapses filed a notice of related appeal on August 24, 2012. "After one party timely files a notice of appeal, any other party may seek review of a judgment or order in the same action by serving and filing a notice of related appeal." Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 103.02, subd. 2. In their statement of the case, Rapses stated that they planned to challenge the district court's damages award and finding that Alexanders relied on Rapses' representations. But, in their brief, Rapses state that they declined to file "a cross-appeal" "in light of the [district court's] determination as to damages." Cf. Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 131.01 ("A cross-appeal, for the purpose of this rule, exists when a notice of appeal and at least one notice of related appeal or separate notice of appeal are filed by parties adverse to each other on appeal."). Nowhere in Rapses' brief do they challenge the district court's fraudulent-misrepresentation determination. During oral argument, Rapses requested that we remand for a trial on all issues in the event that we reverse the judgment. We conclude that Rapses waived their challenge to the district court's fraudulent-misrepresentation finding by failing to raise arguments regarding the issue in their brief. See Peterson v. BASF Corp., 711 N.W.2d 470, 482 (Minn. 2006) ("[F]ailure to address an issue in brief constitutes waiver of that issue.").
Alexanders purchased the property for $690, 000. The district court concluded that Alexanders failed to prove the property's actual value when they received it in May 2007, stating that Alexanders "have not presented any evidence of what the fair market value of the property was in the condition received." Therefore, although the court concluded that Alexanders proved their claim of fraudulent misrepresentation against Rapses, the court awarded Alexanders only "nominal damages" in the amount of $100 and denied Alexanders' motion for a new trial. Alexanders challenge the district court's evidentiary rulings at trial ...