Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court
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North Star Water, LLC, provided water to oil drilling companies. In September 2014, North Star hired Northwest Grading, Inc., to construct an underground water pipeline from the Missouri River to North Star’s various pumping stations. Northwest Grading sent regular invoices to North Star during the course of construction. In August 2015, Northwest Grading informed North Star it owed a balance of $91,072.99. Northwest Grading notified North Star it would repossess the pipeline if it were not paid immediately. Northwest Grading did not receive payment. Employees of Northwest Grading made the pipeline inoperable by closing valves and filling the valve boxes with dirt and concrete. As a result, North Star was temporarily unable to sell water to at least one of its customers. Northwest Grading sued North Star for breach of contract, quantum meruit, and foreclosure of a construction lien. North Star counterclaimed for fictitious billing, trespass, and damage to property through unlawful repossession. The district court entered findings of fact, conclusions of law, and an order for judgment in October 2018. The court found a business relationship existed between Northwest Grading and North Star, but not based on a written contract. The court concluded Northwest Grading was not authorized to repossess the pipeline by pouring concrete in the valve boxes, and its doing so was a breach of the peace. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court did not err as to either party’s damages and did not abuse its discretion by denying Northwest Grading’s motion to strike testimony. The Court modified the judgment to correct the calculation of interest, and affirmed the judgment as modified. View "Northwest Grading, Inc. v. North Star Water, LLC, et al." on Justia Law

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Zachary Beck appealed the denial of his request for relief from a judgment awarding damages to Hustle Proof Corporation and Chinedu Ilogu (Hustle Proof). Hustle Proof sued Beck and his manager, Ryan Matthews, alleging a breach of the parties’ contract for a joint concert tour. Beck and Matthews were personally served with the summons and complaint. According to Beck, he was told by Matthews that Matthews would handle the lawsuit. Matthews apparently initiated email contact with Hustle Proof’s attorney regarding the lawsuit, but neither Beck nor Matthews answered the complaint. Hustle Proof moved for the entry of a default judgment. Notice of the default proceedings was sent by registered mail to Beck and Matthews at the address of Matthews’ limited liability company in Florida. Neither Matthews nor Beck appeared at the hearing on the motion for default judgment. Hustle Proof sought the entry of a judgment in the amount of $252,740 consisting primarily of the profit Hustle Proof claimed it would have made had Matthews and Beck not breached the parties’ contract. The district court refused to enter a default judgment for a sum greater than the $3,000 guaranteed payment included in the parties’ contract and offered Hustle Proof the option of the entry of a default judgment in the amount of $3,000 or proceeding to trial. Hustle Proof elected to proceed to trial. A jury trial was held on January 30, 2018. Neither Matthews nor Beck appeared at the jury trial. Hustle Proof presented its evidence to the jury and the jury returned a verdict in favor of Hustle Proof in the amount of $192,500 plus interest. A judgment, including costs and interest, was entered in the amount of $227,790. Beck argued to the North Dakota Supreme Court that the district court abused its discretion in denying his request for relief from the judgment pursuant to N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(6) because he was not properly served with notice of the default judgment proceedings and the facts and circumstances of this case compelled relief from the judgment. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Hustle Proof, et al. v. Matthews, et al." on Justia Law

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In September 2018, Western State Bank sued Swanson and James Lund to enforce commercial guaranties executed by Leland Swanson and Lund. Swanson and Lund consented to entry of judgment, and a $1,334,374.25 judgment was entered against Swanson and Lund. The judgment stated Swanson and Lund were jointly and severally liable. Swanson paid the judgment in full, and contemporaneously, Western State Bank assigned the judgment to Swanson. The next day, Swanson assigned his interest in the judgment to Open Road Trucking. The assignment from Swanson stated it assigned his contribution interest against Lund for $670,952.24, one-half of the judgment amount. Open Road Trucking, LLC, appealed district court orders: (1) denying Open Road’s application for a charging order lien against Lund; and (2) directing satisfaction of a judgment against Lund and Swanson. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded Open Road was entitled to take an assignment of the judgment for the purpose of enforcing contribution against Lund. The Court reversed the district court’s order denying Open Road’s application for a charging order, and remanded for entry of a charging order against Lund’s transferrable interests in the limited liability companies. The Court reversed a part of the court’s February 2019 order directing entry of satisfaction of the judgment. The Court affirmed that part of the order cancelling any execution of judgment for the full amount of the judgment. View "Open Road Trucking v. Swanson, et al." on Justia Law

