Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court

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Ewing Construction Co., Inc., appeals from a judgment denying its N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(b) motion to vacate a $951,191.62 default judgment entered in favor of Key Energy Services, LLC. Ewing began serving as the designer of and general contractor for Key's construction of the P3 Service Center project in Williston. Ewing voluntarily canceled its North Dakota contractor license in October 2014. In January 2015, Key sued Ewing and 22 others to invalidate construction liens filed against its property and claiming Ewing failed to pay numerous subcontractors for their work on the project in violation of its contractual obligations. After Ewing failed to answer the complaint, Key moved in June 2016 for a default judgment against Ewing. The district court granted the motion and entered default judgment against Ewing, awarding Key $951,191.62. The default judgment was entered on June 24, 2016, and Key served notice of entry of judgment on June 27, 2016. On May 12, 2017, after attempts were made to enforce the default judgment in Texas, Ewing brought a N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(b) motion to vacate the default judgment "because of insufficient service of process, and excusable neglect." Key responded by filing a corrected return of service which the district court accepted and considered. The corrected return of service was notarized and identified the documents served. On July 28, 2017, the court denied the N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(b) motion, concluding service of process was sufficient, the motion was untimely, and Ewing failed to establish excusable neglect. Because the district court did not err in ruling service of process was proper and did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion to vacate, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Key Energy Services, LLC v. Ewing Construction Co., Inc., et. al." on Justia Law

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Steven Kelly and Spirit Energy LLC (collectively "Spirit") appealed a district court order holding them in contempt for failing to return leased vehicles to Kettle Butte Trucking ("KBT"). KBT sued Spirit, alleging Spirit failed to pay numerous lease payments for trucks they leased from KBT. Spirit challenged the district court's underlying order that was alleged to have been violated. Spirit also argued the court did not have jurisdiction to hold it in contempt. When a contempt order is appealed, challenges to the underlying order will not be considered unless the underlying order is also appealed. When a court has issued an allegedly erroneous order, the party to whom the order was issued must obey it as long as it remains in force or until it is reversed on appeal, and the failure to obey the order is punishable as a contempt of court. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the district court's order holding Spirit in contempt. View "Kettle Butte Trucking, LLC v. Kelly" on Justia Law

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Charles Erwin appeals from an amended judgment entered in favor of Alerus Financial, N.A., for $5,265,653.09. Starting in 2012 Alerus made a series of loans totaling more than $15 million to Diverse Energy Systems, LLC. The loan agreement specified "Events of Default," including the failure to pay the indebtedness, the insolvency of the borrower or guarantor or the commencement of bankruptcy proceedings. Erwin was Diverse's chief executive officer, and he signed multiple personal guaranties, promising to be personally responsible for payment of up to $4 million of Diverse's debt owed to Alerus. In September 2015 Diverse filed for bankruptcy. In May 2016 Alerus sued Erwin for breach of contract and unjust enrichment, alleging Diverse was in default under the loan agreement and Erwin failed to make payment on the amount due under the guaranties. Alerus alleged Diverse's indebtedness exceeded $12 million and under the guaranties Erwin was liable for at least $4 million in principal and interest. On September 6, 2016, Erwin filed an answer to Alerus' complaint. Alerus moved for summary judgment, arguing Diverse defaulted on its loan obligations and Erwin breached the guaranty contracts by failing to pay the amounts due under the guaranties. Alerus also filed an affidavit in support of its motion from an Alerus employee, which it claimed showed the total outstanding principal and interest on the loans to Diverse. Erwin argued on appeal to the North Dakota Supreme Court the district court abused its discretion by failing to rule on his motion to amend his answer and entering judgment without allowing him to conduct discovery on Alerus' damage claims. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the amended judgment. View "Alerus Financial, N.A. v. Erwin" on Justia Law

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Cameron and Mary Susan Arnegard appealed a trial court judgment relating to a conditional use permit (CUP) obtained from Arnegard Township in McKenzie County, North Dakota. The Arnegards argued the district court erred in granting the Township's motion in limine to exclude a buy-sell agreement; denying their motion to amend their complaint on a due process claim; granting summary judgment dismissing their breach of contract, actual fraud and equitable estoppel claims; dismissing their negligence and deceit claims by directed verdict; and determining no party prevailed in the action. The Arnegards also argued the district court abused its discretion by denying their motion to amend their complaint at trial. The Township cross-appealed, arguing the district court erred in granting judgment as a matter of law in favor of the Arnegards' due process claim. Zoning ordinances and amendments are valid if a township follows the statutory procedures. A conditional use permit does not by itself create a contract between a township and a landowner. A township has no duty to disclose validly enacted zoning ordinances or amendments beyond the notice and filing procedures provided by statute. A claim of constitutional due process violation first requires a protected property interest created by an independent source of law. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the district court regarding dismissal of the Arnegards' breach of contract, actual fraud and equitable estoppel claims. The Court affirmed the judgment regarding directed verdicts in favor of the Township on the negligence and deceit claims. However, the Court reversed the judgment regarding the Arnegards' due process claim and the award of nominal damages, and remanded to the district court for further proceedings. View "Arnegard v. Arnegard Township" on Justia Law

