Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court

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The North Dakota State Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors ("Board") appealed district court judgments affirming in part, reversing in part, and remanding to the Board its disciplinary decisions against Michael Berg, Apex Engineering Group, Inc., Scott Olson, Dain Miller, Thomas Welle, and Timothy Paustian. Respondents Berg, Olson, Miller, Welle and Paustian were former employees of Ulteig Engineers, Inc. Olson was terminated from Ulteig in 2009. In 2010, Berg, Miller, Welle, and Paustian resigned from Ulteig and, along with Olson, started a competing business, Apex. Following the Respondents' departure, Ulteig sued Apex and filed an ethics complaint with the Board, alleging Berg, Olson, Miller, Welle and Paustian violated the Professional Engineers' Code of Ethics by disclosing Ulteig's confidential information and failing to disclose a potential conflict of interest by not informing Ulteig of their decision to form Apex. Ulteig also alleged the Respondents knowingly participated in a plan to seek employment for Apex on projects that Ulteig had been contracted to perform before the Respondents' departure from Ulteig. The Board found that each of the Respondents had violated one or more of the provisions of the code of ethics. Respondents appealed the Board's disciplinary decisions to the district court. The court affirmed the Board's decision that Welle, Berg, and Miller failed to disclose a potential conflict of interest. The court reversed the determination that Miller, Welle, and Paustian had improperly disclosed confidential information. The court also reversed the decision that Berg, Olson, and Welle knowingly participated in a plan to seek employment for Apex on projects Ulteig had been contracted to perform before their departure from Ulteig. The court remanded to the Board for reconsideration the discipline imposed on Berg, Olson, Miller, Welle, and Paustian in light of the court's reversal of the disciplinary decisions. The court also awarded attorney fees to Berg, Welle, Apex, Olson, Miller, and Paustian. On appeal to the North Dakota Supreme Court, the Board argued the district court wrongfully reversed the Board's disciplinary decisions because the decisions were supported by a preponderance of the evidence. The Supreme Court concluded a preponderance of the evidence supported the Board's factual findings regarding the improper solicitation by Welle, Olson, Berg, and Apex. Those findings supported a conclusion that Welle, Olson, Berg, and Apex knowingly sought or accepted employment for professional services for an assignment for which Ulteig was previously employed or contracted to perform in violation of N.D. Admin. Code 28-03.1-01-12(6). The Supreme Court therefore reversed those parts of the district court's judgments relating to the violation of N.D. Admin. Code 28-03.1-01-12(6) by Welle, Olson, Berg, and Apex. View "Berg, et al. v. North Dakota State Board of Registration" on Justia Law

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Shane Martin appealed an order denying his N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(b) motion for relief from default judgment. Martin was the biological father of Cheri Poitra's child, I.R.P. Martin and Poitra were unmarried tribal members of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. In August 2017, Poitra began receiving services from Bismarck Regional Child Support Unit (BRCSU). The State sought to establish a child support obligation from Martin and served him with a summons and complaint. Martin completed a financial affidavit and returned it to BRCSU on October 8, 2017, but did not file an answer or other responsive pleading. On November 7, 2017, the State filed a N.D.R.Ct. 3.2 motion for default judgment. More than 21 days had passed since Martin was served and he had appeared but had not filed an answer or other responsive pleading. On November 17, 2017, Martin filed a notice of special appearance. The notice of special appearance did not contain an accompanying affidavit, motion, request for action, or response to the allegations. Instead, the notice stated only that Martin's attorney was entering a special appearance to contest "both subject matter and personal jurisdiction." Included with the notice was a copy of a summons and a petition for custody filed by Martin with the Turtle Mountain Tribal Court on November 16, 2017. A hearing on the "notice of special appearance" was held January 2018. During the hearing, the district court stated numerous times that the notice was not a motion on which the court could act and instructed Martin to file a motion. In February, 2018, the district court entered its findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order for judgment finding Martin in default. Judgment was entered February 21, 2018. Martin argues that his return of the financial affidavit and filing of a notice of special appearance was sufficient to preclude a default judgment under N.D.R.Civ.P. 55(a) and thus the district court erred in denying his Rule 60(b) motion. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed: the district court did not err in denying a Rule 60(b) motion for relief from judgment where Martin was properly provided notice and served with the motion for default judgment. View "North Dakota v. Martin" on Justia Law

