Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court

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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 district court has broad discretion on evidentiary matters and its decision to admit or exclude evidence will not be overturned unless it abused its discretion. Issues not raised before the district court will not be considered for the first time on appeal. Brian Linstrom and Leisa Bennett (collectively referred to as the "Linstroms") hired Mike Normile to complete a remodeling of their home for a price of $107,000.00. The Linstroms paid Normile the contract price plus an additional $30,000.00 for certain changes made during the remodel. Normile believed the Linstroms owed more money for the work that was completed. After failing to receive additional payment, Normile put a mechanic's lien on the home. The Linstroms commenced a breach of contract action against Normile after they were unsatisfied with the work completed on their home. The Linstroms' complaint also requested the lien on their home be discharged. Mike Normile appealed after a jury found him liable for breach of contract and awarded damages to the Linstroms. Because the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded each issue raised was either waived or was not error, it affirmed the judgment. View "Linstrom v. Normile" on Justia Law

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Drilling operations commence when: (1) work is done preparatory to drilling; (2) the driller has the capability to do the actual drilling; and (3) there is a good faith intent to complete the well. It is not necessary that the drill bit actually penetrate the ground. GADECO, LLC, appealed a judgment and orders declaring its oil and gas lease with Laurie Abell was terminated, dismissing its counterclaim against Abell, and awarding Abell her costs and attorney fees. GADECO and Abell began negotiating a surface use and damage agreement in mid-November 2011. GADECO sent Abell a proposed agreement on December 26, 2011, and later attempted to contact Abell about the agreement, but she refused to execute it. GADECO applied for a well permit in early 2012, shortly before the primary term of the lease was set to expire, and the permit was approved on January 23, 2012. Two days later, Abell leased the same mineral interests to Kodiak Oil & Gas. Unable to secure a surface use and damage agreement from Abell, GADECO relocated the well off the subject property but within the spacing unit, and a producing oil and gas well was completed in 2013. After giving notice of termination, Abell brought this lawsuit seeking a determination that GADECO's lease had terminated and an award of costs and attorney fees. GAEDCO counterclaimed for breach of contract and damages. The North Dakota Supreme Court found that where the failure to produce oil or gas from leased land is due to the fault of the lessor, the lease is not terminated at the end of the primary term, since the lessor is not entitled to set up termination of the lease where she has prevented the lessee from conducting operations which might bring about an extension of the lease. The Court reversed and remanded, finding genuine issues of material fact precluding summary judgment, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Abell v. GADECO, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Federal Arbitration Act does not preempt all state arbitration law. A party alleging an arbitration agreement is unconscionable must demonstrate some quantum of both procedural and substantive unconscionability. A party's failure to clearly object to a defect in arbitration proceedings prior to or during arbitration may constitute a waiver of the objection. Lynne Thompson appealed a district court order compelling arbitration, a judgment confirming the arbitration award, and an order denying her motion to vacate the judgment or for a new trial. Thompson sued Lithia ND Acquisition Corp. #1, seeking to rescind a contract to purchase a vehicle and for damages for unjust enrichment and unlawful sales practices. Lithia moved to dismiss Thompson's complaint and to compel arbitration, arguing there was an enforceable agreement to arbitrate. Thompson responded to the motion, arguing the arbitration agreement was unenforceable and unconscionable and claiming she was entitled to a jury trial on the issue of the enforceability. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed, concluding the district court did not err in compelling arbitration or confirming the arbitrator's award. View "Thompson v. Lithia ND Acquisition Corp. #1" on Justia Law

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An indemnification agreement need not be in writing, and an agent's authority to enter into an indemnification agreement need not be in writing. Jim Leach (“Leach”) and Elizabeth Leach appealed a district court judgment awarding money damages to SNAPS Holding Company after ruling they breached a stock purchase agreement with SNAPS. SNAPS cross-appealed the dismissal of its breach of contract claims against Leach. Leach was the chief operating officer and majority shareholder of IDA of Moorhead Inc. Leach negotiated with Sanjay Patel, president and CEO of SNAPS, to sell IDA to SNAPS. During negotiations the parties discussed the effect of an employee lawsuit on the potential sale. The parties agreed SNAPS would be responsible for the first $100,000 of expenses associated with the lawsuit, and Jim Leach and IDA would be responsible for that portion exceeding $100,000. At a shareholders and board of directors meeting, the IDA shareholders and board of directors authorized the sale of IDA's stock to SNAPS for $1,180,000. A district court ruled IDA wrongfully terminated the employee and Leach breached a fiduciary duty. Leach and the selling shareholders of IDA refused to pay the employee lawsuit judgment. The employee filed the judgment against Leach in Arizona, and subsequently assigned the judgment to SNAPS and IDA. Leach objected to the filing of the judgment against him in Arizona. An Arizona court ruled SNAPS and IDA could not enforce the judgment against Leach in Arizona. The court concluded SNAPS exercised total control over the management and activities of IDA and was the alter ego of IDA. The Arizona court concluded both Arizona and North Dakota law prohibited contribution between intentional joint tortfeasors; therefore, allowing IDA to obtain contribution from Leach, its co-intentional joint tortfeasor, was prohibited in Arizona. SNAPS sued Leach and the other former IDA shareholders after they failed to pay the employee judgment. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the proceeding in Arizona relating to the filing of the employee judgment and SNAPS' lawsuit in North Dakota relating to the stock purchase agreement were based on different factual circumstances, and as such, not barred by res judicata. The Court reversed and remanded that part of the district court's order granting summary judgment in favor of Jim Leach that found otherwise. The Court also reversed and remanded that part of the judgment dismissing SNAPS' claims against Jim Leach. The Court affirmed in all other respects. View "SNAPS Holding Company v. Leach" on Justia Law

