Justia Contracts Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court
Hess Bakken Investments II, et al. v. AgriBank, et al.
Hess Bakken Investments II, LLC; Arkoma Drilling II, L.P.; and Comstock Oil & Gas, LP, (together the “Hess Group”) appealed an order and judgment dismissing their claims against AgriBank, FCB; Intervention Energy, LLC; and Riverbend Oil & Gas VI, L.L.C. (together, “Appellees”). At issue was the meaning of the term “actual drilling operations” as used in continuous drilling clauses in two oil and gas leases. The district court interpreted the term as requiring “placing the drill bit in the ground and penetrating the soil.” Each side has advanced competing readings of the term based on understandings of English grammar and industry usage. Although at odds, both interpretations are supported by rational arguments. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the term was ambiguous; "when ambiguity exists, the parties’ intent becomes a question of fact requiring a factual finding based on extrinsic evidence." Given this ambiguity, dismissal as a matter of law was improper. View "Hess Bakken Investments II, et al. v. AgriBank, et al." on Justia Law
Dale Exploration, et al. v. Hiepler, et al.
Mark Hiepler, as the trustee of the Orville G. Hiepler and Florence L. Hiepler Family Trust (“Trust”), appealed a judgment ordering him to transfer certain Trust property to Bill Seerup, and appealed an order denying his motion to dismiss. In April 2007, Orville and Florence Hiepler deeded 150 net mineral acres in Williams County to Seerup in exchange for $15,609. The mineral deed did not refer to the Trust or Orville and Florence Hiepler’s role as co-trustees. When the deed was executed, Orville individually owned only 7.3636 mineral acres. The remaining 142.6 mineral acres were owned by the Trust. Nine days after receiving the mineral deed from Orville and Florence Hiepler, Seerup conveyed 135 mineral acres to Hurley Oil Properties, Inc. In 2014, Dale Exploration, LLC, filed suit to quiet title to the 150 net mineral acres conveyed in the mineral deed from Orville and Florence Hiepler to Seerup. Seerup and Hurley Oil also brought a claim for breach of contract against Orville and Florence Hiepler, individually and as co-trustees, requesting specific performance or, alternatively, money damages if specific performance was not ordered. In 2017, the district court dismissed Dale Exploration’s claims on summary judgment, finding there was no evidence that Dale Exploration had an interest in the property. A bench trial was held on the remaining issues. The court found the Hieplers own the mineral interests in fee simple as trustees, not as individuals. The court also found the Hieplers breached the mineral deed to Seerup and the proper remedy was damages, not specific performance. The court awarded damages in the amount of $20,147.96. The North Dakota Supreme Court reversed that judgment and remanded for further proceedings on whether money damages were adequate in light of specific performance. Orville died after the Supreme Court's judgment and mandate were issued. Orville and Mark responded to a proposed order drafted by Seerup and Hurley Oil, arguing the pleasings did not adequately assert specific performance. Specific performance of the mineral deed was ultimately granted. Mark Hiepler argues the district court erred in ordering him to convey the property to Seerup because the court did not have jurisdiction to enter a judgment against the Trust, the claims abated upon Orville Hiepler’s death, and he could not be substituted as a party for Orville Hiepler. Finding no error in the district court's judgment, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Dale Exploration, et al. v. Hiepler, et al." on Justia Law
Dellinger v. Wolf, et al.
Kinsale Insurance Company appealed a district court’s partial summary judgment determining Kinsale had a duty to defend QEP Energy Company (“QEP”). QEP moved to dismiss the appeal, arguing the partial summary judgment was not appealable. Kinsale responded, asserting the Declaratory Judgment Act provided a statutory basis for the appeal. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the Declaratory Judgment Act did not provide a statutory basis for the appeal, and therefore dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. View "Dellinger v. Wolf, et al." on Justia Law
Traynor Law Firm v. North Dakota, et al.
