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Broten v. Broten

Supreme Court of North Dakota

May 27, 2015

Louise Broten and Linda Schuler, in their individual capacities as co-Personal Representatives of the Estate of Helen Broten, deceased, Plaintiffs and Appellees
v.
James Broten, in his individual capacity, and as Personal Representative of the Estate of Olaf Broten, deceased, Defendant and Appellant

Page 903

Appeal from the District Court of Barnes County, Southeast Judicial District, the Honorable Jay A. Schmitz, Judge.

David J. Smith, Bismarck, ND, for plaintiffs and appellees.

Douglas W. Murch, Fargo, ND, for defendant and appellant.

Gerald W. VandeWalle, C.J., Carol Ronning Kapsner, Lisa Fair McEvers, Daniel J. Crothers, Dale V. Sandstrom.

OPINION

Page 904

VandeWalle, Chief Justice.

[¶1] James Broten appealed from a judgment and amended judgment, following a bench trial, finding tat as personal representative to Olaf Broten's estate, he had breached his fiduciary duties by transferring real property to himself, and awarding Louise Broten damages in the amount of the fair market value of the property. We affirm and remand for further proceedings.

I

[¶2] James Broten, Louise Broten, and Linda Schuler are the children of Olaf Broten and Helen Broten (" the parents" ). The parents originally owned approximately 480 acres of farmland in Barnes County. In 1979, they executed a quitclaim deed granting the father sole ownership of the farmland, and also entered into a contract for deed with James Broten agreeing to convey him the farmland for $200,000 plus six percent interest paid annually through 2006. The contract for deed was prepared by James Broten's attorney but never recorded. Also in 1979, the parents each executed a last will and testament in which the farmland was to be placed in trust, with the mother receiving the income for life, and the principal distributed equally to the children upon her death.

[¶3] James Broten testified that all parties agreed to orally modify the 1979 contract for deed in 1980. The new terms allegedly required him to pay the living expenses for the parents for the remainder of their lives as well as a payment of

Page 905

$12,000 annually per year in interest. He testified that the $12,000 payment was not always a cash payment and varied from year to year, including his occasionally selling grain or hay and instructing the buyer to pay the proceeds to the father. James Broten had paid living expenses of his parents prior to the oral modification, but argues those payments were gratuitous while the payments after 1980 were consideration for the oral modification.

[¶4] James Broten and the father were active in farming and shared equipment and labor throughout the alleged contract period. James Broten claimed the parents pledged certified deposit accounts as collateral for his farm operation loan. He also testified that he made improvements to the farmstead, and the father was only active in a separate farming operation through a rental ...


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