Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court

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SWMO, LLC appealed district court orders granting partial summary judgment to Mon-Dak Plumbing and Heating, Inc. and RK Electric relating to their work performed on a building owned by SWMO. SWMO contracted with Eagle Rigid Spans for the construction of a commercial building in Williston, North Dakota. Eagle was the general contractor and Mon-Dak and RK Electric were subcontractors for the project. Mon-Dak and RK Electric contracted with Eagle to provide HVAC, plumbing, and electrical work on the building. During construction, SWMO noticed defects in the materials and workmanship and believed the building was not properly constructed. The trial court ultimately awarded Mon-Dak $125,600 and RK Electric $114,242 from funds deposited into court by SWMO. SWMO claimed disputed issues of fact precluded summary judgment. The North Dakota Supreme Court determined The district court provided no analysis of the documents in its summary judgment orders. "By not addressing the evidence submitted by SWMO, the district court in effect found Mon-Dak’s and RK Electric’s evidence was more persuasive." In viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to SWMO at the time of the motions, SWMO raised a genuine issue of material fact, and Mon-Dak and RK Electric were not entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Although the court later found at trial that Eagle materially misrepresented the true amounts paid to its subcontractors, the court did not make findings on whether Eagle misrepresented the payments made to Mon-Dak and RK Electric. The Court therefore reversed and remanded for further findings relating to amounts Mon-Dak and RK Electric were entitled to recover from funds SWMO deposited into court; the parties' remaining arguments were without merit or not necessary to the Court's decision. The trial court was affirmed in all other respects. View "SWMO, LLC v. Eagle Rigid Spans Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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Bad Habit Trucking LLC owned a 1996 Peterbilt truck. Great West Casualty Company insured the truck. Dusty Weinreis, a member of Bad Habit Trucking LLC, took the truck to Butler Machinery Company for service work. The truck was destroyed by fire after the service work was completed but before Weinreis paid for the services. Great West paid Bad Habit Trucking $85,000 for the loss of the truck in accordance with the insurance policy. In November 2017 Butler sued Weinreis in small claims court for the unpaid service work. Weinreis counterclaimed in small claims court for the statutory maximum, $15,000, alleging loss of use of the truck, lost profits, cost to repair and replace the truck, and loss of personal property. Prior to the small claims hearing Butler moved to dismiss the case without prejudice. Weinreis resisted the motion, and a small claims hearing took place in 2018. The court awarded Butler $8,041.57 for the unpaid service work and awarded Weinreis $15,000 for lost profits. Offsetting the recoveries resulted in a net award to Weinreis of $6,958.43. In June 2018 Great West sued Butler in district court for $81,753.32 for the loss of the truck plus interest and costs. Butler moved to dismiss under N.D.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), arguing the case was fully decided in small claims court when Weinreis sued Butler for loss of the truck. The district court granted Butler’s motion to dismiss because the issue stemmed from the same transaction or occurrence, and found Great West should have filed a claim for damages in the small claims action. Great West moved to reconsider on the basis that Weinreis was the defendant in the small claims action, not Great West or Bad Habit Trucking. Great West argued privity did not exist between Weinreis in his personal capacity and Great West as the insurance company for Bad Habit Trucking. The district court denied the motion to reconsider. The North Dakota Supreme Court found the district court erred in dismissing Great West's claim, and reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Great West Casualty Company v. Butler Machinery Company" on Justia Law

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Ronald Smithberg appealed a judgment ordering Smithberg Brothers, Inc., to purchase his interest in the family farm corporation for $169,985 and dismissing on summary judgment his other claims against the corporation and its remaining shareholders, Gary and James Smithberg. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded Ronald Smithberg raised genuine issues of material fact regarding his claims against the corporation and Gary and James Smithberg, and the district court erred in granting summary judgment dismissing those claims. The court’s valuation of Ronald Smithberg’s interest in the corporation was reversed because his interest could not be valuated until his derivative claims on behalf of the corporation were resolved. View "Smithberg v. Smithberg, et al." on Justia Law

