Justia Business Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court
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Bullinger Enterprises, LLLP appealed a district court’s judgment dismissing Bullinger Enterprises’ claims against Howard Dahl, Brian Dahl, and Thor Iverson (collectively, the Dahls). Bullinger Enterprises was owned by Michael Bullinger. In 2001, Bullinger Enterprises, Howard Dahl and Brian Dahl each acquired separate interests in the agricultural equipment manufacturing company Wil-Rich. The Dahls also owned Amity Technology, LLC (Amity). Amity manufactured sugar beet harvesters and air drill seeders. During 2010, Howard was seeking an equity investor to help Amity sell air drill seeders, a new product that had not yet achieved significant sales. Because of the common ownership and operational interactions between Amity and Wil-Rich, Howard asked Michael if he would be interested in having Wil-Rich included in a potential deal. Michael agreed; Howard and Thor Iverson later began negotiations with a potential investor, AGCO Corporation (AGCO). In October 2010, Thor emailed Michael a summary of the negotiations he had with AGCO which proposed a joint venture. Following the exchange of ownership, Amity entirely owned Wil-Rich and the prior owners of Wil-Rich owned an interest in Amity. Amity transferred its air drill seeder business to Wil-Rich. The joint venture between Amity and AGCO moved forward with Amity selling 50% of the Wil-Rich stock to AGCO for $30 million. Wil-Rich was then renamed AGCO-Amity JV, LLC, a joint venture owned by Amity and AGCO. By January 2012, Michael became concerned about the AGCO-Amity JV, LCC operations, specifically that the air drill seeder sales were under performing while the Wil-Rich related sales were over performing. In July 2018, Bullinger Enterprises commenced this action alleging claims of breach of fiduciary duties and deceit. All the claims arise from Bullinger Enterprises’ allegation that the Dahls misrepresented to him that AGCO set the value of Wil-Rich at $20 million and AGCO was not willing to value Wil-Rich any higher. Bullinger Enterprises claimed the misrepresentations led to a misallocation of the ownership of Amity following the exchange of the ownership of Wil-Rich for ownership in Amity. Bullinger Enterprises argued the district court erred in concluding its claims accrued no later than the end of March 2012 and, as a result, the claims are barred by the statute of limitations. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s judgment. View "Bullinger Enterprises v. Dahl, et al." on Justia Law

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North Star Water, LLC, provided water to oil drilling companies. In September 2014, North Star hired Northwest Grading, Inc., to construct an underground water pipeline from the Missouri River to North Star’s various pumping stations. Northwest Grading sent regular invoices to North Star during the course of construction. In August 2015, Northwest Grading informed North Star it owed a balance of $91,072.99. Northwest Grading notified North Star it would repossess the pipeline if it were not paid immediately. Northwest Grading did not receive payment. Employees of Northwest Grading made the pipeline inoperable by closing valves and filling the valve boxes with dirt and concrete. As a result, North Star was temporarily unable to sell water to at least one of its customers. Northwest Grading sued North Star for breach of contract, quantum meruit, and foreclosure of a construction lien. North Star counterclaimed for fictitious billing, trespass, and damage to property through unlawful repossession. The district court entered findings of fact, conclusions of law, and an order for judgment in October 2018. The court found a business relationship existed between Northwest Grading and North Star, but not based on a written contract. The court concluded Northwest Grading was not authorized to repossess the pipeline by pouring concrete in the valve boxes, and its doing so was a breach of the peace. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court did not err as to either party’s damages and did not abuse its discretion by denying Northwest Grading’s motion to strike testimony. The Court modified the judgment to correct the calculation of interest, and affirmed the judgment as modified. View "Northwest Grading, Inc. v. North Star Water, LLC, et al." on Justia Law

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Ronald Smithberg petitioned the North Dakota Supreme Court for a supervisory writ following the district court’s denial of his demand for a jury trial. Ronald, Gary, and James Smithberg were brothers who were shareholders in Smithberg Brothers, Inc. In July 2016, Ronald filed a “complaint and jury demand,” suing Gary, James and Smithberg Brothers, Inc., seeking damages and to have the corporation and his brothers purchase his shares. After a jury trial was scheduled for October 1, 2018, the parties stipulated to “waive their right to a jury trial and to schedule a court trial.” The stipulation also stated “the Court should schedule a three-day Court trial for February 2018, or as soon as possible thereafter.” In January 2018, the district court granted summary judgment dismissing all of Ronald’s claims for damages. After a bench trial was held on several remaining claims, the court determined the value of Ronald’s interest in the corporation, ordered the corporation to pay Ronald for his interest, and entered judgment. Ronald appealed, and the Supreme Court reversed judgment and remanded for a trial, holding the district court erred by granting summary judgment dismissing Ronald’s claims for damages On remand, Ronald requested a jury trial and defendants opposed his request. The district court ordered a bench trial, noting the stipulation to waive the jury trial did not state that it was contingent on any circumstance. Ronald argued the Supreme Court should exercise its supervisory jurisdiction to rectify the district court’s error of denying his request for a jury trial and to prevent an injustice. The Supreme Court concluded that when a case is reversed and remanded for a trial without limitation, a party who stipulated to waive the right to a jury trial before the original trial may demand a jury trial on remand, unless the parties intended their stipulation to apply to any future trials or the right is otherwise limited by law. Ronald had a right to a jury trial on remand. The district court erred by deciding it had discretion in determining whether to order a jury trial on remand and by denying Ronald’s request. The Court granted Ronald’s petition for a supervisory writ and instructed the district court to schedule a jury trial. Ronald also asked the Supreme Court to remand this case to a different judge, but did not explain why a different judge should have been assigned. “To the extent he is asserting judicial impropriety based on the judge’s misapplication of the law, we have stated that ‘[a]n erroneous opinion as to the merits of the case or the law relating to the proceedings is not evidence of bias.’” View "Smithberg v. Jacobson, et al." on Justia Law