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Oil Capital Ready Mix, LLC; Agape Holdings, LLP; Scott Dyk; and Samuel Dyk (collectively “Dyk”) appealed a judgment awarding Skaw ND Precast LLC (“Skaw”) $69,295 in damages for conversion of its property. In March 2013, Skaw entered into a five-year agreement with Tioga Ready Mix (“Tioga”), a company which produced ready-mix concrete product, to rent a two-acre parcel of land to conduct its business. The base rent for the site was $700 per month, subject to reductions if Skaw purchased designated quantities of ready-mix product from Tioga. The agreement provided it would remain in effect until December 31, 2018, and it did not allow either party to unilaterally cancel the agreement. In spring 2015, Skaw learned that Tioga had arranged to sell Tioga’s assets at a public auction, including the two-acre parcel of property where Skaw conducted its business. Skaw’s owners attended the auction sale in May 2015. The auction service notified all attendees that Skaw’s assets on the premises were not part of the sale, that there was a lease in place between Skaw and Tioga, and that the lease went with the land. Dyk was the successful bidder at the auction and entered into a commercial purchase agreement with the sellers which did not include Skaw’s product inventory or equipment and stated the sale was subject to “rights of tenants,” but did not list Skaw as a tenant. Once Dyk got its ready-mix plant running, Skaw began purchasing concrete ready-mix product from Dyk for its business. When presented with the contract between Skaw and Tioga, Dyk renegotiated the terms; Dyk and Skaw agreed to increase monthly rental payments to $750 per month. During a scheduled shut down of both companies' operations, Dyk built an earthen berm around Skaw’s equipment which prevented Skaw from accessing it. Dyk also transported Skaw’s concrete pad and blocked inventory off of Skaw’s two acres to an area adjacent to Dyk’s offices. Other Skaw assets were transported to undisclosed locations. When Skaw discovered the berm, Dyk informed Skaw that Skaw abandoned their temporary rental agreement in December 2015 and that law enforcement would be notified if there were “any attempts to breach the peace or trespass” on the property. Skaw replied that the 2013 lease was still valid and had not been abandoned, and that Skaw planned to return to the property and continue operations. Dyk argued on appeal of the conversion damages award that the district court erred in ruling the 2013 agreement between Skaw and Tioga was a lease rather than a license. Because the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court’s findings of fact were not clearly erroneous, it affirmed the judgment. View "Skaw ND Precast, LLC v. Oil Capital Ready Mix, LLC, et al." on Justia Law

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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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Steve Forster, Daniel Krebs, and Debra Krebs (collectively “Forster/Krebs”) appealed summary judgment that dismissed their claims against B&B Hot Oil Service, Inc. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court correctly construed the language in the parties’ lease agreement, as a whole, to operated as a waiver of claims against each other for damages to the leased building and the contents therein. Furthermore, the Supreme Court concluded the provision in the parties’ lease waiving any claims against the other for any loss or damage to the leased premises or property therein was unenforceable to the extent it exempted B&B Hot Oil from responsibility for a willful or negligent violation of law. The Court thus affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "James Vault & Precast Co., et al. v. B&B Hot Oil Service, Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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Willis Swenson appealed, and Kyle Mahlum cross-appealed dismissal of Swenson’s claims against Mahlum and Mahlum’s claims against Carol Hodgerson, Gerard Swenson, Lee Alan Swenson, and Mary Ann Vig (“third-party defendants”). This suit arose over the ownership and leasing of real property in Burke County, North Dakota. Willis Swenson (“Swenson”) and the third-party defendants are the children of Robert and Junietta Swenson. In 2004, Robert and Junietta conveyed the property to their children as joint tenants, reserving a life estate for themselves. In 2005, Robert died and Junietta became the sole life tenant. In 2008, Junietta leased the property to Swenson. Swenson agreed to rental payments of $20,016 per year, due in installments. In December 2009, Swenson leased the property to Mahlum for $31,022.50 per year. The Swenson-Mahlum lease became effective in March 2010 and stated it would expire in October 2019. In November 2011, Swenson signed a new lease with Junietta, beginning in 2012 and ending in 2022. The lease permitted Swenson to assign or sublet the property to any person. In July 2012, Lee Swenson was appointed guardian and conservator for Junietta. In January 2013, Lee Swenson, as guardian and conservator, leased the same property to Mahlum that Willis Swenson already was leasing to Mahlum in the December 2009 lease. The new lease required Mahlum to pay Junietta $31,122.50 each year. Junietta died in November 2013. Mary Vig, as personal representative of Junietta’s estate, informed Mahlum that future rental payments should be split and made to each of Junietta’s children in equal amounts. In January 2017, Willis and his daughter, Dayna Johnson, sued Mahlum for unpaid rent. Swenson alleged Mahlum was required to pay him under the 2009 lease, and Mahlum failed to pay any rent in 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016. Mahlum answered and filed a third-party complaint, suing the third-party defendants for unjust enrichment. He alleged in 2013 he paid Junietta under the terms of the 2013 lease. He also alleged in 2014, 2015, and 2016 he paid rent to each of Junietta children. Mahlum claimed that the third-party defendants have been unjustly enriched, and that the third-party defendants be ordered to pay Mahlum any amounts the court finds he owed Swenson if Swenson obtained a judgment against him. After review of the circumstances of this case, the North Dakota Supreme Court determined the trial court erred in its findings, and reversed dismissal of Swenson’s breach of contract claim. On remand, the court must decide the amount of damages Swenson was entitled to recover for his breach of contract claim against Mahlum for unpaid rent in 2013, including whether Swenson failed to mitigate those damages. In addition, the court must decide Mahlum’s claims against the third-party defendants. View "Swenson, et al. v. Mahlum, et al." on Justia Law

