Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court
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William Nelson appealed a district court judgment denying his claims relating to a quitclaim deed executed by his mother Elsie Haykel before her death. Elsie Haykel executed estate planning documents and a quitclaim deed conveying a remainder interest in a Bismarck condominium to her children, Steven Nelson, Gail Nelson-Hom, and William Nelson. Haykel died in 2014. In January 2016, Steven and Gail sued William seeking a partition and sale of the condominium. William counterclaimed, alleging the 2011 quitclaim deed was invalid because Haykel lacked mental capacity and was unduly influenced. The district court entered partial summary judgment in favor of Steven and Gail, but the North Dakota Supreme Court reversed and remanded, concluding William Nelson raised genuine issues of material fact on his claims of lack of capacity and undue influence. After a two-day trial in July and August 2019, the district court entered a judgment concluding the quitclaim deed was valid because Haykel did not lack mental capacity to execute the deed and was not unduly influenced. The judgment also awarded Steven and Gail attorney’s fees and costs, granted Steven authority to sell the condominium, and denied William's discovery claims and his motion to stay the proceedings to reopen Haykel’s probate. William raised twenty-one issues on appeal. The Supreme Court determined William did not seek a stay of the judgment before the condominium was sold. In addition, he did not claim his appeal involved great public interest. Therefore, the Court concluded the issues in the appeal relating to the sale of the condominium were moot, and dismissed that part of William Nelson’s appeal. Finding no other reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "Nelson, et al. v. Nelson" on Justia Law

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This was an appeal stemming from a divorce action commenced in 2017. The only issue was division of the parties’ marital property. Included as part of the parties’ marital property was Myron Axtman’s Hess pension. The pension benefits commenced on February 1, 2015, at which time Axtman began receiving $2,891.60 per month. Myron Axtman appealed an amended judgment distributing the parties’ marital property. Axtman argued the district court abused its discretion in amending the judgment, and the court amended judgment under N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(a) without providing proper notice. The North Dakota Supreme Court determined Rule 60(a) was a proper mechanism for the court to amend the judgment to correct the mistake resulting from its oversight and omission, but the court did not provide notice to the parties it was considering amending judgment pursuant to Rule 60(a). However, the court’s error was considered harmless because, after the court amended the judgment, Axtman brought a “Motion to Vacate Order on Motion for Relief from Judgment.” In his motion, Axtman argued the district court erred in amending the judgment under Rule 60(a) because the original judgment’s failure to divide the pension payments received by Axtman during the pendency of the divorce was not a clerical mistake or a mistake arising from oversight or omission, which was the argument he raised on appeal to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court determined Axtman was aware the district court recognized it failed to take into consideration the payments Axtman received during the pendency of the divorce in the original judgment, and that Amy Axtman was attempting to amend the judgment to account for the payments Axtman received during the pendency of the divorce. The court’s error in not providing notice did not require reversal. Thus, the Court affirmed judgment. View "Axtman v. Axtman" on Justia Law

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Kinsale Insurance Company appealed a district court’s partial summary judgment determining Kinsale had a duty to defend QEP Energy Company (“QEP”). QEP moved to dismiss the appeal, arguing the partial summary judgment was not appealable. Kinsale responded, asserting the Declaratory Judgment Act provided a statutory basis for the appeal. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the Declaratory Judgment Act did not provide a statutory basis for the appeal, and therefore dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. View "Dellinger v. Wolf, et al." on Justia Law

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Fred Sande, the personal representative of the Estate of Geraldine Sande, appealed a judgment distributing the estate. Geraldine Sande and her son, Philip Sande, owned Sande Music Company, a partnership. Geraldine owned 55 percent of the partnership and Philip owned the remaining 45 percent. In March 2010, Geraldine and Philip sold the company for $800,000, of which $600,000 was paid shortly after the sale and the remaining amount was to be paid in installments. Philip executed a promissory note in the amount of $55,000 in favor of Geraldine. Philip died on August 17, 2014, and his wife, Paulette Sande, was appointed the personal representative of his estate. Fred filed an inventory and appraisement of Geraldine's estate, which included real property, Geraldine's share of Sande Music sale proceeds, the $55,000 promissory note from Philip, and other assets. Philip objected to the inventory and appraisement, demanded an accounting of Geraldine's Estate, and requested the immediate return of any Estate assets. Philip alleged the Estate’s real property was undervalued, Fred removed assets from the real property, Fred conveyed real property to himself, and deprived Philip of his interest in the property, and alleged Fred failed to pay rent for use of the Estate's property while conducting business there. Philip also claimed that the value of the promissory note did not reflect payments that had been made and that there were no assets from the sale of Sande Music at the time of Geraldine's death. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the evidence supported the district court’s findings, the court’s finding that Fred breached his fiduciary duty was not clearly erroneous, and the court did not abuse its discretion by denying Fred's request for personal representative’s fees and attorney’s fees. View "Estate of Sande" on Justia Law

