Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court

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Shane Dockter appealed the denial of his N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(b) motion to vacate a default judgment, arguing the judgment was either void or should have been vacated for excusable neglect. Brandon and Shane Dockter were brothers. In 2007, the brothers formed a partnership to facilitate a joint farming operation. In conjunction with the formation of the partnership, the brothers also created a trust, the Dockter Brothers Irrevocable Trust, to hold farmland. The brothers were co-trustees of the trust. Shane had mental health and chemical dependency problems. By 2012, Shane's mental health and chemical dependency had escalated and caused him to be absent from the farm. In 2015, Shane was detained by law enforcement after he was found walking down a public road carrying a Bible while wearing a church robe and claiming to be Jesus. The incident resulted in Shane's admission to the North Dakota State Hospital for about a month. Around the same time, Shane developed an addiction to opioids and methamphetamine. He was readmitted to the State Hospital in late 2016 after threatening his mother. In February 2017, Shane was arrested for various offenses and was readmitted to the State Hospital. Brandon commenced a lawsuit against Shane seeking "dissolution" of the partnership and "dissolution" of the trust. Brandon alleged that "Shane's mental health and chemical dependency problems" made him unable to participate in partnership activities and made it impossible to achieve the purpose of the trust. Shane was served while in custody at the sheriff's office. Shane did not answer the complaint, and he was readmitted to the State Hospital for another month. While Shane was at the Hospital, Brandon moved for default judgment. Shane was served with the motion for default judgment at the State Hospital, but did not respond. The district court ultimately granted the default judgment "expell[ing]" Shane from the partnership and removing him as co-trustee of the trust. On appeal, Shane argued: (1) the default judgment was void and should have been vacated under N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(4); and (2) the court abused its discretion by denying relief as provided in N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(1), which allowed relief from a final judgment for mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect. Applying the limited standard for reviewing denial of motions to vacate default judgments, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court did not abuse its discretion and affirmed the orders denying the motion. View "Dockter v. Dockter" on Justia Law

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Jeffrey Riskey, individually and as co-trustee of the Annette Riskey Family Irrevocable Trust dated April 12, 2004 ("Trust"), and other Riskey family members (collectively, "the Riskeys") appealed judgments entered after the district court granted his brother and co-trustee Rodney Riskey's summary judgment motion. Annette Riskey's husband, Gilbert Riskey, died in December 2003. Within months of the death, Rodney brought Annette to attorney David Peterson. A new trust was drafted which allowed Rodney to purchase land, bins and a house owned by Annette [after her death] for the sum of $65,000. The trust was signed by Annette [as settlor] and Rodney [as co-trustee] on April 12th, 2004. Jeffrey was appointed [c]o-trustee but was only sent a signature page, which he signed shortly thereafter. Jeffrey did not know of the purchase option until 2015. All parties agreed the land, bins and house were worth more than $65,000, though no appraisal has been admitted into the record. Annette died in November 2015. Rodney executed a purchase agreement, which Jeffrey as [c]o-trustee, would not sign. In 2004 Annette had also executed a warranty deed transferring the property to the co-trustees, Rodney and Jeffrey, and reserving a life estate. The North Dakota Supreme Court conclude that the facts, when viewed in a light most favorable to the Riskeys, did not support a conclusion that the Trust's purchase option provision was the effect of Rodney's undue influence on their mother. View "Riskey v. Riskey" on Justia Law