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Cameron and Mary Susan Arnegard appealed a trial court judgment relating to a conditional use permit (CUP) obtained from Arnegard Township in McKenzie County, North Dakota. The Arnegards argued the district court erred in granting the Township's motion in limine to exclude a buy-sell agreement; denying their motion to amend their complaint on a due process claim; granting summary judgment dismissing their breach of contract, actual fraud and equitable estoppel claims; dismissing their negligence and deceit claims by directed verdict; and determining no party prevailed in the action. The Arnegards also argued the district court abused its discretion by denying their motion to amend their complaint at trial. The Township cross-appealed, arguing the district court erred in granting judgment as a matter of law in favor of the Arnegards' due process claim. Zoning ordinances and amendments are valid if a township follows the statutory procedures. A conditional use permit does not by itself create a contract between a township and a landowner. A township has no duty to disclose validly enacted zoning ordinances or amendments beyond the notice and filing procedures provided by statute. A claim of constitutional due process violation first requires a protected property interest created by an independent source of law. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the district court regarding dismissal of the Arnegards' breach of contract, actual fraud and equitable estoppel claims. The Court affirmed the judgment regarding directed verdicts in favor of the Township on the negligence and deceit claims. However, the Court reversed the judgment regarding the Arnegards' due process claim and the award of nominal damages, and remanded to the district court for further proceedings. View "Arnegard v. Arnegard Township" on Justia Law

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Merritt Charles Horning III; Riggers Store Holdings, LLC; Riggers Store 1, LLC; Chase Merritt Management, Inc.; Chase Merritt, LP; and Racers Store Management, LLC (collectively the "Horning defendants") appealed a district court order denying their motion to compel arbitration of Raymond Melendez's lawsuit against them. The issues in this appeal centered on whether Melendez's claims against the Horning defendants concerning the operation of a convenience store in Williston were arbitrable under an arbitration clause in an operating agreement for Riggers Store Holdings. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court erred in deciding Melendez's claims were not arbitrable, and reversed the order denying arbitration and remanded for entry of an order compelling arbitration. View "Melendez v. Horning III" on Justia Law

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Dickinson Elks Building, LLC, appealed a judgment awarding Rick and Janan Snider, doing business as RJ Snider Construction ("RJ Snider"), $198,255.08 for unjust enrichment and quantum meruit claims. In 2011, RJ Snider contracted with Granville Brinkman to furnish materials and labor for construction work on real property owned by Dickinson Elks. RJ Snider's principal place of business was located in Washington. In 2012, RJ Snider applied for a contractor license from the North Dakota Secretary of State, and the license was issued on in February 2012. RJ Snider provided services and materials for Dickinson Elks' property from December 26, 2011, to November 30, 2012. Dickinson Elks paid RJ Snider for all of the services and materials it provided between December 26, 2011, and February 1, 2012. RJ Snider billed Dickinson Elks $174,642.10 for the services and materials it provided from March 15, 2012, until November 30, 2012. Dickinson Elks did not pay any of this amount. In January 2013, RJ Snider recorded a construction lien against Dickinson Elks' property. In May 2014, Dickinson Elks served RJ Snider with a demand to start a lawsuit to enforce the lien and record a lis pendens within 30 days of the demand. RJ Snider sued Dickinson Elks in June 2014, seeking foreclosure of the construction lien and a money judgment. RJ Snider recorded a notice of lis pendens on July 28, 2014. Dickinson Elks moved for summary judgment, arguing RJ Snider's complaint should be dismissed under N.D.C.C. 43-07-02 because RJ Snider was not a licensed contractor when it started work on the property. Dickinson Elks also argued RJ Snider did not have a valid construction lien, because RJ Snider did not record a lis pendens within 30 days of receiving the demand to enforce the lien. The district court partially granted the motion and entered a judgment forfeiting RJ Snider's construction lien because RJ Snider did not record a lis pendens within 30 days of receiving Dickinson Elks' demand to enforce the lien as required under N.D.C.C. 35-27-25. The court concluded RJ Snider's claims were not precluded under N.D.C.C. 43-07-02. RJ Snider amended its complaint, claiming it was entitled to a money judgment against Dickinson Elks under the principles of quantum meruit and unjust enrichment. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded RJ Snider was not precluded from maintaining its claims; however, the Court reversed and remanded for the district court to determine whether any of the damages awarded were for services and materials provided before RJ Snider was licensed. View "Snider v. Dickinson Elks Building, LLC" on Justia Law

