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Farmers Union Oil Company of Garrison v. Smetana

April 30, 2009

FARMERS UNION OIL COMPANY OF GARRISON, D/B/A CENEX, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLEE
v.
GEORGE A. SMETANA, CAROLYN J. SMETANA, DEFENDANTS AND APPELLANTS AND LEWIS BAUER, CONSTANCE T. SCHEEL, AND CONSTANCE M. NARAD, DEFENDANTS



Appeal from the District Court of McLean County, South Central Judicial District, the Honorable Bruce B. Haskell, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kapsner, Justice.

REVERSED AND REMANDED.

[¶1] George and Carolyn Smetana appeal from a district court summary judgment reforming a deed and quieting title to a disputed tract of property in favor of Farmers Union Oil Company of Garrison, doing business as Cenex ("Cenex"). We reverse and remand for further proceedings, concluding the district court erred in determining that, as a matter of law, the Smetanas were not good faith purchasers for value.

I.

[¶2] In the early 1990s, Cenex and Lewis Bauer owned adjacent properties in Garrison. Bauer owned the northernmost 196 feet of Lots 13 and 14 in Block 1 of the McLean County Addition to the City of Garrison. Cenex owned the remainder of Lots 13 and 14 lying south of Bauer's property. There was a house on the northern end of Bauer's property, and Cenex operated a convenience store and gas station on its part of the property.

[¶3] In March 1992, Cenex contacted Bauer about purchasing a portion of his property. Using a tree on Bauer's lot as a reference point, Bauer and Cenex representatives "stepped off" the parcel to be sold and, using a tape measure, determined that the intended parcel was 116 to 117 feet long. On March 30, 1992, Bauer executed a deed to Cenex conveying:

The Southern most 116 feet of the Northern most 196 feet of Lots Thirteen (13) and Fourteen (14) in Block One (1) of McLean County Addition to the City of Garrison, State of North Dakota, all in McLean County.

By the terms of the deed, Bauer retained the northernmost 80 feet of Lots 13 and 14, including the house. Bauer erected a fence adjacent to the tree, running east to west, marking what Cenex and Bauer believed to be the boundary between their properties.

[¶4] In 1996, Bauer sold his property, including the house, to Constance Scheel and Constance Narad. In 2000, Scheel and Narad sold the property to the Smetanas. Both deeds described the property transferred as the northernmost 80 feet of Lots 13 and 14.

[¶5] In 2005, the Smetanas learned that their house did not lie entirely within the northernmost 80 feet of Lots 13 and 14. They hired a surveyor, who determined that approximately two-thirds of their house extended beyond the northern boundary of Lots 13 and 14, into a vacated street right-of-way owned by the City of Garrison. According to the survey, the northern 80 feet of Lots 13 and 14 begins in the middle of the Smetanas' house and extends 42 feet to the south of the fence which had been erected by Bauer. After the discrepancies were discovered, the City of Garrison executed a quit claim deed transferring a fifty-foot wide strip directly north of Lots 13 and 14 to the Smetanas for one dollar.

[¶6] In 2007, Cenex brought this action seeking to quiet title to the disputed 42-foot strip lying between the fence and the actual boundary line. The Smetanas counterclaimed, requesting that title to the disputed property be quieted in them and seeking damages for trespass. Cenex moved for summary judgment, arguing Bauer and Cenex had intended that Cenex would receive all of the property up to the fence and seeking reformation of the original 1992 deed from Bauer to Cenex. The district court found it was the intention of Bauer and Cenex that Cenex would purchase the property south of the fence and that the descriptions in the 1992 deed were the result of a mutual mistake. The court therefore ordered that the 1992 deed be reformed to indicate Cenex purchased property running 116 feet to the south "starting at the southern edge of the fence on the Smetana property," and summary judgment was entered quieting title to the disputed parcel in Cenex.

II.