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Mark Klein appealed a judgment following a jury verdict awarding him compensatory damages resulting from a vehicular accident. Klein and Sarah Luithle were in a vehicular accident in 2011 (Luithle died in 2014 from unrelated causes). The case was tried before a jury in August 2018. Prior to trial, Luithle’s Estate moved the district court to exclude two of Klein’s witnesses, Reg Gibbs and Scott Stradley, Ph.D., arguing their testimony and opinions did not meet the requirements of N.D.R.Ev. 702 and 703. The court denied the motion, stating the arguments raised by Luithle’s Estate went to the credibility of the experts, not to the admissibility of their testimony. On the second day of trial, Bill Rosen, M.D., testified as Klein’s medical expert witness. After Dr. Rosen testified, Luithle’s Estate moved to strike part of Dr. Rosen’s testimony, arguing it did not meet the reasonable degree of medical certainty standard and was therefore speculative and inadmissible. After acknowledging Klein’s continuing objection, the court struck all of Dr. Rosen’s testimony. The court also excluded proposed testimony from Gibbs and Stradley because it held there was a lack of foundation for these experts to testify without Dr. Rosen’s testimony. The jury determined Klein was 25% at fault and Luithle was 75% at fault for the accident that caused Klein’s injuries. On appeal, Klein argued the district court incorrectly struck the entirety of his expert witness’s testimony from the record and improperly excluded testimony from two other expert witnesses under N.D.R.Ev. 702 and 703. The North Dakota Supreme Court determined Klein’s substantial rights were affected because his medical expert’s testimony was completely struck and Klein was significantly limited in proving both past and future damages. Additionally, the matter of medical expenses was a major issue at trial, and exclusion of Klein’s only medical expert left him to rely solely on the medical witness called by Luithle’s Estate. Therefore, the Court remanded for a new trial. View "Klein v. Estate of Luithle" on Justia Law

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Clinton Mullin and Valrena Nelson appealed a judgment and order denying a new trial. The judgment was entered after a jury found Mullin liable for a breach of trust and awarded Richard Twete damages for the loss of use and value of real property, and after the court in equitable proceedings imposed a constructive trust requiring the return of the real property, awarded Twete monetary damages jointly and severally against Mullin and Nelson as restitution, and granted attorney fees. In 2009, Twete owned a farm near Grenora, North Dakota, and Mullin owned a farm about 100 miles away in Montana. Twete and Mullin met in the fall of 2009 when Twete hired Mullin to harvest. In September 2012, Twete executed quitclaim deeds conveying his farmland and minerals in Divide County and Williams County to Mullin. Twete also sold his farm machinery and equipment to Mullin. The transaction was documented in written contracts and deeds. In June 2013, defendants Bill Seerup and Hurley Oil Properties, Inc., purchased the minerals from Mullin for $600,000. In July 2013, Mullin executed deeds granting Nelson and Mullin a joint tenancy in the farmland, excluding minerals. In August 2014, Mullin and Nelson entered into a mortgage with defendant Farm Credit Services. In 2015, Twete commenced this action against Mullin and others, seeking among other things a monetary award and the rescission of certain real property transfers, and alleging claims for quiet title, undue influence, fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, malicious prosecution, constructive trust, breach of contract, and conversion or trespass to chattels. Twete also sought equitable relief from defendants Farm Credit, Seerup, and Hurley Oil. Mullin counterclaimed against Twete for quiet title, breach of contract, promissory estoppel, and conversion and trespass to chattel. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed all but the award of attorney fees: the Court could not discern under what legal authority the district court relied on to award fees. The matter was thus reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Twete v. Mullin, et al." on Justia Law

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W.C. appealed a district court order denying his petition to adjudicate paternity and seeking a determination of residential responsibility, decision making responsibility, parenting time, and child support. W.C. alleges he was the father of a child born to J.H. In November 2013. W.C. and J.H. began a romantic relationship in late 2012 while J.H was married to T.H. The couple divorced in June 2013. Because J.H. gave birth to the child within 300 days of the divorce, T.H. was the presumed father under North Dakota law. The child’s birth certificate did not list a father. In 2018, after the statute of limitations for challenging a presumed father expired, W.C. commenced an action to adjudicate paternity of the child, seeking a determination of residential responsibility, decision making responsibility, parenting time, and child support. The district court scheduled an evidentiary hearing. Before the hearing, J.H. filed a motion to quash discovery, arguing W.C.’s requests for financial and medical records were not relevant, onerous, grossly invasive, and even if provided could not establish facts to support the relief sought in the petition. The district court granted the motion to quash discovery, finding medical and financial records were not relevant. The court thereafter held a hearing on the paternity claim, hearing testimony from W.C., J.H., and T.H. Based on testimony and interrogatory answers from T.H. the district court found W.C. failed to disprove the parent-child relationship. The district court also found W.C. failed to establish T.H. and J.H. did not cohabitate nor engage in a sexual relationship during the probable time of conception. The district court denied W.C.’s petition. W.C. argued on appeal of the district court order that the court abused its discretion in granting a motion quashing discovery. Finding no error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "W.C. v. J.H., et al." on Justia Law

