Justia Landlord - Tenant Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court
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Biron D. Baker Family Medicine, PC and Biron D. Baker, M.D. (collectively, "Baker Medicine") appealed a district court judgment awarding Big Pines, LLC attorney’s fees and costs. In 2011, Baker Medicine signed an agreement to lease commercial property from Phoenix M.D., L.L.C. Baker executed the lease personally and for Baker Medicine as its president. Baker Medicine allegedly vacated the premises several months prior to the end of the lease and in a damaged condition. Phoenix subsequently sold the building to Big Pines, and assigned its interest in the lease to Big Pines as part of the sale. Big Pines sued alleging breach of the lease by Baker Medicine and breach of the personal guaranty by Baker. A jury found Baker Medicine and Baker breached the lease and awarded Big Pines $18,750 in damages. Big Pines later moved for an award of attorney’s fees under the personal guaranty. The district court denied Big Pines’ request, concluding the personal guaranty was not assigned to Big Pines. The district court's judgment with respect to the fees was reversed by the North Dakota Supreme Court on Big Pines' appeal. On remand, Big Pines again moved for attorney's fees, "as well as any future fees and costs until the case is “fully and finally dismissed." This motion was granted, and Baker Medicine appealed, arguing the district court erred in calculating the recoverable amount of attorney's fees incurred by Big Pines. Concluding the district court provided it with a discernible basis for the fee award, the Supreme Court found the district court did not abuse its discretion in issuing its judgment on fees. Accordingly, judgment was affirmed. View "Big Pines, LLC v. Baker, et al." on Justia Law

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Shadow Industries, LLP, appealed a district court judgment dismissing its eviction action and holding the tenants David and Chris Hoffman had timely exercised their option to extend the term of the parties’ lease agreement. Shadow argued the district court erred in finding the parties’ lease agreement to be ambiguous, finding the option to extend the lease expired on February 1, 2019, and finding the Hoffmans timely exercised their option to extend the lease. The North Dakota Supreme Court found the district court’s interpretation of the lease as having ambiguity as to when the lease terminated was premised upon the court’s observation that “[w]hen ‘crop years’ end and begin is undefined.” To this, the Supreme Court disagreed that the lease was ambiguous and failed to define the end of the lease. The Supreme Court found the lease terminated at the end of the 2018 crop year. "While determining when the end of the 2018 crop year occurred may be a question of fact, the term is not ambiguous simply because it requires a future event or contingency." There was testimony that the crop year ended no later than October 2018; following the harvesting of their crops and still in 2018, the Hoffmans deep ripped the land, tilled to create fall bedding, and applied fertilizer to prepare for the 2019 crop year. "On the basis of these facts, and the absence of any contrary facts in the record, we conclude as a matter of law the 2018 crop year ended and the lease terminated in 2018." Because the facts of this case compelled a finding the 2018 crop year ended in 2018 and the lease terminated at the end of the 2018 crop year, the Court found the exercise of the option in January 2019 was not timely and the lease terminated. It therefore reversed judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Shadow Industries, LLP v. Hoffman, et al." on Justia Law

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Big Pines, LLC, appealed from a district court order denying its “Motion for Award of Attorneys’ Fees and Costs.” Phoenix M.D., L.L.C., as landlord, entered into a lease agreement for real property with Biron D. Baker Family Medicine PC, as tenant, on May 3, 2011. The lease began on June 15, 2011, and ended on June 14, 2016. At the same time the lease was entered, Biron Baker signed a personal guaranty agreement making him personally liable for a breach of the terms of the lease. Under the guaranty, the landlord was also entitled to recover “all costs and attorneys’ fees incurred in attempting to realize upon [the guaranty].” In August 2016, Big Pines, LLC purchased the property formerly leased by Baker Medicine from Phoenix. The guaranty agreement was not specifically mentioned in the assignment agreement. However, the assignment stated a copy of the “Lease Agreement” was attached to the assignment as “Exhibit A.” In March 2017, Big Pines contacted Baker regarding damages to the property in violation of the terms of the lease that resulted from Baker Medicine’s tenancy. Baker denied any responsibility and refused to pay for the alleged damages. Big Pines filed suit against Baker and Baker Medicine in February 2018 claiming the property damages resulted from Baker Medicine’s tenancy and were in violation of the terms of the lease. The case proceeded to trial, and at trial a jury found Baker and Baker Medicine liable for breaching the terms of the lease and awarded $18,750.00 in damages to Big Pines. Big Pines filed a post-trial motion under N.D.R.Civ.P. 54(e)(3) requesting the district court award Big Pines its attorney’s fees for having to bring suit against Baker and Baker Medicine for breaching the terms of the lease. Finding that the district court erred in interpreting the lease and guaranty as separate agreements, the North Dakota Supreme Court reversed the district court which denied the attorneys' fees. View "Big Pines v. Baker, et al." on Justia Law

