Loren Zundel and Richard Zundel, Plaintiffs, Appellees, and Cross-Appellants
Stephen Zundel, Defendant, Appellant, and Cross-Appellee
from the District Court of LaMoure County, Southeast Judicial
District, the Honorable Jay A. Schmitz, Judge.
Benjamin J. Hasbrouck, Fargo, N.D., for plaintiffs,
appellees, and cross-appellants.
M. Kelly, Lisbon, N.D., for defendant, appellant, and
1] Stephen Zundel appeals a district court judgment declaring
Loren and Richard Zundel complied with a lease relating to
grain and farm equipment storage, declaring the lease remains
in effect, and dismissing Stephen Zundel's eviction
action against Loren and Richard Zundel. Loren and Richard
Zundel cross-appeal the judgment awarding them $21, 182 in
attorney's fees and costs. We affirm in part, reverse in
part, and remand.
2] Edwin Zundel owned real property in LaMoure County.
Approximately five acres of the property, known as the
"bin site, " contained grain bins and has been used
for storing grain and agricultural equipment since 1969.
Edwin Zundel and his sons, Loren, Richard, Stephen, and
Donald, used the bin site in varying amounts.
3] In June 2006, Edwin Zundel, as general partner of the
Zundel Family Real Estate Limited Partnership, leased the bin
site to his sons at an annual rate of $400. The lease also
included provisions regarding the use of the property,
repairs, and default. The lease provided the bin site was to
be used primarily for storing crops, farming equipment, and
farming supplies. The lease provided the term of the
agreement was the life of all tenants. The family partnership
subsequently conveyed the bin site to Stephen Zundel and he
became the landlord under the lease.
4] A dispute arose in 2014 after Stephen Zundel demanded
additional rent of $400 from each tenant. Loren and Richard
Zundel refused to pay additional rent and expressed their
position that the total annual rent was $400 from all
tenants. Stephen Zundel also demanded that repairs be made to
the bin site, including removing small trees, repairing
electrical panels and boxes, and repairing two buildings and
a pole barn.
5] In April 2015 Loren and Richard Zundel sued Stephen
Zundel, alleging they complied with the terms of the lease,
and Stephen demanded unreasonable repairs be made to the
property. Loren and Richard Zundel sought a judgment
declaring that they had fulfilled their obligations under the
terms of the bin site lease. They also sought contribution
from Stephen Zundel for rents and repairs because he remained
a tenant under the lease.
6] Stephen Zundel denied the allegations and counterclaimed
for eviction, alleging Richard and Loren Zundel breached the
bin site lease by failing to make repairs and pay additional
rent. Stephen Zundel also sought a declaratory judgment
seeking to have the lease deemed void or voidable on its
ten-year anniversary under N.D.C.C. § 47-16-02,
providing a ten-year limit on leases of agricultural land.
7] Loren and Richard Zundel moved for partial judgment on the
pleadings, arguing the total annual rent due under the lease
was $400 from all tenants. They also argued the lease did not
violate N.D.C.C. § 47-16-02 because the bin site was not
agricultural land. The district court granted the motion,
concluding the total annual rent under the lease was $400.
The court also concluded the bin site was not agricultural
land and the lease did not violate the provisions of N.D.C.C.
8] After a January 2016 trial, the district court declared
Loren and Richard Zundel fully complied with the bin site
lease and the lease remained in effect. The court also found
Stephen Zundel's counterclaims were frivolous and
dismissed his counterclaim to evict Loren and Richard Zundel
from the property. The court awarded Loren and Richard Zundel
attorney's fees for defending Stephen Zundel's
frivolous counterclaims. Loren and Richard Zundel requested
over $67, 000 in attorney's fees. After a hearing, the
court awarded Loren and Richard Zundel $21, 182 in
attorney's fees and costs.
9] Stephen Zundel argues the district court erred in granting
Loren and Richard Zundel's motion for judgment on the
pleadings, concluding the bin site lease did not violate
N.D.C.C. § 47-16-02 because the property covered by the
lease is not agricultural land.
10] A party may move for judgment on the pleadings under Rule
12(c), N.D.R.Civ.P. A pleading should not be dismissed under
N.D.R.Civ.P. 12(c) unless it appears beyond doubt that no set
of facts support a party's claim which would entitle him
to relief. Nelson v. McAlester Fuel Co., 2017 ND 49,
¶ 20, 891 N.W.2d 126 (citing Tibert v. Minto
Grain, 2004 ND 133, ¶ 7, 682 N.W.2d 294). We view
the pleading in the light most favorable to the pleading
party, and the allegations are taken as true.
Nelson, at ¶ 20. A district court's
decision granting judgment on the pleadings under
N.D.R.Civ.P. 12(c) is reviewed de novo. Nelson, at
11] "Statutory interpretation is a question of law,
fully reviewable on appeal." Tangedal v.
Mertens, 2016 ND 170, ¶ 8, 883 N.W.2d 871. Words in
a statute are given their plain, ordinary, and commonly
understood meaning, unless a contrary intention plainly
appears or unless defined by statute. N.D.C.C. §
1-02-02. "Whenever the meaning of a word or phrase is
defined in any statute, such definition is applicable to the
same word or phrase wherever it occurs in the same or
subsequent statutes, except when a contrary intention plainly
appears." N.D.C.C. § 1-01-09.
12] The general rules of contract interpretation apply to the
interpretation of leases. Kittleson v. Grynberg Petroleum
Co., 2016 ND 44, ¶ 10, 876 N.W.2d 443. A contract
must be construed as a whole to give effect to each provision
if reasonably practicable. N.D.C.C. § 9-07-06. Words are
given their plain, ordinary, and commonly understood meaning,
unless a contrary intention plainly appears. N.D.C.C. ...