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C & K Consulting, LLC, Stonebridge Villas LLC, Stonebridge Villas II LLC, Stonebridge Development Company LLC, and Townhomes at Stonebridge LLC (collectively, “C&K Consulting”) appealed a district court’s dismissal of their cases against the Ward County North Dakota Board of Commissioners (“Ward County”) and the court’s denial of their motion for post-judgment relief. Several cases consolidated for review were appeals of Ward County’s decisions on C&K Consulting’s applications for tax abatement and refunds. C&K Consulting argued the court erred when it dismissed the cases as a sanction for missing a briefing deadline. Because the court did not conduct the required sanctions analysis, the North Dakota Supreme Court reversed the court’s dismissal judgment and its order denying C&K Consulting’s motion for post-judgment relief and remanded for further proceedings. View "C & K Consulting v. Ward County Board of Commissioners" on Justia Law

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Daniel Raak appealed a district court order: (1) denying his post-judgment motion to redistribute property and request for an evidentiary hearing; and (2) finding him in contempt and from a third amended judgment modifying his child support obligation. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court dismissed as untimely Raak’s appeal of the order denying his motion to redistribute property and request for a hearing. The Supreme Court concluded the district court did not abuse its discretion by finding him in contempt, but erred in determining the parties’ child support obligations. The Supreme Court therefore reversed and remanded to the district court for further proceedings to recalculate child support based on the parties’ monthly net income, the number of children eligible for support and the child support guidelines. Because the Supreme Court remanded, the district court in its discretion could reopen the record to address the issues Raak raised on appeal regarding its child support determination. View "Jacobs-Raak v. Raak, et al." on Justia Law

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Alan Albrecht appeals from a district court judgment dismissing his complaint against Mark Albrecht with prejudice. The background for this case stemmed from prior litigation in the divorce proceedings of Glen and Sharleen Albrecht (Alan and Mark's parents), and continuing in the probate of Sharleen Albrecht’s estate. Alan named his brother Mark and Mark's wife as defendants in a complaint alleging contempt of court and unjust enrichment. He alleged that, while Glen and Sharleen's divorce was pending and restraining provisions were in effect, their late-mother Sharleen Albrecht changed the beneficiary designation on an investment account owned by her, removing Alan as one of the beneficiaries and naming only Mark as the transfer-on-death beneficiary. He further alleged that, in contravention of the divorce summons and interim order’s restraining provisions, Sharleen liquidated the investment account and the proceeds from the liquidated account were subsequently transferred to Mark after Sharleen's death. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded Alan lacked standing to bring the action, so it affirmed dismissal. View "Albrecht v. Albrecht, et al." on Justia Law

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In June 2014, Rodney, Thomas, and Susan Brossart, as plaintiffs, filed a lawsuit in North Dakota federal district court against Nelson County, North Dakota, and the sheriff and a deputy sheriff of Nelson County, as defendants. The Brossarts alleged claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and state law. The federal district court granted summary judgment for the defendants. The court subsequently entered judgment against the Brossarts awarding defendants $8,153.08 in costs. The Brossarts did not appeal the judgment awarding costs to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Defendants thereafter filed the federal judgment to the Nelson County clerk's office. Defendants' attorney served three sets of interrogatories in aid of execution of judgment, one for each of the three named plaintiffs, on the Brossarts’ attorney. Each set of interrogatories contained 73 identical questions. Subparts to the main questions contained in the interrogatories were separately numbered. The Brossarts’ were not personally served the interrogatories. However, on appeal the Brossarts acknowledge they were informed of the filing of the federal judgment. Because they believed the federal judgment was procedurally and substantively defective, the Brossarts refused to respond to the interrogatories. Additionally, there is nothing in the record indicating the Brossarts’ attorney represented them in the state court action prior to February 19. After the Brossarts’ attorney sent the February 19 letter, the parties’ attorneys continued to communicate regarding the interrogatories. Defendants moved to compel answers, but the Brossarts moved for relief from judgment, arguing the federal judgment was invalid and unenforceable because they were not provided proper notice the federal judgment had been filed. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded that the federal judgment was entitled to full faith and credit, and the Brossarts did not raise any viable defense as to why the federal judgment was invalid or unenforceable. The Brossarts correctly asserted they were not initially provided notice of the filing of the foreign judgment pursuant to N.D.C.C. 28-20.1-03(2), but the Court found their justification for refusing to answer the interrogatories and their basis for their motion for relief from judgment were completely without merit. The district court did not abuse its discretion in finding the Brossarts’ claims were frivolous and awarding attorney’s fees. View "Brossart, et al. v. Janke, et al." on Justia Law

