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In 1988, Respondent Linda Dahlin obtained a judgment for unpaid spousal support against Appellant Randall Kroening. In 1998, the judgment was extended for an additional ten years pursuant to state law. In 2008, Respondent filed suit with the district court to renew the judgment for another ten years. The court denied the request holding that the judgment could only be renewed once. A divided appellate court reversed the district court, holding that the judgment could be renewed. The Supreme Court settled the split in the lower courts by holding that Respondent could renew her judgment, and that the state law did not limit action on a judgment to one renewal. The Court affirmed the appellate court’s decision.Receive FREE Daily Opinion Summaries by Email
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN SUPREME COURT
Court of Appeals
Anderson, G. Barry, J.
Linda Marie LaDonna Dahlin,
Filed: April 27, 2011
Office of Appellate Courts
Randall Earl Thomas Kroening,
C. Thomas Wilson, Mary Kay Mages, Matthew C. Berger, Gislason & Hunter LLP, New
Ulm, Minnesota, for respondent.
Jared D. Peterson, Tricia M. Niebuhr, Berens, Rodenberg & O’Connor, Chtd., New Ulm,
Minnesota, for appellant.
Minnesota Statutes § 541.04 (2010) does not limit an action on a judgment to one
ANDERSON, G. Barry, Justice.
The issue presented in this case is whether a judgment creditor, by bringing an
action on a previously renewed judgment, may renew the judgment for an additional ten
years pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 541.04 (2010). The district court concluded that section
541.04 limits an action on a judgment to one renewal and the court of appeals reversed.
We affirm the court of appeals.
In 1988, respondent Linda Dahlin obtained a $7,000 judgment for unpaid spousal
maintenance against appellant Randall Kroening.
In 1998, the 1988 judgment was
extended for an additional ten years pursuant to section 541.04. In 2008, Dahlin filed a
summons and complaint requesting the court to renew and extend the 1998 judgment for
an additional ten years, but the district court denied1 that request on the basis that a
judgment cannot be renewed more than ten years after its entry. Concluding that the
1998 judgment was an extension of the 1988 judgment, the district court determined that
the judgment could not be renewed. A divided court of appeals reversed in a published
opinion, holding that a judgment creditor may obtain a new judgment by civil action
within ten years of the entry of an existing judgment, including a judgment that has been
previously renewed. Dahlin v. Kroening, 784 N.W.2d 406, 408 (Minn. App. 2010). We
granted Kroening’s petition for further review.
Kroening argues that the district court properly concluded that the April 1998
judgment could not be renewed in 2008 for an additional ten years. On appeal from
summary judgment, we must review the record to determine whether there is any genuine
The district court stated that it was denying Dahlin’s summons and complaint, and
although it is not entirely clear what the district court meant by that order, the parties
agree that the district court’s decision was essentially a sua sponte grant of summary
judgment on a matter of law. See Dahlin v. Kroening, 784 N.W.2d 406, 408 (Minn. App.
issue of material fact and whether the district court erred in its application of the law.
McIntosh Cnty. Bank v. Dorsey & Whitney, LLP, 745 N.W.2d 538, 544-45 (Minn. 2008).
Under Minnesota law, a civil judgment survives for a period of ten years after
entry of judgment. Minn. Stat. § 548.09, subd. 1 (2010); see also In re Sitarz, 150 B.R.
710, 724 n.20 (Bankr. D. Minn. 1993). But section 541.04 provides that an action on a
judgment may be brought within ten years after the entry of a judgment resulting in a
renewal of the judgment for an additional ten years.2 See Sitarz, 150 B.R. at 724 n.20;
Shamrock Dev., Inc. v. Smith, 754 N.W.2d 377, 380 n.2 (Minn. 2008). This statute states
No action shall be maintained upon a judgment or decree of a court of the
United States, or of any state or territory thereof, unless begun within ten
years after the entry of such judgment or, in the case of a judgment for child
support, including a judgment by operation of law, unless begun within 20
years after entry of the judgment.
Minn. Stat. § 541.04. Given the language in section 541.04, Kroening does not dispute
that Minnesota law provides a cause of action to renew a judgment. Rather, he argues
that Minnesota law prohibits the renewal of a judgment more than once.