[¶7] The Smetanas have attempted to appeal from the district court's "Order Granting Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment." An order granting summary judgment is not appealable. E.g., Alerus Financial, N.A. v. Western State Bank, 2008 ND 104, ¶ 15, 750 N.W.2d 412; Wheeler v. Gardner, 2006 ND 24, ¶ 6, 708 N.W.2d 908. An attempted appeal from the order granting summary judgment will, however, be treated as an appeal from a subsequently entered consistent judgment, if one exists. Alerus Financial, at ¶ 15; Wheeler, at ¶ 6. Because a consistent judgment was subsequently entered in this case, we will treat the Smetanas' appeal as an appeal from the judgment.

III.

[¶8] We outlined the relevant standards governing summary judgment in Hasper v. Center Mut. Ins. Co., 2006 ND 220, ¶ 5, 723 N.W.2d 409 (citations omitted):

Summary judgment is a procedural device for the prompt resolution of a controversy on the merits without a trial if there are no genuine issues of material fact or inferences that can reasonably be drawn from undisputed facts, or if the only issues to be resolved are questions of law. A party moving for summary judgment has the burden of showing there are no genuine issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In determining whether summary judgment was appropriately granted, we must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion, and that party will be given the benefit of all favorable inferences which can reasonably be drawn from the record. On appeal, this Court decides whether the information available to the district court precluded the existence of a genuine issue of material fact and entitled the moving party to judgment as a matter of law. Whether the district court properly granted summary judgment is a question of law which we review de novo on the entire record.

[¶9] Although the district court purported to resolve this case on Cenex's motion for summary judgment, the court issued "Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order for Judgment," including 54 separate findings of fact encompassing twelve pages. In its brief on appeal, Cenex argues that "[s]ince this matter was subject to Summary Judgment, it is governed by the principles of Summary Judgment and the clearly erroneous rule under North Dakota Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a)." Cenex thereby demonstrates a misconception of the fundamental principles governing summary judgment.

[¶10] On a motion for summary judgment, the district court's "role is limited to determining whether the evidence and inferences to be drawn therefrom, when viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment, demonstrate that there are no genuine issues of material fact." Heng v. Rotech Med. Corp., 2004 ND 204, ¶ 34, 688 N.W.2d 389. This Court has repeatedly held that summary judgment is inappropriate if the court must draw inferences and make findings on disputed facts to support the judgment. See Heng, at ¶ 34; Campbell Farms v. Wald,1998 ND 85, ¶ 11, 578 N.W.2d 96; Wachter Dev., L.L.C. v. Gomke, 544 N.W.2d 127, 131 (N.D. 1996); Greenfield v. Thill, 521 N.W.2d 87, 92 (N.D. 1994); Red River Human Servs. Found. v. State, 477 N.W.2d 225, 229 (N.D. 1991); Brown v. North Dakota State Univ., 372 N.W.2d 879, 883 (N.D. 1985); Albers v. NoDak Racing Club, Inc., 256 N.W.2d 355, 359 (N.D. 1977). The district court may not weigh the evidence, determine credibility, or attempt to discern the truth of the matter when ruling on a motion for summary judgment. Heng, at ¶ 34; Schaefer v. Souris River Telecomm. Coop., 2000 ND 187, ¶ 8, 618 N.W.2d 175; Opp v. Source One Mgmt., Inc., 1999 ND 52, ¶ 16, 591 N.W.2d 101. Because findings of fact are inappropriate on a motion for summary judgment, the clearly erroneous standard set out in N.D.R.Civ.P. 52(a), which governs our review of a district court's findings of fact in a bench trial, is inapplicable to our review of the court's resolution of a motion for summary judgment.

[ΒΆ11] A motion for summary judgment is not an opportunity to conduct a mini-trial. If there are disputed issues of material fact that require resolution by findings of fact, the party opposing summary judgment is entitled to present its evidence to a finder of fact in a full trial. See Albers, 256 N.W.2d at 359 ("[i]t was not the purpose of [summary judgment] to require a party to try his case on affidavits with no opportunity to ...


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