Justia Civil Procedure Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court
Wald v. Hovey, et al.
Donna Wald petitioned the North Dakota Supreme Court to exercise its original jurisdiction and issue a writ of supervision directing the district court to vacate an order denying her demand for a change of judge and to grant the demand. Donna and Gerard Wald divorced in 2019. The Honorable Daniel Narum was the presiding judge in the divorce action. Donna was awarded hay bales and other assets in the property distribution. After entry of the divorce judgment, Donna moved for contempt or in the alternative for redistribution of property, claiming she was unable to retrieve the hay bales awarded to her, and Gerard refused to turn the bales over. The district court denied her motion. Donna appealed, and the property distribution and denial of the post-judgment motion were affirmed on appeal. In 2021, Donna sued Gerard for unjust enrichment and tortious conversion, alleging the hay bales awarded to her in the divorce judgment were worth $242,216; she had not received any of the hay bales; Gerard kept the bales for his own use or sold them for his own gain; and she was deprived of the value, use, and benefit of the bales. She requested the district court to award her $242,000 in damages. Judge Narum was assigned to the case, and Donna filed a demand for a change of judge. Donna argued she complied with the statutory requirements for a change of judge and the court erred by denying her request. The North Dakota Supreme Court denied Donna's petition, concluding the district court did not err when it denied the demand for a change of judge. View "Wald v. Hovey, et al." on Justia Law
Armstrong v. Helms
Phillip Armstrong appealed a judgment dismissing his amended complaint. The district court granted dismissal of the amended complaint after finding Armstrong had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. In 1996, Armstrong filed a surety bond with the North Dakota Industrial Commission when he became the operator of several oil wells on private land. In 2001, Armstrong also began operating wells on federal lands. Armstrong was engaged with federal authorities in formulating a reclamation plan for the federal lands. The wells were not producing oil, and Armstrong requested a release of his surety bond filed with the Commission. The Commission conditioned the release of the bond on Armstrong performing a geoprobe assessment of the wells, which Armstrong refused. Armstrong thereafter filed a complaint in the district court seeking release of his bond. The court ultimately concluded Armstrong's claims were barred by his failure to exhaust his administrative remedies, rejected Armstrong’s argument state law did not apply because of federal preemption, and entered a judgment dismissing the action. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded federal regulations did not preempt the application of N.D.C.C. ch. 38-08, Armstrong failed to exhaust his administrative remedies, and the court properly dismissed the action. View "Armstrong v. Helms" on Justia Law
Estate of Beach
Clark Beach appealed a district court order denying his petition for formal probate of a holographic will. Clark was the brother of Skip Beach (“decedent”). The decedent lived in Golden Valley County, North Dakota. He was survived by seven siblings and one daughter. The will at issue was submitted to informal probate, and co-personal representatives were appointed. Clark filed a petition for formal probate of the will. The purported holographic will left everything the decedent owned to Clark. The court entered its order denying the petition for formal probate of the holographic will. The court found the signature “Skip Beach” on the proposed holographic will was the decedent’s signature based on the evidence. The court held the clause “Everything I own” was a material portion and was not in the decedent’s handwriting. The court reasoned that the clause appeared to have been written in different ink, was lighter in appearance, and was slanted different than the rest of the document. Additionally, the court found the clause was smaller in text and was written in