Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court

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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

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Roland Riemers twice sued Heidee Hill, her husband, Jason Hill, and her three children, Hannah Hill, Ashley Roesler, and Hailey Marie Hill, for unpaid rent, late fees, property damage, and punitive damages arising out of a lease agreement signed by Heidee Hill for a house in Emerado. Only Heidee Hill signed the lease agreement, but Heidee and Jason Hill were both identified as applicants on the agreement and the three children were listed as "others who will be sharing the house." The Hill family moved to dismiss Riemers' complaint for failure to state a claim and sought attorney fees. They asserted the property was uninhabitable and had been condemned by the Grand Forks Public Health Department in July 2013. They also counterclaimed for abuse of process, alleging Riemers' claims for unpaid rent and property damage were "so outrageous and ridiculous" to rise to the level of abuse of process. They claimed that despite the property being condemned in July 2013, Riemers sued them for structural damage to the house that was clearly Riemers' responsibility and Riemers had an ulterior motive to harass and embarrass them with a lawsuit void of any factual or legal basis. Riemers appealed the judgment awarding him $8,245.87 from Heidee Hill for unpaid rent and property damage and ordering him to pay Ashley Roesler $10,164 for abuse of process. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the district court erred in granting summary judgment on the liability issue of the abuse-of-process claim. Accordingly, the Court affirmed in part and reversed the summary judgment on that claim and remanded for further proceedings. View "Riemers v. Hill" on Justia Law

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Cheetah Properties 1, LLC and Panther Pressure Testers, Inc. entered into a commercial lease agreement with an initial term that commenced on April 15, 2014, and ended on December 31, 2014. On January 19, 2015, Cheetah brought an eviction action to recover possession of the property. In the complaint, Cheetah sought damages for: (1) delinquent charges for late payment of rent owed up to December 31, 2014; (2) for Panther's willful holdover "in an amount double the yearly value of the Premises for the time of Defendant[']s withholding" under N.D.C.C. 32-03-28; and (3) for any physical damage to the property caused by Panther vacating the premises. Cheetah also sought an award of reasonable attorneys' fees under the lease. Panther vacated the property by January 31, 2015. The district court returned lawful possession of the property to Cheetah and awarded it $22,000 for January 2015 rent and $8,200 for delinquent rent and fees under the lease. The district court declined to impose double damages under N.D.C.C. 32-03-28 based on its finding that Panther's holding over was not willful. After the district court entered its order for judgment, Cheetah moved for an award of reasonable attorneys' fees under the lease. The district court denied Cheetah's request for fees. Cheetah appealed the district court's judgment and the order denying an award of reasonable attorneys' fees. The Supreme Court affirmed the district court's judgment concluding Cheetah was not entitled to an award of double damages under N.D.C.C. 32-03-28, but reversed the denial of attorneys' fees. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Cheetah Properties 1, LLC v. Panther Pressure Testers, Inc." on Justia Law

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Kara and Kent Poppe appealed a district court summary judgment dismissing their conversion claim. The Poppes rented a house from Pamela Hillis for five years, until February 4, 2013 when Hillis served them with an eviction notice for unpaid rent. The district court ordered the Poppes to vacate the property, and entered a money judgment against them for $1,544 for past due rent. The Poppes requested and received permission from Hillis to remain on the property an additional five hours to remove their belongings with the assistance of a moving truck. The Poppes vacated but left some personal property in the house. Hillis arranged for Community Blessings, owned by Theresa Stockert, to pack, remove and store the remaining property. When the Poppes requested to retrieve their remaining property, Hillis referred them to Stockert. Stockert demanded the Poppes pay $4,600 for packing, moving and storage expenses before the property would be returned. The Poppes did not pay Stockert and did not retrieve their property from Community Blessings. The Poppes' washer and dryer remained in the home until sold by Hillis to new renters. The Poppes sued Stockert for conversion and the parties stipulated the Poppes could retrieve undisputed property from Community Blessings. The Poppes were unable to retrieve all of their property from Community Blessings and litigation continued. The Poppes ultimately joined Hillis as a party to the proceedings and moved to amend the complaint to include an exemplary damages claim alleging Hillis' and Stockert's conduct was oppressive or malicious. Hillis filed a cross-motion for summary judgment alleging a statutory right to dispose of the property, which Stockert joined. The district court entered an order denying the Poppes' motion to amend the complaint and granting summary judgment in favor of Hillis and Stockert. The Poppes argued the district court erred in granting summary judgment because it misinterpreted Hillis' right to remove their personal property from the rental property. Hillis argued she had a right to remove the property under N.D.C.C. 47-16-30.1 and was therefore entitled to judgment as a matter of law. After review, the Supreme Court concluded Hillis and Stockert did not have a right under N.D.C.C. 47-16-30.1 to dispose of the Poppes' personal property. Because the district court erred in interpreting Hillis' statutory right to dispose of the property, on remand the Poppes could renew their motion to amend the complaint to include exemplary damages. The Court reversed the judgment of the district court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Poppe v. Stockert" on Justia Law