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Larry Alber appealed a January 2018 order amending a 2013 order which found Alber in contempt for failure to abate a nuisance on his property in compliance with a October 2003 judgment. He argued the judgment was satisfied when he filed reports of compliance with the district court and thus the property no longer contained a nuisance subject to abatement. The City of Marion ("City") argued the district court properly amended the 2013 order. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court did not err in amending its order to clarify that the nuisance on the property remained subject to abatement after Alber's conveyance of the property. The Court therefore affirmed the district court's amended order. View "North Dakota ex rel. City of Marion v. Alber" on Justia Law

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Scott and Shannon Dahms appealed the grant of summary judgment which dismissed their action against Nodak Mutual Insurance Company to obtain additional insurance payments, and against their insurance agent, Mike Bruckbauer, for damages resulting from his alleged violation of professional duties owed to them. Because the district court correctly interpreted the insurance policy as applied to the undisputed facts, and because the Dahms failed to raise a genuine issue of fact to support their professional negligence claim, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed dismissal. View "Dahms v. Nodak Mutal Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Shannon Bakke appeals a judgment in favor of Magi-Touch Carpet One Floor & Home, Inc. and denial of her motion to amend her complaint. Bakke entered into a contract with Magi-Touch for the installation of floor tiles, a shower base, and related products in a bathroom within Bakke's home. Magi-Touch arranged to have the shower base and tile installed by VA Solutions, LLC, an independent contractor. Bakke contended the shower door was improperly installed; the improper installation resulted in the shower door imploding, and the implosion caused damage to property in and around the shower requiring the bathroom door and trim to be repainted. Bakke argued the district court erred in concluding she could not pursue a claim against Magi-Touch because Magi-Touch was not liable for the acts of its independent contractor. Bakke also asserts the district court erred in denying, as futile, her motion to amend her complaint to assert a contract claim against Magi-Touch. Assuming Bakke properly asserted a claim for breach of the parties' contract, the North Dakota Supreme Court held the delegation of Magi-Touch's obligation to provide labor to VA Solutions did not preclude a cause of action against Magi-Touch for a breach of the contract. Further, the Court held the existence of the independent contractor did not relieve Magi-Touch of its obligation to perform under the terms of its contract with Bakke. In the context of a claim for a breach of the parties' contract, the amendment was not futile and should have been allowed. The Court affirmed as to all other issues, and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Bakke v. Magi-Touch Carpet One Floor & Home, Inc." on Justia Law

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C.S. appealed a district court's order terminating his parental rights to A.S. and Z.S. C.S. argued the district court erred in finding he abandoned the children and finding the causes of deprivation were likely to continue. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed, concluding the district court did not clearly err in finding the causes of deprivation were likely to continue. View "Adoption of A.S. and Z.S." on Justia Law

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The Johnston Law Office appeals from a judgment dismissing its claims against Jon Brakke and Vogel Law Firm (collectively "Vogel"). Johnston argued the district court erred in granting summary judgment and dismissing its claims. Vogel represented PHI Financial Services, Inc. in an action against Johnston to recover damages for a fraudulent transfer. The district court entered judgment against Johnston in that action. In April 2016 Johnston sued Vogel for tortious interference with a business relationship, tortious interference with attorney-client business relationships, and abuse of process. Johnston alleged Vogel violated state law while attempting to execute on the judgment entered against Johnston. Johnston claimed Vogel improperly attempted to garnish funds from Johnston's lawyer trust account, operating account and fees owed by Johnston's clients, and Vogel's unlawful actions interfered with Johnston's business relationships with its lending bank and clients. In July 2017 Vogel moved for summary judgment, arguing Johnston was unable to prove the required elements of its claims and Vogel was entitled to dismissal of the claims. Vogel also moved to quash a subpoena duces tecum Johnston served on PHI Financial seeking billing information between Vogel and PHI Financial. The district court granted Vogel's motion as to all claims. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed dismissal. View "Johnston Law Office, P.C. v. Brakke" on Justia Law