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Johnston Land Company, LLC, appeals from an order denying its petition to invalidate an alleged lien filed by attorney Sara Sorenson in the form of an affidavit regarding property in Grand Forks County, North Dakota. A dispute over excessive attorney fees led to this case. John Widdel, Jr., represented the trustees of the Donald G. Amundson Trust. In 2013 beneficiaries of the estate petitioned for court determination of attorney fees. The district court ordered Widdell to refund $95,000.00 in attorney fees. During litigation over the fees, Widdel's family's limited liability partnership, Bell Fire LLP, transferred property to a revocable living trust in the name of his wife. In a deposition related to the debt Widdel testified he had essentially no assets, lived rent-free in an apartment owned by the Widdel trust, and drove a car owned by his wife. The Widdel trust sought to sell the property at issue to Johnston, which had offices on the property. Beneficiaries of the Amundson trust filed suit in 2017 regarding other allegedly fraudulent transfers by Widdel to avoid paying the judgment. Ohnstad Twichell, P.C., and Sorenson represented the beneficiaries of Amundson's estate. The district court concluded Sorenson's affidavit was not a nonconsensual common-law lien under N.D.C.C. 35-01-02 because it "does not claim an interest in the subject property; it is merely a statement to the world, akin to a lis pendens, that the referenced property may be pursued to satisfy the Judgment." The district court did not rule on Johnston's additional issues, writing, "In the instant action, this Court has only been asked to make a determination whether the Affidavit of Sara K. Sorenson is a nonconsensual common-law lien, which it has done." The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed as to the affidavit's nature, reversed as to remaining issues and remanded for additional proceedings. View "Johnston Land Company, LLC v. Sorenson" on Justia Law

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Robert Pettinger appealed a district court judgment dismissing his lawsuit against the estate of his brother, James Pettinger ("the Estate"). The court granted summary judgment in favor of the Estate, concluding Pettinger's lawsuit was untimely and barred by the applicable statute of limitations. Pettinger contended material questions of fact exist precluding summary judgment. After review of the trial court record, the North Dakota Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed dismissal. View "Pettinger v. Carroll" on Justia Law

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Rodney Hogen appealed an order granting Steven Hogen's petition for approval of a final report and accounting for the Curtiss A. Hogen Trust B. In his appeal, Rodney Hogen raised multiple issues. For purposes of this decision, the North Dakota Supreme Court consolidated the issues into four related subjects involving his claims the district court erred: (1) in determining the Trust did not immediately terminate upon Arline Hogen's death; (2) in authorizing the sale of Trust property and ordering an offset of more than $300,000 from his share of the property; and (3) in awarding trustee's fees and attorney's fees. Hogen also argued (4) the trial court was not impartial. Considering these categories, the Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed the district court. View "Matter of Hogen Trust B" on Justia Law

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Glenn Solberg appealed an amended judgment dismissing his claims against the estate of his stepfather, Lyle Nelson ("Lyle Nelson Estate"). Solberg challenged the district court's dismissal of his claim seeking ownership of 100 mineral acres and seeking to enforce an option to purchase real property. The court determined that the mineral interests and real property alleged to be subject to the option were never within the Lyle Nelson Estate and that Solberg's claim was also untimely. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the amended judgment and granted the Lyle Nelson Estate's request for an award of costs and attorney fees for a frivolous appeal under N.D.R.App.P. 38. View "Estate of Nelson" on Justia Law

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Sandy Botteicher ("Botteicher") appeals from a judgment dismissing her claims against Pam and Darwin Becker (collectively "Beckers") and awarding the Beckers $5,000 for their attorney fees. Botteicher and Pam Becker are sisters and heirs to their mother's estate. Following the death of their father in January 2015, Pam Becker was appointed legal guardian for their mother who was residing in a nursing home. Their mother died in July 2015. A third party was appointed personal representative of their mother's estate ("the estate"). Following the filing of the closing documents by the personal representative, Botteicher filed a number of petitions or motions. In her petitions, Botteicher sought to set aside what the parties refer to as the "Warehouse" transaction, a real property transfer in Dickinson that occurred in 2010 and 2011. Botteicher also requested an evidentiary hearing, objected to the final accounting, sought formal testacy proceedings, sought the disqualification of the attorney representing the personal representative, moved for the appointment of herself as the personal representative and sought to keep the estate open by alleging that numerous items of her mother's personal property were missing from the inventory and appraisement. The probate court denied all of the petitions or motions filed by Botteicher. The court denied the petition seeking to set aside the Warehouse transfer after concluding the personal representative, not Botteicher, had "standing" to assert an action to challenge the Warehouse transfer in the probate proceedings, and that the request to set aside the property transfer was "not properly in front of the Court." In the probate proceedings, Botteicher was attempting to personally initiate an action against the Beckers to set aside a transfer made by the decedent. The probate court issued an order approving the inventory and appraisement as well as the final account and distribution. Botteicher did not appeal the final decree of distribution. Approximately one month after the probate proceedings were closed, Botteicher and her daughter, Alexandra Botteicher, brought this action against the Beckers, alleging multiple claims regarding the estate's transactions under the Beckers. Unsuccessful, Botteicher challenged the district court's determination that some of her claims were previously resolved in separate probate proceedings and were barred by res judicata, that her claim for interference with the right of burial and her claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress could be dismissed as a matter of law, and that the Beckers were entitled to an award of attorney fees. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the judgment. View "Botteicher v. Becker" on Justia Law