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Counce Energy BC #1, LLC, appealed the judgment entered on a jury verdict awarding Continental Resources, Inc., $153,666.50 plus costs and disbursements for breaching its contract with Continental by failing to pay its share of expenses to drill an oil and gas well, and dismissing with prejudice Counce's counterclaims. Because the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over Continental's breach of contract action and Counce's counterclaims, the North Dakota Supreme Court vacated the judgment. View "Continental Resources, Inc. v. Counce Energy BC #1, LLC" on Justia Law

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P&P Industries, LLC, d/b/a United Oilfield Services, and Pauper Industries, Inc., appealed a judgment entered in favor of Continental Resources, Inc., after a jury returned a verdict finding United and Pauper's conduct constituted fraud but they did not breach their contracts with Continental. Continental was an oil producer; United and Pauper provided transportation, water hauling, and related services and materials to Continental in North Dakota. Pauper signed a Master Service Contract with Continental, and United signed a Master Service Contract. Continental sued United and Pauper, seeking damages for claims of breach of contract, tortious breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, and deceit. Continental alleged United and Pauper violated state and federal limits and regulations on the number of hours a truck driver may drive; they violated Continental's employee policies, and engaged in improper and fraudulent billing. After a hearing, the district court denied United's motion for summary judgment on Continental's claims; denied Continental's motion for summary judgment on United's breach of contract, promissory estoppel, and tortious breach of contract counterclaims; and denied Continental's motion for summary judgment on its fraud and breach of contract claims. The court granted Continental's motion for summary judgment against United's breach of fiduciary duty and constructive fraud counterclaims. The court also granted summary judgment on Continental's motion related to damages and ruled, if United prevailed at trial, its damages would be limited to the net profits it could have earned during the 30-day termination notice period, overall expenses of preparation, and its expenses in pursuit of reasonable efforts to avoid or minimize the damaging effects of the breach. United unsuccessfully moved for reconsideration of the damages issue. A jury trial was held. In deciding Continental's claims, the jury found neither United nor Pauper breached its contract obligations to Continental, both United and Pauper's conduct was fraudulent or accompanied by fraud, both United and Pauper's conduct was deceitful or accompanied by deceit, and the jury awarded Continental $2,415,000 in damages for its claims against United but did not award Continental any damages for its claims against Pauper. In deciding United's counterclaims, the jury found Continental breached its contract with United, but Continental was excused from performing based on United's prior material breach, United's failure to perform a condition precedent, United's fraud or deceit, and equitable estoppel. Judgment on the jury's findings was entered against Pauper. Continental was awarded its costs and disbursements against United and Pauper, jointly and severally. United and Pauper argued on appeal to the North Dakota Supreme Court that the verdicts were inconsistent and the district court erred in limiting the amount of damages United could seek on its counterclaim. The Supreme Court reversed, finding the "verdict is inconsistent and perverse and cannot be reconciled." The matter was remanded for a new trial. View "Continental Resources, Inc. v. P&P Industries, LLC I" on Justia Law

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Dawn Osborne appealed a district court's order granting Brown & Saenger, Inc.'s motion to dismiss for improper venue. In 2011, Brown hired Osborne as a sales representative in its Fargo office to sell office supplies to businesses. Brown was headquartered in South Dakota, but operated as a foreign business corporation in North Dakota. Osborne signed yearly employment contracts with Brown. The parties agreed that the 2015 Employment Agreement was the controlling contract for this action, and it was the only one brought before the district court. The two clauses at issue in deciding the motion to dismiss were the "Agreement Not to Compete" ("non-compete clause") and the "Choice of Law/Forum" clauses. In January 2017, Brown terminated Osborne. Osborne sued Brown, alleging retaliation, improper deductions, and breach of contract. Osborne also sought a declaratory judgment declaring the non-compete clause to be void. Osborne moved for a preliminary injunction seeking to prevent Brown from enforcing the covenant-not-to-compete against her. Brown responded to that motion and moved to dismiss the action for improper venue. Brown argued the forum-selection clause in the employment agreement was valid and therefore a North Dakota court was an improper venue. Brown argued that the clause required the case to be heard by the South Dakota court specified in the agreement. The district court, without ruling on the motion for preliminary injunction, agreed with Brown and granted the motion to dismiss. Additionally, Brown sued Osborne in the state circuit court situated in Minnehaha County, South Dakota, seeking a preliminary injunction against Osborne restricting her actions under the non-compete clause. The North Dakota Supreme Court reversed under N.D.C.C. 28-04.1-03(5), concluding the forum-selection clause in the parties' employment agreement violated North Dakota's public policy against non-compete agreements. The non-compete clause was unenforceable under N.D.C.C. 9-08-06 to the extent it limited Osborne from exercising a lawful profession, trade, or business in North Dakota. View "Osborne v. Brown & Saenger, Inc." on Justia Law