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Linus and Raymond Poitra appeal the district court judgment of eviction. The Poitras argue the district court erred by exercising jurisdiction over this matter, and by sending a North Dakota law enforcement officer onto the reservation to evict tribal members from property within the Turtle Mountain Reservation. The North Dakota Supreme Court determined the Poitras did not meet their burden under either "Montana" exception, and did not explain how a district court was divested of subject matter jurisdiction to grant a judgment of eviction. The district court judgment was therefore affirmed. View "Gustafson v. Poitra, et al." on Justia Law

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Willis Swenson appealed, and Kyle Mahlum cross-appealed dismissal of Swenson’s claims against Mahlum and Mahlum’s claims against Carol Hodgerson, Gerard Swenson, Lee Alan Swenson, and Mary Ann Vig (“third-party defendants”). This suit arose over the ownership and leasing of real property in Burke County, North Dakota. Willis Swenson (“Swenson”) and the third-party defendants are the children of Robert and Junietta Swenson. In 2004, Robert and Junietta conveyed the property to their children as joint tenants, reserving a life estate for themselves. In 2005, Robert died and Junietta became the sole life tenant. In 2008, Junietta leased the property to Swenson. Swenson agreed to rental payments of $20,016 per year, due in installments. In December 2009, Swenson leased the property to Mahlum for $31,022.50 per year. The Swenson-Mahlum lease became effective in March 2010 and stated it would expire in October 2019. In November 2011, Swenson signed a new lease with Junietta, beginning in 2012 and ending in 2022. The lease permitted Swenson to assign or sublet the property to any person. In July 2012, Lee Swenson was appointed guardian and conservator for Junietta. In January 2013, Lee Swenson, as guardian and conservator, leased the same property to Mahlum that Willis Swenson already was leasing to Mahlum in the December 2009 lease. The new lease required Mahlum to pay Junietta $31,122.50 each year. Junietta died in November 2013. Mary Vig, as personal representative of Junietta’s estate, informed Mahlum that future rental payments should be split and made to each of Junietta’s children in equal amounts. In January 2017, Willis and his daughter, Dayna Johnson, sued Mahlum for unpaid rent. Swenson alleged Mahlum was required to pay him under the 2009 lease, and Mahlum failed to pay any rent in 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016. Mahlum answered and filed a third-party complaint, suing the third-party defendants for unjust enrichment. He alleged in 2013 he paid Junietta under the terms of the 2013 lease. He also alleged in 2014, 2015, and 2016 he paid rent to each of Junietta children. Mahlum claimed that the third-party defendants have been unjustly enriched, and that the third-party defendants be ordered to pay Mahlum any amounts the court finds he owed Swenson if Swenson obtained a judgment against him. After review of the circumstances of this case, the North Dakota Supreme Court determined the trial court erred in its findings, and reversed dismissal of Swenson’s breach of contract claim. On remand, the court must decide the amount of damages Swenson was entitled to recover for his breach of contract claim against Mahlum for unpaid rent in 2013, including whether Swenson failed to mitigate those damages. In addition, the court must decide Mahlum’s claims against the third-party defendants. View "Swenson, et al. v. Mahlum, et al." on Justia Law

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Watford City Lodging LLC (“WCL”) appealed the denial of its motion to amend a judgment vacating a default eviction judgment. WCL argued the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the eviction proceedings, exceeded its jurisdiction by making extraneous findings and conclusions of law, and abused its discretion by denying WCL’s motion to amend the judgment. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court misapplied the law and abused its discretion by denying WCL’s motion to amend the judgment. View "Watford City Lodging LLC v. Miskin" on Justia Law

