In 2007, Thomas and Mari Grabanski and John and Dawn Keeley formed Keeley Grabanski Land Partnership for the purpose of purchasing land in Texas. In 2008 the Grabanskis and Keeleys formed G & K Farms for the purpose of farming the Texas land. G & K was insured under the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments Program ("SURE"), which was administered by the Farm Service Agency of the United States Department of Agriculture. In 2007 and 2008 Choice Financial Group made a series of loans totaling more than $6.75 million to the Grabanskis and the Keeleys on behalf of G & K. Choice entered into a number of security agreements with G & K and its principals to secure the debt. In 2008 PHI Financial Services, Inc. loaned $6.6 million to G & K, the Grabanskis and their various other business entities. PHI entered into security agreements with the debtors which included a provision granting it a security interest in certain "General Intangibles." The Grabanskis and their business entities eventually defaulted on their loans. Johnston Law Office, P.C. represented the Grabanskis in personal bankruptcy proceedings initiated in 2010, and represented them and their business entities during the following two years in numerous lawsuits stemming from the bankruptcy. In March 2011, PHI obtained a judgment against the Grabanskis and G & K in the United States District Court for the District of North Dakota. G & K received a SURE payment from the federal government for 2009 crop losses. The Grabanskis did not deposit the disaster payment in G & K's North Dakota bank account with Choice because Johnston advised them that Choice would offset the funds against G & K's debt to Choice. Instead, G & K deposited the SURE payment in a new Texas bank account. The Grabanskis then transferred a portion of the SURE payment from the Texas bank account to Johnston's law office trust account through two transactions: one to pay Johnston's attorney fees, and the other for Tom Grabanski's father, Merlyn Grabanski, to indemnify him for monies paid on behalf of G & K the previous year. PHI brought this action against Johnston seeking to recover additional monies based on theories of conversion and fraudulent transfer. PHI later added Choice as a defendant to determine priority of the competing security interests. The district court granted summary judgment ruling PHI's security interest had priority over the security interest held by Choice. Following a bench trial the court ruled the money transferred to Tom Grabanski's father was a fraudulent transfer and PHI was entitled to recover that amount from Johnston. The court also found that a $150,000 payment was fraudulent, but found G & K received reasonably equivalent value for the transfer. The court allowed Johnston to retain $35,000 of the remaining funds, which the court found equaled the value of legal services provided to G & K, but voided the remaining $115,000. A judgment with interest totaling $167,203.24 was entered in favor of PHI. Johnston argued on appeal that the district court erred in holding it liable for any part of the $170,400 the law firm received from G & K's Texas bank account. Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed the award of prejudgment interest and remanded for recalculation. The Court affirmed in all other respects. View "PHI Financial Services, Inc. v. Johnston Law Office, P.C." on Justia Law
Sterling Development Group Three, LLC, and Sterling Development Group Eight, LLC, appealed a judgment dismissing their action against James Carlson to collect on two personal guarantees, and an order awarding Carlson costs and disbursements. In 1983, Carlson founded PRACS Institute, Ltd., a medical research facility which began operating in East Grand Forks, Minnesota. In 1999, Sterling Development Group Three entered into a 15-year lease agreement with PRACS for a building located in East Grand Forks. Carlson signed the lease agreement as the president of PRACS. Carlson also signed a personal guaranty. When PRACS expanded in 2004, Sterling Development Group Eight built an expansion to the Sterling Three building, and PRACS entered into a lease agreement with Sterling Eight for a term running simultaneously with the Sterling Three lease. Carlson signed a similar personal guaranty for the Sterling Eight lease. In January 2006, Carlson sold PRACS to Contract Research Solutions, Inc., which the parties refer to as Cetero. The Sterling companies consented to this "change of control." Carlson's daily involvement in PRACS ceased at that point. Carlson received Cetero stock in the sale and became a member of Cetero's seven-member board of directors. In 2010, Cetero suspended its East Grand Forks operations, but continued to pay rent to the Sterling companies. In the spring of 2012, Cetero filed for bankruptcy. The bankruptcy trustee eventually rejected the East Grand Forks Cetero leases with the Sterling companies and stopped paying rent. The Sterling companies then brought this action against Carlson to collect more than $600,000 for unpaid rent under his personal guarantees. Following a bench trial, the district court dismissed the action. The court found Carlson was exonerated from liability under the personal guarantees because the original lease agreements had been altered in three respects by the Sterling companies and Cetero or PRACS without Carlson's knowledge or consent. The Sterling companies argued on appeal to the Supreme Court that the district court erred in finding the original lease agreements were contractually altered without Carlson's knowledge or consent, resulting in exoneration of his personal guaranty obligations. Because the district court's finding that the principal's contractual obligations were altered without Carlson's knowledge or consent was not clearly erroneous, and the court did not abuse its discretion in awarding costs and disbursements, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment and order. View "Sterling Development Group Three, LLC v. Carlson" on Justia Law
