Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court

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Steven and Linda Bickler commenced an action against Happy House Movers. The Bicklers had contracted with Happy House Movers to raise their house eight feet to protect the house against rising waters at Rice Lake. While Happy House Movers had the house resting on supports above its original position, the house fell, causing significant structural damage. In August 2016, the Bicklers moved for a default judgment. In September 2016, Michael Knoke, an employee of Happy House Movers, moved for an extension of time to file an answer. Knoke argued Happy House Movers made an appearance, indicating it could not find an attorney and requested a hearing. The motion also notified the Bicklers that Happy House Movers was contesting the motion for default judgment. Knoke filed an answer to the complaint he prepared himself. The district court ordered Knoke's answer be stricken from the record sua sponte, because Happy House Movers is a separate entity requiring it to be represented in court by a person licensed in law. The court extended Happy House Movers' deadline to properly file an answer and indicated it would review the motion for default judgment shortly thereafter. On December 15, 2016, the court entered an order for default judgment, concluding Happy House Movers failed to properly respond to the summons and complaint. Based on its review of the record and pleadings, the court awarded the Bicklers $251,711.68, and entered a judgment indicating the same. Happy House appealed the district court order denying their motion to vacate the default judgment and granting Bickler's motion to strike the supporting affidavits. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the district court's order. View "Bickler v. Happy House Movers, L.L.P." on Justia Law

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Greggory Tank appealed an amended judgment quieting title to royalty interests in property located in McKenzie County, North Dakota in favor of several of the defendants. In June 2014, Tank sued numerous defendants seeking to quiet title to royalty interests in proceeds from the production from an oil and gas well. Most of the defendants did not appear or settled with Tank. The remaining defendants who were the appellees in this appeal contested the quiet title action. The royalty interests at issue were subject to several possible conveyances. Tank claims ownership of a 16 percent royalty interest based on an unbroken chain of title utilizing filed county records dating back to the federal fee patent. Included within that chain of title was a 1931 purchase of the property by McKenzie County under a tax foreclosure sale. The County subsequently sold and transferred the property in 1945. The defendants claimed various percentages of royalty interests under a recorded 1938 assignment of an 11 percent royalty to oil and gas produced on the property. The North Dakota Supreme Court reversed the district court's amended judgment quieting title to the royalty interests in favor of the defendants and directed the entry of judgment quieting title in favor of Tank. A county's tax deed gives it title or color of title to the whole estate in the land including the royalty interests. A tax deed, valid upon its face, creates a presumptive title to the entire estate in the land which continues until it has been overcome by the affirmative action in court, by suit or counterclaim on the part of a person who has a sufficient interest to challenge the title. Royalty interests cannot be "possessed" for purposes of the statute of limitations or adverse possession. The Court remanded this case to the district court for determination of whether Tank was barred from the recovery of royalty payments previously made to the defendants and, if not barred, the amount of the recovery. View "Siana Oil & Gas Co., LLC v. Dublin Co." on Justia Law

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Jeff Moen appealed a judgment awarding Jason Haider damages for wrongful injury to timber. Moen argued the district court abused its discretion in excluding a jury instruction on treble damages and erred in admitting an expert's testimony. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the district court's admission of expert testimony, reversed the district court's exclusion of a jury instruction on treble damages, and remanded this case for a new trial. View "Haider v. Moen" on Justia Law

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Defendants A&M Structuring, LLC, and Edward Couture, individually and as manager of A&M Structuring appealed a judgment entered in favor of Lynn Flaten and from a post-judgment order denying their motions to amend the judgments and "regarding ownership or interest in levied property." Flaten sued for claims of breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and fraud. Flaten alleged he agreed to sell certain real property located in Williams County to defendants for $275,000 in February 2012, defendants paid $50,000 as a down payment, but failed to pay the remaining amounts due for the property. Flaten also alleged the defendants agreed to sell him certain real property located in McKenzie County, consisting of three individual lots. Flaten alleged defendants never delivered the property. After review of the trial court record, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court did not err in granting partial summary judgment or abuse its discretion in denying the post-judgment motions. View "Flaten v. Couture" on Justia Law

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The North Dakota Department of Transportation ("the DOT") took Rosie Glow, LLC's property through an eminent domain quick-take action. The DOT deposited $2,296,000.00 for the land and $940,860.00 for severance damages. Rosie Glow and the DOT disputed the value of the property taken. Rosie Glow's appraiser estimated the total compensation owed to Rosie Glow was $4,899,000.00, consisting of $3,788,400.00 for the land and $1,110,600.00 for severance damages. The jury awarded Rosie Glow $2,296,000.00 for property taken and $1,240,860.00 in severance damages, totaling $300,000.00 more than the DOT deposited. Rosie Glow appealed the district court's award of $32,400.00 in attorney fees and expert fees and litigation costs of $11,236.41. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the district court's judgment in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. The Supreme Court determined the district court did not abuse its discretion in reducing the costs awarded for an appraisal because it adequately explained its reasoning. However, the Court found the district court abused its discretion in declining to award any costs for the appraiser's review of the DOT's appraisal because it did not explain its decision. The district court also misapplied the law by not awarding costs for the DOT's deposition of the appraiser. View "N.D. Dep't of Transportation v. Rosie Glow, LLC" on Justia Law

