Appeal from the District Court of Mountrail County, Northwest Judicial District, the Honorable William W. McLees, Judge.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sandstrom, Justice.
N.D. Supreme CourtArndt v. Maki,
This opinion is subject to petition for rehearing. [Go to Documents]
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AFFIRMED IN PART, REVERSED IN PART, AND REMANDED.
Opinion of the Court by Sandstrom, Justice.
[¶1] Angeline Maki and other relatives of Richard Arndt (collectively "Maki defendants") appeal from a judgment declaring that Arndt and others (collectively "Arndt plaintiffs") are the owners of mineral interests underlying the Arndt family farm, and the Arndt plaintiffs cross- Appeal from the part of the judgment denying their claim against the Maki defendants for attorney fees and costs for slandering title to the minerals. We conclude the district court properly granted summary judgment dismissing the Maki defendants' counterclaim for reformation of a 1973 contract for deed and a 1984 personal representative's deed and correctly quieted title to the minerals in the Arndt plaintiffs. We further conclude, however, genuine issues of material fact exist on the claim for attorney fees and costs for slandering title to the minerals. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand to the district court for further proceedings.
[¶2] This case involves a family dispute over the mineral rights underlying what the parties refer to as the Arndt family farm in Mountrail County. The Maki defendants are Richard Arndt's eight siblings and the two sons and heirs of his deceased brother. The Arndt plaintiffs are Richard Arndt, his wife, and individuals and a company to whom the Arndts granted mineral interests received by them under a 1984 personal representative's deed. The Maki defendants claim an interest in the disputed mineral acres under a 2007 personal representative's deed. The family farm was owned by Carl and Marie Arndt, who were the parents of Richard Arndt and his siblings.
[¶3] While Richard Arndt was serving in the United States Navy in 1967, he received a letter from his parents asking him to return home to take over the family farm. While home on leave, Richard Arndt agreed to do so if he were allowed to buy the farm. After his discharge from the Navy in 1968, Richard Arndt returned home and farmed with his father until May 1, 1973, when Carl Arndt died. Carl Arndt died intestate and the farm was titled in his name alone. Shortly after Carl Arndt's death, Marie Arndt and the ten children met with an attorney, now deceased, to discuss financial affairs related to Carl Arndt's death. The attorney informed them that because Carl Arndt died without a will, Marie Arndt was entitled to one-half of the estate and the other one-half of the estate would be divided equally between the ten children. Marie Arndt was named personal representative of Carl Arndt's estate, and the ten children agreed to renounce their interests in the farm through waivers of inheritance. The children understood that Marie Arndt was the sole owner of the farm and that she was free to dispose of the farm as she wished, and she informed the children that she intended to sell the farm to Richard Arndt.
[¶4] On May 23, 1973, Marie Arndt and Richard Arndt entered into a handwritten agreement, penned by Marie Arndt, memorializing the terms for the sale of the farm. The handwritten agreement stated, "The mineral rights that are on the place go with the place." The attorney prepared a consistent contract for deed, Marie and Richard Arndt signed it on October 24, 1973, and the contract for deed was duly recorded in Mountrail County. The contract for deed conveying the farm to Richard Arndt contained no mineral reservation.
[¶5] Marie Arndt died intestate on November 12, 1975. Richard Arndt's sisters, Angeline Maki and Marily Bryant, were appointed co-personal representatives of Marie Arndt's estate and were also substituted as co-personal representatives of Carl Arndt's estate. Richard Arndt eventually paid off the contract for deed in 1984, and all proceeds were paid to Marie Arndt's heirs. On October 3, 1984, the final decree of distribution in the estate of Carl Arndt was entered in which the farm was distributed, without reservation, to Marie Arndt's estate. On October 4, 1984, a personal representative's deed signed by Angeline Maki and Marily Bryant as co-personal representatives of Marie Arndt's estate was duly recorded conveying the farm to Richard Arndt. This personal representative's deed also did not contain a mineral reservation.
[¶6] On March 29, 2007, Angeline Maki and Marily Bryant, in their capacities as co-personal representatives of the estates of Carl Arndt and Marie Arndt, prepared and recorded a second personal representative's deed, this time conveying the minerals underlying the Arndt family farm to all of the heirs of Carl and Marie Arndt then living. In September 2007, all of ...