Willard and Christi Pankonin owned real property in Logan County, which was mortgaged with Dakota Heritage Bank. The Bank brought a foreclosure action and a judgment was entered. Before the Pankonins' redemption period expired, Willard Pankonin filed for bankruptcy protection in federal court, his interest in the property was transferred to his bankruptcy estate and Michael Iaccone was appointed bankruptcy trustee. Pankonin and Iaccone (defendants), on behalf of Willard Pankonin's bankruptcy estate, moved for relief from the judgment. Attorney Timothy Lamb represented the defendants. The district court denied the motion for relief and awarded the Bank costs and disbursements without prejudice to any subsequent claim for attorney's fees. Christi Pankonin appealed award of attorney's fees to the Bank. Finding no abuse of the district court's discretion, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Dakota Heritage Bank v. Pankonin" on Justia Law
Earl and Harold Van Sickle appealed, and Hallmark & Associates, Inc., Frank Celeste, William R. Austin, Phoenix Energy, Bobby Lankford, and Earskine Williams, and Missouri Breaks, LLC, cross-appealed an amended judgment that held Missouri Breaks liable to the Van Sickles for unpaid pre-bankruptcy confirmation royalties and awarding the Van Sickles interest and attorney's fees. Upon careful consideration of the trial court record, the Supreme Court concluded the court did not err in holding Missouri Breaks liable under state law for pre-bankruptcy confirmation royalties owed to the Van Sickles. Furthermore, the Court concluded the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding the Van Sickles attorney's fees and did not err in awarding them simple interest under the statute. View "Van Sickle v. Hallmark & Assoc., Inc." on Justia Law
Posted in: Bankruptcy, Energy, Oil & Gas Law, North Dakota Supreme Court, Real Estate & Property Law
The Marcil Group, Inc. (TMGI), Michael J. Marcil, and Arthur S. Rosenberg appeal from a judgment awarding Alerus Financial, N.A., $2,520,383.07 based on guaranties they had given Alerus for a commercial real estate loan made to KRE, LLC. In 2008, KRE received a loan from Alerus to purchase commercial real estate in Fargo. Marcil and Rosenberg are respectively the chief executive officer and president of TMGI, which holds 51 percent of KRE's stock. KRE granted Alerus a first mortgage against the property purchased with the loan proceeds. TMGI, Marcil, and Rosenberg individually executed separate documents guaranteeing KRE's debt. In 2010, KRE defaulted on the promissory note. Alerus declared the entire balance of the loan due, commenced a foreclosure action against KRE, and indicated it would not seek a deficiency judgment against KRE but would instead pursue its available remedies against the guarantors. In 2011, the district court granted Alerus's motion for summary judgment in the foreclosure action against KRE and scheduled a sheriff's sale of the property for early March 2011. KRE filed for bankruptcy shortly before the scheduled sale, and the sheriff's sale was cancelled. During this time, Alerus had also begun a separate action against TMGI, Marcil, and Rosenberg to enforce the guaranties. After Alerus moved for summary judgment, the guarantors moved to dismiss the action. The district court granted Alerus's summary judgment motion and denied the guarantors' motion to dismiss. The court concluded there were no genuine issues of material fact and held TMGI, Marcil, and Rosenberg jointly and severally liable under the terms of their guaranties. In June 2011, while this appeal was pending, Rosenberg filed for bankruptcy. Rosenberg's appeal was stayed pending discharge of his bankruptcy proceedings. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded TMGI and Marcil did not present sufficient evidence to raise genuine issues of material fact about fraud, mistake, waiver, or estoppel. Therefore, the district court did not err in granting Alerus's motion for summary judgment. View "Alerus Financial v. Marcil Group" on Justia Law
Posted in: Bankruptcy, Business Law, Contracts, North Dakota Supreme Court, Real Estate & Property Law
Plaintiff-Appellant Lesa Kensmoe appealed a district court order granting F/S Manufacturing a renewal by affidavit of its 1998 judgment against her. In 1998, F/S Manufacturing obtained a default judgment in the amount of $450,894.78 against Appellant. In 2008, F/S Manufacturing's judgment against Plaintiff was cancelled of record. On March 8, 2010, almost two years after the 1998 judgment was cancelled, F/S Manufacturing filed an affidavit attempting to renew the judgment. After being informed the judgment could not be renewed because it had expired, F/S Manufacturing filed a motion requesting that the district court order the clerk of court to renew the judgment by affidavit. Upon review of the applicable legal authority, the Supreme Court reversed the district court's order, finding that North Dakota law did not permit a cancelled judgment's renewal after the prescribed statute of limitations.