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Debra Heitkamp, the personal representative of the Estate of Nick Lyons, appealed a district court judgment in favor of Kevin Kabella following cross-motions for summary judgment, alleging the district court improperly determined the parties’ agreement was invalid because it fell within the limitation on the length of agricultural leases provided by N.D.C.C. 47-16-02. Kabella and Lyons entered into an agreement pertaining to farmland on March 29, 2007. The agreement gave Lyons possession and use of the property “in perpetuity.” In addition to receiving the property in perpetuity, the agreement stated Kabella could sell the property subject to Lyons’ right to purchase the property. Prior to the 2012 farming season, Kabella attempted to lease the property to Kermit Anderson Jr. Lyons refused to vacate the property asserting he was entitled to the use and possession of the property pursuant to his agreement with Kabella. Anderson brought an eviction action to remove Lyons from the property. Kabella was included as a defendant to allow a resolution of any issues regarding the agreement between Kabella and Lyons. In the litigation initiated by Anderson, Anderson and Kabella asserted the March 29, 2007 agreement between Kabella and Lyons was invalid under N.D.C.C. 47-16-02. Lyons passed away in May 2013, and Heitkamp was appointed personal representative of the estate. The estate used the property since that time. In March 2017, Heitkamp on behalf of Lyons' estate. sued for a declaration the agreement was valid in perpetuity. The district court granted summary judgment to Kabella and found the agreement was a lease that fell within the restrictions of N.D.C.C. 47-16-02, and due to the non-occurrence of any of the contingencies contained in the agreement, it expired on its tenth anniversary, March 29, 2017. The court awarded Kabella damages equal to the fair value of the use of the property subsequent to March 29, 2017. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded "reasonable persons can draw more than one conclusion regarding the nature of the parties’ agreement," and therefore reversed judgment and remanded for a determination of whether this agreement was a lease subject to the limitations of N.D.C.C. 47-16-02, or a grant, option to purchase, or contract for deed outside the limitations of N.D.C.C. 47-16-02. Because the question of whether the limitation within N.D.C.C. 47-16-02 applied to the parties’ agreement remained undetermined, the Supreme Court declined to decide if the agreement was invalid after extending for a period of ten years. View "Heitkamp v. Kabella" on Justia Law

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William Nelson appealed a judgment ordering the sale of real property, removing him from the property, ordering him to pay past rent, and awarding Steven Nelson and Gail Nelson-Hom attorney fees for defending against his frivolous pleadings. The North Dakota Supreme Court found the district court erred in granting partial summary judgment on William Nelson's claims of undue influence and lack of mental capacity involving the execution of the quitclaim deed to the property and reversed and remanded for trial on those issues. The Supreme Court reversed the award of costs and attorney fees and remanded for reconsideration. View "Nelson v. Nelson" on Justia Law

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Brittany Creech appealed her eviction from her from property in Williams County, North Dakota owned by Louis Tornabeni. Creech argued: (1) Tornabeni's notice of intent to evict was deficient; (2) the summary eviction proceeding violated her right to due process; (3) the district court abused its discretion in excluding certain exhibits; (4) the court's findings of fact were clearly erroneous; and (5) the delivery of the deed was defective and prevented Tornabeni from obtaining ownership of the property. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Tornabeni v. Creech" on Justia Law

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In an eviction action, a district court must have both subject matter and personal jurisdiction to enter a valid order or judgment. Barbara Vondell appealed a judgment entered for Spirit Property Management, evicting her from possession of real property and awarding a money judgment against her. For over twenty-five years Luetta Vondell owned a mobile home on a rented lot. Sometime after Luetta was diagnosed with dementia, her daughter Barbara moved in with her, becoming her full-time care giver and agent under a durable power of attorney. In July 2014 Barbara and Luetta Vondell, through Barbara under the power of attorney, signed a one-year lease for the mobile home lot. The lease commenced on July 1, 2014, continuing on a month-to-month basis after the lease term. Luetta died in September 2015. In March 2016 Spirit Property filed suit for eviction and possession of real property for nonpayment of rent. Barbara answered the suit, denying Spirit Property's claims and asserting various defenses. At a May 2016 eviction hearing the district court found Barbara moved out of the home in November 2015, but the mobile home continued occupying Spirit Property's lot. The court found that while lot rent was partially paid for September 2015, no rent was paid in October and November 2015. The court entered an order and judgment against Barbara granting Spirit Property possession of the property and awarding $2,440 for unpaid rent and costs. Barbara argued the district court erred in deciding it had subject matter jurisdiction of the eviction action under N.D.C.C. ch. 47-32 when the court found Barbara terminated the lease and vacated the property in November 2015. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court had both subject matter jurisdiction over the eviction and personal jurisdiction over Vondell, and affirmed. View "Spirit Property Management v. Vondell" on Justia Law