Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court
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Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company appealed a district court judgment ordering it to pay Larry Pavlicek $214,045.55 under a commercial general liability insurance (CGL) policy Grinnell had with JRC Construction. Grinnell argued the district court misinterpreted the insurance policy, and that it was not required to indemnify JRC Construction because its work product was defective. In 2013, Pavlicek hired a contractor to construct a steel building on his property. JRC Construction installed the concrete floor and floor drain for the project. Another subcontractor installed the in-floor heating system for the concrete floor. After JRC completed the floor drain, it failed to properly install the concrete floor, and its attempts to repair the concrete damaged the drain. Pavlicek sued JRC for breach of contract relating to the defective work. In February 2020, Pavlicek filed a supplemental complaint against Grinnell, alleging it was required to satisfy the judgment as JRC’s insurer. Grinnell claimed it had no obligation to indemnify JRC under the CGL policy. The district court concluded JRC’s defective work on the concrete floor was not covered under the CGL policy, but damage to the floor drain was covered. Because removal and replacement of the floor and in-floor heat were necessary to repair the drain the court concluded the CGL policy covered all of those costs. The North Dakota Supreme Court found that although the CGL policy provided coverage to repair the floor drain, it did not cover the cost of replacing the concrete floor because that damage was the result of JRC’s defective work. The district court erred in finding the CGL policy covered the entire concrete floor replacement because replacement of the floor was the only way to repair the floor drain. Further, the Supreme Court found the district court erred in concluding the CGL policy provided coverage for replacement or repair of the in-floor heating system beyond that which may be necessary to repair the drain. View "Pavlicek v. American Steel Systems, Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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Ralph Fischer appealed from an order denying his request for attorney’s fees under N.D.C.C. 27-08.1-04. In February 2018, Fischer and Darin Hoyt executed a Cattle Share Lease. Under the terms of the lease, Fischer rented pasture land to Hoyt. In July 2019, Fischer sued Hoyt in small claims court arguing he was entitled to $15,000 for Hoyt’s failure to pay pasture rent in 2018. Hoyt removed the case to district court and filed an answer and counterclaim, asserting Fischer breached terms of the agreement. Fischer answered the counterclaim and requested attorney’s fees under N.D.C.C. 27-08.1-04. In February 2020, Fischer received leave of court to amend his complaint and increased his alleged damages to $25,000. After a bench trial, the district court found both parties breached the lease in different respects. Pertinent here, the district court found Hoyt breached the lease by failing to pay rent in 2018. The district court denied Fischer’s request for attorney’s fees, finding "the claims and counterclaims in this matter were far too complex for small claims court and would have been dismissed without prejudice to refile in district court." To the North Dakota Supreme Court, Fischer argues the district court erred in denying his request because he is the prevailing plaintiff after removal from small claims court. Fischer also argued he was entitled to attorney’s fees incurred in this appeal. The Supreme Court agreed, and reversed and remanded for an award of Fischer’s attorney’s fees in the district court action and on appeal. View "Fischer v. Hoyt" on Justia Law

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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

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Leland Swanson appealed a judgment dismissing his breach of contract and professional negligence claims against Mark Larson and Mark Larson, CPA, PLLC. In 2017, Swanson hired Larson to provide a forensic accounting of various entities owned by Swanson. Larson provided the accounting services in anticipation of litigation against Swanson’s former business partner. During discovery in subsequent litigation against the former business partner, Larson was identified as an expert witness in a July 2018 response to interrogatories. Larson ended his engagement in January 2019 by providing written notice to Swanson’s attorney. After Larson’s termination, Swanson retained another expert to testify in the pending litigation. In January 2020, Swanson sued Larson for breach of contract and professional negligence, alleging Larson breached their agreement and committed professional negligence by terminating his services and refusing to testify as an expert witness in the litigation against the former business partner. Larson moved for summary judgment, arguing the agreement did not require him to testify at trial. He also argued the agreement was terminable at will by either party, and he did not breach the agreement by terminating his services. On appeal to the North Dakota Supreme Court, Swanson argued the district court prematurely and improperly granted summary judgment in Larson’s favor. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "Swanson v. Larson" on Justia Law

