Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court

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John Gassmann died in February 2012. Margaret Oakland was his only child. Under a generation-skipping trust created by his parents, Gassmann had a special power of appointment over the trust estate, which included family farmland. The power was exercisable "by appointment, outright or in trust, in such portions as my child may appoint in a valid testamentary instrument that specifically refers to this special power of appointment." The trust prohibited Gassmann from exercising the power in favor of himself, his estate, his creditors, or creditors of his estate. The generation-skipping trust provided that unless Gassmann exercised the power of appointment in a valid testamentary instrument, all trust assets would pass to Gassmann's descendants at Gassmann's death. Gassmann exercised the special power of appointment through both his will and revocable living trust executed in 2011. Gassmann exercised his special power of appointment by distributing all of the real estate in his generation-skipping trust to the Valley Township Land Trust ("land trust") and the residue of the trust estate to the Canadian Mineral Share Trust ("mineral trust"), which were both created under Gassmann's revocable living trust. Oakland was a primary beneficiary of the mineral trust, not of the land trust. After Gassmann's death, Oakland contested his will and revocable living trust. Oakland argued Gassmann's will was invalid, alleging he executed the will under an insane delusion. Oakland appealed the district court order granting Bell Bank's petition to approve the accounting, distribution, and termination of the John T. Gassmann generation-skipping trust. She also appealed an order denying her motion for relief from the order approving Bell Bank's petition, arguing Gassmann improperly exercised a special power of appointment over the trust estate and that Bell Bank breached its fiduciary duty of impartiality. Finding no reversible error in the district court judgment, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Matter of John T. Gassmann Trust" on Justia Law

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William Wilkinson and the other plaintiffs appeal and Statoil & Gas, LP and EOG Resources, Inc. cross-appeal from a summary judgment determining the Board of University and School Lands of the State of North Dakota ("Land Board") owns certain property below the ordinary high watermark of the Missouri River. Wilkinson argues the district court erred in determining ownership of the mineral interests. Chapter 61-33.1, N.D.C.C., became effective on April 21, 2017. The proceedings in this case began in 2012, and the trial court granted summary judgment in May 2016. Chapter 61-33.1, N.D.C.C., only applied to this case if it applied retroactively. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded N.D.C.C. ch. 61-33.1 applied retroactively, and that the district court did not have an opportunity to consider this statutory provisions when it decided ownership of the disputed minerals. The Supreme Court, therefore, remanded this case for the district court to determine whether N.D.C.C. ch. 61-33.1 applied and governs ownership of the minerals at issue in this case. View "Wilkinson v. Board of University and School Lands of the State of N.D." on Justia Law

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Marqus Welch appealed, and Workforce Safety and Insurance ("WSI") cross-appealed a judgment affirming an administrative law judge's ("ALJ") decision that affirmed a WSI order ending Welch's vocational rehabilitation benefits and disability benefits and that reversed a WSI order finding Welch committed fraud and requiring him to repay benefits. To trigger the civil penalties for making a false statement in connection with a claim for WSI benefits, WSI must prove: (1) there is a false claim or statement; (2) the false claim or statement is willfully made; and (3) the false claim or statement is made in connection with any claim or application for benefits. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the ALJ did not err in affirming WSI's disability benefits order because a reasoning mind could reasonably conclude Welch could return to work. The Court concluded, however, the ALJ misapplied the law in failing to apply the proper definition of "work" and in analyzing whether Welch had "willfully" made false statements. View "Welch v. Workforce Safety & Insurance" on Justia Law

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A board of county commissioners may not restrict an elected county sheriff's authority to fire an employee hired by the sheriff except through personnel policies that do not usurp or significantly interfere with the sheriff's authority to fire employee's in the sheriff's office. Gary Schwartzenberger, in his official capacity as the sheriff of McKenzie County, appealed a district court order denying his petition for a writ to prohibit the McKenzie County Board of County Commissioners from taking disciplinary action up to and including termination against a deputy in the sheriff's office. THe North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the Board did not have authority to discipline a deputy in the sheriff's office, and reversed the order denying a writ of prohibition. View "Schwartzenberger v. McKenzie County Board of County Commissioners" on Justia Law

