Brandon Dockter, individually and as Co-Trustee and a beneficiary of the Dockter Brothers Irrevocable Trust, Plaintiffs and Appellees
Shane A. Dockter, Co-Trustee, Defendant and Appellant and Blueball Farms, LLLP, and the Dockter Brothers Irrevocable Trust, Defendants
from the District Court of Stutsman County, Southeast
Judicial District, the Honorable Cherie LaVonne Clark, Judge.
W. Zuger (argued) and Timothy G. Richard (on brief), Fargo,
ND, for plaintiffs and appellees.
A. Teigland (argued), Fargo, ND, for defendant and appellant
Shane A. Dockter, Co-Trustee.
1] Shane Dockter appeals from orders denying his N.D.R.Civ.P.
60(b) motion to vacate a default judgment asserting that the
default judgment was either void or should be vacated for
excusable neglect. Applying the limited standard for
reviewing denial of motions to vacate default judgments, we
conclude the district court did not abuse its discretion and
we affirm the orders denying the motion.
2] Brandon and Shane Dockter are brothers. In 2007, the
brothers formed a partnership to facilitate a joint farming
operation. In conjunction with the formation of the
partnership the brothers also created a trust, the Dockter
Brothers Irrevocable Trust, to hold farmland located in
Stutsman County. The brothers were co-trustees of the trust.
3] Shane has mental health and chemical dependency problems.
By 2012, Shane's mental health and chemical dependency
had escalated and caused him to be absent from the farm. In
2015, Shane was detained by law enforcement after he was
found walking down a public road carrying a Bible while
wearing a church robe and claiming to be Jesus. The incident
resulted in Shane's admission to the North Dakota State
Hospital for a period of approximately one month. Around the
same time, Shane developed an addiction to opioids and
methamphetamine. He was readmitted to the State Hospital in
late 2016 after threatening his mother. In February 2017,
Shane was arrested for various offenses and was readmitted to
the State Hospital.
4] On February 24, 2017, Brandon commenced a lawsuit against
Shane seeking "dissolution" of the partnership and
"dissolution" of the trust. Brandon alleged that
"Shane's mental health and chemical dependency
problems" made him unable to participate in partnership
activities and made it impossible to achieve the purpose of
the trust. Shane was served while in custody at the
sheriff's office. Shane did not answer the complaint, and
he was readmitted to the State Hospital from April 14, 2017
to May 8, 2017.
5] On May 2, 2017, while Shane was at the State Hospital,
Brandon moved for default judgment. Shane was served with the
motion for default judgment at the State Hospital. Shane did
not respond to the motion for default judgment, and the
district court granted the default judgment
"expell[ing]" Shane from the partnership and
removing him as co-trustee of the trust.
6] In his motion for a default judgment Brandon asserted, in
his supporting affidavit, that he had made contributions to
the partnership without any reciprocal compensation.
Brandon's affidavit stated the value of his contributions
exceeded the value of Shane's interest in the
partnership. Relying on the evidence provided by
Brandon's affidavit, the district court did not include
any compensation to Shane for his interest in the partnership
in the default judgment.
7] On June 23, 2017, Shane received notice of entry of the
default judgment. On November 7, 2017, Shane filed a motion
to vacate the default judgment under N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(b).
Shane's motion to vacate the default judgment asserted
that the default judgment was void because the relief
provided by the default judgment exceeded the relief
requested in the complaint by failing to compensate Shane for
his interest in the partnership. Shane also asserted that the
motion to vacate should be granted on the ground of excusable
neglect. Shane submitted an affidavit stating in part:
I have a vague recollection of receiving legal papers from
Brandon's attorneys. They were served by the Sheriff.
Because of my mental state in February 2017, I recall
thinking that Brandon's attorneys thought I was Jesus and
that's why they were sending me documents. I also recall
thinking the papers were fake.
Until about late-May of this year, this was my predominant
thought about the current lawsuit. In June I started to
realize that Brandon was suing me. However, I was
incarcerated, with no money, and no one that was willing or
able to help me.
I felt like there was nothing I could do and until June or
July 2017 when Scott Sandness gave me a list of attorneys I
could call and my cousin, Amy, started helping me contact
attorneys. Amy and I called in excess of 20 attorneys in July
and August 2017.
Finally, on September 13, 2017, I was able to find an
attorney willing to represent me.
8] Shane also provided a report of a psychologist who
evaluated him shortly before the motion to vacate was
brought, which ...