Justia Civil Rights Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court
Wheeler v. Sayler, et al.
LeRoy Wheeler appeals from orders dismissing without prejudice his 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights action against prison officials and denying his request for reconsideration. In February 2021, Wheeler commenced this § 1983 action against North Dakota State Penitentiary officials (“State”) by serving a summons and complaint upon the State. Wheeler did not file the summons and complaint with the district court at that time, and has never served a notice of filing the complaint upon the State. In March 2021, Wheeler moved for a “continuance” to extend his time to reply to the State’s “answer,” which was served on Wheeler, but was never filed with the court. In February 2022, eleven months after Wheeler moved for a “continuance” in this case, the district court filed a “notice of intent to dismiss,” stating the court’s intent to dismiss the case without prejudice on its own motion unless a party requested, within three weeks, that the case remain open. None of the parties responded, and the court dismissed the action without prejudice. Wheeler requested reconsideration, alleging that he did not receive notice of intent to dismiss. The court denied the request to reconsider. Because these orders were not appealable, the North Dakota Supreme Court dismissed the appeal. View "Wheeler v. Sayler, et al." on Justia Law
Brossart, et al. v. Janke, et al.
In June 2014, Rodney, Thomas, and Susan Brossart, as plaintiffs, filed a lawsuit in North Dakota federal district court against Nelson County, North Dakota, and the sheriff and a deputy sheriff of Nelson County, as defendants. The Brossarts alleged claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and state law. The federal district court granted summary judgment for the defendants. The court subsequently entered judgment against the Brossarts awarding defendants $8,153.08 in costs. The Brossarts did not appeal the judgment awarding costs to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Defendants thereafter filed the federal judgment to the Nelson County clerk's office. Defendants' attorney served three sets of interrogatories in aid of execution of judgment, one for each of the three named plaintiffs, on the Brossarts’ attorney. Each set of interrogatories contained 73 identical questions. Subparts to the main questions contained in the interrogatories were separately numbered. The Brossarts’ were not personally served the interrogatories. However, on appeal the Brossarts acknowledge they were informed of the filing of the federal judgment. Because they believed the federal judgment was procedurally and substantively defective, the Brossarts refused to respond to the interrogatories. Additionally, there is nothing in the record indicating the Brossarts’ attorney represented them in the state court action prior to February 19. After the Brossarts’ attorney sent the February 19 letter, the parties’ attorneys continued to communicate regarding the interrogatories. Defendants moved to compel answers, but the Brossarts moved for relief from judgment, arguing the federal judgment was invalid and unenforceable because they were not provided proper notice the federal judgment had been filed. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded that the federal judgment was entitled to full faith and credit, and the Brossarts did not raise any viable defense as to why the federal judgment was invalid or unenforceable. The Brossarts correctly asserted they were not initially provided notice of the filing of the foreign judgment pursuant to N.D.C.C. 28-20.1-03(2), but the Court found their justification for refusing to answer the interrogatories and their basis for their motion for relief from judgment were completely without merit. The district court did not abuse its discretion in finding the Brossarts’ claims were frivolous and awarding attorney’s fees. View "Brossart, et al. v. Janke, et al." on Justia Law
Wilkens v. Westby
Branden Wilkens appealed a district court judgment and order dismissing his complaint against Tarin Westby without prejudice, concluding service under N.D.C.C. 39-01-11 was improper. Wilkens and Westby were involved in a car accident in North Dakota, resulting in Westby’s death. In February 2018, Wilkens served a summons and complaint asserting a claim of negligence against Westby upon the director of the Department of Transportation (“the Department”) under N.D.C.C. 39-01-11, which allowed residents to serve legal process upon the director of the Department when the party being served was: (1) a resident absent from the state continuously for at least six months following an accident, or (2) a nonresident. In March 2018, an attorney answered on Westby’s behalf, moving to dismiss the complaint, arguing personal jurisdiction was lacking and service under the statute was improper, because Westby, a deceased person, did not fit into the definition of “nonresident,” under the statute and was not “absent from the state” by virtue of his death. The district court concluded Westby was neither a “nonresident,” nor “absent from the state” by virtue of his death for purposes of service. The court granted Westby’s motion to dismiss without prejudice, basing its decision on lack of jurisdiction, but recognized the practical effect, based on the statute of limitations, would be a dismissal with prejudice. Wilkens appealed from the court’s order dismissing his claim. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Wilkens v. Westby" on Justia Law
Great Plains Royalty Corporation v. Earl Schwartz Company, et al.