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M.S. was subject to an existing one-year order for less restrictive treatment relating to his mental illness. On June 8, 2017, before the order expired, the Southeast Human Service Center filed a petition for continuing treatment under N.D.C.C. 25-03.1-23, alleging M.S. required further psychiatric care and was unwilling to adhere to treatment on his own. On June 15, 2017, M.S. filed a demand for change of judge under N.D.C.C. 29-15-21. Judge Daniel Narum, as presiding judge, denied his request, finding that Judge Bradley Cruff was assigned to M.S.'s case in 2013 and had made rulings in the matter. After a hearing, the district court found M.S. required continuing treatment and ordered that M.S.'s less restrictive treatment be extended for one year, to June 2018. M.S. did not challenge any of the findings of fact or conclusions of law related to the order for less restrictive treatment. The sole issue on appeal was whether Judge Narum erred in denying his demand for a change of judge. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed, concluding the court did not err in denying M.S.'s demand for a change of judge. View "Interest of M.S." on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the District of North Dakota certified questions of North Dakota law to the North Dakota Supreme Court involving Dawn Vail's right to bring a common law tort action against S/L Services, Inc., for personal injuries she sustained while working for S/L Services. The certified questions and the parties' arguments involved issues about employer immunity and an employee's exclusive or dual remedy for injuries occurring during the course of employment under North Dakota’s statutory provisions for workforce safety and insurance. The Supreme Court concluded the exclusive remedy provisions of North Dakota’s workers' compensation laws did not preclude Vail's tort action against S/L Services under provisions authorizing the action for willfully misrepresenting to Workforce Safety and Insurance ("WSI") the amount of payroll upon which a premium is based, or for willfully failing to secure workers' compensation coverage for employees. View "Vail v. S/L Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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Bremer Bank, the Public Service Commission ("PSC"), Auto-Owners Insurance Company, and Curt Amundson appealed a judgment in a grain warehouse insolvency proceeding involving Grand Forks Bean Company after the district court appointed the PSC as trustee for the sale of dry edible beans from Grand Forks Bean's warehouse, denied Bremer's motion to intervene in the insolvency proceeding, and ordered distribution of the proceeds of the sale of the beans to growers determined to be noncredit-sale receiptholders. We conclude the district court did not err in construing applicable statutory provisions for insolvency proceedings and in applying those provisions. The PSC initially issued a trustee's report concluding all nine bean growers were noncredit-sale receiptholders entitled to participate in the trust fund proceeds and recommending payment of $652,747.92 to those receiptholders based on a December 2014 insolvency date and a market price of $23 per hundredweight on that date. The court ruled eight of the bean growers were noncredit-sale receiptholders entitled to participate in the insolvency trust fund proceeds. The court concluded one grower, Amundson, had a credit-sale contract with Grand Forks Bean under N.D.C.C. 60-04-01(2) and was not entitled to participate in the trust fund proceeds. The court also determined the date of Grand Forks Bean's insolvency under N.D.C.C. 60-04-02 was October 15, 2013, and the market price for beans on that date was $38 per hundredweight. The court determined three growers were entitled to a different price per hundredweight for their beans because they had cash claims with Grand Forks Bean for an agreed price. The court further concluded the PSC was entitled to its costs and expenses under N.D.C.C. sections 60-04-03.1, 60-04-09, and 60-04-10. The court ordered disbursement of the trust fund proceeds and thereafter issued an order denying Auto-Owner's motion for post-hearing relief. The district court denied without prejudice Bremer's motion to intervene to litigate the priority of its security interest, but allowed Bremer to participate in the proceeding "to the full extent provided to any other receiptholder/claimant." Amundson argued the district court erred in concluding he had a credit-sale contract with Grand Forks Bean because the definition of a credit-sale contract in N.D.C.C. 60-02-19.1 controls and required signatures by both the grower and the warehouseman to be a credit-sale contract. Finding no reversible error in the trial court's judgment, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Public Service Commission v. Grand Forks Bean Company, Inc." on Justia Law

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A person dealing with a personal representative does not receive the protections of N.D.C.C. 30.1-18-14 unless the person obtains the personal representative's letters of appointment or any other court order giving the personal representative authority to act in this state. Dudley Stuber, trustee of the D.J. Stuber Land and Royalty Trust, and Rocky Svihl, trustee of the RGKH Mineral & Royalty Trust (collectively "Plaintiffs") appealed a judgment deciding ownership of certain mineral interests in favor of the estates of Victoria Davis and Helen Jaumotte. Plaintiffs moved for summary judgment, arguing there were no genuine issues of material fact and they were entitled to judgment as a matter of law. They claimed Jay Jaumotte, as personal representative of the estates, was authorized to sell property in North Dakota as a foreign personal representative, and Northland Royalty Corp. (to whom Jay Jaumotte first conveyed the interests) was a good-faith purchaser and was entitled to statutory protections under N.D.C.C. 30.1-18-14, and the statute of limitations had expired, precluding the heirs' claims. The heirs also moved for summary judgment. The heirs argued the deeds transferring the minerals to Northland were void because Jay Jaumotte lacked any authority to act on behalf of the Davis or Helen Jaumotte estates when dealing with North Dakota property, the Plaintiffs were not good-faith purchasers, and there were genuine issues of material fact about whether Northland was a good-faith purchaser. EOG Resources intervened and responded to the motions, arguing the Plaintiffs had no interest in the mineral estate, the Plaintiffs' predecessor-in-interest had notice of the heirs' potential interests in the property and failed to investigate, and the Plaintiffs and Northland were not good-faith purchasers. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the district court's decision quieting title, but reversed its decision awarding damages to the Victoria Davis and Helen Jaumotte heirs. View "Stuber v. Engel" on Justia Law

