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Fahey v. Fife

Supreme Court of North Dakota

August 7, 2017

Ann Fahey a/k/a Anne Fife, Timothy Fife, and Richard Dennis Fife, Plaintiffs and Appellants
v.
Joanne Fife a/k/a Joanne Beatty as Personal Representative of the Estate of Richard A. Fife, Joanne Fife a/k/a Joanne Beatty, Marianne Fife, and all other persons unknown claiming any estate interest or lien or encumbrance upon, the real property described in the Complaint, whether as heirs, legatees, personal representatives, devisees, creditors or otherwise, Defendants and Joanne Fife a/k/a Joanne Beatty as Personal Representative of the Estate of Richard A. Fife, Joanne Fife a/k/a Joanne Beatty, Appellee

         Appeal from the District Court of McKenzie County, Northwest Judicial District, the Honorable Robin A. Schmidt, Judge.

          Monte L. Rogneby (argued) and Briana L. Hildebrand (appeared), Bismarck, N.D., for plaintiffs and appellants.

          Michelle Gibbens (argued) and J. Bruce Gibbens (on brief), Cando, N.D., for appellee.

          Crothers, Justice.

         [¶ 1] Anne Fahey, Timothy Fife and Richard D. Fife (Plaintiffs) appeal from a district court judgment in their action seeking cancellation of a quit claim deed from their deceased mother Marianne Fife to their deceased father Richard A. Fife relating to North Dakota minerals. The court rescinded the deed but concluded that under North Dakota's intestacy laws in effect at Marianne Fife's death, the minerals passed to Richard A. Fife. The court concluded Richard A. Fife's surviving spouse Joanne Fife owns the minerals. We affirm.

         I

         [¶ 2] Marianne Fife owned a mineral interest in McKenzie County. She died without a will on December 16, 1989. Upon her death, Marianne Fife was an Idaho resident and was survived by her spouse, Richard A. Fife, and her three children, Anne Fahey, Timothy Fife, and Richard D. Fife. Richard A. Fife died in 1997, and was survived by his wife Joanne Fife.

         [¶ 3] On December 4, 1989, while on home care services, Marianne Fife conveyed her mineral interest to her husband Richard Fife. She also conveyed her interest in the parties' Idaho home to Richard Fife on December 1, 1989.

         [¶ 4] In 2011, Anne Fahey's aunt Carole Hill informed her about the circumstances surrounding Marianne Fife's December 4, 1989, conveyance of her mineral interest. Hill witnessed Richard Fife present a quit claim deed for Marianne Fife to sign, and Richard held Marianne's hand to help her sign her name on the deed. Hill believed Marianne Fife was not competent at the time to sign the deed, and was not informed as to what she was signing. Plaintiffs sued Joanne Fife, individually and as personal representative of Richard Fife's estate, claiming their mother lacked capacity to execute the deed because she was under medication to treat her pain. Plaintiffs also claimed their father exercised undue influence over their mother when she signed the deed. Plaintiffs requested the cancellation of the deed and sought an interest in the minerals.

         [¶ 5] After a bench trial the district court concluded Marianne Fife lacked capacity to sign the deed for the minerals. The court also concluded she signed the deed as a result of Richard Fife's undue influence. The court rescinded the deed and returned the mineral interest to Marianne Fife's estate; however, the court concluded that under North Dakota's intestate succession laws in effect when Marianne Fife died, her mineral interest passed to Richard Fife. The court quieted title to the mineral interest in Joanne Fife.

         II

         [¶ 6] Plaintiffs argue the district court erred by failing to properly value their mother's estate. They argue the court should have valued all of her property wherever located, including the marital home and personal property in Idaho. They argue the value of their mother's intestate estate exceeded $50, 000.

         [¶ 7] When Marianne Fife died in 1989, North Dakota and Idaho intestacy laws provided the surviving spouse's intestate share of the decedent's estate was the first $50, 000, plus one-half of the balance of the intestate estate if there are surviving children who are also children of the surviving spouse. N.D.C.C. § 30.1-04-02; I.C. § 15-2-102(a) (as to the decedent's separate property). Plaintiffs argue the value of all of Marianne Fife's North Dakota and Idaho property exceeded $50, 000; therefore, they are entitled to one-half of the balance of her estate.

         [¶ 8] Valuation of an estate's property is a finding of fact subject to the clearly erroneous standard of review. Estate of Luken, 551 N.W.2d 794, 798 (N.D. 1996). "A finding of fact is clearly erroneous if no evidence supports it, it is induced by an erroneous view of the law or after reviewing all the evidence we are left with a definite and firm conviction a mistake has been made." Adams v. Adams, 2016 ND 169, ¶ 6, 883 N.W.2d 864. We ...


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