Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court

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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

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John Dixon appealed the grant of summary judgment that dismissed his action to remove Billie Dixon as trustee of the Shirley A. Dixon Trust and sought reimbursement, an accounting and court supervision of the trust. In 2013 Billie, as trustee, sued John to reform a warranty deed their father executed conveying a tract of McKenzie County real property to John. Billie contended William Dixon intended to reserve the mineral interests as property of the trust. The district court agreed and reformed the warranty deed to reserve and except the minerals and retain the mineral interests as property of the trust to be distributed in accordance with the trust's terms and conditions. Shortly after the reformation action was commenced in 2013, John sued Billie seeking an accounting of the trust, her removal as trustee, court supervised administration of the trust, reimbursement of the trust for unauthorized distributions, and his attorney fees expended in the action. During multiple trial postponements, Shirley Dixon died in 2015. About two months before the scheduled February 2017 trial, Billie moved for summary judgment dismissal of the lawsuit. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the case was not moot and genuine issues of material fact precluded disposition by summary judgment. The Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Dixon v. Dixon" on Justia Law

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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