First, Kroening argues that under the common law, an action on a judgment is
confined to one renewal. We presume that statutes are consistent with the common law
unless there is express wording or necessary implication of the intent to abrogate the
common law. Ly v. Nystrom, 615 N.W.2d 302, 314 (Minn. 2000). With regard to section
541.04, the text shows no intent to abrogate the common law; therefore, we may look to
The statute provides an exception for actions on a child support judgment, which
may be brought within 20 years after the entry of judgment. See Minn. Stat. § 541.04.
the common law for further guidance as to whether multiple renewals of a judgment are
At common law, a plaintiff who obtained a judgment against the defendant was
required to execute the judgment within a year and a day after judgment was entered,
otherwise the judgment was assumed to be “satisfied and extinct.” 3 William Blackstone,
Commentaries *422. However, there were two alternatives to this strict rule: either the
court could grant a writ of scire facias,3 or the plaintiff could bring an action of debt—
what we refer to in Minnesota as an action on a judgment. See id. The common law
action of debt allowed the plaintiff to extend the life of a judgment beyond the strict year
and a day limitation. Id. Blackstone explained:
Whatever, therefore, the laws order anyone to pay, that becomes instantly a
debt, which he hath beforehand contracted to discharge. And this implied
agreement it is, that gives the plaintiff a right to institute a second action
. . . . So that if he hath once obtained a judgment against another for a
certain sum, and neglects to take out execution thereupon, he may
afterwards bring an action of debt upon this judgment, and shall not be put
upon the proof of the original cause of action; but upon showing the
judgment once obtained, still in full force, and yet unsatisfied, the law
immediately implies that by the original contract of society the defendant
hath contracted a debt, and is bound to pay it.
In the context of the execution of judgments, a writ of scire facias allowed the
plaintiff to revive a dormant judgment and required “the defendant to show cause why the
judgment should not be revived and execution had against him.” 3 William Blackstone,
Commentaries *422; accord Black’s Law Dictionary 1464 (9th ed. 2009). Here, neither
party contends that the writ of scire facias is applicable.
Id. at *159. But Blackstone does not indicate whether a judgment creditor is allowed to
bring an action of debt for a judgment that has been previously renewed. Thus, we turn
to the language of the statute and our relevant case law.
Kroening argues that because there is no legislative direction within section
541.04 regarding multiple renewals, the issue “lies in Minnesota common law.” He
asserts that there is no case law in this state that supports the conclusion that a judgment
creditor can bring an action on a judgment that is brought more than ten years after the
original judgment. We disagree. In Sandwich Manufacturing Co. v. Earl, the plaintiff
obtained a judgment against the defendant in March of 1883, then commenced an action
upon the judgment in February of 1893. 56 Minn. 390, 393, 57 N.W. 938, 938 (1894).
The defendant argued that the statute of limitations had run on the plaintiff’s cause of
action because, according to the defendant, the plaintiff “must conclude, finish, or
complete the action, and all proceedings there under, within . . . 10 years.” Id. at 396-97,
57 N.W. at 940 (citing the statute of limitations provision, which provided that “such
judgment shall survive and the lien thereof continue for a period of ten years and no
longer”). Accordingly, under the defendant’s argument, the statute of limitations had run
on the plaintiff’s cause of action because the plaintiff did not complete the action by
March of 1893. See id. at 397, 57 N.W. at 940. We noted, however, that a section in the
same chapter of the statute provided that “an action may be commenced upon a judgment
or decree of a court of the United States, or any state or territory of the United States,
within 10 years.”
Id. at 397; 57 N.W. at 940.
Because construing the statute of
limitations provision as the defendant suggested would render the latter statute
inoperative, we concluded that the statute of limitations had not run on the plaintiff’s
action. 56 Minn. at 397, 57 N.W. at 940. We further explained:
A judgment constitutes, of itself, a cause of action, and, like other causes of
action, a suit may be brought upon it within the time limited by statute, and
such suit may proceed to trial and judgment even after the expiration of the
ten years limited for commencing actions upon such judgments.
Id. at 397, 57 N.W. at 940. In stating that a judgment constitutes an action that “may
proceed to trial and judgment,” this passage suggests that an action on a judgment results
in a new judgment, which would then form the basis for a subsequent action, and so
forth, so long as the action was brought within the statutory limitations period. Earl
supports the argument that a judgment creditor may bring a cause of action, based on a
previous judgment, more than ten years after the original judgment, and we therefore
reject Kroening’s assertion.
