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Gustafson v. Poitra

Supreme Court of North Dakota

August 28, 2018

Darrel Gustafson, Plaintiff and Appellee
v.
Raymond Poitra, Linus Poitra, Defendants and Appellants and all other persons unknown claiming an estate or interest in, or lien, or encumbrance upon, the property described in the Complaint, Defendants

          Appeal from the District Court of Rolette County, Northeast Judicial District, the Honorable Anthony S. Benson, Judge.

          Ian J. Arendt (argued) and David J. Smith (on brief), Bismarck, ND, for plaintiff and appellee.

          William J. Delmore, Bismarck, ND, for defendants and appellants.

          OPINION

          MCEVERS, JUSTICE.

         [¶ 1] Raymond and Linus Poitra appeal from a judgment quieting title in two parcels of land on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in Darrel Gustafson and ordering the Poitras to pay Gustafson $67, 567.98 in damages and $6, 620 in attorney's fees. The Poitras argue the district court erred in deciding the Turtle Mountain Tribal Court did not have jurisdiction over Gustafson's action. We affirm.

         I

         [¶ 2] In 2015, Gustafson sued the Poitras and all others claiming an interest in two parcels of land, alleging Gustafson was a non-Indian fee owner of the two parcels located in Rolette County within the exterior boundaries of the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation by virtue of a 2007 foreclosure judgment and a 2008 sheriff's deed. See Gustafson v. Poitra, 2008 ND 159, ¶¶ 1, 26, 755 N.W.2d 479 (affirming foreclosure judgment). Gustafson alleged the Poitras asserted certain interests in the parcels by filing with the Rolette County Register of Deeds a lessor's lien on the property for claimed rent of $337, 008 and royalties and penalties of $6, 410, 150 and by notifying Gustafson's bank about the lien. Gustafson sought to quiet title to the two parcels and to recover damages attributable to the lessor's lien.

         [¶ 3] The Poitras answered, alleging the state district court did not have subject matter jurisdiction over Gustafson's action against them for the lease of Indian-owned land located within the boundaries of the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation. They alleged the Turtle Mountain Tribal Court had jurisdiction over issues about Gustafson's consensual lease relationship with the Poitras under Montana v. United States, 450 U.S. 544 (1981) and under the Turtle Mountain Tribal Code. The Poitras sought dismissal of Gustafson's action.

         [¶ 4] After a bench trial, the district court found Gustafson was a non-Indian owner of fee land in Rolette County within the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation. The court ruled the exceptions in Montana providing a tribal court with jurisdiction over fee land transferred to a non-Indian did not provide the Turtle Mountain Tribal Court with jurisdiction over the fee land transferred to Gustafson in the foreclosure action. The district court ruled it had subject matter jurisdiction over Gustafson's action under the infringement test in Williams v. Lee, 358 U.S. 217 (1959). The court decided the Poitras' claimed lessor's lien was a void nonconsensual common-law lien under N.D.C.C. ch. 35-35. The court quieted title in the two parcels in Gustafson and awarded him a money judgment against the Poitras in the amount of $67, 567.98 and attorney's fees in the amount of $6, 620.

         II

         [¶ 5] The Poitras argue the district court erred in deciding the Turtle Mountain Tribal Court did not have subject matter jurisdiction over Gustafson's action under Montana. They argue the Turtle Mountain Tribal Court has jurisdiction under Montana, because Gustafson engaged in consensual actions in doing business from the subject property on the reservation and because the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians established the action affected the political integrity, economic security, or health and welfare of the tribe.

         [¶ 6] In Fredericks v. Fredericks, 2016 ND 234, ¶ 6, 888 N.W.2d 177 (citations omitted), we described standards for analyzing subject matter jurisdiction:

Subject-matter jurisdiction cannot be conferred by agreement, consent, or waiver, and issues involving subject-matter jurisdiction can be raised by the court or a party at any time in a proceeding. When the jurisdictional facts are not in dispute, we review the district court's decision on subject-matter jurisdiction de novo. If the underlying jurisdictional facts are disputed, this Court is presented with a mixed question of law and fact, and we review the question of law de novo and the district court's findings of fact under the clearly erroneous standard of review. A finding of fact is clearly erroneous if it is induced by an erroneous view of the law, if no evidence exists to support it, or if, upon review of the entire record, this Court believes a mistake has been made.

         [¶ 7] Here, the district court found Gustafson was a non-Indian owner of the two parcels of fee land. The court found that Gustafson received a sheriff's deed for the property by virtue of the prior foreclosure action and that the Poitras no longer had an interest in the land. The court consequently analyzed ...


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