Justia North Dakota Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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Joel Finstrom, James Finstrom and Annette Hauser appeal from orders and a judgment denying their claims related to Ruth Finstrom’s estate. Ruth and Carl Finstrom had seven children: James, Daniel , Joel, Annette Hauser, Janice Schulz, Mark, and Rebecca Lusk. In the late 1980s, Carl and Daniel Finstrom began farming together. According to trial testimony, Daniel made oral agreements with his parents to acquire three quarters of real property. In 2011 Daniel believed he had fulfilled the agreements, but Carl requested an additional $240,000 for the property. In August 2011, Ruth and Carl executed identical wills. The wills devised one-third of a quarter section of property to Joel, stating he had paid one-third of the price for the property. The quarter devised to Joel was one of the quarters Daniel believed he purchased. Carl died in November 2011. In December 2012, Ruth executed a contract for deed conveying the three quarters of real property to Daniel and Teresa Finstrom for $240,000. Ruth executed a new will in July 2015, devising the residue of her estate to her seven children in equal shares. In July 2016, Ruth conveyed additional real property to her daughter Janice Schulz. Ruth died in December 2016. In December 2016, the district court admitted Ruth Finstrom’s 2015 will to informal probate and appointed James personal representative. In March 2017, Joel filed a claim against the estate, asserting the estate owed him $200,000 for the value of an interest he owned in Ruth's real property. Joel also claimed the estate owed him $2,000 per month for providing Ruth in-home health care from May 1, 2015, to April 21, 2016. In May 2017, Mark petitioned for the removal of James as personal representative. In September 2017, James, individually and as personal representative, sued Schulz and Daniel and Teresa Finstrom seeking to invalidate the real property conveyances Ruth made to them. James Finstrom argued Ruth was unduly influenced in conveying the property. Schulz and Daniel and Teresa Finstrom denied the claims and counterclaimed, arguing James breached his fiduciary duties to the estate. James resigned as personal representative and Heartland Trust Company was appointed as successor personal representative. On March 12, 2019, the district court issued its findings of fact, conclusions of law and order for judgment, ruling Ruth's 2015 will was valid and revoked her 2011 will. The court denied Joel's claim he had an interest in Ruth's real property, and upheld Ruth's conveyances to Schulz and Daniel and Teresa Finstrom. The court found Ruth did not lack mental capacity to make the conveyances. The court also found Daniel and Teresa Finstrom did not have a confidential relationship with Ruth, and Ruth was not unduly influenced. Finding no reversible error in the trial court's judgment, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the denial of Joel, James and Annette's claims against the estate. View "Estate of Finstrom" on Justia Law

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Workforce Safety and Insurance (“WSI”) appealed a district court judgment affirming an administrative law judge’s (“ALJ”) order that affirmed WSI’s April 2018 order awarding permanent impairment benefits to Jason Tolman and that reversed WSI’s July 2018 order denying benefits for his depression and anxiety conditions. In September 2014, Tolman was injured when he was driving a tanker truck and involved in a single vehicle roll-over accident. WSI accepted his claim for benefits. In April 2018, WSI issued an order awarding Tolman $4,905 in permanent impairment benefits based on a determination that he had sustained a 16 percent impairment of the whole body. In July 2018, WSI issued an order denying benefits in connection with his depression and anxiety, deciding these conditions were not caused by his physical injury and existed before the work injury. Tolman requested an administrative hearing on the orders, and a hearing was held before an independent ALJ in April 2019. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the ALJ erred in applying N.D.C.C. 65-01-02(10)(a)(6) and concluding Tolman established his depression and anxiety conditions were compensable. The Court affirmed that part of the ALJ’s order affirming WSI’s April 2018 order; but reversed that part of the ALJ’s order reversing WSI’s July 2018 order, and reinstated WSI’s July 2018 order. View "WSI v. Tolman" on Justia Law