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Linda Nelson, Jill Mattson, Jeffrey Mattson, and Joan Louise Mattson appealed the district court's judgment quieting title to property in the Steven R. Mattson Living Trust and the Roald F. Mattson Living Trust (the "Trusts"), and awarding damages to Steven R. Mattson, the Steven R. Mattson Living Trust, and the Roald F. Mattson Living Trust (collectively, the "Mattsons"). Because the joint tenancy between Leif, Alf, and Roald Mattson was not severed prior to Leif Mattson's death, the North Dakota Supreme Court found the district court did not clearly err by quieting title to property in the Trusts. Further, the district court did not clearly err by awarding damages to the Trusts for the oil and gas lease payments under a theory of conversion. However, the district court erred by awarding damages to Steven Mattson for the amount he paid to Leif's heirs for the purported interest they owned in the surface of the property because unjust enrichment was unavailable and the voluntary payment doctrine applies. Therefore, the Court affirmed in part and reversed in part. View "Nelson v. Mattson" on Justia Law

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Glenvin Albrecht ("Glenvin") appealed, and Mark Albrecht ("Mark"), the personal representative of the estate ("the Estate") of Sharleen Albrecht ("Sharleen"), cross-appealed orders in an informal probate denying Glenvin's claims against the Estate. Glenvin argued that the district court's decision to deny Glenvin a recovery of jointly held marital assets transferred by Sharleen to the parties' son, Mark, should be reversed because, prior to Sharleen's death, she transferred the assets in violation of restraining provisions in a pending divorce proceeding. Glenvin further contended the district court abused its discretion in denying Glenvin's request for a recovery under principles of equity and its finding that Sharleen had not engaged in economic misconduct during prior divorce proceedings was clearly erroneous. The Estate argued that the district court improperly extended the time to commence an action against the Estate and erred as a matter of law in determining that Glenvin held the status of a surviving spouse with regard to the Estate. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the district court's order holding that Glenvin was a surviving spouse, denying Glenvin's request for contempt, the district court's order denying Glenvin's request for equitable relief and the district court's order denying Glenvin's request for relief from Sharleen's economic waste. View "Estate of Albrecht" on Justia Law

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Glenvin Albrecht ("Glenvin") appealed, and Mark Albrecht ("Mark"), the personal representative of the estate ("the Estate") of Sharleen Albrecht ("Sharleen"), cross-appealed orders in an informal probate denying Glenvin's claims against the Estate. Glenvin argued that the district court's decision to deny Glenvin a recovery of jointly held marital assets transferred by Sharleen to the parties' son, Mark, should be reversed because, prior to Sharleen's death, she transferred the assets in violation of restraining provisions in a pending divorce proceeding. Glenvin further contended the district court abused its discretion in denying Glenvin's request for a recovery under principles of equity and its finding that Sharleen had not engaged in economic misconduct during prior divorce proceedings was clearly erroneous. The Estate argued that the district court improperly extended the time to commence an action against the Estate and erred as a matter of law in determining that Glenvin held the status of a surviving spouse with regard to the Estate. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the district court's order holding that Glenvin was a surviving spouse, denying Glenvin's request for contempt, the district court's order denying Glenvin's request for equitable relief and the district court's order denying Glenvin's request for relief from Sharleen's economic waste. View "Estate of Albrecht" on Justia Law