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Keith Candee appealed an order entered on remand that denied his motion for contractual attorney fees and costs. Because the North Dakota Supreme Court found the parties’ settlement agreement and mutual release of claims was not “evidence of debt” under N.D.C.C. 28-26-04, the district court misapplied the law in holding the parties’ contractual provision providing for attorney fees was against public policy and void. The court abused its discretion in its decision denying his motion for attorney fees, and the Supreme Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Candee, et al. v. Candee" on Justia Law

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Debra Heitkamp, the personal representative of the Estate of Nick Lyons, appealed a district court judgment in favor of Kevin Kabella following cross-motions for summary judgment, alleging the district court improperly determined the parties’ agreement was invalid because it fell within the limitation on the length of agricultural leases provided by N.D.C.C. 47-16-02. Kabella and Lyons entered into an agreement pertaining to farmland on March 29, 2007. The agreement gave Lyons possession and use of the property “in perpetuity.” In addition to receiving the property in perpetuity, the agreement stated Kabella could sell the property subject to Lyons’ right to purchase the property. Prior to the 2012 farming season, Kabella attempted to lease the property to Kermit Anderson Jr. Lyons refused to vacate the property asserting he was entitled to the use and possession of the property pursuant to his agreement with Kabella. Anderson brought an eviction action to remove Lyons from the property. Kabella was included as a defendant to allow a resolution of any issues regarding the agreement between Kabella and Lyons. In the litigation initiated by Anderson, Anderson and Kabella asserted the March 29, 2007 agreement between Kabella and Lyons was invalid under N.D.C.C. 47-16-02. Lyons passed away in May 2013, and Heitkamp was appointed personal representative of the estate. The estate used the property since that time. In March 2017, Heitkamp on behalf of Lyons' estate. sued for a declaration the agreement was valid in perpetuity. The district court granted summary judgment to Kabella and found the agreement was a lease that fell within the restrictions of N.D.C.C. 47-16-02, and due to the non-occurrence of any of the contingencies contained in the agreement, it expired on its tenth anniversary, March 29, 2017. The court awarded Kabella damages equal to the fair value of the use of the property subsequent to March 29, 2017. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded "reasonable persons can draw more than one conclusion regarding the nature of the parties’ agreement," and therefore reversed judgment and remanded for a determination of whether this agreement was a lease subject to the limitations of N.D.C.C. 47-16-02, or a grant, option to purchase, or contract for deed outside the limitations of N.D.C.C. 47-16-02. Because the question of whether the limitation within N.D.C.C. 47-16-02 applied to the parties’ agreement remained undetermined, the Supreme Court declined to decide if the agreement was invalid after extending for a period of ten years. View "Heitkamp v. Kabella" on Justia Law

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JRC Construction, LLC, appealed a judgment entered after a jury awarded Larry Pavlicek $217,244.55 in damages against JRC. The jury found JRC breached a contract with Pavlicek relating to construction work performed by JRC. JRC argued the district court erred in denying its motion and renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law because Pavlicek failed to prove he had a contract with JRC. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Pavlicek v. American Steel Systems, Inc., et al." on Justia Law