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Tioga Properties, LLC, appealed a district court judgment awarding Wades Welding, LLC $27,669.90 relating to Wades Welding’s lawsuit for enforcement of construction liens and unjust enrichment. Janice Ellsworth owned Tioga Properties. Tioga Properties owned a restaurant and home (referred to by the parties as a “mobile home”) adjacent to each other in Tioga, North Dakota. Susan Gordon leased the restaurant from Tioga Properties. Gordon delivered rent payments to John Ellsworth Jr., Janice Ellsworth’s son. Gordon resided in the home but had no written lease for that property. In late 2016 and early 2017, Gordon hired Wades Welding to repair the home and restaurant. Wades Welding performed $19,840 of work on the home and $2,500 of work on the restaurant. Wades Welding delivered the invoices for its work to Ellsworth Jr. A day after Wades Welding completed its work at the home, Ellsworth evicted Gordon from the restaurant and home. Ellsworth Jr. supervised the eviction and Gordon left both properties within 48 hours. In December 2017, Wades Welding recorded construction liens against the properties after Tioga Properties failed to pay for the repairs. Tioga Properties sold the restaurant in July 2019. In September 2019, Tioga Properties served on Wades Welding a demand to enforce the home lien. In October 2019, Wades Welding sued Tioga Properties for breach of contract, foreclosure of the construction liens and unjust enrichment. Tioga Properties denied the allegations, claiming it did not authorize Wades Welding's work on the properties. The district court found Wades Welding's construction liens on both properties were valid, and ordered foreclosure of the home lien. The court found the lien on the restaurant was unenforceable due to a service error, but nonetheless awarded Wades Welding the amount of the repaired under the doctrine of unjust enrichment. Finding no reversible error in the district court's judgment, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed judgment in favor of Wades Welding. View "Wades Welding v. Tioga Properties" on Justia Law

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RTS Shearing, LLC (“RTS”) appealed the dismissal of its action with prejudice after the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant BNI Coal, Ltd. (“BNI”). RTS provided rock crushing services for use on various construction projects. BNI operated a coal mine near Center, North Dakota. In February 2019, RTS filed suit against BNI, claiming breach of contract after BNI canceled purchase orders for RTS to provide rock-crushing services to BNI. BNI asserted it exercised its right to cancel the balance of the purchase orders under the Terms and Conditions that were incorporated by reference in the purchase orders. In January 2020, BNI moved for summary judgment, arguing RTS’s breach-of-contract claim failed and the action should have been dismissed because the two purchase orders at issue had also incorporated BNI’s standard “Terms and Conditions,” which allowed for the cancellation. In August 2020, the district court held a hearing on BNI’s motion. The court granted summary judgment in favor of BNI and dismissed RTS’s action with prejudice. Before the North Dakota Supreme Court, RTS argued the district court erred by entering summary judgment dismissing its complaint for breach of contract. The dispositive issue was whether BNI’s separate “Terms and Conditions” were incorporated by reference into the March 2015 and July 2015 purchase orders. On this record, the Supreme Court concluded as a matter of law the undisputed facts established that both RTS and BNI had knowledge of and assented to the incorporated terms referenced in the purchase orders and that RTS was not excused from the Terms and Conditions merely on the basis of its failure to request and review a copy from BNI before performing under the purchase orders. The district court, therefore, did not err in granting BNI’s summary judgment motion. View "RTS Shearing v. BNI Coal" on Justia Law

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Edwin Schulz appealed a judgment following a bench trial on the damages to his barn, pole barn and shed. Schulz sued Adam Helmers for negligence and breach of contract following a fire that destroyed the barn, pole barn and shed. At the time of the fire, Schulz was leasing the farmstead to Helmers, including the three buildings. He argued the district court applied the wrong measure of damages in his breach of contract claim against Helmers. The district court concluded N.D.C.C. 32-03-09.1 applied to the breach of contract claim, which provided the measure of damages for an injury to property not arising from contract was the diminution of value. The North Dakota Supreme Court concurred with the district court's finding and affirmed the judgment. View "Schulz v. Helmers" on Justia Law

