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In re Estate of Johnson

Supreme Court of North Dakota

July 6, 2017

In the Matter of the Estate of Jeanne H. Johnson, Deceased
v.
Scott Johnson and Steven D. Johnson, Respondents and Appellants and Stuart Johnson, Respondent and Appellee Sandra Mark, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Jeanne H. Johnson, Petitioner and Appellee

         Appeal from the District Court of Cass County, East Central Judicial District, the Honorable Steven L. Marquart, Judge.

          Stephen R Hanson II (argued) and Christopher M. McShane (appeared), West Fargo, N.D., for petitioner and appellee.

          David A. Garaas, Fargo, N.D., for respondents and appellants.

          Michael L. Gust, Fargo, N.D., for respondent and appellee.

          OPINION

          Tufte, Justice.

         [¶ 1] Scott and Steven Johnson appeal from a district court judgment denying their application to restrain Sandra Mark, personal representative of Jeanne Johnson's estate, from selling farmland. They also appeal from an order approving the estate's final report and account and payment of personal representative fees and attorney's fees from the estate. We affirm.

         I

         [¶ 2] Jeanne Johnson died in June 2010. She was survived by her children, Sandra Mark, Stuart Johnson, and Steven Johnson, and her grandson, Scott Johnson. Mark was appointed personal representative of the estate. Under Jeanne Johnson's will, her residuary estate was devised to Mark, Stuart Johnson, and Scott Johnson.

         [¶ 3] Jeanne Johnson's residuary estate included farmland in Cass County. Stuart Johnson leased and farmed the land under a one-year agreement executed in April 2010. The lease agreement included an option to purchase the farmland if Jeanne Johnson died on or before December 31, 2010. The option had to be exercised within three months after Jeanne Johnson's death, or sixty days after the appointment of a personal representative to Johnson's estate, whichever occurred later. Stuart Johnson timely exercised his option to purchase the farmland after Mark was appointed personal representative of Jeanne Johnson's estate.

         [¶ 4] In October 2010, Stuart Johnson and Mark, as personal representative of the estate, entered into a "Self-Renewing Farm Cash Rent Contract with Unbreakable Option to Purchase" for the farmland. The agreement required Stuart Johnson to pay yearly cash rent of $9, 350 and provided Stuart a non-expiring option to purchase the farmland for the appraised price of $248, 200.

         [¶ 5] In November 2010, Steven Johnson filed a claim against the estate asserting he owned the farmland under a contract for deed with Jeanne Johnson. Mark denied the claim, and Steven Johnson sued for specific performance of the contract for deed. The district court dismissed Steven Johnson's action for specific performance, and this Court affirmed in Johnson v. Mark, 2013 ND 128, 834 N.W.2d 291.

         [¶ 6] In August 2013, Steven and Scott Johnson applied to the district court for an order restraining Mark from selling the land to Stuart Johnson. The court denied their application, concluding state law authorized Mark to sell the farmland if acting reasonably for the benefit of the interested persons. The court found that in entering the October 2010 lease agreement with Stuart Johnson, Mark acted reasonably for the benefit of all interested persons, the residuary devisees under Jeanne Johnson's will. After the court denied Steven and Scott Johnson's application, Mark conveyed the farmland to Stuart Johnson by a personal representative's deed in May 2014. Scott and Steven Johnson appealed, and this Court reversed for further proceedings on whether Mark acted reasonably for the benefit of the interested persons when she entered into the agreement with Stuart Johnson. Estate of Johnson, 2015 ND 110, 863 N.W.2d 215.

         [¶ 7] On remand, the district court heard additional testimony from Sandra Mark and Stuart Johnson and found Mark acted reasonably for the benefit of all interested persons when she entered into the October 2010 agreement to lease and sell the farmland to Stuart Johnson. Mark petitioned for approval of the estate's final report and account and for approval of $28, 163.72 in personal representative fees and $119, 324.97 in attorney's fees to be paid out of the estate. Scott and Steven Johnson objected to the final report and account and to the amount of fees. ...


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