Justia Business Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court
Three Aces Properties v. United Rentals
Three Aces Properties LLC appealed, and United Rentals (North America), Inc., cross-appealed a judgment and orders denying their motions to amend the judgment. In 2017, Three Aces sued United Rentals for breach of contract and waste. Three Aces claimed United Rentals breached the lease by failing to pay rent after it vacated the property, failing to maintain and repair the parking area, and failing to maintain and repair the premises. Three Aces alleged United Rentals’ use of the premises resulted in destruction of the asphalt parking area and damages to the building and other areas of the property. Three Aces claimed United Rentals attempted to repair the parking area by replacing the asphalt paving with scoria, the City of Williston notified the parties that replacement of the asphalt with scoria violated zoning ordinances, and the parties disagreed about which party had an obligation to repair the parking area. Three Aces argued the district court erred by failing to award it damages for its breach of contract claims. United Rentals argued the court erred in dismissing its breach of contract and constructive eviction claim. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the district court. View "Three Aces Properties v. United Rentals" on Justia Law
Estate of Moore
Donald Moore, Scott Moore, and the Glenn W. Moore & Sons partnership appealed an amended judgment ordering the partnership to pay $140,206 to Delbert Moore’s step-children, Charles Minard, Candice Eberhart, and Terry Minard. Before his death, Delbert Moore was a partner with his brother Donald Moore and nephew Scott Moore in the Glenn W. Moore & Sons partnership, a ranching business. Delbert Moore’s will directed that a majority of his real property be sold within six months of his death and the proceeds be distributed to his three step-children, Charles Minard, Candice Eberhart, Terry Minard, and his nephew Scott Moore. His will also devised his one-third interest in the partnership to his three step- children. Delbert Moore’s real property sold in May 2015. The partnership and Delbert Moore’s estate each hired an accountant to prepare an accounting of the partnership’s profits and losses; the Estate’s one-third share of the partnership’s profits was $140,206. The partnership argues the district court erred in adopting the Estate’s accounting of the partnership’s profits and losses. Finding no reversible error in the district court's judgment, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Estate of Moore" on Justia Law
Titan Machinery v. Kluver
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
Bismarck Financial Group, et al. v. Caldwell
Bismarck Financial Group, LLC, and its individual members (together “BFG”) appeal from an order granting James Caldwell’s Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss their complaint. According to BFG’s complaint, Bismarck Financial Group, LLC, was formed in 2009 as a limited liability company. After Caldwell became a member, the parties executed various governing documents, including an operating agreement. While Caldwell was a member, the company entered into a 10-year office lease. The company also had one salaried employee. In 2019, Caldwell informed the other members he was dissociating from the company. BFG subsequently brought this lawsuit requesting a declaration that Caldwell’s dissociation was wrongful and damages in excess of $137,879.55 based on Caldwell’s pro rata share of the company’s debt obligations, employee salary, office overhead, and other expenses. Caldwell moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Caldwell argued that he could not be held personally liable for company expenses and obligations under principles of corporate law. Caldwell also asserted BFG had not incurred any damages caused by his dissociation because, according to the terms of the operating agreement, the members have no obligation to contribute capital to cover company expenditures. The district court granted Caldwell’s motion. The court assumed Caldwell wrongfully dissociated from the company, but concluded BFG had not pleaded a cognizable claim for damages because Caldwell could not be held liable for future company expenses and obligations. Finding only that the district court erred in dismissing BFG's complaint as a matter of law in its entirety, the North Dakota Supreme Court reversed in part, "BFG’s allegation that Caldwell’s withdrawal caused additional, currently-unidentifiable damages, if proven, is sufficient to support recovery against Caldwell." The Court affirmed in all other respects, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Bismarck Financial Group, et al. v. Caldwell" on Justia Law
McCormick, et al. v. Fredericks
Terrance Fredericks appealed a district court judgment ordering him to pay more than $1,000,000 in damages to McCormick, Inc.; Native Energy Construction, LLC; and Northern Improvement Company. McCormick and Northern Improvement cross-appealed a judgment denying their motion for a judicially supervised winding up of Native Energy. In 2010, McCormick and Fredericks created Native Energy Construction to engage in construction operations related to oil production. McCormick and Fredericks executed a purchase agreement in April 2014 for Fredericks’ purchase of McCormick’s interest in Native Energy. Fredericks was unable to complete the purchase. The parties did not wind up Native Energy and the business was involuntarily dissolved by the North Dakota secretary of state in May 2015. In 2016, McCormick and Northern Improvement sued Fredericks, alleging he breached contractual and fiduciary duties owed to Native Energy, McCormick and Northern Improvement. McCormick alleged Fredericks took distributions from Native Energy without making a corresponding distribution to McCormick, wrongfully converted Native Energy’s assets for his own use, made improper payments to his wife and performed other business activities on behalf of Native Energy without McCormick’s authorization. Fredericks counterclaimed, alleging McCormick breached a fiduciary duty by taking the 5% management fee from Native Energy’s gross revenues. Fredericks requested the judicially-supervised winding up of Native Energy. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part. The portion of the final judgment ordering Fredericks to pay McCormick $49,795.76 was reversed and remanded for further proceedings. The remainder of the final judgment was affirmed. The judgment denying McCormick’s motion for a judicially supervised winding up of Native Energy was reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "McCormick, et al. v. Fredericks" on Justia Law
Arnold, et al. v. Trident Resources, et al.