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Daniel and Debra Bearce appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Yellowstone Energy Development, LLC. In June 2006, representatives of a business entity that would eventually become Yellowstone went to the home of Daniel and Debra Bearce seeking to purchase 170 acres of land owned by the Bearces. Yellowstone successfully secured an exclusive option to purchase the land. In 2008, Yellowstone exercised its option to purchase the land, and the parties entered into a contract for deed. In 2009, Yellowstone and the Bearces modified the contract for deed to alter some of the payment terms. Both the original contract for deed and the 2009 modified contract for deed included the following term providing for the payment of a portion of the purchase price with “shares” of a contemplated ethanol plant. Yellowstone subsequently abandoned its plan to build an ethanol plant on the Bearces’ land. Yellowstone then negotiated a long-term lease with a third party to build an oil train loading facility on the Bearces’ land. In July 2010, Yellowstone sent a letter to the Bearces advising them $100,000 in “value” would be issued despite Yellowstone’s abandonment of the plan to build an ethanol plant. In December 2011, the Yellowstone Board of Directors approved a multiplier of three units per $1 invested for individuals who had provided initial cash investment in Yellowstone. The Bearces’ interest in Yellowstone was not given the 3:1 multiplier. Units representing ownership interest in Yellowstone were allocated and placed on a ledger sometime after December 4, 2012. After receiving a “unit ledger” indicating their interest in Yellowstone would not receive the 3:1 multiplier, the Bearces objected. Despite the objection, Yellowstone refused to apply the 3:1 multiplier to the Bearces’ interest in Yellowstone. The Bearces sued Yellowstone, asserting claims for breach of fiduciary duty, fraudulent inducement, and breach of contract. On appeal, the Bearces argued the district court erred in concluding Yellowstone did not owe them a fiduciary duty and that, if a duty was owed, the Yellowstone Board of Directors did not breach its fiduciary duty. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the district court. View "Bearce v. Yellowstone Energy Development" on Justia Law

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Shawn Kluver and Little Knife Disposal, LLC (“Little Knife”), appealed an amended judgment entered after a bench trial that awarded Command Center, Inc., monetary damages, interest, attorney’s fees and costs against Renewable Resources, LLC, and Kluver, jointly and severally. The amended judgment also awarded Renewable Resources damages and interest against Kluver and Little Knife, jointly and severally, and ordered them to indemnify Renewable Resources for all damages, interest, attorney’s fees, and costs awarded to Command Center. Command Center provided temporary labor services. Command Center sued Renewable Resources in small claims court, claiming unpaid amounts totaling $14,631.20, relating to temporary labor services that Command Center provided under agreements with Renewable Resources. Renewable Resources removed the case to district court. Command Center obtained leave of court to file an amended complaint, naming Kluver and Little Knife as additional defendants. Kluver had been the manager of Renewable Resources. Although Renewable Resources was billed and had paid Command Center $20,000 for the temporary labor services, Renewable Resources alleged that the temporary labor services were provided for the benefit of Little Knife, and that Kluver did not have authority to contract on behalf of Renewable Resources for the temporary labor services that benefited Little Knife. On review, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded that evidence presented at trial supported the district court’s findings of fact and, further, that Kluver and Little Knife were rearguing the evidence and challenging the district court’s weight and credibility determinations. "We will not second-guess the district court’s clear findings on appeal. On this record, we conclude the district court’s findings are not clearly erroneous." View "Command Center v. Renewable Resources, et al." on Justia Law

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James Lund appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of Leland Swanson and Open Road Trucking, LLC. Lund had been an adverse party to Swanson and Open Road in a series of lawsuits, dating back to 2018. Trial in one of the lawsuits was scheduled to begin December 3, 2019. On the day before trial, Lund, Swanson, Open Road, and their respective counsel met to discuss settling the lawsuits between them. Swanson and Open Road were represented by the same attorneys. After the meeting, Lund’s attorney, Sean Foss, contacted the district court to inform it that the parties had resolved the matter scheduled for trial the following day, and asked the court to “take the trial off the calendar.” Attorney Foss then sent an email to counsel for Swanson and Open Road, with the subject line “settlement,” containing his notes regarding the settlement terms. On December 10, 2019, Swanson and Open Road’s attorney, Randolph Stefanson, emailed Foss a proposed settlement agreement, which included the same terms as Foss’s email. Two days later, Foss emailed Swanson and Open Road’s attorneys a revised version of the proposed settlement agreement. That same day, the North Dakota Supreme Court issued an opinion on one of the parties' pending cases which was on appeal at the time. In that case, the Supreme Court concluded a “judgment was not satisfied as between Swanson and Lund, and Open Road was entitled to take an assignment of the judgment from Swanson to enforce Swanson’s right of contribution from Lund for one-half of the judgment amount.” The Court reversed the district court’s order directing entry of satisfaction of the judgment, and remanded for entry of a charging order against Lund's transferrable interests in specified limited liability companies. Ultimately, no written settlement agreement was signed by the parties. In January 2020, Lund initiated this action against Swanson and Open Road to enforce the alleged settlement agreement. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. After a hearing, the district court denied Lund’s motion and granted summary judgment in favor of Swanson and Open Road, concluding the statute of frauds barred enforcement of the settlement agreement. Lund appealed. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Lund v. Swanson, et al." on Justia Law