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Dylan Devore appealed summary judgments dismissing his negligence and gross negligence claims against defendants American Eagle Energy Corporation, Integrated Petroleum Technologies, Inc. (“IPT”), and Brian Barony. Devore was a crew supervisor for Fort Berthold Services (“FBS”), which provided water transfer services for hydraulic fracturing operations at oil wells. In February 2014, American Eagle Energy Corporation began hydraulic fracturing operations on an oil well in Divide County, North Dakota and contracted with FBS to provide water. American Eagle also contracted with IPT, a consulting company. Though IPT coordinated American Eagle’s independent contractors, American Eagle authorized any contractor to stop work at any time if a work condition was unsafe. IPT had no contractual relationship with FBS. FBS took direction from IPT, but FBS controlled its own day-to-day activities, including how it performed its work. On the morning of March 2, 2014, ice had formed in a hose between a pond near the well site and a tank. While the hose was still pressurized from the compressed air, at least one FBS crew member struck it with a sledgehammer in an attempt to dislodge the ice obstruction. The sledgehammer blows caused the hose to break apart and uncontrollably jump and whip around. The flailing hose struck and injured Devore. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the facts, viewed in a light most favorable to Devore, did not support a conclusion that American Eagle, IPT, or Barony owed Devore a duty of care or proximately caused his injuries. Therefore the Court affirmed the summary judgments. View "Devore v. American Eagle Energy Corporation, et al." on Justia Law

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In consolidated appeals, garnishees N.Starr, LLC; Lee Finstad; and Jeff Trosen appealed from a Grand Forks County, North Dakota district court order dismissing their counterclaims in a garnishment proceeding, and Johnston Law Office, P.C. appealed from a Cass County district court order dismissing its action. Both orders dismissed their respective claims in each case against PHI Financial Services, Inc. (“PHI”) and Jon Brakke and the Vogel Law Firm, Ltd. (collectively, “Vogel Law”). Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed dismissal as to all claims. View "PHI Financial Services v. Johnston Law Office, et al." on Justia Law

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Minn-Kota Ag. Products, Inc. appealed a district court order dismissing Minn-Kota’s appeal of findings of fact, conclusions of law and order issued by the North Dakota Public Service Commission (PSC) for lack of standing and affirming an administrative law judge’s (ALJ) order denying Minn-Kota’s petition to intervene. In 2017, Minn-Kota began construction of a large, $20 million grain handling facility near the municipalities of Barney and Mooreton, North Dakota. During construction of the facility, Minn-Kota received proposals to provide electric power to the facility from Otter Tail Power Co., an electric public utility, and Dakota Valley Electric Cooperative, a rural electric cooperative. Minn-Kota determined Otter Tail would provide cheaper and more reliable electric service and chose Otter Tail as its preferred provider. Dakota Valley protested Otter Tail’s application and requested a hearing. Otter Tail and Dakota Valley were represented at the hearing, and each offered evidence and testimony. Minn- Kota was not a formal party represented at the hearing and, other than the testimony offered by Schuler, Minn-Kota did not contribute to the hearing. In December 2017, the PSC held a work session to contemplate and discuss Otter Tail’s application. The concerns expressed by the PSC at the work session made it clear the PSC was likely going to deny Otter Tail’s application. As a result, Minn-Kota submitted a petition to intervene, which an ALJ determined Minn-Kota submitted after the deadline to intervene had passed, and denied it. Minn-Kota argued it has standing to appeal the PSC’s decision because it participated in the proceedings before the PSC, and the PSC’s decision should be reversed because it was not supported by the facts or law. In the alternative, Minn-Kota argued the case should have been remanded to the PSC and it should have been allowed to intervene and introduce additional evidence into the record. The North Dakota Supreme Court determined Minn-Kota had standing, but did not provide a compelling argument on how Otter Tail did not adequately represent its interests at the administrative hearing or throughout the entirety of the proceedings. Therefore, the Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and thus affirmed the PSC's order. View "Minn-Kota Ag Products, Inc. v. N.D. Public Service Commission, et al." on Justia Law

