Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court

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The North Dakota State Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors ("Board") appealed district court judgments affirming in part, reversing in part, and remanding to the Board its disciplinary decisions against Michael Berg, Apex Engineering Group, Inc., Scott Olson, Dain Miller, Thomas Welle, and Timothy Paustian. Respondents Berg, Olson, Miller, Welle and Paustian were former employees of Ulteig Engineers, Inc. Olson was terminated from Ulteig in 2009. In 2010, Berg, Miller, Welle, and Paustian resigned from Ulteig and, along with Olson, started a competing business, Apex. Following the Respondents' departure, Ulteig sued Apex and filed an ethics complaint with the Board, alleging Berg, Olson, Miller, Welle and Paustian violated the Professional Engineers' Code of Ethics by disclosing Ulteig's confidential information and failing to disclose a potential conflict of interest by not informing Ulteig of their decision to form Apex. Ulteig also alleged the Respondents knowingly participated in a plan to seek employment for Apex on projects that Ulteig had been contracted to perform before the Respondents' departure from Ulteig. The Board found that each of the Respondents had violated one or more of the provisions of the code of ethics. Respondents appealed the Board's disciplinary decisions to the district court. The court affirmed the Board's decision that Welle, Berg, and Miller failed to disclose a potential conflict of interest. The court reversed the determination that Miller, Welle, and Paustian had improperly disclosed confidential information. The court also reversed the decision that Berg, Olson, and Welle knowingly participated in a plan to seek employment for Apex on projects Ulteig had been contracted to perform before their departure from Ulteig. The court remanded to the Board for reconsideration the discipline imposed on Berg, Olson, Miller, Welle, and Paustian in light of the court's reversal of the disciplinary decisions. The court also awarded attorney fees to Berg, Welle, Apex, Olson, Miller, and Paustian. On appeal to the North Dakota Supreme Court, the Board argued the district court wrongfully reversed the Board's disciplinary decisions because the decisions were supported by a preponderance of the evidence. The Supreme Court concluded a preponderance of the evidence supported the Board's factual findings regarding the improper solicitation by Welle, Olson, Berg, and Apex. Those findings supported a conclusion that Welle, Olson, Berg, and Apex knowingly sought or accepted employment for professional services for an assignment for which Ulteig was previously employed or contracted to perform in violation of N.D. Admin. Code 28-03.1-01-12(6). The Supreme Court therefore reversed those parts of the district court's judgments relating to the violation of N.D. Admin. Code 28-03.1-01-12(6) by Welle, Olson, Berg, and Apex. View "Berg, et al. v. North Dakota State Board of Registration" on Justia Law

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Bradley and Karol Johnson appealed a judgment granting the law firm Barna, Guzy, & Steffen, Ltd. ("BGS") foreclosure of a real estate mortgage for payment of a $258,769.97 debt, and an order denying their N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(b) motion for relief from judgment. In 2013 the Johnsons retained BGS to represent them in a lawsuit in connection with the probate of the estate of Bradley Johnson's father in Minnesota. The Johnsons resided in, and BGS was located in, the Minneapolis, Minnesota area. BGS extended credit to the Johnsons for costs, fees, and expenses that would be incurred in representing them in the lawsuit through a revolving line of credit agreement and a revolving promissory note. To secure payment, the Johnsons executed a mortgage on land they owned in North Dakota. The mortgage required the Johnsons to pay all of the principal and interest on the indebtedness when due to BGS. The Johnsons failed to make the payments to BGS as required under the loan agreements. In 2015 BGS brought this action against the Johnsons and others in North Dakota to foreclose the mortgage. The Johnsons counterclaimed, alleging its attorneys committed legal malpractice and other torts during the Minnesota legal proceedings. The district court ultimately dismissed the Johnsons' counterclaim without prejudice for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under N.D.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3). The court granted summary judgment for foreclosure on the North Dakota property in favor of BGS, concluding the Johnsons were indebted to BGS in the amount of $258,769.97 under the loan agreements with interest continuing to accrue. Because the Johnsons did not establish the district court erred in any of its rulings, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the judgment, and the order denying the motion for relief from judgment. View "Barna, Guzy & Steffen, Ltd. v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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Judge Richard Hagar of the North Central Judicial District filed exceptions to the Judicial Conduct Commission's recommended findings that he violated provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct by failing to diligently and promptly decide judicial matters assigned to him and by failing to work with the presiding judge. He also objected to the Commission's recommended sanction. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded there was clear and convincing evidence Judge Hagar violated N.D. Code Jud. Conduct Rules 2.5 and 2.7. The Court ordered that Judge Hagar be suspended from his position as district court judge for three months without pay and that he be assessed $10,118.67 for the costs and expenses of the disciplinary proceedings. View "Judicial Conduct Commission v. Hagar" on Justia Law