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Ashley Hunter appealed an order denying his application for post- conviction relief. Hunter was charged with two counts of murder and one count of arson. After a nine-day jury trial, he was found guilty of all charges. On appeal, he argued the district court abused its discretion in determining res judicata barred his claim of judicial bias, and that he did not receive a Miranda warning. Hunter also argued the district court erred in denying his claims for ineffective assistance of counsel. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Hunter v. North Dakota" on Justia Law

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Shawn Kluver and Little Knife Disposal, LLC, appeal from a district court judgment ordering them to pay $140,042.83 to Titan Machinery, Inc., and $100,731.62 to Renewable Resources, LLC. In 2016, Kluver was the general manager of Renewable Resources, which was in the business of oilfield waste disposal. “At Kluver’s request and direction,” Renewable Resources leased a Case excavator and other equipment from Titan. The rental agreement for the Case excavator showed an estimated return date of June 28, 2016. Kluver also executed a credit application and personal guaranty with Titan to ensure Renewable Resources’ payment obligations under the rental agreement. Renewable Resources made all payments under the rental agreement from June 21, 2016, to December 6, 2016. No additional rental payments were made. In February 2017, while still employed by Renewable Resources, Kluver executed the operating agreement of Little Knife Disposal, LLC, as its sole member. Little Knife was also in the business of oilfield waste disposal. After Renewable Resources failed to make rental payments, Titan retrieved the Case excavator in October 2017. The excavator was damaged during the lease, and the excavator’s bucket was missing. In November 2017, Titan sued Renewable Resources for damaging the equipment and failing to pay the balance due under the rental agreement. In January 2018, Renewable Resources filed a third-party complaint against Kluver and Little Knife, claiming they wrongfully used the equipment leased from Titan and did not reimburse Renewable Resources. Renewable Resources requested that Kluver and Little Knife indemnify Renewable Resources for their use of the equipment. In October 2018, Titan obtained a $140,042.83 money judgment against Renewable Resources. In January 2019, Titan sued Kluver, claiming that under the personal guaranty he was liable for Renewable Resources’ debt to Titan. Kluver denied Titan’s allegations and brought a third-party complaint against Renewable Resources, asserting Renewable Resources should indemnify him for any amounts he was required to pay to Titan. Kluver and Little Knife argued the district court erred in finding they benefited from the equipment leased by Renewable Resources. They claimed there was no evidence they received a benefit from the Case excavator leased by Renewable Resources and the court erred in ordering them to indemnify Renewable Resources. Finding no reversible error in the district court's judgment, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the order in favor of Titan Machinery and Renewable Resources. View "Titan Machinery v. Kluver" on Justia Law

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The district court affirmed the North Dakota Department of Human Service’s determination that Harold Ring was ineligible for Medicaid. When these proceedings began, Ring was ninety-six years old and living in the Good Samaritan Home in Mohall. An application for Medicaid was submitted on his behalf in April 2018. It was denied due to disqualifying transfers. Ring’s daughter, Nancy Ring, filed a second Medicaid application on Ring’s behalf in November 2018. The November application was also denied because Ring’s “client share (recipient liability) is more than the medical expenses.” Ring died after the Department issued its decision but before the district court affirmed. No party was substituted on Ring’s behalf for purposes of the district court proceedings. In 2020, Ring's attorney filed a notice of appeal to the North Dakota Supreme Court, claiming the Department’s imposition of a penalty period due to disqualifying transfers was inappropriate because Ring was a vulnerable adult who was financially exploited. On May 1, 2020, the Good Samaritan Society and the Department stipulated to dismissal of the probate petition because “a Special Administrator is not needed at this time.” The court dismissed the petition on May 5, 2020. The Supreme Court determined that essential issues remained unresolved in this matter: since neither side filed a notice of death or moved to substitute a party, the district court did not determine whether this action survived Ring's death, and if it did, whether a proper successor was available for substitution. The matter was remanded for these findings and substitution. View "Ring v. NDDHS" on Justia Law

