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In re Marriage of Anderson

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

May 30, 2017

In re the Marriage of: Holly Virginia Anderson, petitioner, Appellant,
v.
Derrik T. Anderson, Respondent.

         Scott County District Court File No. 70-FA-09-14473

          Mark A. Olson, Olson Law Office, Burnsville, Minnesota (for appellant)

          Kay Nord Hunt, Lommen Abdo, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota (for respondent)

          Considered and decided by Smith, Tracy M., Presiding Judge; Cleary, Chief Judge; and Reilly, Judge.

         SYLLABUS

         If a spousal-maintenance award is disputed, a recipient of the disputed award can preserve any right to a biennial cost-of-living adjustment under Minnesota Statutes section 518A.75 (2016) by sending notice of the adjustment to the obligor and, if the obligor contests the adjustment, asking the district court to hold in abeyance the question of whether to grant the adjustment.

          OPINION

          REILLY, Judge

         On appeal from the district court's refusal to award a retroactive cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to her spousal-maintenance award, appellant-wife argues that (1) she is entitled to a retroactive COLA under the law-of-the-case doctrine, and (2) the district court abused its discretion by declining to award a COLA retroactive to a date before she provided the statutorily required notice of that COLA. Because the law-of-the-case doctrine does not apply to the circumstances of this case, and because a retroactive COLA is not authorized by statute, the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying wife a retroactive COLA. Therefore, we affirm.

         FACTS

         The relevant parts of the May 25, 2011 partially stipulated judgment dissolving the marriage of appellant-wife Holly Anderson and respondent-husband Derrik Anderson found husband's average gross monthly income to be $3, 980, awarded wife permanent spousal maintenance of $1, 000 per month starting February 1, 2010, and incorporated by reference an appendix that was attached to the judgment. The attached appendix provided for, among other things, a biennial COLA to wife's maintenance award pursuant to then-existing Minnesota Statutes section 518.641 (2010).[1] Income- and maintenance-related aspects of the judgment were appealed to, and remanded by, this court twice. See Anderson v. Anderson, No. A11-1224, 2012 WL 3023433 (Minn.App. July 23, 2012) (Anderson I), review denied (Minn. Oct. 16, 2012); see also Anderson v. Anderson, No. A14-0926, A14-1596, 2015 WL 2341239 (Minn.App. May 18, 2015) (Anderson II), review denied (Aug. 11, 2015).

         On remand the second time, the district court set wife's permanent spousal maintenance award at $800 per month, and made this award effective February 1, 2010. Both parties sought post-hearing relief. Husband sought to reduce the maintenance award, while wife, in relevant part, sought a conclusion of law stating she could "pursue COLA increases retroactive to the effective date of the spousal maintenance award." The district court denied husband's motion. Regarding wife's motion, the district court ruled that "[wife] may seek cost of living adjustments for her spousal maintenance award" but did not specifically address wife's request for a retroactive COLA.

         Three weeks later, wife moved to modify her maintenance award, alleging changed circumstances. See Minn. Stat. § 518A.39 (2016) (addressing maintenance modifications). The district court increased her maintenance award to $900 per month, effective February 1, 2016. On June 7, 2016, wife served three notices of COLAs for her maintenance award, seeking COLAs retroactive to the date her original maintenance award was effective.[2] The county attorney's office objected to the request for retroactive COLAs, and the district court, by order filed September 27, 2016, refused to award a retroactive COLA, stating:

Wife . . . sought . . . to be permitted to seek [COLAs] retroactive to the date of the original spousal maintenance award. Leave to seek [COLAs] was ordered by the Court on January [5], 2016, but not retroactively to the 2010 award date. None of the prior orders included an allowance for [COLAs].

         The district court also stated: "For the purpose of future [COLA] requests, the time period shall commence as of ...


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