Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court
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Kathleen Melaas appealed a district court order granting a motion to compel arbitration and dismissing her complaint against Diamond Resorts U.S. Collection Development, LLC. She alleged Diamond Resorts offered vacation and timeshare packages, she attended a sales meeting with a Diamond Resorts representative, the sales meeting lasted approximately five hours, and she asked to leave the meeting on at least one occasion and Diamond Resorts refused to allow her to leave. She claimed Diamond Resorts knew she was a diabetic and experienced fatigue and confusion, Diamond Resorts knew she was a vulnerable adult subject to a durable power of attorney for financial management, and Diamond Resorts would not allow her to leave the sales meeting until she signed the timeshare agreement. Melaas asserted she lacked the capacity to enter into the agreement, Diamond Resorts used high-pressure and abusive sales tactics and knowledge of her medical condition to unduly influence and coerce her into signing the agreement, and any consent was obtained by duress and menace. After a hearing, the district court granted Diamond Resorts’ motion to compel arbitration and dismissed Melaas’ complaint. The North Dakota Supreme Court found that the forum selection clause in section 17 of the contract was not part of the arbitration agreement. The forum selection clause stated, “This Agreement is governed by Nevada law without regard to Nevada’s choice of law rules. You must bring any legal action in Clark County, Nevada.” When the term “Agreement” was used in the contract, the Court found it referred to the entire contract and not the arbitration agreement. To the extent Diamond Resorts argued the action should have been brought in Nevada, it was a venue issue and not a jurisdictional issue, and the right could be waived. The issue of improper venue was waived if it was omitted from a motion to dismiss or if it was not made by motion or included in the responsive pleading. On remand, if any of the parties argue the case must be dismissed under the forum selection clause, the district court must first determine whether a contract exists. If the court determines a contract exists, it could then consider the forum selection clause issue, including whether the issue was waived. The order compelling arbitration and dismissing Melaas' complaint was reversed, and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Melaas v. Diamond Resorts U.S. Collection Development" on Justia Law

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R & F Financial Services, LLC, appealed a district court order dismissing its claims against Cudd Pressure Control, Inc., and RPC, Inc., and granting Cudd’s and RPC’s counterclaims and cross claims. North American Building Solutions, LLC (“NABS”) and Cudd Pressure Control, Inc. (“Cudd”) entered into an agreement where Cudd would lease from NABS 60 temporary housing modules for employee housing. The terms of the Lease required Cudd, at its sole expense, to obtain any conditional use permits, variances or zoning approvals “required by any local, city, township, county or state authorities, which are necessary for the installation and construction of the modules upon the Real Property.” The Lease was set to commence following substantial completion of the installation of all the modules and was to expire 60 months following the commencement date. NABS assigned its interest in 28 modules under lease to R & F; NABS sold the modules to R & F by bill of sale. Cudd accepted the final 32 modules from NABS, to which R & F was not a party. RPC, as the parent company of Cudd, guaranteed Cudd’s performance of payment obligations to R & F under the Lease. The Lease was for a set term and did not contain an option for Cudd to purchase the modules at the expiration of that set term. At the time R & F purchased NABS’s interest in the Lease, it understood the purpose of the Lease was to fulfill Cudd’s need for employee housing. The County required a conditional use permit for workforce housing, and Cudd had been issued a permit allowing for the use of the modules as workforce housing. The City of Williston annexed the Property within its corporate limits. Thereafter, the City adopted a resolution that declared all workforce housing was temporary and extension of permits was subject to review. The City modified the expiration date policy and extended all approvals for workforce housing facilities to December 31, 2015, such that all permits would expire the same day. In December 2015, Cudd successfully extended its permit for the maximum time permitted to July 1, 2016. Cudd sent a letter to NABS stating that it viewed the Lease as being terminated by operation of law as of July 1, 2016. R & F argued the trial court erred in finding the Lease was not a finance lease and, in the alternative, that the court erred in finding the doctrines of impossibility of performance and frustration of purpose to be inapplicable. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "R & F Financial Services v. North American Building Solutions, et al." on Justia Law

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Discover Bank (Discover) appealed a district court order denying its motion for judgment and dismissing the case. Discover sued Bryan Hornbacher, alleging he was indebted to it on a credit card debt for $14,695.13. The parties entered into a stipulation and consent. The stipulation provided an acknowledgment by Hornbacher that he had been served with the summons and complaint and an admission that he had no defenses to the allegations in the complaint. Hornbacher consented to entry of judgment in the amount of $14,695.13 in exchange for Discover’s agreement to accept $10,080.00 payable over three years as full satisfaction of the judgment, and to forego execution on the judgment unless there were a default in the agreed-upon payment schedule. In its order, the trial court found that “[p]laintiff files a stipulation stating it will not move for judgment unless the terms of the agreement are [breached].” The North Dakota Supreme Court found this was an error, as was the trial court's focus on the lack of default under the stipulation having occurred: "Discover was not moving to execute the judgment, but rather was, by affidavit, moving for judgment to be entered against Hornbacher pursuant to the stipulation. The court misread the stipulation and misapplied the law." Because the plain language of the stipulation provided for judgment against Hornbacher to be entered, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded for entry of judgment. View "Discover Bank v. Hornbacher" on Justia Law

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Three Aces Properties LLC appealed, and United Rentals (North America), Inc., cross-appealed a judgment and orders denying their motions to amend the judgment. In 2017, Three Aces sued United Rentals for breach of contract and waste. Three Aces claimed United Rentals breached the lease by failing to pay rent after it vacated the property, failing to maintain and repair the parking area, and failing to maintain and repair the premises. Three Aces alleged United Rentals’ use of the premises resulted in destruction of the asphalt parking area and damages to the building and other areas of the property. Three Aces claimed United Rentals attempted to repair the parking area by replacing the asphalt paving with scoria, the City of Williston notified the parties that replacement of the asphalt with scoria violated zoning ordinances, and the parties disagreed about which party had an obligation to repair the parking area. Three Aces argued the district court erred by failing to award it damages for its breach of contract claims. United Rentals argued the court erred in dismissing its breach of contract and constructive eviction claim. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the district court. View "Three Aces Properties v. United Rentals" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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