Next, Kroening contends that section 541.04 provides for a procedural
mechanism, “not a process for establishing a new cause of action and a new judgment.”
He points to the language of the statute, arguing that the operative words of the statute are
“unless begun within ten years after the entry of such judgment.” Minn. Stat. § 541.04.
By setting forth the time period in which to bring an action, Kroening claims that the
statute is only procedural and does not create a new cause of action.
We disagree with Kroening’s interpretation of the statute.
In providing a
limitations period in which to bring an action on a judgment, we read nothing in
section 541.04 that suggests that a judgment creditor is prohibited from renewing a
previously renewed judgment. Rather, as indicated above, our decision in Earl supports
the conclusion that an action on a judgment results in a new judgment, which may then
serve as the basis for a subsequent action on a judgment. We therefore hold that section
541.04 does not limit an action on a judgment to one renewal and affirm the decision of
the court of appeals.
Kroening argues, however, that the Legislature’s intent to prohibit multiple
renewals is implied from other provisions of Minnesota law. In particular, he notes that
section 548.09 states:
The judgment survives, and the lien continues, for ten years after its entry
or, in the case of a judgment for child support, including a judgment by
operation of law, for 20 years after its entry. Child support judgments may
be renewed pursuant to section 548.091.
Minn. Stat. § 548.09, subd. 1. Accordingly, Minn. Stat. § 548.091 (2010) provides that a
“[c]hild support judgment may be renewed multiple times until paid.” Minn. Stat.
§ 548.091, subd. 3b. Therefore, because “distinctions in language in the same context are
presumed to be intentional,” Kroening argues that, in providing for multiple renewals in
the context of child support judgments and not in other judgments, the Legislature has
confined multiple renewals of a judgment to child support judgments only.
Stadsvold, 754 N.W.2d 323, 328-29 (Minn. 2008) (stating that “distinctions in language
in the same context are presumed to be intentional, and we apply the language consistent
with that intent”).
But there are also reasons supporting the conclusion that the Legislature was
speaking only to the unique issues relating to child support and did not intend to restrict
the right to renew judgments arising out of other circumstances. In particular, we note
that while the language providing for an action to renew a judgment in sections 541.04
and 548.09, subdivision 1, has remained consistent since 1905, see Minn. Rev. Laws
§§ 4272, 4075 (1905), the language regarding child support judgments was added in
1993. Act of May 24, 1993, ch. 340, § 50, 1993 Minn. Laws 2251, 2281 (codified at
Minn. Stat. § 548.09, subd. 1). Under the 1993 version of the statute, a child support
judgment would increase as monthly arrearages accumulated. Id. In 1999, however, the
Legislature struck the language relating to the “automatic” increases to a child support
judgment and instead provided that a child support judgment may be renewed or
increased multiple times as appropriate. Act of May 25, 1999, ch. 245, art. 7, § 16, 1999
Minn. Laws 2262, 2568 (codified at Minn. Stat. § 548.091, subd. 3a).4 This indicates that
The specific changes were as follows:
Sec. 16. Minnesota Statutes 1998, section 548.091, subdivision 3a, is
amended to read:
Subd. 3a. [ENTRY, DOCKETING, AND SURVIVAL OF CHILD
SUPPORT JUDGMENT.] Upon receipt of the documents filed under
subdivision 2a, the court administrator shall enter and docket the
judgment in the amount of the unpaid obligation identified in the
affidavit of default. and note the amount and frequency of the periodic
installments of child support that will continue to become due and
payable after the date of docketing. From the time of docketing, the
judgment is a lien upon all the real property in the county owned by the
judgment debtor, but it is not a lien on registered land unless the obligee
or the public authority causes a notice of judgment lien or certified copy
of the judgment to be memorialized on the certificate of title or
certificate of possessory title under section 508.63 or 508A.63. The
judgment survives and the lien continues for ten years after the date the
judgment was docketed.
