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In re Estate of Nelson

Supreme Court of North Dakota

May 8, 2018

In the Matter of the Estate of Lyle M. Nelson, Deceased First National Bank and Trust Co. of Williston, 24110.37as personal representative of the Estate of Lyle M. Nelson, Lavina Domagala, Trust Officer, Petitioner and Appellee
v.
Glenn S. Solberg; Sharon Solberg Yoder; Bruce Solberg; Elaine Solberg Olson; Gloria Dei Lutheran Church; United Lutheran Church of Zahl; Dakota Boys Ranch of Minot; Heritage Center of Williston; Sons of Norway Lodge #086 of Williston; James Memorial Preservation Society (Old Library); Veterans and Friends of Old Armory; Douglas Murawski; James Murawski; Sandra Barnum; Eric Olson; Samuel Olson; Adam Olson; Tracy Solberg Willette; Angela Solberg; Russell Solberg, Respondents Glenn S. Solberg, Appellant

          Appeal from the District Court of Williams County, Northwest Judicial District, the Honorable Joshua B. Rustad, Judge. AFFIRMED.

          Brent M. Olson, Minot, ND, for petitioner and appellee.

          Glenn Solberg, self-represented, Zahl, ND, appellant.

          OPINION

          Jensen, Justice.

         [¶ 1] Glenn Solberg appeals from an amended judgment dismissing his claims against the estate of his stepfather, Lyle Nelson ("Lyle Nelson Estate"). Glenn Solberg challenges the district court's dismissal of his claim seeking ownership of 100 mineral acres and seeking to enforce an option to purchase real property. The court determined that the mineral interests and real property alleged to be subject to the option were never within the Lyle Nelson Estate and that Glenn Solberg's claim was also untimely. We affirm the amended judgment and grant the Lyle Nelson Estate's request for an award of costs and attorney fees for a frivolous appeal under N.D.R.App.P. 38.

         I

         [¶ 2] In 1965 Sidney Solberg, Glenn Solberg's father, passed away. Sidney Solberg's estate was the subject of a probate proceeding and on November 17, 1965 the probate court issued a final decree of distribution. The 100 mineral acres and the property alleged by Glenn Solberg to be subject to a purchase option ("option property") at issue in this proceeding were distributed from Sidney Solberg's estate as part of the probate proceedings. The 100 mineral acres and the option property were distributed to Sidney Solberg's wife, Lillian Solberg, for her life with the remainder interest to Lillian Solberg and Sidney Solberg's four children. Glenn Solberg is one of their four children. There were no objections or other challenges to the 1965 final decree of distribution.

         [¶ 3] After Sidney Solberg's death, Lillian Solberg married Lyle Nelson. In 1985 Lillian Nelson executed a will. In 1997 Lillian Nelson executed a codicil to her will. In 2003 Lillian Nelson died. Glenn Solberg did not initiate any claims against Lillian Nelson's estate and received 25 mineral acres located in Williams County under the terms of her will.

         [¶ 4] A provision in Lillian Nelson's 1985 will and a provision in the 1997 codicil are the foundation for Glenn Solberg's claim against the Lyle Nelson Estate. Lillian Nelson's 1985 will includes a specific devise to Glenn Solberg of "one hundred (100) mineral acres out of what I have remaining at the time of my death in and under other real property, in appreciation for breaking up some of my land during my lifetime." Lillian Nelson's 1997 codicil allegedly creates an option for Glenn Solberg to purchase the option property through a right of first refusal. At the time Lillian Nelson executed her will and the codicil, Lillian Nelson's interest in both the 100 mineral acres and the option property was limited to a life estate.

         [¶ 5] Glenn Solberg's claim against the Lyle Nelson Estate in this proceeding is based on his assertion that he was entitled to the distribution of the 100 mineral acres as provided in Lillian Nelson's 1985 will and that he is entitled to exercise the right of first refusal on the option property as provided in Lillian Nelson's 1997 codicil. The district court dismissed Glenn Solberg's claim against the estate, but in Estate of Nelson, 2015 ND 122, ¶ 12, 863 N.W.2d 521, we reversed and remanded for the court to provide an adequate explanation of the legal basis for its decision. On remand, the court granted the personal representative's request to dismiss the claims under N.D.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) after determining that the 100 mineral acres and the option property were never held by the Lyle Nelson Estate and were never under the control of or owned by Lyle Nelson. Alternatively, the court ruled any claim of improper distribution in the Lillian Nelson estate was time barred under N.D.C.C. § 30.1-21-06.

         II

         [¶ 6] Our review of a district court's dismissal of a claim for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under N.D.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) is well established. In Estate of Dionne, 2013 ND 40, ¶ 11, 827 N.W.2d 555, we explained:

"A motion to dismiss a complaint under N.D.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(vi) tests 'the legal sufficiency of the statement of the claim presented in the complaint.'" Hale v. State, 2012 ND 148, ¶ 13, 818 N.W.2d 684 (quoting Ziegelmann v. DaimlerChrysler Corp., 2002 ND 134, ¶ 5, 649 N.W.2d 556). "Under N.D.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(vi), a 'complaint should not be dismissed unless it is disclosed with certainty the impossibility of proving a claim upon which relief can be granted.'" Hale, at ¶ 13 (quoting Ziegelmann, at ¶ 5). On appeal, the complaint must be construed "'in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, taking as true the well-pleaded allegations in the complaint.'" Hale, at ¶ 13 (quoting Ziegelmann, at ¶ 5). "We will affirm a judgment dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim if we cannot 'discern a potential for proof to support it.'" Hale, at ¶ 13 (quoting Ziegelmann, at ¶ 5).

         [¶ 7] Our law regarding the rights of someone who holds a life interest in property is also well established. In Schroeder v. Buchholz, 2001 ND 36, ΒΆ ...


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