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The North Dakota Department of Transportation appealed a district court judgment reversing a hearing officer's decision, imposing a 91-day suspension of Benjamin French's driving privileges, and awarding him attorney fees. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the court erred in holding French's driving record did not establish his operator's license had previously been revoked within seven years preceding the date of his June 2018 arrest, and the court erred in concluding the appropriate suspension for his then-current offense was 91 days. The court also erred in awarding attorney fees. The Supreme Court reversed judgment, reinstated the Department's decision suspending French's driving privileges for 365 days. View "French v. N.D. Dep't of Transportation" on Justia Law

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Brian Welken appealed a district court judgment piercing Lakeview Excavating, Inc.’s corporate veil and holding him personally responsible for money damages awarded to Eugene Taszarek, Marlys Taszarek, Trina Schilling, Steven Taszarek, and Michael Taszarek. In the spring of 2012, German Township in Dickey County, North Dakota selected Lakeview Excavating as a contractor for FEMA-funded road projects. Welken was Lakeview Excavating’s president and sole shareholder. A farmer who owned land adjacent to land owned by the Taszareks permitted Lakeview Excavating to enter his property to harvest field rock used for the road projects. However, Lakeview Excavating also took rock from the Taszareks’ property that was used in the road projects. The Taszareks sued Lakeview Excavating and Welken for intentional trespass, conversion of property, and unjust enrichment. The trespass and conversion claims were tried to a jury. The jury returned a verdict in the Taszareks’ favor, finding Lakeview Excavating was the alter ego of Welken and holding both parties liable for damages. The North Dakota Supreme Court reversed and remanded, concluding that while Welken had consented to the jury deciding the alter ego issue, the district court did not adequately instruct the jury on the alter ego doctrine. On remand the district court ordered a March 2018 bench trial on the issue of whether Lakeview Excavating was the alter ego of Welken, concluding Lakeview Excavating was the alter ego of Welken and ruled the Taszareks could recover damages from either Welken or Lakeview Excavating. Welken argued on appeal the district court erred in piercing Lakeview Excavating’s corporate veil and holding him personally liable for the Taszareks’ damages. The Supreme Court again reversed, concluding the district court did not make adequate findings of fact under N.D.R.Civ.P. 52(a), and its findings relating to piercing Lakeview Excavating’s corporate veil were inadequate to permit appellate review. View "Taszarek, et al. v. Lakeview Excavating, Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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Interiors by France (“IBF) appealed a district court judgment limiting IBF to a recovery of damages from Mitzel Contractors, Inc. (“MCI”) without an award of attorney fees. IBF initiated a small claims court proceeding in 2016 naming Mitzel Builders, Inc. (“MBI”) and Leeroy Mitzel as the defendants. IBF alleged it had not been paid for flooring materials and installation of the materials. MBI and Mitzel filed an answer, and Mitzel elected to remove the action from small claims court to district court. IBF argued it was entitled to a recovery of attorney fees under N.D.C.C. 27-08.1-04, which provided for the mandatory recovery of attorney fees to a prevailing plaintiff following the defendant’s removal of a small claims court case to the district court. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Interiors by France v. Mitzel Contractors, Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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Pinky’s Aggregates, Inc., and its president, Dale Honsey, appealed the grant of summary judgment awarding Frontier Fiscal Services, LLC, $526,253.12 in its action for breach of contract and to collect on a personal guaranty. Because Pinky’s and Honsey failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact to preclude summary judgment, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed summary judgment. View "Frontier Fiscal Services LLC v. Pinky's Aggregates, Inc., et al." on Justia Law