This opinion will be unpublished and
Richard Maly, Appellant, vs. Andrew Hofman, Respondent.
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat.§ 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Filed April 22, 1997
St. Louis County District Court
File No. C195600295
William D. Paul, 1217 East First Street, Duluth, MN 55805 (for Appellant)
Robin C. Merritt, Hanft, Fride, O'Brien, Harries, Swelbar & Burns, P.A., 1000 First Bank Place, 130 West Superior Street, Duluth, MN 55802-2094 (for Respondent)
Considered and decided by Kalitowski, Presiding Judge, Davies, Judge, and Mulally, Judge.[*]
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant Richard Maly challenges the district court's admission of evidence regarding alleged affairs Maly had with Hofman's wife and daughter-in-law, claiming the evidence was not relevant to establish Hofman acted in self-defense, and that it prejudiced his assault and battery claims against Hofman. Maly also claims the district court erred in determining Hofman prevailed, and was thereby entitled to reasonable costs and disbursements. We affirm.
D E C I S I O N
A district court has broad discretion in determining whether to admit or exclude evidence and its decision will not be set aside unless it is based on an erroneous view of the law or constitutes an abuse of discretion. Uselman v. Uselman, 464 N.W.2d 130, 138 (Minn. 1990). If a district court makes an erroneous evidentiary ruling, a complaining party must demonstrate prejudice in order to be entitled to a new trial. Id.
Maly claims the district court abused its discretion in admitting evidence of the affairs Maly allegedly had with Hofman's wife and daughter-in-law, and that this error prejudiced him. The district court properly determined the evidence was not admissible to establish justification, but allowed a brief reference to the allegations because it was relevant to Hofman's claim that he acted in self-defense.
A person has the right to use reasonable force to protect himself if a reasonable person under the circumstances would believe such action is necessary. Beck v. Minneapolis Union Ry. Co., 95 Minn. 73, 75, 103 N.W. 746, 746 (1905); Minn. Stat. § 609.06, subd. 1 (3) (1996). Relevant evidence is evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence. Minn. R. Evid. 401. As such, in a case where the defendant claimed he acted in self-defense, the supreme court held it was "proper to disclose to the jury all the facts and circumstances surrounding the difficulty between the parties." Beck, 95 Minn. at 76, 103 N.W. at 747; see Guyer v. Smullen, 160 Minn. 114, 119, 199 N.W. 465, 467 (1924) ("it is not permissible to ignore _the circumstances of provocation_ on the part of the aggressor").
An understanding of the relationship between Maly and Hofman was necessary for the jury to assess the credibility of the parties and to determine whether Hofman acted reasonably under the circumstances. See Beck, 95 Minn. at 75, 103 N.W. at 746-47 (whether party acted in self-defense "must be determined from the facts and circumstances as they appeared" to the party at the time). Evidence of the affairs Maly allegedly had with Hofman's wife and daughter-in-law and Hofman's knowledge of them is relevant for an understanding of the relationship between Maly and Hofman. See id. at 76, 103 N.W. at 747 (proper to disclose "all the facts and circumstances surrounding the difficulty between the parties"). Without this evidence, the jury would not have been able to evaluate Maly and Hofman's conflicting stories to determine whether Hofman acted in self-defense. Accordingly, we conclude the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the evidence.
Minn. Stat. § 549.04 (1996) allows a district court to award reasonable costs and disbursements to the prevailing party. To determine who is the prevailing party, the court should consider the general result and inquire into who, in the view of the law, succeeded in the action. Haugland v. Canton, 250 Minn. 245, 254, 84 N.W.2d 274, 280 (1957). A district court's determination will not be reversed absent an abuse of discretion. Carlson v. Mutual Serv. Cas. Ins. Co., 527 N.W.2d 580, 584 (Minn. App. 1995), review denied (Minn. Apr. 27, 1995).
Maly claims the district court abused its discretion in determining Hofman was the prevailing party because the jury did not award Hofman any damages. We disagree. The lack of a damage award, in itself, does not mean a party did not prevail. Hofman was successful in his defense of Maly's assault and battery claims and successfully established his counterclaim against Maly. Accordingly, we conclude the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining Hofman was the prevailing party, and therefore entitled to reasonable costs and disbursements.
[ ]* Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.