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DeWayne Johnston, individually, and as registered agent of Johnston Law Office, P.C., appealed the invalidation of a notice of attorney lien recorded against Johnston's former client and ordering Johnston Law Office and Johnston, individually, to pay $1,330 in costs and attorney fees. Wayne and Janel Nusviken acquired real property from Johnston's former client Barbara McDermott on October 2, 2013. On October 8, 2013, Johnston recorded a "notice of attorney lien" against McDermott. The notice of attorney lien included the legal description of Nusviken's property and stated McDermott owed Johnston nearly $66,000 in attorney's fees relating to Johnston's representation of McDermott in earlier matters unrelated to the sale of the property. The Nusvikens petitioned the district court to invalidate the notice of attorney lien, arguing McDermott no longer owned any interest in the property. The court issued an order to show cause directing Johnston to appear and show why the notice of attorney lien should not be declared void. At the hearing, Johnston argued the notice of attorney lien was not a nonconsensual common-law lien but a valid attorney's lien under N.D.C.C. § 35-20-08, and therefore, the court did not have jurisdiction to invalidate the lien. In response Nusviken's attorney stated the notice of attorney lien was invalid because McDermott no longer had an interest in the property and no attorney-client relationship existed between Johnston and the Nusvikens. The court concluded the purported lien was a nonconsensual common-law lien and not a valid attorney's lien because it failed to satisfy the statutory requirements for an attorney's lien. After review, the Supreme Court modified the judgment to relieve Johnston of personal liability and affirmed the judgment as modified. View "Nusviken v. Johnston" on Justia Law

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The last will and testament of Donald Amundson provided for his entire estate to be distributed to the Donald G. Amundson Trust. The Trust owned farmland jointly with the Kenneth Amundson Trust, which was set up by Donald Amundson's brother. Donald Amundson's Trust declaration directed the Trust assets were to be distributed upon his death to four charities, with the remainder distributed to ten nieces and nephews. Debra Magers and Gladys Gleason were initially appointed as co-personal representatives of the Estate. Magers, Gleason, and Todd Graveline were appointed as co-trustees of the Trust. John Widdel, Jr. represented all parties in relation to the administration of the estate. Magers eventually became sole personal representative and trustee of the Trust and Estate. In August 2013, the beneficiaries of the Estate petitioned for court determination of reasonableness of fees and for settlement and distribution of estate. The petition objected to the fees charged by Magers and Widdel for their services to the Estate and Trust. In September 2014, the district court found Magers had breached her fiduciary duty in several ways, which included paying Widdel large fees without question. The court also found administration of the Estate and Trust was not complicated and Widdel's fees were unreasonable in light of the nature of the work performed. The court ordered Widdel to return attorney's fees in the amount of $95,000. Widdel appealed the district court judgment ordering him to repay $95,000 of the attorney's fees he charged in the administration of the Estate. He argued the district court abused its discretion in finding the attorney's fees were unreasonable, and that the district court abused its discretion by not holding an evidentiary hearing on the issue of substituting his professional corporation as the named party on the judgment. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court, concluding the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding the fees charged by Widdel were unreasonable and in finding Widdel could properly be held personally liable on the judgment. View "Estate of Amundson" on Justia Law

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The Judicial Conduct Commission recommended that Northwest District Court judge Richard Hagar be censured for violating Canon 3(B)(1) of the Code of Judicial Conduct. In 2011, Judge Hagar was served formal charges for allegedly not promptly deciding "Ringuette v. Ringuette" when a trial was held in his court in 2010. Upon review, the Supreme Court accepted the Affidavit of Consent and Agreement agreed to by the parties, censured Judge Hagar for his conduct, and ordered him to pay $500 in costs for the disciplinary proceeding. View "Judicial Conduct Commission v. Hagar" on Justia Law