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Broten v. Broten

Supreme Court of North Dakota

March 7, 2017

Louise Broten and Linda Schuler, in their individual capacities and 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

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

         AFFIRMED IN PART, REVERSED IN PART, AND REMANDED.

          David J. Smith (argued) and Tyler J. Malm (on brief), for plaintiffs and appellees.

          Douglas W. Murch for defendant and appellant.

          KAPSNER, JUSTICE.

         [¶ 1] James Broten, individually, and as personal representative of the estate of Olaf Broten, appeals from a second amended judgment denying him restitution for payments he made to his parents during their lifetimes. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.

         I

         [¶ 2] The relevant facts in this case are summarized in Broten v. Broten, 2015 ND 127, 863 N.W.2d 902, and we will not repeat them here except as necessary to resolve the issue raised in this appeal.

         [¶ 3] In 1979, Broten and his parents Helen and Olaf Broten executed a contract for deed to purchase approximately 480 acres of farmland. Broten agreed to purchase the farmland for $200, 000 plus six percent annual interest through 2006. After his father's death in 1998, Broten, as personal representative of the estate, conveyed the farmland to himself with his mother receiving a life estate.

         [¶ 4] After Broten's mother died in 2010, his sisters, as personal co-representatives of the estate, sued Broten alleging he breached his fiduciary duties by transferring the farmland to himself after his father's death. At trial in 2013, Broten testified that under an oral modification to the contract, he agreed to pay his parents' living expenses for the rest of their lives in addition to the $12, 000 annual interest payment in exchange for the farmland. Broten submitted documents showing he made the payments to his parents or on their behalf.

         [¶ 5] After trial the district court found the parties mutually agreed to abandon the terms of the written contract for deed. The court also found Broten did not prove the oral modification to the contract and breached his fiduciary duties to his father's estate by transferring the farmland to himself. The court ordered Broten to pay $1, 197, 000 for the value of the farmland as of December 2013.

         [¶ 6] This Court affirmed the judgment finding a breach of fiduciary duty and award of damages, but remanded to the district court to decide whether Broten was entitled to compensation for improvements he made to the farmland or for payments he made to his parents or on their behalf. Broten v. Broten, 2015 ND 127, ¶¶ 23-24, 863 N.W.2d 902.

         [¶ 7] On remand, Broten relied on evidence submitted at trial and argued he paid over $342, 000 to his parents and made $20, 000 in improvements to the farmland. Broten argued his parents benefited from the annual interest payments and his payments for their health, home and auto insurance premiums and utility bills. The district court entered a second amended judgment reducing the amount Broten owed by $20, 000 for improvements he made to the property. The court did not award Broten restitution for the payments he made to his parents or on their behalf. The court concluded Broten benefited from the relationship with his parents and failed to prove his parents were unjustly enriched by the payments he made to them or on their behalf.

         II

         [¶ 8] Broten argues the district court erred in denying him restitution for payments he made to his parents or on their behalf. Broten argues the court erred in concluding ...


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