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Thomas Lockhart appealed an order finding him in contempt, imposing a sanction requiring the forfeiture of $300,000 to Douglas Arnold and Thomas Arnold, and divesting him of any management rights in Trident Resources, LLC. In 2013, Lockhart and the Arnolds entered into business capturing and compressing natural gas. The parties formed Trident Resources, with Lockhart owning a 70% interest and each of the Arnolds owning a 15% interest. Trident Resources owned two well processing units (WPUs), each purchased for $300,000. In 2015, the Arnolds initiated this action seeking reformation of the Trident Resources’ member control and operating agreement to clarify the parties’ respective ownership interests. Following a bench trial, the court ordered the entry of a judgment confirming Lockhart’s ownership of a 70% interest and each of the Arnold’s 15% ownership interest in Trident Resources. Before the entry of the judgment, Lockhart informed the Arnolds he had received an offer from Black Butte Resources to purchase one of the WPUs for $300,000. The Arnolds consented to the sale, provided the proceeds were deposited into their attorney’s trust account. When it appeared Lockhart had failed to deposit the funds into the trust account, the Arnolds filed a motion seeking to discover the location of the WPU and the sale proceeds. Before the hearing on the Arnolds’ motion, Lockhart deposited $100,000 into the account. The trial court ordered Lockhart to provide information regarding the WPU sold and the date the remaining $200,000 would be deposited. Lockhart eventually deposited $200,000 into the trust account and filed an affidavit stating Black Butte had purchased the WPU and the WPU had been transferred to Black Butte. Subsequent to Lockhart filing his affidavit, the Arnolds learned the WPU had not been sold to Black Butte for $300,000, but had instead been sold to another party for $500,000. The Arnolds filed a motion requesting the court to find Lockhart in contempt and for the imposition of appropriate sanctions. At the hearing on the motion, Lockhart conceded his affidavit was false and stipulated to the entry of a finding of contempt. On appeal, Lockhart argued the district court’s order improperly imposed a punitive sanction for his contempt. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the circumstances necessary for the imposition of a punitive sanction were not present prior to the imposition of the sanction in this case. The Court was left with an insufficient record to review the appropriateness of the imposition of a remedial sanction in the amount ordered by the trial court. reverse and remand this case to the district court for further findings in support of the sanction imposed for Lockhart’s contempt. The trial court judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further findings. View "Arnold, et al. v. Trident Resources, et al." on Justia Law

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Workforce Safety & Insurance (WSI) appealed a district court judgment affirming the administrative law judge’s (ALJ) order concluding Isai Avila was entitled to both the scheduled permanent partial impairment award for vision loss and whole body permanent partial impairment award for additional injuries to his cervical spine, facial bone, acoustic nerve, and brain. In 2015, Avila fell on ice carrying a railroad tie while employed by SM Fencing & Energy Services, Inc., and sustained injuries. WSI issued an order awarding permanent impairment benefits of $34,000 to Avila. Avila requested a hearing. During a second review Avila underwent a permanent impairment evaluation. The evaluation determined Avila had 29% whole body permanent partial impairment which included 16% whole body impairment for vision loss of Avila’s left eye. WSI concluded under N.D.C.C. 65-05-12.2(11) that Avila was entitled to the greater of either the scheduled impairment award or the whole body impairment award, but not both. WSI issued a notice of decision confirming no additional award of permanent impairment benefits was due. Avila again requested a hearing after reconsideration. The sole issue at the administrative hearing was interpretation of the portion of N.D.C.C. 65-05-12.2(11). and whether the statute applied to the same work-related injury or condition, and not impairments for the same work-related incident. Since Avila’s loss of vision in his left eye was the same work-related injury or condition for which Avila received a 100 permanent impairment multiplier (PIM) scheduled injury award, the “loss of vision in left eye” component of the 29% whole body impairment must be subtracted from the award to determine Avila’s additional permanent impairment benefits. The ALJ concluded the additional injuries were not the same work-related injury or condition as the vision loss, and N.D.C.C. 65-05-12.2(11) was not applicable. Therefore, the ALJ determined Avila was entitled to both the scheduled impairment award for vision loss and the whole body impairment award for his additional injuries. The North Dakota Supreme Court found that because Avila had an injury set out in N.D.C.C. 65-05-12.2(11), he was entitled to the greater of the combined rating for all accepted impairments under the AMA Guides or the injury schedule. Here, N.D.C.C. 65-05-12.2(11) provided the greater PIM. Accordingly, WSI correctly determined Avila’s award. The ALJ judgment was not in accordance with the law. The Supreme Court therefore reversed the district court’s judgment and remanded to the ALJ for further proceedings. View "WSI v. Avila, et al." on Justia Law