Thomas Lockhart appealed an order finding him in contempt, imposing a sanction requiring the forfeiture of $300,000 to Douglas Arnold and Thomas Arnold, and divesting him of any management rights in Trident Resources, LLC. In 2013, Lockhart and the Arnolds entered into business capturing and compressing natural gas. The parties formed Trident Resources, with Lockhart owning a 70% interest and each of the Arnolds owning a 15% interest. Trident Resources owned two well processing units (WPUs), each purchased for $300,000. In 2015, the Arnolds initiated this action seeking reformation of the Trident Resources’ member control and operating agreement to clarify the parties’ respective ownership interests. Following a bench trial, the court ordered the entry of a judgment confirming Lockhart’s ownership of a 70% interest and each of the Arnold’s 15% ownership interest in Trident Resources. Before the entry of the judgment, Lockhart informed the Arnolds he had received an offer from Black Butte Resources to purchase one of the WPUs for $300,000. The Arnolds consented to the sale, provided the proceeds were deposited into their attorney’s trust account. When it appeared Lockhart had failed to deposit the funds into the trust account, the Arnolds filed a motion seeking to discover the location of the WPU and the sale proceeds. Before the hearing on the Arnolds’ motion, Lockhart deposited $100,000 into the account. The trial court ordered Lockhart to provide information regarding the WPU sold and the date the remaining $200,000 would be deposited. Lockhart eventually deposited $200,000 into the trust account and filed an affidavit stating Black Butte had purchased the WPU and the WPU had been transferred to Black Butte. Subsequent to Lockhart filing his affidavit, the Arnolds learned the WPU had not been sold to Black Butte for $300,000, but had instead been sold to another party for $500,000. The Arnolds filed a motion requesting the court to find Lockhart in contempt and for the imposition of appropriate sanctions. At the hearing on the motion, Lockhart conceded his affidavit was false and stipulated to the entry of a finding of contempt. On appeal, Lockhart argued the district court’s order improperly imposed a punitive sanction for his contempt. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the circumstances necessary for the imposition of a punitive sanction were not present prior to the imposition of the sanction in this case. The Court was left with an insufficient record to review the appropriateness of the imposition of a remedial sanction in the amount ordered by the trial court. reverse and remand this case to the district court for further findings in support of the sanction imposed for Lockhart’s contempt. The trial court judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further findings. View "Arnold, et al. v. Trident Resources, et al." on Justia Law
Johnson v. City of Burlington
Alton Johnson appealed a judgment denying his variance application. In the 1970s Johnson purchased land in Burlington, ND, and in 1973, opened an auto body shop. The auto body shop was zoned as a C-1 residential sometime after the shop was built. In 1989, a fire damaged the building. After building repairs in 1991, Johnson leased part of the property. Johnson began to use another location for his auto body business. In 2012, Johnson sold his business at the second location. Property owners neighboring the property raised concerns about the use of the property. In May 2013, the city attorney issued an opinion regarding the body shop, stating it “was a non-conforming use when the zoning ordinance was initially passed, so it was essentially ‘grandfathered in’” and when the auto body shop’s use was discontinued, and the current renters went into the building, the auto body shop was no longer “grandfathered in” and would need approval by the planning commission. Johnson operated the auto body shop at the location of the property at issue subsequent to the sale of the second location. In October 2013, Johnson moved for a temporary injunction and ex parte restraining order to allow him to continue to use his auto body shop, which was granted by the district court. In October 2016, Johnson requested a variance from the City. When it was denied, he appealed, arguing the City’s findings were arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable, and not supported by substantial evidence. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded after review it was not arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable for the City to deny Johnson’s variance application and there was substantial evidence to support the City’s decision. Accordingly, the Court affirmed judgment. View "Johnson v. City of Burlington" on Justia Law
Bullinger Enterprises v. Dahl, et al.
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
Northwest Grading, Inc. v. North Star Water, LLC, et al.
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
Smithberg v. Jacobson, et al.
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