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Riemers v. Hill

Supreme Court of North Dakota

June 30, 2016

Roland Riemers, Plaintiff and Appellant
v.
Heidee Hill, Jason D. Hill, Hannah Hill, Ashley Roesler, and Hailey Marie Hill, Defendants and Appellees

         Appeal from the District Court of Grand Forks County, Northeast Central Judicial District, the Honorable Jon J. Jensen, Judge.

          Jonathan T. Garaas, for plaintiff and appellant.

          Timothy C. Lamb, for defendants and appellees; submitted on brief.

          OPINION

          VandeWalle, Chief Justice.

         [¶ 1] Roland Riemers appealed from a judgment awarding him $8, 245.87 from Heidee Hill for unpaid rent and property damage and ordering him to pay Ashley Roesler $10, 164 for abuse of process. We conclude the district court erred in granting summary judgment on the liability issue of the abuse-of-process claim. We affirm in part and reverse the summary judgment on liability for the abuse-of-process claim and remand for further proceedings on that claim.

         I

         [¶ 2] In August 2013, Riemers sued Heidee Hill, her husband, Jason Hill, and her three children, Hannah Hill, Ashley Roesler, and Hailey Marie Hill, for unpaid rent for July and August 2013, late fees, property damage, and punitive damages arising out of a lease agreement signed by Heidee Hill for a house in Emerado. Only Heidee Hill signed the lease agreement, but Heidee and Jason Hill were both identified as applicants on the agreement and the three children were listed as "others who will be sharing the house."

         [¶ 3] The Hill family moved to dismiss Riemers' complaint for failure to state a claim and sought attorney fees. They asserted the property was uninhabitable and had been condemned by the Grand Forks Public Health Department in July 2013. They also counterclaimed for abuse of process, alleging Riemers' claims for unpaid rent and property damage were "so outrageous and ridiculous" to rise to the level of abuse of process. They claimed that despite the property being condemned in July 2013, Riemers sued them for structural damage to the house that was clearly Riemers' responsibility and Riemers had an ulterior motive to harass and embarrass them with a lawsuit void of any factual or legal basis.

         [¶ 4] Riemers requested a hearing on the Hill family's motion to dismiss, and a scheduled hearing was continued at the Hill family's request. Riemers rescheduled the hearing for December 5, 2013, but he did not appear at that hearing, and the district court dismissed his complaint without prejudice. The Hill family submitted an affidavit requesting $3, 300 in attorney fees for defending Riemers' action, including $900 for preparation and attendance at the December 5 hearing. The court said Riemers "did not show for the hearing he noticed" and ordered him to pay the Hill family $500 in attorney fees. The court denied Riemers' request for a rehearing, stating the dismissal without prejudice was based upon Riemers' "non-appearance." This Court dismissed Riemers' appeal from the dismissal because the Hill family's unresolved counterclaim precluded immediate appellate review and the dismissal was without prejudice. Riemers v. Hill, 2014 ND 80, ¶¶ 7-9, 845 N.W.2d 364.

         [¶ 5] The district court thereafter denied Riemers' motions to compel discovery and to vacate the dismissal of his complaint without prejudice. The court also denied the Hill family's motion for a default judgment on their counterclaim for abuse of process, but granted them partial summary judgment on the issue of liability. The court said the Hill family provided facts supporting their claim for abuse of process and Riemers failed to adequately respond to the summary judgment motion with affidavits or other admissible evidence. The court explained, however, disputed factual issues remained on the issue of damages and denied the Hill family summary judgment on damages.

         [¶ 6] In October 2014, Riemers refiled his complaint against the Hill family for unpaid rent, late fees, property damage, and punitive damages arising out of the lease agreement. The Hill family answered, denying liability for unpaid rent, late fees, and damages. The Hill family also counterclaimed, alleging Riemers willfully filed the 2013 lawsuit despite the report declaring the property uninhabitable and his lawsuit resulted in Ashley Roesler being denied housing assistance and having to procure more expensive rental housing.

         [¶ 7] The district court consolidated the 2013 and 2014 lawsuits for all matters after "all the parties... indicated their agreement to consolidation." The court again denied Riemers' motion to compel discovery. At a bench trial, Riemers sought reconsideration of the court's earlier decision granting partial summary judgment on liability on the counterclaim for abuse of process. The court denied Riemers' request for reconsideration, stating he had initially failed to provide a response to the motion for summary judgment and reconsideration would eviscerate the requirement that parties provide a response to a motion for summary judgment. The district court thereafter found Heidee Hill liable to Riemers for $8, 245.87 for unpaid rent and property damage and Riemers liable to Ashley Roesler for $10, 164 for abuse of process. The court explained "Roesler testified that because of Riemers' actions public housing assistance she had secured was withdrawn [and although she] was able to reinstate the assistance... Riemers' abuse of process resulted in a delay of one year in [her] receipt of benefits."

         II

         [¶ 8] Riemers argues the district court did not have authority to award the Hill family $500 in attorney fees when his 2013 complaint was dismissed without prejudice. He contends there was no contractual authority for that award and the court did not make a finding his complaint was frivolous under N.D.C.C. § 28-26-01(2), or made without reasonable cause and not in good faith under N.D.C.C. § 28-26-31. He claims this Court should reverse the ...


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