Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court

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William Nelson appealed a judgment ordering the sale of real property, removing him from the property, ordering him to pay past rent, and awarding Steven Nelson and Gail Nelson-Hom attorney fees for defending against his frivolous pleadings. The North Dakota Supreme Court found the district court erred in granting partial summary judgment on William Nelson's claims of undue influence and lack of mental capacity involving the execution of the quitclaim deed to the property and reversed and remanded for trial on those issues. The Supreme Court reversed the award of costs and attorney fees and remanded for reconsideration. View "Nelson v. Nelson" on Justia Law

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Brittany Creech appealed her eviction from her from property in Williams County, North Dakota owned by Louis Tornabeni. Creech argued: (1) Tornabeni's notice of intent to evict was deficient; (2) the summary eviction proceeding violated her right to due process; (3) the district court abused its discretion in excluding certain exhibits; (4) the court's findings of fact were clearly erroneous; and (5) the delivery of the deed was defective and prevented Tornabeni from obtaining ownership of the property. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Tornabeni v. Creech" on Justia Law

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Raymond and Linus Poitra appealed a judgment quieting title in two parcels of land on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in Darrel Gustafson, and ordering the Poitras to pay Gustafson $67,567.98 in damages and $6,620 in attorney's fees. In 2015, Gustafson sued the Poitras and all others claiming an interest in two parcels of land, alleging Gustafson was a non-Indian fee owner of the two parcels located in Rolette County, North Dakota within the exterior boundaries of the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation by virtue of a 2007 foreclosure judgment and a 2008 sheriff's deed. The Poitras argued the district court erred in deciding the Turtle Mountain Tribal Court did not have jurisdiction over Gustafson's action. The North Dakota Supreme Court determined the inherent sovereign powers of an Indian tribe generally do not extend to activities of nonmembers on non-Indian fee land, but a tribe may regulate through taxation, licensing, or other means, the activities of nonmembers who enter consensual relationships with the tribe or its members, through commercial dealings, contracts, leases or other arrangements, and a tribe may also exercise civil authority over the conduct of non-Indians on fee lands within the reservation when the conduct threatens or has some direct effect on the political integrity, the economic security, or the health or welfare of the tribe. The Court concluded the tribal court indeed did not have jurisdiction over Gustafson's action to quiet title and affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Gustafson v. Poitra" on Justia Law

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Bradley and Karol Johnson appealed a judgment granting the law firm Barna, Guzy, & Steffen, Ltd. ("BGS") foreclosure of a real estate mortgage for payment of a $258,769.97 debt, and an order denying their N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(b) motion for relief from judgment. In 2013 the Johnsons retained BGS to represent them in a lawsuit in connection with the probate of the estate of Bradley Johnson's father in Minnesota. The Johnsons resided in, and BGS was located in, the Minneapolis, Minnesota area. BGS extended credit to the Johnsons for costs, fees, and expenses that would be incurred in representing them in the lawsuit through a revolving line of credit agreement and a revolving promissory note. To secure payment, the Johnsons executed a mortgage on land they owned in North Dakota. The mortgage required the Johnsons to pay all of the principal and interest on the indebtedness when due to BGS. The Johnsons failed to make the payments to BGS as required under the loan agreements. In 2015 BGS brought this action against the Johnsons and others in North Dakota to foreclose the mortgage. The Johnsons counterclaimed, alleging its attorneys committed legal malpractice and other torts during the Minnesota legal proceedings. The district court ultimately dismissed the Johnsons' counterclaim without prejudice for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under N.D.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3). The court granted summary judgment for foreclosure on the North Dakota property in favor of BGS, concluding the Johnsons were indebted to BGS in the amount of $258,769.97 under the loan agreements with interest continuing to accrue. Because the Johnsons did not establish the district court erred in any of its rulings, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the judgment, and the order denying the motion for relief from judgment. View "Barna, Guzy & Steffen, Ltd. v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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Johnston Land Company, LLC, appeals from an order denying its petition to invalidate an alleged lien filed by attorney Sara Sorenson in the form of an affidavit regarding property in Grand Forks County, North Dakota. A dispute over excessive attorney fees led to this case. John Widdel, Jr., represented the trustees of the Donald G. Amundson Trust. In 2013 beneficiaries of the estate petitioned for court determination of attorney fees. The district court ordered Widdell to refund $95,000.00 in attorney fees. During litigation over the fees, Widdel's family's limited liability partnership, Bell Fire LLP, transferred property to a revocable living trust in the name of his wife. In a deposition related to the debt Widdel testified he had essentially no assets, lived rent-free in an apartment owned by the Widdel trust, and drove a car owned by his wife. The Widdel trust sought to sell the property at issue to Johnston, which had offices on the property. Beneficiaries of the Amundson trust filed suit in 2017 regarding other allegedly fraudulent transfers by Widdel to avoid paying the judgment. Ohnstad Twichell, P.C., and Sorenson represented the beneficiaries of Amundson's estate. The district court concluded Sorenson's affidavit was not a nonconsensual common-law lien under N.D.C.C. 35-01-02 because it "does not claim an interest in the subject property; it is merely a statement to the world, akin to a lis pendens, that the referenced property may be pursued to satisfy the Judgment." The district court did not rule on Johnston's additional issues, writing, "In the instant action, this Court has only been asked to make a determination whether the Affidavit of Sara K. Sorenson is a nonconsensual common-law lien, which it has done." The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed as to the affidavit's nature, reversed as to remaining issues and remanded for additional proceedings. View "Johnston Land Company, LLC v. Sorenson" on Justia Law

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This case involved two mineral deeds issued by Alice Rozan to Gustave Goldstein and William Murray in 1964. At the time, Rozan owned the following interests in McKenzie Country North Dakota land relevant to this case. Herma Altshule and others ("Altshule defendants") appealed a judgment quieting title in favor of Gerrity Bakken, LLC. Through numerous conveyances over the years, the Altshule defendants, Devereaux Foundation, and Pacific Oaks College and Children's School succeeded to part of the interests of Goldstein and Murray. In 2011 Pacific Oaks College and Children's School and Devereux Foundation granted oil and gas leases to Robert Gerrity, who assigned his interests to various companies culminating in Gerrity Bakken holding the leases. All conveyances and assignments were duly recorded. After production began on the property, Pacific Oaks College and Children's School, Devereux Foundation, and others brought a quiet title action in 2013 naming as defendants the Altshule defendants and others. Gerrity Bakken was not named as a party, nor was Gerrity or any intermediate holder of the leases. The amended complaint also did not include as defendants "'[a]ll other persons unknown claiming any estate or interest in, or lien or encumbrance upon, the property described in the complaint.'" Shortly after judgment was entered in the 2013 quiet title action, Gerrity Bakken commenced this second quiet title action against the Altshule defendants, other persons of record, and "all other persons unknown claiming" an interest in the property, seeking an interpretation of the Goldstein and Murray deeds. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Gerrity Bakken, and arrived at a conclusion different from that reached by the court in the 2013 action. The North Dakota Supreme Court held deeds must be construed as a whole to give effect to each provision, if reasonably possible. The law presumes that differently spelled names refer to the same person when they sound alike or when common usage has by corruption or abbreviation made their pronunciation identical. A quiet title judgment is not binding on any persons having interests in leases and wells who were not made parties to the action. A non-party may maintain a suit to set aside an allegedly damaging judgment if he has an interest which is jeopardized by enforcement of the judgment and the circumstances support a present grant of relief. Because the district court did not err in its construction of the deeds and in quieting title, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment. View "Gerrity Bakken, LLC v. Oasis Petroleum North America LLC" on Justia Law

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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