Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court
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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

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Shadow Industries, LLP, appealed a district court judgment dismissing its eviction action and holding the tenants David and Chris Hoffman had timely exercised their option to extend the term of the parties’ lease agreement. Shadow argued the district court erred in finding the parties’ lease agreement to be ambiguous, finding the option to extend the lease expired on February 1, 2019, and finding the Hoffmans timely exercised their option to extend the lease. The North Dakota Supreme Court found the district court’s interpretation of the lease as having ambiguity as to when the lease terminated was premised upon the court’s observation that “[w]hen ‘crop years’ end and begin is undefined.” To this, the Supreme Court disagreed that the lease was ambiguous and failed to define the end of the lease. The Supreme Court found the lease terminated at the end of the 2018 crop year. "While determining when the end of the 2018 crop year occurred may be a question of fact, the term is not ambiguous simply because it requires a future event or contingency." There was testimony that the crop year ended no later than October 2018; following the harvesting of their crops and still in 2018, the Hoffmans deep ripped the land, tilled to create fall bedding, and applied fertilizer to prepare for the 2019 crop year. "On the basis of these facts, and the absence of any contrary facts in the record, we conclude as a matter of law the 2018 crop year ended and the lease terminated in 2018." Because the facts of this case compelled a finding the 2018 crop year ended in 2018 and the lease terminated at the end of the 2018 crop year, the Court found the exercise of the option in January 2019 was not timely and the lease terminated. It therefore reversed judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Shadow Industries, LLP v. Hoffman, et al." on Justia Law

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Roger Feltman and TRRP LLC (Feltman) appeal a district court judgment dismissing their malpractice lawsuit against attorney Daniel Gaustad and the Pearson, Christensen & Clapp law firm (Gaustad). The court concluded summary judgment was appropriate because Feltman failed to establish a factual dispute as to the elements of legal malpractice. Finding no reversible error in that decision, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed judgment. View "Feltman, et al. v. Gaustad, et al." on Justia Law

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Alton Johnson appealed a judgment denying his variance application. In the 1970s Johnson purchased land in Burlington, ND, and in 1973, opened an auto body shop. The auto body shop was zoned as a C-1 residential sometime after the shop was built. In 1989, a fire damaged the building. After building repairs in 1991, Johnson leased part of the property. Johnson began to use another location for his auto body business. In 2012, Johnson sold his business at the second location. Property owners neighboring the property raised concerns about the use of the property. In May 2013, the city attorney issued an opinion regarding the body shop, stating it “was a non-conforming use when the zoning ordinance was initially passed, so it was essentially ‘grandfathered in’” and when the auto body shop’s use was discontinued, and the current renters went into the building, the auto body shop was no longer “grandfathered in” and would need approval by the planning commission. Johnson operated the auto body shop at the location of the property at issue subsequent to the sale of the second location. In October 2013, Johnson moved for a temporary injunction and ex parte restraining order to allow him to continue to use his auto body shop, which was granted by the district court. In October 2016, Johnson requested a variance from the City. When it was denied, he appealed, arguing the City’s findings were arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable, and not supported by substantial evidence. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded after review it was not arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable for the City to deny Johnson’s variance application and there was substantial evidence to support the City’s decision. Accordingly, the Court affirmed judgment. View "Johnson v. City of Burlington" on Justia Law

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Kyle Christianson appealed a district court’s judgment affirming the North Dakota Department of Transportation’s suspension of his driving privileges. Christianson claimed the Department’s hearing file, which was admitted at the adjudication hearing, was improperly certified as a true copy of the Department’s official records. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded Christianson rebutted the presumption that the individual whose signature certified the record had authority to do so. Therefore, the Court reversed the hearing officer’s decision to admit the hearing file and vacated the Department’s suspension of Christianson’s driving privileges. View "Christianson v. NDDOT" on Justia Law