only printed letters while other portions of the document use a mix of cursive and printed letters. The court stated the testimony given by Clark Beach, his siblings, and others did not change the court’s finding and stated “[n]one of these individuals are handwriting experts, and none of them ever saw this purported will before Skip’s death.” The court held that Clark Beach failed to meet his burden of proof that a material portion of the document was in the testator’s handwriting as required by law. Clark argued the district court erred in finding the material portions of the holographic will were not in the testator’s handwriting. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the order denying the petition for formal probate. View "Estate of Beach" on Justia Law
Matter of Shane Lance Yates
Shane Lance Yates and Amy Jo Yates (“Petitioners”) appealed district court orders denying their petitions for name changes and requests for reconsideration. They argued the district court erred in concluding their current names and the names requested were the same names. Petitioners sought to change their respective names from “SHANE LANCE YATES” (in all uppercase letters) to “Shane Lance Yates” and “AMY JO YATES” (in all uppercase letters) to “Amy Jo Yates.” They requested the changes to “terminate the guardian-ward relationship, and to distinguish from all other aliases, correct any mistakes, errors or identity confusion that exists in relation to the ALL CAPS STATE CREATED NAME.” The district court denied the petitions under res judicata because the Petitioners had previously filed identical name change petitions, which had been denied by the court, and they did not seek to change from one name to another and the requested change would not affect any action or legal proceeding or other right, title, or interest, as was the stated purpose. The Petitioners argue the district court erred in concluding their current names and the names requested were the same names. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed, finding Petitioners offered no authority or reasoned argument that there was any legal significance to the capitalization of their names. The district court therefore did not abuse its discretion in denying the petitions. View "Matter of Shane Lance Yates" on Justia Law
Tergesen, et al. v. Nelson Homes
Jeanne and Nevin Tergesen appealed a judgment dismissing their complaint and awarding Nelson Homes, Inc. damages for its breach of contract counterclaim. The Tergesens argued the district court erred in dismissing their rescission and breach of contract claims, and the court erroneously found the Tergesens breached the contract. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court did not err in dismissing the Tergesens’ claims or finding the Tergesens breached the contract, but the court did err in calculating the amount of prejudgment interest on Nelson Homes’ damages. View "Tergesen, et al. v. Nelson Homes" on Justia Law
Cavare v. Kjelgren
Christopher Kjelgren appealed a district court judgment entered in favor of Cavare, Inc., and the subsequent order denying his motion for relief from the judgment. In 2017, Cavare, Inc. (also referred to as “Cavare USA”) commenced this action seeking a judgment declaring Cavare USA the rightful owner of a one-third interest in Petroleum Services Drilling Motors, Inc. (“PSDM”), and claiming breach of fiduciary duty, conversion, and unjust enrichment to recover $230,000 in shareholder distributions that PSDM had made to Kjelgren. Following a bench trial, the district court found Cavare USA was the owner of the disputed PSDM shares and $230,000 in shareholder distributions issued to Kjelgren belonged to Cavare USA. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the court’s finding that Cavare, Inc. was the rightful owner of disputed shares corresponding to a one-third interest in Petroleum Services Drilling Motors, Inc. was not clearly erroneous. Furthermore, the Supreme Court concluded the court did not abuse its discretion in denying his motion for relief from the judgment under N.D.R.Civ.P. 60. View "Cavare v. Kjelgren" on Justia Law
Taszarek, et al. v. Lakeview Excavating, et al.
