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Chornuk v. Nelson

Supreme Court of North Dakota

December 22, 2014

Harry W. Chornuk and Linda D. Chornuk, Plaintiffs and Appellees
v.
Craig Nelson and Julie Nelson, Defendants and Appellants

Appeal from the District Court of McKenzie County, Northwest Judicial District, the Honorable Joshua B. Rustad, Judge.

Michael J. Maus (argued), Dickinson, N.D., and Mark C. Sherer (on brief), Dickinson, N.D., for plaintiffs and appellees.

Aaron R. Hartman (argued), Minneapolis, Minn., and Jordon J. Evert (appeared), Williston, N.D., for defendants and appellants.

Daniel J. Crothers, Lisa Fair McEvers, Dale V. Sandstrom, Gerald W. VandeWalle, C.J., Allan L. Schmalenberger, S.J. Opinion of the Court by Crothers, Justice. The Honorable Allan L. Schmalenberger, S.J., sitting in place of Kapsner, J., disqualified.

OPINION

Page 588

Crothers, Justice.

[¶1] Craig and Julie Nelson appeal from a judgment quieting title in certain real property in Harry and Linda Chornuk and awarding the Chornuks damages for conversion, and from an amended judgment modifying the damage award. The Nelsons argue the district court erroneously found they did not purchase the property in good faith and erred in quieting title of the property in favor of the Chornuks. We affirm.

I

[¶2] The disputed property is located in McKenzie County and is described as a 1.667 acre tract in the northwest quarter and southwest quarter of section 17, township 150 north, range 90 west.

[¶3] In January 1986, Norman and Mildred Dahl conveyed the property to the Chornuks by warranty deed, but the deed was not recorded until June 24, 2010. On June 17, 2005, after Norman Dahl's death, Mildred Dahl conveyed the same property by warranty deed to the Nelsons as part of the conveyance of approximately 44.5 acres. The deed was recorded on July 5, 2005.

[¶4] In September 2010, the Chornuks sued the Nelsons to quiet title to the property and sought damages for claims of trespass and conversion. The Nelsons moved for summary judgment, arguing they were entitled to judgment as a matter of law and to have title quieted in their favor because they recorded their deed to

Page 589

the property more than five years before the Chornuks recorded their deed. The Chornuks opposed the motion, arguing a question of fact exists whether the Nelsons had constructive notice of the Chornuks' interest and whether the Nelsons were good-faith purchasers. The district court denied the Nelsons' motion, concluding summary judgment was not appropriate because a genuine issue of material fact existed.

[¶5] After a bench trial, the district court quieted title in favor of the Chornuks. The court found the Chornuks mowed the property three or four times per year, planted trees on the property, installed drip irrigation lines for the trees, installed flower boxes on the property and performed other general maintenance. The court found that the Chornuks' actions were sufficient to put a prudent person on notice someone else had an interest in the property and that the Nelsons were required to conduct further inquiry before purchasing the property from Mildred Dahl. The court found the Nelsons had constructive notice of the Chornuks' interest and were not good-faith purchasers. The court awarded the Chornuks $2,830 in damages for trees the Nelsons cut down on the property. A judgment was entered.

[¶6] The Nelsons moved for reconsideration, arguing the damage award was not supported by the evidence. The court granted the Nelsons' motion. After a hearing, the court ordered the damage award be ...


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