Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court

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Absent clear error, a district court's valuation of a decedent's estate will not be reversed on appeal. Plaintiffs Anne Fahey, Timothy Fife and Richard D. Fife appealed a district court judgment in their action seeking cancellation of a quit claim deed from their deceased mother Marianne Fife to their deceased father Richard A. Fife relating to North Dakota minerals. Anne Fahey's aunt Carole Hill informed her about the circumstances surrounding Marianne’s conveyance of her mineral interest. Hill witnessed Richard Fife present a quit claim deed for Marianne to sign, and Richard held Marianne's hand to help her sign her name on the deed. Hill believed Marianne was not competent at the time to sign the deed, and was not informed as to what she was signing. Plaintiffs sued Joanne Fife, individually and as personal representative of Richard Fife's estate, claiming their mother lacked capacity to execute the deed because she was under medication to treat her pain. Plaintiffs also claimed their father exercised undue influence over their mother when she signed the deed. The trial court rescinded the deed but concluded that under North Dakota's intestacy laws in effect at Marianne’s death, the minerals passed to Richard A. Fife. The court concluded Richard A. Fife's surviving spouse Joanne Fife owned the minerals. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Fahey v. Fife" on Justia Law

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Under the law of the case doctrine, a party cannot on a second appeal relitigate issues which were resolved by the Supreme Court in the first appeal or which would have been resolved had they been properly presented in the first appeal. Scott and Steven Johnson appealed a district court judgment denying their application to restrain Sandra Mark, personal representative of Jeanne Johnson's estate, from selling farmland. They also appealed an order approving the estate's final report and account and payment of personal representative fees and attorney's fees from the estate. The law of the case doctrine applies when an appellate court has decided a legal question and remanded to the district court for further proceedings. The North Dakota Supreme Court found the district court followed its directions on remand by receiving additional testimony and making additional findings within the intended scope of the remand. The Court therefore concluded the district court did not clearly err in finding that Mark acted reasonably for the benefit of the interested persons, Scott Johnson, Stuart Johnson, and Mark, as residuary devisees under Jeanne Johnson's will. The evidence supported the finding, and the Court was not left with "a definite and firm conviction a mistake has been made." With respect to Scott and Steven Johnson's arguments regarding the final report and account, the Supreme Court found the payment of fees related to their allegation that Mark breached her fiduciary duties in selling the farmland to Stuart Johnson. The Court previously held Mark had the power to sell the farmland. The Court therefore concluded the district court's decision approving the final report and account and approving the personal representative fees and attorney's fees was not arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable. The court did not abuse its discretion in approving payment of the personal representative fees and attorney's fees from the estate. View "Estate of Johnson" on Justia Law

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Dori Lentz appealed an order and judgment denying her request to modify the distribution decrees of the Estate of Charlotte C. Nohle and ordering her to pay the estate's attorney's fees. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed, concluding the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying the requested modification or by awarding attorney's fees. View "Estate of Nohle" on Justia Law

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Dale Vendsel died in 2002. Jean Vendsel was his surviving spouse. James and Bonnie Vendsel were two of their six children. His Will created the Family Trust and designated James and Jean Vendsel ("the Vendsels") as co-trustees of the trust, and co-personal representatives of the estate. The Will provided that Jean was the sole income beneficiary of the trust during her lifetime. The Will also provided that the trustee could use the principal of the trust as necessary for support and maintenance of Jean in the manner to which she was accustomed and as necessary to maintain her good health. Upon her death, the remaining trust assets are to be distributed under the "Disposition of Residue of My Estate" section of Dale Vendsel's Will. Bonnie filed a petition requesting the district court compel the Vendsels to submit an accounting and plan for distribution for the estate. On March 22, 2004, the Vendsels, as personal representatives, filed an "Accounting Receipts and Expenses" document with the district court. A hearing was scheduled for April 13, 2004. In their response to Bonnie's petition, the Vendsels noted they submitted an inventory and proposed distribution for the estate and mailed it to all interested parties. On April 13, 2004, the district court postponed the hearing indefinitely, and indicated the parties were "near reaching an agreement." The terms of any agreement the parties entered into are not part of the record. On April 16, 2004, James and Jean Vendsel filed an "Amended Accounting Receipts and Expenses" with the district court. No further action was taken by either party for over ten years. Bonnie appealed the district court's order dismissing, with prejudice, her "Petition for Order in Settlement of Accounts and Distributions Called for in the Decedent's Will and Request for Supervision From the Court." Because the district court did not err in concluding Bonnie failed to establish she was entitled to receive a yearly accounting under the terms of the trust, and in concluding her claims against the estate were without merit, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court's order dismissing her petition with prejudice. View "Estate of Vendsel" on Justia Law

