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Watford City Lodging LLC v. Miskin

Supreme Court of North Dakota

May 16, 2019

Watford City Lodging LLC, Plaintiff and Appellant
v.
Christopher Dean Miskin, Defendant and Appellee

          Appeal from the District Court of McKenzie County, Northwest Judicial District, the Honorable Daniel S. El-Dweek, Judge.

          William C. Black, Bismarck, N.D., for plaintiff and appellant.

          Greg W. Hennessy, Williston, N.D., for defendant and appellee.

          OPINION

          TUFTE, JUSTICE.

         [¶1] Watford City Lodging LLC ("WCL") appeals from an order denying its motion to amend a judgment vacating a default eviction judgment. WCL argues the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the eviction proceedings, exceeded its jurisdiction by making extraneous findings and conclusions of law, and abused its discretion by denying WCL's motion to amend the judgment. We reverse the court's order and remand for the court to vacate its extraneous findings of fact and conclusions of law in its judgment vacating the default eviction.

         I

         [¶2] On November 22, 2017, WCL filed an eviction complaint against Christopher Miskin. WCL claimed Miskin planned to purchase property WCL owns, he signed an early occupancy agreement as part of the sale, the early occupancy agreement required him to pay $8, 000 in earnest money, he never paid the earnest money, he indicated he would not be purchasing the property, and he continued to be in possession of the property despite being told to evacuate and receiving a three-day notice to evict. A notice of hearing was filed, stating a "scheduling conference" was set for December 11, 2017.

         [¶3] On December 11, 2017, a hearing was held on the eviction complaint. Miskin did not appear at the hearing. On December 14, 2017, the district court entered a default eviction. The court found Miskin was served with a notice to evict as required by statute, and Miskin failed to appear for the hearing and did not answer the complaint. The court also found WCL leased the property to Miskin, the lease agreement required Miskin to pay $8, 000 monthly rent, and Miskin materially violated the lease by failing to timely pay rent. The court ordered Miskin's immediate eviction. Judgment of eviction was entered.

          [¶4] On February 7, 2018, Miskin moved to vacate the default judgment of eviction. Miskin argued his eviction was wrongful because N.D.C.C. § 47-32-02 requires an eviction hearing to be held within three to fifteen days after issuance of a summons; the hearing was held on December 11, 2017, nineteen days after the summons was issued; and therefore the court did not have jurisdiction to issue the eviction order and judgment. He also argued the purchase agreement and early occupancy agreement were not a lease, there was no lease agreement, and therefore the summary eviction proceedings did not apply. WCL opposed the motion.

         [¶5] After a hearing, the district court entered an order vacating the default eviction judgment. The court concluded the matter was inappropriate as a summary eviction matter, the parties did not have a lease and had only a purchase agreement, Miskin's attorney was not served with the eviction pleadings, and the court did not have jurisdiction to evict Miskin. The court ordered Miskin be immediately restored to possession and occupancy of the premises. Judgment was entered consistent with the order.

         [¶6] WCL moved to amend the judgment to strike certain paragraphs . W C L a r g u e d the district court erred by ruling on matters other than possession of the premises and by taking testimony and receiving evidence when an evidentiary hearing had not been requested. WCL asserted the motion to vacate should have been the only question before the court. The district court denied the motion.

         II

         [¶7] WCL appeals from the district court's order denying WCL's motion to amend the judgment vacating the default eviction judgment. WCL moved to amend the judgment under N.D.R.Civ.P. 59(j) and 60(b)(1) and (6). A district court's decision on a motion to amend a judgment under N.D.R.Civ.P. 59(j) or on a motion for relief from a judgment under N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(b) will not be reversed on appeal unless the court abused its discretion. Werven v. Werven, 2016 ND 60, ¶ 24, 877 N.W.2d 9. A court abuses its discretion when it acts in an arbitrary, unreasonable, or unconscionable manner, when it misinterprets or misapplies the law, or when its decision is not the product of a rational mental process leading to a reasoned determination. Id.

         [¶8] A motion to amend a judgment under N.D.R.Civ.P. 59(j) may be used to request the court reconsider its judgment and correct errors of law. Flaten v. Couture, 2018 ND 136, ¶ 28, 912 N.W.2d 330. We have explained that N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(1) "may be used to relieve a party from a judgment for mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect." Flaten, at ΒΆ 29. Rule 60(b), N.D.R.Civ.P., "is the 'catchall provision' that allows a court to grant relief for 'any other reason ...


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