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Anderson v. Lyons

Supreme Court of North Dakota

April 3, 2014

Kermit Anderson, Jr., Plaintiff and Appellant
v.
Nick Lyons, Defendant and Appellee and Kevin Kabella, Defendant and Appellant

Appeal from the District Court of Richland County, Southeast Judicial District, the Honorable Richard W. Grosz, Judge.

Mark A. Meyer, Wahpeton, N.D., for plaintiff and appellant and defendant and appellant.

Kip M. Kaler, Fargo, N.D., for defendant and appellee.

Gerald W. VandeWalle, C.J., Carol Ronning Kapsner, Lisa Fair McEvers, Daniel J. Crothers, Dale V. Sandstrom. Opinion of the Court by VandeWalle, Chief Justice.

OPINION

VandeWalle, Chief Justice.

[¶1] Kermit Anderson, Jr., and Kevin Kabella appealed from a judgment dismissing Anderson's action to evict Nick Lyons from agricultural land owned by Kabella and from a post-judgment order denying a motion by Anderson and Kabella for amended findings and for a new trial. We conclude Kabella's 2007 lease of agricultural land to Lyons does not violate the ten-year time limitation of N.D.C.C. § 47-16-02. We reverse the part of the order denying the post-judgment motion to substitute Lyons' estate as a defendant for Lyons, and we otherwise affirm the judgment

Page 2

and the order denying the post-judgment motion.

I

[¶2] In March 2007, Kabella and Lyons executed a written " land rent contract" involving about 68 tillable acres of agricultural land in Richland County. The agreement was recorded in the recorder's office on March 29, 2007. Under the agreement, Kabella " demised, leased and let" the land to Lyons " to have and to hold in perpetuity" for " the total sum of $20670.00." The agreement required Lyons to pay Kabella $8,268 upon signing, $4,134 on or before June 1, 2009, $4,134 on or before June 1, 2010, and $4,134 on or before June 1, 2011, which the agreement said was " the full and undisputed final payment of this lease." The agreement included the following " special terms" :

It is further agreed by [Kabella] and with [Lyons], if [Lyons] desire[s] to opt out of this agreement at any time, [Kabella] will grant this option free and clear, if the request is provided in writing with a notarized signature of [Lyons] and delivered to [Kabella] by [Lyons]. [Kabella] agrees to and with [Lyons] if [Kabella] desires to sell the above described property at any time forward from the date of this contract [Lyons] will have first chance to purchase the tract described above at an agreed upon three and one half times the total sum stated above.

[¶3] In October 2011, Kabella and Anderson executed a five-year written

Page 3

"cash rent agreement" for the same land for 2012 through 2016. In May 2012, Anderson brought this eviction action against Lyons and Kabella, alleging Anderson had entered into a written agreement with Kabella to lease agricultural land owned by Kabella for the 2012 crop year and Lyons no longer had rights as a tenant in the land and refused to vacate the premises. Lyons answered, opposing the eviction and claiming he had executed the " land rent contract" with Kabella in 2007, which constituted an enforceable purchase agreement and was a valid lease of agricultural land under the language of N.D.C.C. § 47-16-02 that " [n]o lease or grant of agricultural land reserving any rent or service of any kind for a longer period than ten years shall be valid." Lyons sought a declaration that his 2007 agreement with Kabella was a valid lease.

[¶4] In May 2012, the district court dismissed Anderson's eviction action, concluding Lyons' agreement with Kabella did not violate the ten-year limitation for leases of agricultural land under N.D.C.C. § 47-16-02 and there was no factual basis to evict Lyons from the land. The court concluded as a matter of law there were two measurable events specified in Lyons'

Page 4

agreement with Kabella, which objectively could occur and terminate the lease within the ten-year limitation of N.D.C.C. § 47-16-02. The court explained Lyons could opt out of the lease for any number of reasons, or Kabella could decide to sell the land. The court ruled that under Anderson v. Blixt, 72 N.W.2d 799 (N.D. 1955), the 2007 agreement was not void because it could be performed within ten years and did not now violate N.D.C.C. § 47-16-02. The court determined Lyons was entitled to possession of the land and dismissed Anderson's eviction claim.

[¶5] In August 2013, Anderson and Kabella moved: (1) to amend the caption of the case to reflect Lyons' death and to substitute Lyons' estate as a defendant; (2) to amend the district court's findings to comport with N.D.C.C. § 47-16-02 and hold Lyons' agreement with Kabella void because it exceeded the ten-year limitation for agricultural leases; and (3) for a new trial or to alter the judgment on the basis of the court's erroneous determination that Lyons' agreement with Kabella was valid. The court denied the ...


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