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Darl Hehn appealed a district court order denying his petition for discharge from civil commitment as a sexually dangerous individual. Because the North Dakota Supreme Court determined the district court failed to make sufficient findings, the case was remanded for the court make specific findings. View "Matter of Hehn" on Justia Law

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M.L.B. appealed a district court order denying her petition to terminate T.D.R.’s parental rights. M.L.B. and T.D.R. had one child together, C.A.R., born in 2015. In May 2018, M.L.B. petitioned for termination of T.D.R.’s parental rights, claiming T.D.R. had not seen C.A.R. since February 2017 and T.D.R. failed to pay child support except for one payment in January 2018. In a separate action, M.L.B.’s husband, A.G., petitioned to adopt C.A.R. After a September 2019 hearing, the district court found T.D.R. had not abandoned C.A.R. The court found T.D.R.’s lack of contact with C.A.R. was justified because T.D.R. relied on his counsel’s advice during the pendency of his criminal case. The court also found T.D.R.’s failure to financially support C.A.R. before a child support order was in place did not support an intent to abandon C.A.R. The court found a child support order was not in place until August 2017, after its entry T.D.R. maintained substantial compliance, and T.D.R. was current on his support payments at the time of the hearing. The court thus denied M.L.B.’s petition to terminate T.D.R.’s parental rights. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying M.L.B.’s petition to terminate T.D.R.’s parental rights. The court’s findings had support in the record, and it did not act in an arbitrary, unconscionable, or unreasonable manner in making its decision. View "Interest of C.A.R." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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Jeremy Hoffarth appealed an order denying his motion for relief from a divorce judgment and his subsequent motion to reconsider. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the appeal of his motion for relief from the judgment was untimely. The Court therefore affirmed the order denying his motion to reconsider because the district court did not abuse its discretion. View "Hoffarth v. Hoffarth" on Justia Law

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RFM-TREI Jefferson Apartments, LLC; RFM-TREI Lincoln Apartments, LLC; Dickinson Homestay, LLC; and Lodgepros Dickinson, LLC (together “the Taxpayers”) appealed district court judgments affirming the Stark County Board of Commissioners’ (“the Board”) denials of their applications for tax abatements or refunds. The Taxpayers collectively owned two apartment complexes and two hotels located in the City of Dickinson. The Taxpayers filed applications for abatement or refund of their 2016 property taxes. The Taxpayers’ opinions of value for each property differed from the City’s valuations by a range of roughly $1.8 million to $20.3 million. After holding a hearing, the City recommended the Board deny each application. The Board indeed denied the abatement applications in four separate written decisions. Using the same language in each, the Board concluded the assessor’s valuations were not “in error, invalid, inequitable, unjust, or arrived at in an arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable manner.” The decisions also explained the Board did not believe the Taxpayers provided “sufficient enough information relating to the subject properties, or the local market for competing properties, to lead us to the same value conclusions requested by the applicant.” The district court affirmed each denial in separate, written orders and judgments. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the Board acted arbitrarily and unreasonably in adopting assessments exceeding the true and full value of the property. The Court reversed the district court judgments and the Board’s decisions denying the Taxpayers’ abatement applications. The matters were remanded for a new hearing to determine the “true and full value” of the properties and reconsideration of the abatement applications. View "RFM-TREI Jefferson Apartments v. Stark County Board of Comm'rs" on Justia Law

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Kimberly Long appealed following her conditional guilty plea to refusal to submit to a chemical test, a class B misdemeanor. Long argued N.D.C.C. 39-08-01(1)(f) was ambiguous, and the legislative history required a driver to be informed of their right to refuse to take a test to determine their blood alcohol content. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded N.D.C.C. 39-08-01(1)(f) was not ambiguous and did not require a driver to be informed of a right to refuse to submit to a chemical test to determine their blood alcohol content, therefore affirming judgment. View "North Dakota v. Long" on Justia Law