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Michael and Bonita McDougall appealed a judgment dismissing their deceit and unjust enrichment claims against AgCountry Farm Credit Services, PCA and granting summary judgment in favor of AgCountry on its claims to enforce assignment of rents and to foreclose a mortgage. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court erred by concluding the McDougalls’ deceit claim was precluded by the statute of frauds. Therefore the Court reversef the judgment as to the deceit and unjust enrichment claims, affirmed judgment on the remaining claims, and remanded. View "McDougall, et al. v. AgCountry Farm Credit Services, PCA, et al." on Justia Law

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Oil Capital Ready Mix, LLC; Agape Holdings, LLP; Scott Dyk; and Samuel Dyk (collectively “Dyk”) appealed a judgment awarding Skaw ND Precast LLC (“Skaw”) $69,295 in damages for conversion of its property. In March 2013, Skaw entered into a five-year agreement with Tioga Ready Mix (“Tioga”), a company which produced ready-mix concrete product, to rent a two-acre parcel of land to conduct its business. The base rent for the site was $700 per month, subject to reductions if Skaw purchased designated quantities of ready-mix product from Tioga. The agreement provided it would remain in effect until December 31, 2018, and it did not allow either party to unilaterally cancel the agreement. In spring 2015, Skaw learned that Tioga had arranged to sell Tioga’s assets at a public auction, including the two-acre parcel of property where Skaw conducted its business. Skaw’s owners attended the auction sale in May 2015. The auction service notified all attendees that Skaw’s assets on the premises were not part of the sale, that there was a lease in place between Skaw and Tioga, and that the lease went with the land. Dyk was the successful bidder at the auction and entered into a commercial purchase agreement with the sellers which did not include Skaw’s product inventory or equipment and stated the sale was subject to “rights of tenants,” but did not list Skaw as a tenant. Once Dyk got its ready-mix plant running, Skaw began purchasing concrete ready-mix product from Dyk for its business. When presented with the contract between Skaw and Tioga, Dyk renegotiated the terms; Dyk and Skaw agreed to increase monthly rental payments to $750 per month. During a scheduled shut down of both companies' operations, Dyk built an earthen berm around Skaw’s equipment which prevented Skaw from accessing it. Dyk also transported Skaw’s concrete pad and blocked inventory off of Skaw’s two acres to an area adjacent to Dyk’s offices. Other Skaw assets were transported to undisclosed locations. When Skaw discovered the berm, Dyk informed Skaw that Skaw abandoned their temporary rental agreement in December 2015 and that law enforcement would be notified if there were “any attempts to breach the peace or trespass” on the property. Skaw replied that the 2013 lease was still valid and had not been abandoned, and that Skaw planned to return to the property and continue operations. Dyk argued on appeal of the conversion damages award that the district court erred in ruling the 2013 agreement between Skaw and Tioga was a lease rather than a license. Because the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court’s findings of fact were not clearly erroneous, it affirmed the judgment. View "Skaw ND Precast, LLC v. Oil Capital Ready Mix, LLC, et al." on Justia Law

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Rocky Mountain Steel Foundations, Inc. appealed an amended judgment ordering Mitchell’s Oil Field Services, Inc. and Travelers Casualty and Surety Company of America (collectively “Mitchell’s”) to pay Rocky Mountain attorney’s fees. Rocky Mountain argued the district court erred by failing to award it all of the attorney’s fees it requested. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the portion of the judgment awarding Rocky Mountain attorney’s fees incurred before the prior appeal, but reversed the portion of the judgment denying the attorney’s fees Rocky Mountain requested for the prior appeal and on remand. The matter was remanded for the trial court to properly determine a reasonable amount of attorney’s fees. View "Rocky Mountain Steel Foundations. v. Brockett Co., et al." on Justia Law

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The North Dakota Private Investigative and Security Board appealed, and TigerSwan, LLC and James Reese cross-appealed, a judgment dismissing the Board’s request for an injunction prohibiting TigerSwan and Reese from providing private investigative and security services without a license. Reese was the majority interest owner in TigerSwan, a limited liability company organized under North Carolina law. TigerSwan was registered in North Dakota as a foreign LLC. During protests over construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, TigerSwan was hired to provide security services, though the company denied providing such services when it received a notice from the Board. Concurrent to denying providing security services to the pipeline, TigerSwan submitted an application packet to become a licensed private security provider in North Dakota. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the injunction or in the denial of a motion for sanctions and attorney fees. View "North Dakota Private Investigative & Security Board v. TigerSwan, LLC, et al." on Justia Law