Dustin Irwin died in 2014, in the Ward County, North Dakota jail. The circumstances of his death led to an investigation and criminal charges against Ward County Sheriff Steven Kukowski. Initially, Divide County State’s Attorney Seymour Jordan was appointed to handle the criminal proceeding. Jordan determined the circumstances justified a petition for removal of Sheriff Kukowski from office. Governor Jack Dalrymple appointed Jordan as the special prosecutor for the removal. Ultimately, Jordan requested to withdraw and Governor Burgum appointed attorney Daniel Traynor as the special prosecutor. After completion of the removal proceedings, Traynor submitted his bill to the State on May 1, 2017. The State forwarded the bill to Ward County. Ward County refused to pay the bill. Traynor sued the State and Ward County to recover the unpaid fees. The State responded to Traynor’s complaint by filing a motion to dismiss. Ward County answered Traynor’s complaint and cross-claimed against the State. The State moved to dismiss Ward County’s cross-claim. Traynor moved for judgment on the pleadings. The district court entered judgment in Traynor’s favor against the State, and awarded interest at 6% per annum. The State argued Ward County had to pay Traynor’s bill because Chapter 44-11, N.D.C.C., failed to address who should pay for the special prosecutor fees in a county official’s removal proceeding, and therefore the catch-all provision in N.D.C.C. 54-12-03 applied. Ward County argues neither Chapter 44-11, N.D.C.C., nor Chapter 54- 12, N.D.C.C., imposes an obligation upon a county to pay the fees of an attorney appointed by the Governor for proceedings for the removal of a public official. The North Dakota Supreme Court concurred with the district court that Chapter 44-11, N.D.C.C., was silent regarding the payment of special prosecutor fees in a removal proceeding, and it was not necessary or required to import N.D.C.C. 54-12-03 into Chapter 44-11. Based on these facts, the Supreme Court concluded the district court did not err in finding a contract existed for legal services between Traynor and the State. The Court agreed with Traynor that the district court erred by awarding 6% per annum interest instead of the 1.5% monthly interest rate stated on its bill. The Supreme Court therefore affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded for further proceedings. View "Traynor Law Firm v. North Dakota, et al." on Justia Law
Arnold, et al. v. Trident Resources, et al.
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
Shadow Industries, LLP v. Hoffman, et al.
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
Lakeview Excavating, Inc. v. Dickey County, et al.
Lakeview Excavating appealed a district court judgment dismissing its complaint against Dickey County and German Township (Defendants) for breach of contract, intentional fraud, and misrepresentation. In spring 2012, the Defendants awarded to Lakeview three road construction project contracts funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The parties executed three identical contracts, one for each project. The contracts required Lakeview to provide the necessary documents to satisfy FEMA requirements for funding. Lakeview had to use more material than was listed in the bid documents to complete the projects. Some of the material used by Lakeview was taken from private property without permission and resulted in litigation against Lakeview. Lakeview completed the road construction projects in August 2012. In October 2016, Lakeview sued the Defendants for breach of contract, fraud, misrepresentation, and unlawful interference with business. The court ruled Lakeview breached its contracts with the Defendants, and held Lakeview’s tort claims against the Defendants were barred by the statute of limitations. Lakeview appealed, but finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Lakeview Excavating, Inc. v. Dickey County, et al." on Justia Law
Big Pines v. Baker, et al.
Big Pines, LLC, appealed from a district court order denying its “Motion for Award of Attorneys’ Fees and Costs.” Phoenix M.D., L.L.C., as landlord, entered into a lease agreement for real property with Biron D. Baker Family Medicine PC, as tenant, on May 3, 2011. The lease began on June 15, 2011, and ended on June 14, 2016. At the same time the lease was entered, Biron Baker signed a personal guaranty agreement making him personally liable for a breach of the terms of the lease. Under the guaranty, the landlord was also entitled to recover “all costs and attorneys’ fees incurred in attempting to realize upon [the guaranty].” In August 2016, Big Pines, LLC purchased the property formerly leased by Baker Medicine from Phoenix. The guaranty agreement was not specifically mentioned in the assignment agreement. However, the assignment stated a copy of the “Lease Agreement” was attached to the assignment as “Exhibit A.” In March 2017, Big Pines contacted Baker regarding damages to the property in violation of the terms of the lease that resulted from Baker Medicine’s tenancy. Baker denied any responsibility and refused to pay for the alleged damages. Big Pines filed suit against Baker and Baker Medicine in February 2018 claiming the property damages resulted from Baker Medicine’s tenancy and were in violation of the terms of the lease. The case proceeded to trial, and at trial a jury found Baker and Baker Medicine liable for breaching the terms of the lease and awarded $18,750.00 in damages to Big Pines. Big Pines filed a post-trial motion under N.D.R.Civ.P. 54(e)(3) requesting the district court award Big Pines its attorney’s fees for having to bring suit against Baker and Baker Medicine for breaching the terms of the lease. Finding that the district court erred in interpreting the lease and guaranty as separate agreements, the North Dakota Supreme Court reversed the district court which denied the attorneys' fees. View "Big Pines v. Baker, et al." on Justia Law
Northwest Grading, Inc. v. North Star Water, LLC, et al.
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
Hustle Proof, et al. v. Matthews, et al.
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