Great Plains Royalty Corp. appealed the dismissal of its complaint and deciding ownership of certain real property in favor of Earl Schwartz Co. (“ESCO”); Basin Minerals, LLC; SunBehm Gas, Inc.; and other defendants. In 1968, Great Plains’ creditors initiated a bankruptcy case by filing an involuntary petition under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. The bankruptcy court ruled Great Plains was “a bankrupt,” and the case was converted to a liquidation proceeding under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code. The trustee received permission to sell the estate’s assets, an auction sale was held, and Earl Schwartz was the winning bidder. An order confirming sale of the assets was entered; the order stated Schwartz entered into an agreement with SunBehm to purchase certain properties in the bankruptcy estate, and title was transferred on those properties directly from the estate to SunBehm. The trustee did not collect sufficient funds from the auction to pay all creditors in full. The bankruptcy case was closed in 1974. In 2013, the bankruptcy case was reopened, and a successor trustee was appointed. The successor trustee collected funds sufficient to pay “a 100 percent dividend” to the estate’s creditors, and he attempted to disburse the funds to the unpaid creditors. While the case was open various adversary proceedings were brought, including some to determine ownership of certain properties. Some of the adversary proceedings were decided, and others were dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. The bankruptcy court discharged the trustee and closed the bankruptcy case in May 2016. In December 2016, Great Plains sued ESCO, Basin, and SunBehm to quiet title to oil, gas, and other minerals in and under three properties located in McKenzie County, North Dakota. ESCO and Basin were successors in interest to Schwartz. Great Plains argued the district court erred by finding the bankruptcy trustee intended to sell all of Great Plains’ assets, including those not listed in the auction sale notice, to Earl Schwartz. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court’s decision to quiet title in favor of the defendants was based on its misapplications of the law and findings that were not supported by the evidence. The Court considered the remaining issues and arguments and concluded they were either without merit or are unnecessary to its decision. Because the court’s findings were clearly erroneous, the Supreme Court reversed the district court’s judgment deciding ownership of certain properties and dismissing Great Plains’ complaint with prejudice. The matter was remanded for further proceedings to determine the parties’ claims and ownership of the properties. View "Great Plains Royalty Corporation v. Earl Schwartz Company, et al." on Justia Law
Kuntz v. North Dakota
In August 2016, Riley Kuntz submitted written requests for documents under the North Dakota open records law to the Bureau of Criminal Investigation ("BCI"), the Department of Transportation ("DOT"), and the Criminal Justice Information Sharing ("CJIS") Director, seeking records relating to an agreement with "the FBI authorizing or allowing the search of any ND Driver License or non-photo identification database pursuant to a request from any government agency for the purposes of FACE or FIRS or NGI-IPS." BCI denied his request; the DOT provided a two-page attorney general opinion. In December, Kuntz submitted a request under FOIA to the federal Government Accountability Office ("GAO") requesting records related to an agreement between the FBI and any government agency authorizing the search of the North Dakota driver license information databases. In a February 2017 letter, the GAO responded and confirmed the existence of a Memorandum of Understanding ("MOU") between the FBI, CJIS, Attorney General, and BCI concerning searches of the North Dakota Attorney General BCI facial recognition photo repository. However, because the GAO obtained the MOU from the FBI, the GAO informed him it was GAO policy not to release records from its files that originated in another agency or organization. In July 2017, Kuntz submitted written requests under the open records law to the North Dakota Attorney General, BCI, CJIS Director, and DOT, stating in part seeking the MOU between the FBI, Criminal Justice Information Services Division and ND Attorney General. BCI requested clarification on Kuntz's request; the DOT requested payment of a fulfillment fee. Kuntz replied to the DOT but did not pay the fee. In September 2017, Kuntz commenced the underlying lawsuit, naming as defendants the State, the BCI, the CJIS Director, the DOT, the North Dakota Attorney General, the Deputy Director of BCI, and the individuals who responded to Kuntz's records requests (collectively, the "State"). The parties did not dispute on appeal that while the state Solicitor General accepted service on behalf of the defendants in this case, Kuntz did not personally serve any of the defendants in their individual capacities. Kuntz's complaint claims violations of state open records laws; alleges claims for fraud, federal civil rights violations and attorney's fees; and also seeks declaratory relief. His complaint essentially claims the State, through its various agencies, had denied the existence of, or failed to respond to his open records request for, the specified MOU document. Kuntz appealed when the district court granted the State's motion for judgment on the pleadings and dismissing his claims with prejudice against the State defendants. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court erred in dismissing his open records law claim under N.D.C.C. 44-04-21.2. However, the court did not err in dismissing his remaining claims and in denying his motions for default judgment, to amend the complaint, and to award sanctions. View "Kuntz v. North Dakota" on Justia Law
Wheeler v. Burgum
