Debra Heitkamp, as Personal Representative for the Estate of Nick Lyons, Plaintiff and Appellant
Kevin Kabella, Defendant and Appellee
from the District Court of Richland County, Southeast
Judicial District, the Honorable Bradley A. Cruff, Judge.
Opinion of the Court by Jensen, Justice. Asa K. Burck
(argued) and Kip M. Kaler (on brief), Fargo, ND, for
plaintiff and appellant.
A. Meyer, Wahpeton, ND, for defendant and appellee.
Debra Heitkamp, the personal representative of the Estate of
Nick Lyons, appeals from a district court judgment in favor
of Kevin Kabella following cross-motions for summary judgment
alleging the district court improperly determined the
parties' agreement was invalid because it fell within the
limitation on the length of agricultural leases provided by
N.D.C.C. § 47-16-02. We reverse the judgment and remand
for further proceedings.
Kevin Kabella and Nick Lyons entered into an agreement
pertaining to farmland on March 29, 2007. Under the terms of
the agreement, Lyons was to pay Kabella the total sum of $20,
670. Forty percent of the total sum was paid upon the signing
of the agreement with payment equaling twenty percent of the
total being made in each of the three subsequent years. The
agreement gave Lyons possession and use of the property
"in perpetuity." In addition to receiving the
property in perpetuity, the agreement stated Kabella may sell
the property subject to Lyons' right to purchase the
property for $72, 345.
Prior to the 2012 farming season, Kabella attempted to lease
the property to Kermit Anderson Jr. Lyons refused to vacate
the property asserting he was entitled to the use and
possession of the property pursuant to his agreement with
Kabella. Anderson brought an eviction action to remove Lyons
from the property. Kabella was included as a defendant to
allow a resolution of any issues regarding the agreement
between Kabella and Lyons.
In the litigation initiated by Anderson, Anderson and Kabella
asserted the March 29, 2007 agreement between Kabella and
Lyons was invalid under N.D.C.C. § 47-16-02, which
precludes agricultural leases in excess of ten years. Lyons
asserted the agreement did not fall within the limitation of
N.D.C.C. § 47-16-02. The district court entered a
judgment in favor of Lyons finding the March 29, 2007
agreement was valid until at least March 29, 2017. The
decision was appealed to this Court which affirmed the
district court's decision in Anderson v. Lyons,
2014 ND 61, 845 N.W.2d 1 (Lyons I).
In Lyons I, Kabella and Anderson argued the
agreement was a lease that fell within the limitations of
N.D.C.C. § 47-16-02. Lyons argued the agreement was not
within the limitation, and this Court declined to decide
whether the agreement at issue here was limited by N.D.C.C.
§ 47-16-02 because express provisions of the agreement
could terminate the agreement before ten years had passed.
Lyons I, 2014 ND 61, ¶ 17, 845 N.W.2d
1. In doing so, this Court cited two contingencies which
could end the agreement prior to ten years: (1) Kabella could
sell the land or (2) Lyons may opt out of the agreement.
Id. We concluded "the district court did not
err in determining the 2007 agreement did not violate
N.D.C.C. § 47-16-02 and was not invalid."
Id. We specifically noted we had not determined
whether the agreement would be "invalid should it extend
beyond ten years." Id.
Lyons passed away in May 2013, and Debra Heitkamp was
appointed personal representative of the estate. The estate
has utilized the property since that time. In March 2017,
Heitkamp, as personal representative of the estate of Lyons,
brought the present action seeking a declaratory judgment
that the agreement is valid in perpetuity. The district court
granted summary judgment to Kabella and found the agreement
was a lease that fell within the restrictions of N.D.C.C.
§ 47-16-02, and due to the non-occurrence of any of the
contingencies contained in the agreement, it expired on its
tenth anniversary, March 29, 2017. The court awarded Kabella
damages equal to the fair value of the use of the property
subsequent to March 29, 2017. The estate argues, in part,
that the payments provided under the lease were not
"rent or services," and therefore the agreement did
not fall within the limitation on agricultural leases
provided by N.D.C.C. § 47-16-02. We did not address this
issue in Lyons I. The issue is also consistent with
the argument made by Lyons in the 2012 eviction action, on
appeal in Lyons I, and again to the district court
in this case asserting the agreement does not fall within
N.D.C.C. § 47-16-02.
This Court's standard for reviewing a district
court's decision granting summary judgment under
N.D.R.Civ.P. 56 is well established:
Summary judgment is a procedural device for the prompt
resolution of a controversy on the merits without a trial if
there are no genuine issues of material fact or inferences
that can reasonably be drawn from undisputed facts, or if the
only issues to be resolved are questions of law. A party
moving for summary judgment has the burden of showing there
are no genuine issues of material fact and the moving party
is entitled to judgment as a matter of law . . . . Whether