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Under an installment sales contract for patent from the State Board of University and School Lands, the State retains the legal title to the property and holds it in trust for the purchaser and as security for the purchaser's compliance with the contract. The purchaser of such land holds equitable title until the terms of the installment sales contract have been completed and a patent has been issued, at which time the legal title merges with the equitable title. Completion of the terms of the installment sales contract for patent perfects title relating back to the date of the contract. In 2014, Curtis and Joan Hokanson ("Hokansons") initiated a quiet title action naming Corrine Zeigler, Charles Zeigler, Bonnie Scharback, Terry Scharback, Bruce Bibler, Beverly Bibler, Delton R. Bibler, Lee Bibler, Curtis D. Bibler, Carol M. Bibler, Gerald Bibler, Alice Bibler, Trudy Mathae, Bruce Mathae, Howard L. Bibler, Continental Resources, Inc., and all other persons unknown ("Biblers") claiming any estate or interest in, or lien or encumbrance upon, the property described in the complaint as defendants. In 1957, the Board of University and School Lands of the State of North Dakota and Edson and June Bibler entered into an installment sale contract for the purchase of the land at issue here. Prior to the initiation of the quiet title action by the Hokansons, the Biblers entered into oil and gas leases in 2013. The Biblers were named as the lessors, and the lessee in all the leases was Continental Resources. All leases were dated July 9, 2013. The Hokansons claimed they had title to an undivided 50% mineral interest under the property. The Hokansons argued they received this interest because the subject property was conveyed to them from Hans Hanson (the Hokansons' predecessor-in-interest) with no reservations of mineral interest appearing in a 1971 Warranty Deed. The Hokansons argued the predecessor in interest to Hans Hanson was the State of North Dakota who conveyed to Hans Hanson the surface and 50% of the mineral interest by a 1971 Patent. The district court entered an order granting the Biblers' motion for summary judgment. After review, and finding no reversible error in that judgment, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Hokanson v. Zeigler" on Justia Law

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Don Sorenson Investments owned residentially-zoned property. In 2015, Don Sorenson requested a zone change for the property from residential to commercial to "conduct small commercial business." A site inspection following Sorenson's request indicated the property was being used to store semi-trucks, gooseneck flatbed trailers, bulk fuel tanks, and shipping containers. A report prepared for the Williams County Board of County Commissioners stated Sorenson had been out of compliance since October 2014 for operating a trucking oilfield business on the property without the County's permission. The Board of County Commissioners denied Sorenson's request and ordered removal of all commercial items from the property. Sorenson appealed the Board's decision, and the district court affirmed. In October 2015, Williams County sued Sorenson for violating zoning ordinances and maintaining a public nuisance. In December 2015, the County moved for a preliminary injunction, alleging the Sorensons continued to use the property for commercial purposes. The Sorensons moved for summary judgment, arguing the County did not indicate which provisions of the zoning ordinances they violated and did not provide specific details regarding the commercial business alleged to have been operated on the property. The County opposed the Sorensons' motion and filed a cross-motion for summary judgment. The County argued administrative res judicata prevented the Sorensons from challenging the zoning violations on their property because the Board of County Commissioners had already determined they were in violation. The district court granted the Sorensons' motion for summary judgment and denied the County's cross-motion for summary judgment, concluding the zoning ordinances did not define "commercial," "commercial operation," or "commercial item" so as to give the Sorensons proper notice of what constituted a zoning violation. The court concluded res judicata did not apply, denied the County's request for sanctions for spoliation of evidence, denied its request for civil penalties, and dismissed the County's complaint. "Administrative res judicata is applied more cautiously than judicial res judicata," taking into consideration the subject matter decided by the administrative agency, the purpose of the administrative action, and the reasons for the later proceeding. On appeal, the party opposing a motion for summary judgment will be given all favorable inferences that may be reasonably drawn from the evidence. The North Dakota Supreme Court reversed that part of the judgment granting summary judgment in favor of the Sorensons, denying the County's cross-motion for summary judgment, and dismissing the County's complaint. View "Williams County v. Sorenson" on Justia Law