Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court

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Timothy Betz appealed a district court order under N.D. Sup. Ct. Admin. R. 58, prohibiting him from filing any new litigation or documents in existing litigation without first obtaining leave of court. In 1994, the Emelia Hirsch June 9, 1994, Irrevocable Trust was created. Trust beneficiaries were Emelia Hirsch's three children and ten grandchildren, including Betz. In 2003, Emelia requested the district court to dissolve the trust. In 2008, after protracted litigation, the district court entered an order reforming the trust from an irrevocable trust to a revocable trust, which was affirmed on appeal. Betz continued litigation relating to the trust: in February 2017, Betz moved the district court to reopen the case and moved to immediately vacate the 2008 order. The district court filed a notice stating the case had been resolved, it would not be reopened, and no further order would be entered. Although Betz filed an objection to the court's notice and again requested the case be reopened, no appeal was taken of the court's February 2017 denial. In March 2017, Carolyn Twite and Duane Hirsch ("the co-trustees") moved the court seeking a pre-filing order against Betz. In April 2017, after a hearing, the presiding judge issued a notice of proposed findings and order. Betz filed a response in opposition to the proposed findings and order. Thereafter, the district court presiding judge entered an order under N.D. Sup. Ct. Admin. R. 58, finding that Betz was a vexatious litigant. Because the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court did not abuse its discretion in entering the order, it affirmed. View "Matter of Emelia Hirsch Trust" on Justia Law

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Mary Ann Vig, as personal representative of the Estate of Junietta Swenson, appealed the dismissal of the Estate’s action against Willis Swenson. The Estate argued that Junietta Swenson lacked capacity to execute a July 2012 quit claim deed conveying her home in Noonan to her son, Willis Swenson, and that he converted rent and grain proceeds when he subleased her farmland. After review of the trial court record, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court did not clearly err in finding Junietta Swenson was legally competent to execute the quit claim deed, or in finding that Willis Swenson did not convert the proceeds of a sublease of land he leased from Junietta Swenson. View "Vig v. Swenson" on Justia Law

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Shannon Evans appealed an order granting Gerald Feldmann ownership of certain property from Leonhard Feldmann's estate. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed, concluding the district court did not err in finding an inter vivos gift and did not err in finding the proceeds of the standing crop passed with the devise of real property. “The appellate court does not reweigh evidence, reassess witness credibility, or substitute its judgment for the trial court's decision merely because it would have reached a different result. Standing crops at the time of death pass with the real estate to which they are attached unless otherwise specified in a will.” View "Estate of Feldmann" on Justia Law

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Elda McKeown appealed a judgment ordering the distribution of Margie Eagon's estate to McKeown and her nine siblings. When the personal representative sought to close the estate, several of Margie Eagon's children objected to the proposed distribution, arguing the proposed distribution would reduce their inheritances but leave the inheritances of McKeown and Ronald Eagon intact. The district court determined that under the terms of the will the federal estate tax liability should be apportioned among all persons interested in the estate under N.D.C.C. 30.1-20-16(2) (U.P.C. 3-916) rather than abated under N.D.C.C. 30.1-20-02 (U.P.C. 3-902). The court found the proceeds of two $100,000 life insurance policies naming McKeown and Ronald Eagon as the beneficiaries should be used to reduce the estate tax liability. The court also awarded the parties who objected to the proposed distribution of the estate their reasonable costs and attorney fees in the amount of $23,549.26. Because the district court did not err in interpreting the will or the probate code, its findings regarding the use of life insurance proceeds were not clearly erroneous, and it did not abuse its discretion in awarding attorney fees, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Estate of Eagon" on Justia Law

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John Gassmann died in February 2012. Margaret Oakland was his only child. Under a generation-skipping trust created by his parents, Gassmann had a special power of appointment over the trust estate, which included family farmland. The power was exercisable "by appointment, outright or in trust, in such portions as my child may appoint in a valid testamentary instrument that specifically refers to this special power of appointment." The trust prohibited Gassmann from exercising the power in favor of himself, his estate, his creditors, or creditors of his estate. The generation-skipping trust provided that unless Gassmann exercised the power of appointment in a valid testamentary instrument, all trust assets would pass to Gassmann's descendants at Gassmann's death. Gassmann exercised the special power of appointment through both his will and revocable living trust executed in 2011. Gassmann exercised his special power of appointment by distributing all of the real estate in his generation-skipping trust to the Valley Township Land Trust ("land trust") and the residue of the trust estate to the Canadian Mineral Share Trust ("mineral trust"), which were both created under Gassmann's revocable living trust. Oakland was a primary beneficiary of the mineral trust, not of the land trust. After Gassmann's death, Oakland contested his will and revocable living trust. Oakland argued Gassmann's will was invalid, alleging he executed the will under an insane delusion. Oakland appealed the district court order granting Bell Bank's petition to approve the accounting, distribution, and termination of the John T. Gassmann generation-skipping trust. She also appealed an order denying her motion for relief from the order approving Bell Bank's petition, arguing Gassmann improperly exercised a special power of appointment over the trust estate and that Bell Bank breached its fiduciary duty of impartiality. Finding no reversible error in the district court judgment, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Matter of John T. Gassmann Trust" on Justia Law

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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