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In 2013, Herman Kauk, Sr. and Cletis Kauk ("Sellers") contracted to sell land to Herman Kauk, Jr. and Christy Kauk ("Buyers"). The property was known to the parties as “Walter’s Quarter.” The Buyers had their attorney draft a new version of the Sellers’ contract. This version was entitled "Extension of Purchase Agreement" and specified the new closing date. Notably, the new version removed language that granted an option to sell another piece of property, “Katie’s Quarter.” The parties signed the contract. Shortly thereafter, the Sellers sent the Buyers a letter “Notice of Cancellation of Option to Purchase Additional Land." The Sellers executed a Notice of Contract for Deed with the county recorder naming a third party as grantee of the option property. The Buyers filed a complaint on August 10, 2015 requesting a declaratory judgment that the option to purchase "Katie's Quarter" was still valid. Both Buyers and Sellers testified at trial. At trial, both parties acknowledged the first contained an incorrect legal description for the land in the option paragraph, "Katie's Quarter." The "Notice of Cancellation of Option" letter contained the same legal description appearing in that original contract. However, the Notice of Contract for Deed contained the correct legal description for "Katie's Quarter." The district court ultimately found the option was enforceable because it was supported by adequate consideration and nothing in the revised contract revoked the option from the original. The court indicated it was clear "Katie's Quarter" was incorrectly identified in the contract. The Sellers appealed when the district court reformed the contract and ruled in the Buyers’ favor. The Sellers also contended the district court "exceeded its authority when it ruled the issue of reformation was not res judicata" and claims the district court abused its discretion by ordering the same. The North Dakota Supreme Court, after review of the district court record and the Sellers' arguments, found “a structural problem with the district court's orders that this Court cannot ignore.” Concluding the district court abused its discretion by granting declaratory relief, the Supreme Court reversed the district court's orders and remanded for entry of an order of dismissal. View "Kauk v. Kauk" on Justia Law

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Charles Robinson, Paul Robinson, and William Robinson appealed an amended judgment granting summary judgment in favor of THR Minerals, LLC, and deciding ownership of mineral and royalty interests in certain property. The Supreme Court concluded the assignment of royalty at issue was unambiguous, and the district court did not err as a matter of law in construing the assignment to decide the ownership of the subject mineral and royalty interests between the parties. View "THR Minerals, LLC. v. Robinson" on Justia Law

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Eagle Rigid Spans, Inc., ("ERS") appealed an order denying its motion for new trial and an amended judgment entered after a jury found in favor of Brandon and Constance Jalbert and awarding them $650,000 plus interest, and costs and disbursements. ERS also appealed from the district court's order overruling its objections to costs and disbursements. ERS contracted to build a multi-purpose building for the Jalberts. During and after the construction of the building the Jalberts discovered problems with the structure. The Jalberts brought suit alleging breach of contract and breach of warranty. ERS argued irregularities in the proceeding of the jury trial prevented them from having a fair trial, the jury awarded excessive damages because of the influence of passion or prejudice, sufficient evidence did not exist to justify the verdict and the trial court erred in failing to reduce the Jalbert's expert witness fees. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Jalbert v. Eagle Rigid Spans, Inc." on Justia Law

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GEM Razorback, LLC appealed a judgment dismissing its declaratory judgment action because GEM failed to exhaust administrative remedies, and dismissing its claim for specific performance because GEM could not establish that it was a third-party beneficiary of a contract. GEM and Zenergy, Inc. owned working interests in two oil and gas wells located in McKenzie County. Zenergy operated the wells, but GEM had not consented to pay its share of the drilling and operating costs. GEM did not execute a joint operating agreement for the wells and consequently was assessed a risk penalty as a nonconsenting owner. In 2013, Zenergy assigned its interest in the wells to Oasis Petroleum North America LLC. The assignment conveyed all assets, including "all files, records and data maintained by" Zenergy. After the assignment, GEM requested the same information from Oasis. Oasis provided Zenergy with the requested information. However, according to Oasis, some of the requested information for the time period before the assignment was not in its possession. Because of differences in the numbers provided by Zenergy and Oasis, GEM filed applications for hearing with the Industrial Commission requesting that the Commission determine the actual reasonable costs plus risk penalty for the two wells. After a hearing, Oasis agreed to allow GEM to conduct an audit of the wells. The Commission then dismissed the applications without prejudice. During the ensuing audit process, GEM discovered there were documents it requested that were not in Oasis' possession for the time period before the assignment when Zenergy operated the wells. GEM contacted Zenergy and requested an extensive list of 39 specific types of information regarding the wells. Zenergy refused to provide GEM with the requested information. GEM then commenced its declaratory judgment and specific performance action against Zenergy. Zenergy argued the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the request for declaratory relief because GEM failed to exhaust its administrative remedies with the Commission before filing the complaint. Zenergy further argued the claim for specific performance failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted because a provision of the assignment agreement specifically bars third-party beneficiary status. The court agreed with Zenergy's arguments and dismissed GEM's action. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s ruling. View "GEM Razorback, LLC v. Zenergy, Inc." on Justia Law

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Justin Beckstrand and James Beckstrand, through his surviving spouse, Cynthia, appealed a judgment awarding $164,202.40 in 2015 farm rental payments to Julie Beckstrand, the personal representative of John Beckstrand's estate. The Supreme Court found that because the district court's findings were inadequate to explain the basis for its equitable decision to award the farm rental payments to Julie Beckstrand, it reversed and remanded for the court to explain the rationale for its decision. View "Beckstrand v. Beckstrand" on Justia Law