LeRoy Wheeler appeals a district court judgment granting Governor Doug Burgum's motion to dismiss and denying Wheeler's motion to appoint counsel. Wheeler was an inmate at the North Dakota State Penitentiary ("NDSP"), who filed a complaint alleging civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. 1983 by Governor Burgum in both his official capacity and his personal capacity. The complaint alleged Governor Burgum failed to supervise and govern officials and staff at the NDSP. Wheeler claims that NDSP officials and staff interfered with his mail, discriminated against him on the basis of race, denied him access to the courts, prevented him from challenging the conditions of his confinement, and retaliated against him for exercising his rights. Wheeler sent Governor Burgum two letters commenting on the conduct of these individuals. Governor Burgum did not respond to the letters. Wheeler sought injunctive relief against Governor Burgum in his official capacity for failing to supervise the actions of officials and staff at the NDSP. Wheeler also sought punitive damages for Governor Burgum's failure to respond to his letters or otherwise investigate the issues described in his letters. Additionally, Wheeler moved for appointed counsel. Governor Burgum moved to dismiss the complaint under N.D.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) and opposed Wheeler's motion to appoint counsel. The district court granted Governor Burgum's motion to dismiss and denied Wheeler's motion for appointment of counsel. The North Dakota Supreme Court agreed Wheeler failed to state a claim for which relief can be granted, so the district court did not err by granting Governor Burgum's motion to dismiss. Further, the district court did not err by denying Wheeler's motion to appoint counsel. View "Wheeler v. Burgum" on Justia Law
Jones v. Levi
The Department of Transportation appealed a judgment reversing the Department's decision to suspend Kristin Jones' driving privileges for 180 days. The Department argued the district court erred by reversing the hearing officer's decision on grounds not identified in Jones’ specifications of error. The Supreme Court found that the basis for the district court’s decision to reverse the Department’s order should have been properly raised by the appellee at the administrative level. Therefore, the district court erred in its decision. The Supreme Court reversed and reinstated the Department’s decision. View "Jones v. Levi" on Justia Law
Yahna v. Altru Health System
Lori Yahna appealed from a summary judgment dismissing her complaint against Altru Health System for age discrimination and for wrongful termination of employment. In 1984, Yahna began working for the Grand Forks Clinic, the predecessor to Altru, as a licensed practical nurse. She received additional training in vascular technology to work with Dr. Rolf Paulson in the ultrasound department and by 1986 she was working solely as a vascular technologist. According to Yahna, she was the technical director of the vascular lab, she developed the vascular medicine practice at Altru. She initially worked full time as a vascular technologist with on-call responsibilities, but she received approval to work three days per week in 2001 with no on-call responsibility. According to Yahna, she became coordinator and technical director of the vascular lab in 2006. In February 2012, Altru created a new position for an education and quality assurance coordinator, and hired Derek Todd for that full-time position. According to Yahna, she did not apply for that position because it was full time. She claimed, however, she maintained her position as technical director of the vascular lab and understood she would still be doing quality assurance and reviewing other technologists' films. Yahna claimed Altru required her to work full time with on-call responsibilities in July 2012, and she was terminated on July 2, 2012, after she informed Altru "she would not be able to take call at this time." Yahna was forty-eight years old when she was terminated. The district court granted Altru's motion for summary judgment, concluding there were no disputed issues of material fact that Altru's employment policies and procedures did not abrogate Yahna's at-will employment status with Altru and that her termination did not constitute age discrimination. The court explained the provisions in Altru's employment policy manual unambiguously preserved the presumption of at-will employment and did not evidence an intent that the manual created a contractual right to employment. In rejecting Yahna's age discrimination claim, the court cited the requirements for a prima facie age discrimination claim and said that because Yahna refused to take required on-call responsibilities for an ultrasound technologist she failed to satisfactorily perform the duties of her position and she failed to establish employees outside her protected age class were treated more favorably than her. The court ruled Altru established it terminated Yahna because she refused to take on-call responsibilities for her job and granted summary judgment dismissing her complaint. On appeal, Yahna argued there were disputed issues of material fact on her claims that her termination constituted age discrimination and violated Altru's employment policies and procedures. Finding no error in the district court's decision, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Yahna v. Altru Health System" on Justia Law
Interest of Thill
Respondent-appellant Maurice Thill appealed a district court order denying his petition for discharge from civil commitment as a sexually dangerous individual. The Supreme Court affirmed, concluding the district court did not err in finding Thill remained a sexually dangerous individual. View "Interest of Thill" on Justia Law
Interest of Hoff
Robert Hoff appealed a district court order denying his petition for discharge from civil commitment as a sexually dangerous individual. The district court found by clear and convincing evidence Hoff remained a sexually dangerous individual. Hoff argued the district court erred in determining that he had a congenital or acquired condition manifested by a sexual disorder, personality disorder or other mental disorder or dysfunction, that he was likely to engage in further acts of sexually predatory conduct and that he had difficulty controlling his behavior. Upon review of the district court record, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded, concluding the district court made insufficient findings of fact on whether Hoff had difficulty controlling his behavior. View "Interest of Hoff" on Justia Law