Subd. 3b. [CHILD SUPPORT JUDGMENT ADMINISTRATIVE
RENEWALS.] Child support judgments may be renewed by service of
(Footnote continued on next page.)
rather than intending to uproot the entire statutory framework regarding the renewal of
judgments, the Legislature intended to simply reform the process of renewing child
support judgments. It is also worth noting that, in so crafting the statutes regarding child
support judgments, the Legislature set out specific, easier to use, procedural rules
applicable only to child support judgments.
For example, the Legislature amended
section 548.09, subd. 1, to provide that a child support judgment is renewable without
personal service on the judgment debtor. Act of May 25, 1999, ch. 245, art. 7, § 1, 1999
Minn. Laws 2262, 2565 (codified at Minn. Stat. § 548.09, subd. 1). Therefore, although
we recognize that contrary arguments are not without merit, we conclude that the better
view is that the Legislature intended to confine its changes to the area of child support
law. Accordingly, we reject Kroening’s argument that the Legislature has restricted
multiple renewals to child support judgments only.
Finally, Kroening advances public policy as supportive of a one-judgment-renewal
rule. Kroening argues, among other claims, that a one renewal rule would be a balanced
(Footnote continued from previous page.)
notice upon the debtor. Service shall must be by certified first class
mail at the last known address of the debtor, with service deemed
complete upon mailing in the manner designated, or in the manner
provided for the service of civil process. Upon the filing of the notice
and proof of service, the court administrator shall administratively
renew the judgment for child support without any additional filing fee in
the same court file as the original child support judgment. The
judgment must be renewed in an amount equal to the unpaid principle
plus the accrued unpaid interest. Child support judgments may be
renewed multiple times until paid.
Act of May 25, 1999, ch. 245, art. 7, § 16, 1999 Minn. Laws 2262, 2568 (codified
at Minn. Stat. § 548.091, subd. 3a).
approach recognizing that judgments are unpaid not only because judgment debtors
refuse to pay, but also because they are unable to pay. He notes that unlimited renewals
could mean endless litigation and burden for the judicial system as well as endless
harassment of debtors unable to pay judgments granted long ago. He also observes that
in many legal matters finality is an important principle. Dahlin, on the other hand,
advances the societal preference for payment of debts and notes, and at least for some
judgments, bankruptcy may be an option to relieve debtors.
Kroening’s public policy arguments are not without merit. The potential for abuse
with multiple judgment renewals is obvious. But Kroening is unable to identify any
jurisdiction, and we have found none, where a court of last resort has fashioned a
judicially-created one judgment renewal rule.
Our experience is with legislatively-
created limitations on actions, and those limitations vary widely depending upon the
underlying claim. For example, the Legislature imposes a four-year statute of limitations
for medical malpractice claims, see Minn. Stat. § 541.076 (2010), a ten-year statute of
repose for actions based on services or construction to improve real property, see Minn.
Stat. § 541.051, subd. 1(a) (2010), and a fifteen-year statute of limitations for claims
relating to the recovery of real estate, see Minn. Stat. § 541.02 (2010).
Similarly, there are important public policy questions about whether all judgments
should be subject to renewal limitations, and if not, on what grounds some judgments
should be included and others excluded. These policy-related issues are best left to the
Legislature. When interpreting the statutes, it is our role to rely on what the Legislature
intended over what may appear to be supported by public policy. Cf. Whitener ex rel.
Miller v. Dahl, 625 N.W.2d 827, 830-31 (Minn. 2001) (concluding that the applicable
limitations period “lies not in which statute is supported by the more important public
policy, . . . but rather in what the legislature intended in adopting the statutes” (citing
Cashman v. Hedberg, 215 Minn. 463, 467-72, 10 N.W.2d 388, 391-93 (1943))); Koes v.
Advanced Design, Inc., 636 N.W.2d 352, 359-60 (Minn. App. 2001) (reasoning that,
despite public policy arguments supporting the application of a limitations period, no
statute of limitations applied to the cause of action because the statute did not expressly
state an applicable limitations period and no other reference to any other statute of repose
existed). We will therefore refrain from reading a one renewal limit into section 541.04
where the Legislature has not indicated that only one renewal is permitted. See Reighter
v. Kiffmeyer, 721 N.W.2d 908, 911 (Minn. 2006) (stating that “we will not read into a
statute a provision that the legislature has omitted”).
Minnesota Statutes § 541.04 does not limit an action on a judgment to one