Eugene Taszarek, Marlys Taszarek, Trina Schilling, Steven Taszarek, and Michael Taszarek (“Taszareks”) appealed a judgment finding Lakeview Excavating, Inc., was not the alter ego of Brian Welken. Welken was Lakeview Excavating’s president and sole shareholder. While working on certain county projects, Lakeview Excavating’s employees took fieldstones from a nearby property owned by the Taszareks to use for the roads. The Taszareks sued Lakeview Excavating and Welken for intentional trespass, conversion of property, and unjust enrichment. The claims of trespass and conversion 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 for a new trial, concluding the district court inadequately instructed the jury on the alter ego doctrine. After a bench trial, the district court found Lakeview Excavating was the alter ego of Welken and ordered the Taszareks could recover damages from either Welken or Lakeview Excavating. The Supreme Court reversed again, concluding the court’s findings relating to piercing Lakeview Excavating’s corporate veil were inadequate to permit appellate review. On remand, the court held an evidentiary hearing and found Lakeview Excavating was not the alter ego of Welken. The Taszareks argue the district court exceeded the scope of remand by holding an evidentiary hearing instead of specifying findings of fact based on evidence already in the record. Finding no reversible error in last of the district court's alter ego findings, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Taszarek, et al. v. Lakeview Excavating, et al." on Justia Law
Motisi v. Hebron Public School District
Joseph Motisi appealed a district court order and judgment denying his petition for writ of mandamus. Hebron Public School District employed Motisi as a teacher during the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years. Prior to his employment with the District, Motisi worked as a teacher in another North Dakota school district for four years. On April 23, 2021, the District sent Motisi a Probationary Teacher Notice of Nonrenewal, informing him the District would not be renewing his teaching contract. Motisi sent a letter to the District on April 26, 2021, notifying the District of his acceptance of a continuing contract for the 2021-22 school year. The District then notified Motisi he was unable to accept an offer to renew a contract because his contract was nonrenewed. Motisi applied for a temporary restraining order, a preliminary injunction, and later for a writ of mandamus. The court issued an order denying Motisi’s petition for writ of mandamus, stating the sole issue was “whether Motisi is a probationary employee under N.D.C.C. 15.1-15-02(8)” and that “Motisi concedes that if he was a probationary teacher, the District complied with the law.” The district court rejected Motisi’s argument that because he had four years of experience at another school, he could not be considered a probationary teacher under the statute. The court ultimately found “[t]he District followed the requirements of the statute when it non-renewed Motisi’s contract” and “Motisi has not demonstrated that he has a clear legal right” to the renewed contract. The North Dakota Supreme Court determined the district court did not err in interpreting N.D.C.C. 15.1-15-02(8), and affirmed judgment. View "Motisi v. Hebron Public School District" on Justia Law
American Federal Bank v. Grommesh, et al.
Defendants William Grommesh and Jon Pansch appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of American Federal Bank in its action to enforce four guaranties. The defendants argued the district court erred in granting summary judgment because the court misinterpreted the guaranties, and genuine issues of material fact exist regarding the defendants’ defenses. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "American Federal Bank v. Grommesh, et al." on Justia Law
North Dakota v. S.J.H., et al.
S.J.H. appealed a district court order granting the State’s motion for sanctions against him for failure to obey a court order for genetic testing and from a default judgment ordering him to pay child support. The North Dakota Child Support Division (“State”) commenced a civil action against S.J.H. to establish paternity for a minor child. S.J.H. retained counsel. In S.J.H.’s answer and counterclaim, he included a request for genetic testing to be conducted. At a hearing nearly four months later, he withdrew his request for testing. The district court then entered an order requiring S.J.H. to submit to genetic testing. After two months went by with no testing having been conducted, the district court requested a status update from the parties. S.J.H.’s counsel responded that S.J.H. had not been tested, and counsel moved to withdraw, stating that his attorney-client relationship with S.J.H. had “deteriorated to a degree that further representation is not possible” after their discussions about the proceedings “resulted in an impasse.” The State subsequently scheduled an appointment for genetic testing for March 25, 2021, in S.J.H.’s state of residence. On March 10, the State sent a letter to S.J.H.’s counsel with the information regarding the upcoming appointment. This letter was sent to counsel only and not directly to S.J.H. On March 31, the court granted S.J.H.’s counsel’s motion to withdraw. On April 30, the district court again asked the State and S.J.H. for a status update. Because S.J.H. failed to attend his March 25 appointment, the State requested sanctions against him, including striking his answer and rendering default judgment against him. S.J.H. stated he was unaware of the March 25 appointment, and learned of such appointment only upon being served the State’s motion for default judgment two months later. Nevertheless, the court granted the State's motion for sanctions. S.J.H. argued on appeal that the district court abused its discretion in granting sanctions against him because his former attorney failed to notify him of the scheduled genetic testing appointment, thus he did not disobey the court order to submit to genetic testing. Finding that the district court did not abuse its discretion, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the sanctions order. View "North Dakota v. S.J.H., et al." on Justia Law