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Hogen v. Hogen

Supreme Court of North Dakota

January 15, 2019

Marby Hogen and Susan Hogen, Plaintiffs and Appellants
v.
Steven C. Hogen, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Arline H. Hogen, Deceased; Steven C. Hogen, as Trustee of the Curtiss A. Hogen Trust B, as created under the Last Will and Testament of Curtiss A. Hogen; and Steven C. Hogen, individually, Defendants and Appellees

          Appeal from the District Court of Barnes County, Southeast Judicial District, the Honorable Jay A. Schmitz, Judge.

          Jonathan T. Garaas, Fargo, N.D., for plaintiffs and appellants.

          Sara K. Sorenson (argued) and Robert G. Hoy (on brief), West Fargo, N.D., for defendants and appellees.

          OPINION

          Tufte, Justice.

         [¶ 1] Marby and Susan Hogen appeal from a summary judgment in their quiet title action after the district court determined their interest in certain land was inferior to the interests of the Curtiss A. Hogen Trust B and the Estate of Arline Hogen. Marby and Susan Hogen argue the district court erred in not quieting title to the land in them. We affirm.

         I

         [¶ 2] At issue in this appeal is an interest in about 737 acres of farmland in Barnes and Cass Counties. Curtiss and Arline Hogen were married and jointly owned the farmland. In the 1960s, their son, Rodney Hogen, began farming the land with Curtiss Hogen. Curtiss Hogen died in 1993, and his will distributed his undivided one-half interest in the farmland to the Curtiss A. Hogen Trust B, with Arline Hogen designated as the recipient of the net income from the Trust. Curtiss Hogen's will appointed his two children, Steven and Rodney Hogen, as co-trustees of the Trust and authorized the Trust to continue the farming operation. Rodney Hogen continued farming the land under a cash rent and crop-share agreement with the Trust and with Arline Hogen, the owner of the other undivided one-half interest in the farmland.

         [¶ 3] Arline Hogen died in March 2007, and her will equally devised all her property to Steven and Rodney Hogen. Steven Hogen was appointed personal representative of Arline Hogen's Estate, and during the probate of her estate, a dispute arose about the financial obligations and arrangements for the farming operation and the ownership of the farmland. Those disputes culminated in two prior appeals to this Court involving Steven and Rodney Hogen and the property interests held by the Estate of Arline Hogen and by the Curtiss A. Hogen Trust B. In re Curtiss A. Hogen Trust B, 2018 ND 117, 911 N.W.2d 305; In re Estate of Hogen, 2015 ND 125, 863 N.W.2d 876.

         [¶ 4] In Estate of Hogen, 2015 ND 125, ¶¶ 8-27, 863 N.W.2d 876, this Court rejected Rodney Hogen's argument that his share of his mother's land vested in him by operation of law immediately upon her death and held his interest in that land was subject to probate administration and a retainer action by Steven Hogen as personal representative of the Estate. We held that Rodney Hogen's cash rent and crop-share obligations to his mother's estate were a noncontingent indebtedness subject to probate administration and a retainer claim in the administration of her estate. Id. at ¶¶ 13-2 7. We explained a personal representative's authority over title to a decedent's property was subject to estate administration and a devisee's title to the property was subject to administration and remained encumbered as long as the estate was in administration or subject to further administration. Id. We concluded a devisee's right to a decedent's property was subject to administration by a personal representative, which may continue until termination of the personal representative's appointment or execution of an instrument or deed of distribution. Id. at ¶ 25. We concluded a devisee's title to a decedent's property was encumbered as long as the estate was subject to administration. Id. at ¶¶ 26-2 7.

         [¶ 5] In Hogen Trust, 2018 ND 117, ¶¶ 15-2 3, 911 N.W.2d 305, we rejected Rodney Hogen's arguments that his father's trust immediately terminated as a matter of law upon Arline Hogen's death and that he and Steven Hogen automatically became fully vested owners of the land as tenants in common upon her death. We concluded the plain language of the Trust contemplated further and continuing action after the surviving spouse's death to effectuate a division of the Trust property into equal shares. Id. We held the evidence supported the district court's decision that the Trust was entitled to an offset against Rodney Hogen's share of the Trust property for his breaches of fiduciary duties to the Trust. Id. at ¶¶ 24-3 6.

         [¶ 6] After the probate court issued an order approving the final accounting and settlement in the probate of Arline Hogen's estate in 2013 and before this Court's decision in Estate of Hogen, 2015 ND 125, 863 N.W.2d 876, Rodney Hogen and his wife, Susan Hogen, executed quit claim deeds in February 2014, granting all their right, title, and interest in the tracts of land to their daughter, Marby Hogen, while reserving a life estate for themselves. In June 2017, Marby and Susan Hogen brought this quiet title action against Steven Hogen personally and as personal representative of the Estate and as trustee of the Trust to quiet their title to the land described in the February 2014 quit claim deeds. In June 2017, lis pendens were filed against the land in the recorder's offices in Barnes and Cass Counties, giving notice of the pending quiet title action.

         [¶ 7] In October 2017, the district court ordered cancellation of the lis pendens. In March 2018, the district court granted Steven Hogen's motion for summary judgment, explaining the interests of Marby and Susan Hogen depended on whatever interest their grantor, Rodney Hogen, had in the farmland and that inquiry required separate analyses of his interests in the property held by the Estate and held by the Trust.

         [¶ 8] In addressing the property held by the Estate, the district court relied extensively on Estate of Hogen and ruled the Estate's power over the title to the land during the administration of the Estate was an encumbrance upon Rodney Hogen's title and interest as an heir and was superior to any interest of Marby and Susan Hogen in the land. The court concluded any conveyance of the Estate's interest in the land to a third party extinguished the interests of Marby and Susan Hogen in the land. The court rejected their argument that administration of the Estate was complete upon entry of the probate court's order approving the final settlement of the Estate in 2013, because the Estate was still being administered under court order and Steven Hogen remained the duly appointed personal representative of the Estate. The court concluded:

Steve Hogen, in his capacity as personal representative of the Estate of Arline Hogen, is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law because administration of the estate is ongoing, and during administration Steven's power over the title to the estate's real property embraces all possible transactions which might result in a conveyance or encumbrance of the estate's real property. Estate of Hogen, 2015 ND 125 ¶ 20. Steven's power over title is an encumbrance upon Rodney Hogen's title to that property as an heir of the estate (id. at ΒΆ 26). Until administration of the estate is finalized in accordance with the orders of the Cass County District Court, the personal representative's plenary power over the title to all of the estate's real property is superior to any right, title, or interest of Rodney Hogen, and therefore superior to any right, title, or interest that Marby or Susan Hogen acquired by and through the ...

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