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James Broten, individually, and as personal representative of the estate of Olaf Broten, appealed a second amended judgment denying him restitution for payments he made to his parents during their lifetimes. In 1979, Broten and his parents Helen and Olaf Broten executed a contract for deed to purchase approximately 480 acres of farmland. Broten agreed to purchase the farmland for $200,000 plus six percent annual interest through 2006. After his father's death in 1998, Broten, as personal representative of the estate, conveyed the farmland to himself with his mother receiving a life estate. After Broten's mother died in 2010, his sisters, as personal co-representatives of the estate, sued Broten alleging he breached his fiduciary duties by transferring the farmland to himself after his father's death. At trial in 2013, Broten testified that under an oral modification to the contract, he agreed to pay his parents' living expenses for the rest of their lives in addition to the $12,000 annual interest payment in exchange for the farmland. After trial the district court found the parties mutually agreed to abandon the terms of the written contract for deed. The court also found Broten did not prove the oral modification to the contract and breached his fiduciary duties to his father's estate by transferring the farmland to himself. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment finding a breach of fiduciary duty and award of damages, but remanded to the district court to decide whether Broten was entitled to compensation for improvements he made to the farmland or for payments he made to his parents or on their behalf. The district court entered a second amended judgment reducing the amount Broten owed by $20,000 for improvements he made to the property. The court did not award Broten restitution for the payments he made to his parents or on their behalf. The court concluded Broten benefited from the relationship with his parents and failed to prove his parents were unjustly enriched by the payments he made to them or on their behalf. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment finding Broten breached his fiduciary duty, and to pay plaintiffs $103,054 as compensation for his use of the land from June 16, 2010, through December 31, 2013, including interest. The Court also affirmed the judgment holding the reduction of the land value by $20,000 for improvements to the land. The Court reversed the judgment holding Broten was not entitled to any restitution, and remanded for entry of judgment requiring Broten to pay to plaintiffs $1,197,000 for the value of the land as of December 31, 2013, reduced by $191,789.40 for restitution and $20,000 for improvements. View "Broten v. Broten" on Justia Law

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These cases related to the estate and trust of Steven Harris. Bruce Harris appealed a district court's order denying his N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(b) motion to vacate a judgment entered consistent with stipulations he entered into with the trustee and personal representative of Steven Harris's trust and estate. Bruce argued the district court abused its discretion by not vacating the judgment for lack of mutual assent, misrepresentation, and fraud. He also argued the district court failed to apply a rebuttable presumption of undue influence when a trustee engages in a transaction with a trust beneficiary under N.D.C.C. section 59-18-01.1. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying Bruce Harris's motion to vacate, and affirmed the district court's order. View "Estate of Harris" on Justia Law

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Bell State Bank & Trust, as trustee of the Bradley K. Brakke Trust, appealed a judgment approving a settlement and dismissing Timothy Brakke's petition challenging Bradley Brakke's capacity to create the Trust. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the district court did not err in accepting the settlement agreement and dismissing Timothy Brakke's petition. View "Estate of Brakke" on Justia Law

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K.P. appealed an order appointing a conservator and co-guardians for his adult uncle, R.G. In September 2014, R.G. lived in one of several mobile homes on land in rural McKenzie County owned by him and members of his family. R.G.'s brother helped care for him until that brother died in May 2014. According to R.G., his niece, S.P., became his caregiver after his brother's death, and she lived near Billings and usually saw him once or twice a month. In September 2014, law enforcement officers raided the property where R.G.'s mobile home was located as part of an investigation of others. According to a McKenzie County Deputy Sheriff, R.G.'s mobile home had dog feces throughout and did not have running water, a sewer or septic system, a furnace, a working refrigerator, or an adequate food supply. After the law enforcement raid, C.G., a niece of R.G.'s, petitioned for appointment of an emergency conservator and guardian for her uncle, alleging he was between 86 and 87 years old and was being unduly influenced by S.P., who was nominated as his attorney-in-fact under a July 2014 durable power of attorney. C.G.'s petition sought to have R.G. declared an incapacitated person and to establish protective proceedings for his residential, medical, and financial affairs. C.G. thereafter petitioned for appointment of a conservator and a guardian for R.G. At the hearing, K.P. testified his sister, S.P., was willing to waive her appointment as her uncle's designated attorney-in-fact and healthcare agent under the July 2014 power of attorney and K.P. sought to be appointed as his uncle's conservator and guardian as the named alternate under that document. The court appointed GAPS, K.N., and S.S., a granddaughter of R.G.'s brother, as co-guardians and appointed American State Bank & Trust as conservator for R.G. K.P. appealed that decision. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the district court did not clearly err in finding good cause not to appoint K.P. as guardian and conservator for R.G. and did not abuse its discretion in appointing other individuals and entities as conservator and co-guardians for R.G. View "Guardianship/Conservatorship of R.G." on Justia Law

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Correne Vaage, surviving spouse and special personal representative of the Estate of Lowell H. Vaage, appealed a judgment dismissing its claim to reform a personal representative's deed issued by the John Vaage estate to Lowell Vaage. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed, concluding the district court's finding the Lowell Vaage estate failed to prove fraud or mistake sufficient to reform the personal representative's deed was not clearly erroneous. View "Estate of Vaage" on Justia Law

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Appellants Dean Olsen, Susan Olsen, Bobby Olsen, Clee Raye Olsen, and Marion Bergquist, three stepchildren of Clarence Erickson and two spouses of the stepchildren, appealed a judgment granting a motion by Clarence Erickson's biological son, Curtis Erickson, to correct the judgment under N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(a). After Clarence Erickson died in December 2010, Curtis petitioned to rescind certain real and personal property transfers by Clarence to the appellants and to invalidate his September 2010 will. After a bench trial, the district court entered a judgment concluding that undue influence was exerted over Clarence when executing his will and while transferring real and personal property to the appellants, that Clarence lacked capacity to transfer money and real property, and that Clarence lacked testamentary capacity to execute the will. The court denied the appellants' motion to amend the findings and judgment under N.D.R.Civ.P. 52(b). The appellants then moved to correct the judgment under N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(a), asking the district court to require repayment of the purchase prices the appellants paid for real property transfers invalidated by the court's judgment. The Supreme Court concluded the district court misapplied the law for clerical errors or mistakes arising from oversight or omission under N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(a). Therefore, the trial court abused its discretion in granting Curtis Erickson's motion to correct the judgment under Rule 60(a). View "Erickson v. Olsen" on Justia Law