State of North Dakota and Cheri F. Poitra, Plaintiffs and Appellees
Shane M. Martin, Defendant and Appellant
from the District Court of Sheridan County, South Central
Judicial District, the Honorable Cynthia M. Feland, Judge.
Heather M. Krumm, Special Assistant Attorney General,
Bismarck, ND, for plaintiff and appellee State of North
Dakota. Cheri F. Poitra, Bloomington, MN, plaintiff and
appellee; submitted on brief.
R. Craig (argued), Minot, ND, and Robert G. Ackre (on brief),
Cando, ND, for defendant and appellant.
VandeWalle, Chief Justice.
1] Shane Martin appealed an order denying his N.D.R.Civ.P.
60(b) motion for relief from default judgment. We conclude
the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying
Martin's Rule 60(b) motion for relief from judgment. We
2] Martin is the biological father of Cheri Poitra's
child, I.R.P. Martin and Poitra are unmarried tribal members
of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. In August 2017,
Poitra began receiving services from Bismarck Regional Child
Support Unit (BRCSU). The State sought to establish a child
support obligation from Martin and served him with a summons
and complaint in Rolla on September 19, 2017. Martin
completed a financial affidavit and returned it to BRCSU on
October 8, 2017, but did not file an answer or other
responsive pleading. On November 7, 2017, the State filed a
N.D.R.Ct. 3.2 motion for default judgment. More than 21 days
had passed since Martin was served and he had appeared but
had not filed an answer or other responsive pleading.
3] On November 17, 2017, Martin filed a notice of special
appearance. The notice of special appearance did not contain
an accompanying affidavit, motion, request for action, or
response to the allegations. Instead, the notice stated only
that Martin's attorney was entering a special appearance
to contest "both subject matter and personal
jurisdiction." Included with the notice was a copy of a
summons and a petition for custody filed by Martin with the
Turtle Mountain Tribal Court on November 16, 2017.
4] A hearing on the "notice of special appearance"
was held January 11, 2018. During the hearing, the district
court stated numerous times that the notice was not a motion
on which the court could act and instructed Martin to file a
motion. On February 20, 2018, the district court entered its
findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order for judgment
finding Martin in default. Judgment was entered February 21,
5] Martin filed a N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(b) motion for relief from
judgment on February 28, 2018. A hearing was held March 29,
2018. At the hearing, the district court again explained that
a special appearance is not a motion. The court entered an
order denying the motion for relief from judgment on April 3,
6] Martin appeals from the district court's denial of his
N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(b) motion for relief from default judgment.
Martin argues that his return of the financial affidavit and
filing of a notice of special appearance was sufficient to
preclude a default judgment under N.D.R.Civ.P. 55(a) and thus
the district court erred in denying his Rule 60(b) motion.
7] A trial court's decision to deny relief under
N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(b) will not be overturned on appeal absent an
abuse of discretion. Berry v. Berry, 2017 ND 245,
¶ 10, 903 N.W.2d 68. This Court does "not determine
whether the court was substantively correct in entering the
judgment from which relief is sought, but determine[s] only
whether the court abused its discretion in ruling that
sufficient grounds for disturbing the finality of the
judgment were not established." Knutson v.
Knutson, 2002 ND 29, ¶ 7, 639 N.W.2d 495. An abuse
of discretion occurs only when the trial court acts in an
arbitrary, unconscionable, or unreasonable manner, or when
its decision is not the product of a rational mental process
leading to a reasoned determination. Berry, at
¶ 10 . An abuse of discretion by the trial
court is never assumed and must be affirmatively established.
Shull v. Walcker, 2009 ND 142, ¶ 13, 770 N.W.2d
8] Rule 60(b), N.D.R.Civ.P., should be invoked only when
extraordinary circumstances are present. Knutson,
2002 ND 29, ¶ 7, 639 N.W.2d 495; Galloway v.
Galloway, 281 N.W.2d 804, 806 (N.D. 1979). The movant
has the burden of establishing circumstances extraordinary
enough to disturb the finality of a judgment. Gajewski v.
Bratcher, 240 N.W.2d 871, 886 (N.D. 1976). "A
decision to submit only certain evidence at a stage in the
proceedings generally cannot later constitute exceptional
circumstances justifying relief from a judgment."
Shull, 2009 ND 142, ¶ 14, 770 N.W.2d 274. A