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In May 2016 Walsh County, North Dakota notified Jann Thompson she failed to pay her 2013 property taxes. The notice stated the County would foreclose on the property unless Thompson paid the taxes by October 1, 2016. Thompson previously attempted to pay the taxes with promissory notes and other instruments; however, they were not accepted by the County. On October 6, 2016, the County recorded a tax deed for the property due to Thompson's failure to pay the 2013 taxes. The County informed Thompson she had the right to repurchase the property before the tax sale by paying all outstanding taxes and costs against the property. On November 2, 2016, Thompson paid the 2013, 2014 and 2015 taxes and redeemed the property. Before paying the outstanding property taxes, Daniel and Jann Thompson sued Defendants the County auditor, the State Attorney, and the County Board of Commissioners, claiming the State had no authority to tax their property, and county officials improperly refused payment by not accepting the Thompsons' promissory notes. The Thompsons also alleged fraud, inverse condemnation and slander of title. The Thompsons subsequently filed a number of other documents and motions relating to their complaint. Defendants denied the Thompsons' allegations, and requested dismissal of the complaint and denial of the additional civil filings and motions. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants, dismissing the claims. Finding the trial court did not err by dismissing the Thompsons’ claims, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Thompson v. Molde" on Justia Law

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In August 2016, the Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Revenue issued an order assessing personal liability against David Knapp, a North Dakota resident, for $65,843.80 in unpaid Minnesota sales and use taxes relating to his interest in a business in Bemidji, Minnesota. In December 2016, the Commissioner issued a third-party levy on securities held by broker Edward Jones for Knapp by sending a notice to Edward Jones at its Missouri office. The third-party levy said Edward Jones had to sell Knapp's securities under Minn. Stat. Ann. 270C.7101(7) and send the Minnesota Department of Revenue payment up to the amount due. The levy instructed Edward Jones not to send money that was exempt or protected from the levy and cautioned that state law allowed the Commissioner to assess debt to businesses, officers, or other individuals responsible for honoring the levy, including assessing the total amount due plus a twenty-five percent penalty. Knapp petitioned the district court to dissolve the levy and for a writ of prohibition against the Commissioner and Edward Jones to prohibit them from taking any further action to levy on his account. Knapp alleged that the Commissioner had no jurisdiction in North Dakota to levy on his North Dakota property and that his property was exempt from the levy. The district court issued a preliminary writ of prohibition to stay the levy pending the filing of an answer showing cause under N.D.C.C. 32-34-05, but later concluded Knapp failed to establish he was entitled to relief. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Knapp's petition for a writ of prohibition, and affirmed the judgment and the order. View "Knapp v. Commissioner of Minnesota Department of Revenue" on Justia Law

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Shane Dockter appealed the denial of his N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(b) motion to vacate a default judgment, arguing the judgment was either void or should have been vacated for excusable neglect. Brandon and Shane Dockter were brothers. In 2007, the brothers formed a partnership to facilitate a joint farming operation. In conjunction with the formation of the partnership, the brothers also created a trust, the Dockter Brothers Irrevocable Trust, to hold farmland. The brothers were co-trustees of the trust. Shane had mental health and chemical dependency problems. By 2012, Shane's mental health and chemical dependency had escalated and caused him to be absent from the farm. In 2015, Shane was detained by law enforcement after he was found walking down a public road carrying a Bible while wearing a church robe and claiming to be Jesus. The incident resulted in Shane's admission to the North Dakota State Hospital for about a month. Around the same time, Shane developed an addiction to opioids and methamphetamine. He was readmitted to the State Hospital in late 2016 after threatening his mother. In February 2017, Shane was arrested for various offenses and was readmitted to the State Hospital. Brandon commenced a lawsuit against Shane seeking "dissolution" of the partnership and "dissolution" of the trust. Brandon alleged that "Shane's mental health and chemical dependency problems" made him unable to participate in partnership activities and made it impossible to achieve the purpose of the trust. Shane was served while in custody at the sheriff's office. Shane did not answer the complaint, and he was readmitted to the State Hospital for another month. While Shane was at the Hospital, Brandon moved for default judgment. Shane was served with the motion for default judgment at the State Hospital, but did not respond. The district court ultimately granted the default judgment "expell[ing]" Shane from the partnership and removing him as co-trustee of the trust. On appeal, Shane argued: (1) the default judgment was void and should have been vacated under N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(4); and (2) the court abused its discretion by denying relief as provided in N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(1), which allowed relief from a final judgment for mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect. Applying the limited standard for reviewing denial of motions to vacate default judgments, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court did not abuse its discretion and affirmed the orders denying the motion. View "Dockter v. Dockter" on Justia Law