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In re Marriage of Wiel

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

September 3, 2019

In re the Marriage of: Russell Vander Wiel, Respondent,
v.
Sharna Ann Wahlgren, Appellant.

          Ramsey County District Court File No. 62-FA-17-2657

          Linda S. S. de Beer, Jenna K. Monson, de Beer & Associates, P.A., Lake Elmo, Minnesota (for respondent)

          Kay Nord Hunt, Michelle K. Kuhl, Lommen Abdo, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Evon M. Spangler, Spangler and de Stefano, PLLP, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant)

          Janet Goehle, Roseville, Minnesota (guardian ad litem)

          Considered and decided by Smith, Tracy M., Presiding Judge; Schellhas, Judge; and Jesson, Judge.

         SYLLABUS

         When an adverse party requests the appointment of a guardian ad litem for a party who is not an infant and has never been adjudicated as incompetent, rule 17.02 of the Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure entitles the party to notice and an opportunity for a hearing before a guardian ad litem is appointed.

          OPINION

          JESSON, JUDGE.

         After appellant Sharna Ann Wahlgren requested multiple extensions of discovery deadlines during the marital-dissolution proceeding, the district court appointed a guardian ad litem for Wahlgren. Because the district court did not provide Wahlgren with notice and an opportunity for a hearing before appointing a guardian ad litem, as required by rule 17.02 of the Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure, we reverse.

         FACTS

         Appellant Sharna Ann Wahlgren (wife) married respondent Russell Vander Wiel (husband) on July 5, 1996. After 21 years of marriage, the parties separated in October 2017. That same month, husband filed for divorce. The parties do not have any children, and the primary issue in their dissolution proceeding is the distribution of financial assets.

         In May 2018, the parties attempted mediation but reached no agreement. As the case headed toward trial, wife requested several continuances and extensions of discovery deadlines from the district court, including one on June 27, 2018. The next day, while attending husband's scheduled deposition, wife experienced a medical emergency rendering her unresponsive. Wife was transported by ambulance to the hospital. After some medical tests, doctors released her from the hospital the next day.

         Shortly after, in early July, husband filed a motion to compel discovery, and the district court granted wife a short continuance. Later that month, husband filed an amended motion to compel discovery. In response, wife submitted an affidavit explaining that since her hospitalization, she was working with doctors to deal with "ongoing significant health issues" and trying to decide if she needed to take some time away from work. At a hearing on the amended motion to compel discovery, husband orally requested that the district court appoint a guardian ad litem for wife in order to allow the dissolution proceeding to move forward. Wife's counsel noted that wife had recently received a mental-health diagnosis and that she was about to begin a three-week, quasi-residential program to address her mental health. The district court denied husband's request to appoint a guardian ad litem for wife and allowed wife two weeks to respond to discovery requests, but denied wife's request to place the case on inactive status. In denying husband's request to appoint a guardian ad litem, the district court explicitly found that "[t]here is nothing in the record that indicates that [wife] is incompetent to proceed requiring the appointment of a [g]uardian." The district court set a trial date for early November 2018.

         In October 2018, wife again requested that discovery deadlines be extended and that the trial be delayed until January 2019. In support of her request, wife submitted a confidential-information form, including a letter from her doctors detailing her mental-health diagnoses and stating that participation in the case was detrimental to wife's mental health. The parties participated in an off-the-record telephone conference with the district court, and shortly after, without providing wife with written notice or a hearing on the record, the district court ...


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