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The North Dakota Department of Transportation (the "DOT") took G. John Schmitz's property through an eminent domain quick-take action. The DOT deposited $973,380.00 with the Williams County Clerk of Court for the taking. Schmitz disputed the amount and timely served a notice of appeal. In September and October of 2014, the parties attempted unsuccessfully to reach a settlement. Jury trial was set for September 30, 2015. Schmitz had trouble locating expert witnesses and asked for a continuance. The parties stipulated to the continuance, and the court reset trial for January 24, 2017. Schmitz located three expert witnesses before trial: Scott Bechtle, an architect, provided Schmitz with hypothetical development concepts for the property; Robert Strachota, a Minneapolis-based appraiser, offered opinions of land value and severance damages; and Dan Leirness, a Fargo-based appraiser, offered an opinion of land values. After trial Schmitz requested $263,866.97 in attorney fees, $154,172.12 in expert fees and $17,224.31 in litigation costs for a total of $567,317.36. The DOT contested the fees and costs. The district court awarded $137,347.50 in attorney fees, $35,930.96 in expert fees and $8,027.38 in litigation costs for a total of $181,305.84. Schmitz appealed. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded, finding the district court did not abuse its discretion in reducing Schmitz's attorney or expert fees, but abused its discretion in reducing and eliminating certain litigation costs. The judgment was reversed regarding those litigation costs, and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "N.D. Dep't of Transportation v. Schmitz" on Justia Law

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Stephanie Lee appealed a judgment evicting her, and any other person or persons claiming under her, from her Williston premises and awarding IRET Properties ("IRET") $880.00 for attorney's fees and costs. Lee argued IRET failed to perform all the prerequisites under N.D.C.C. ch. 47­32 in order to bring an eviction action against her, and therefore, she was unlawfully evicted. Lee further argued the district court failed to make sufficient findings on the issue of default and the district court improperly awarded IRET attorney's fees and costs. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded IRET properly brought an eviction action against Lee for failure to pay rent and the district court's findings were sufficient to sustain its conclusions. View "IRET Properties v. Lee" on Justia Law

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Linda Nelson, Jill Mattson, Jeffrey Mattson, and Joan Louise Mattson appealed the district court's judgment quieting title to property in the Steven R. Mattson Living Trust and the Roald F. Mattson Living Trust (the "Trusts"), and awarding damages to Steven R. Mattson, the Steven R. Mattson Living Trust, and the Roald F. Mattson Living Trust (collectively, the "Mattsons"). Because the joint tenancy between Leif, Alf, and Roald Mattson was not severed prior to Leif Mattson's death, the North Dakota Supreme Court found the district court did not clearly err by quieting title to property in the Trusts. Further, the district court did not clearly err by awarding damages to the Trusts for the oil and gas lease payments under a theory of conversion. However, the district court erred by awarding damages to Steven Mattson for the amount he paid to Leif's heirs for the purported interest they owned in the surface of the property because unjust enrichment was unavailable and the voluntary payment doctrine applies. Therefore, the Court affirmed in part and reversed in part. View "Nelson v. Mattson" on Justia Law

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Cameron and Mary Susan Arnegard appealed a trial court judgment relating to a conditional use permit (CUP) obtained from Arnegard Township in McKenzie County, North Dakota. The Arnegards argued the district court erred in granting the Township's motion in limine to exclude a buy-sell agreement; denying their motion to amend their complaint on a due process claim; granting summary judgment dismissing their breach of contract, actual fraud and equitable estoppel claims; dismissing their negligence and deceit claims by directed verdict; and determining no party prevailed in the action. The Arnegards also argued the district court abused its discretion by denying their motion to amend their complaint at trial. The Township cross-appealed, arguing the district court erred in granting judgment as a matter of law in favor of the Arnegards' due process claim. Zoning ordinances and amendments are valid if a township follows the statutory procedures. A conditional use permit does not by itself create a contract between a township and a landowner. A township has no duty to disclose validly enacted zoning ordinances or amendments beyond the notice and filing procedures provided by statute. A claim of constitutional due process violation first requires a protected property interest created by an independent source of law. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the district court regarding dismissal of the Arnegards' breach of contract, actual fraud and equitable estoppel claims. The Court affirmed the judgment regarding directed verdicts in favor of the Township on the negligence and deceit claims. However, the Court reversed the judgment regarding the Arnegards' due process claim and the award of nominal damages, and remanded to the district court for further proceedings. View "Arnegard v. Arnegard Township" on Justia Law

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Cameron and Mary Susan Arnegard appealed a trial court judgment relating to a conditional use permit (CUP) obtained from Arnegard Township in McKenzie County, North Dakota. The Arnegards argued the district court erred in granting the Township's motion in limine to exclude a buy-sell agreement; denying their motion to amend their complaint on a due process claim; granting summary judgment dismissing their breach of contract, actual fraud and equitable estoppel claims; dismissing their negligence and deceit claims by directed verdict; and determining no party prevailed in the action. The Arnegards also argued the district court abused its discretion by denying their motion to amend their complaint at trial. The Township cross-appealed, arguing the district court erred in granting judgment as a matter of law in favor of the Arnegards' due process claim. Zoning ordinances and amendments are valid if a township follows the statutory procedures. A conditional use permit does not by itself create a contract between a township and a landowner. A township has no duty to disclose validly enacted zoning ordinances or amendments beyond the notice and filing procedures provided by statute. A claim of constitutional due process violation first requires a protected property interest created by an independent source of law. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the district court regarding dismissal of the Arnegards' breach of contract, actual fraud and equitable estoppel claims. The Court affirmed the judgment regarding directed verdicts in favor of the Township on the negligence and deceit claims. However, the Court reversed the judgment regarding the Arnegards' due process claim and the award of nominal damages, and remanded to the district court for further proceedings. View "Arnegard v. Arnegard Township" on Justia Law