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Nodak Mutual Insurance Co. v. Steffes

Supreme Court of North Dakota

May 16, 2019

Nodak Mutual Insurance Company, Plaintiff and Appellee
v.
Kelly Steffes, Keith Steffes, and Tasha Rohrbach n/k/a Steffes, Defendants and Appellants

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

          Sean F. Marrin, Grand Forks, ND, for plaintiff and appellee.

          Lawrence P. Kropp, Jamestown, ND, for Kelly Steffes and Tasha Rohrbach, n/k/a Steffes, defendants and appellants.

          Fallon M. Kelly, Lisbon, ND, for Keith Steffes, defendant and appellant.

          OPINION

          Crothers, Justice.

         [¶1] Keith Steffes, Kelly Steffes and Tasha (Rohrbach) Steffes appeal from a district court order granting Nodak Mutual Insurance Company's motion for a new trial. The Steffeses argue the district court abused its discretion in vacating the judgment and granting Nodak's motion for a new trial. We dismiss the appeal because the order granting a new trial is not currently reviewable.

         I

         [¶2] In April 2012 a vehicle owned by Keith Steffes and insured by Nodak was involved in a single vehicle rollover. Keith Steffes claimed he was driving but not injured in the accident. Kelly Steffes and Tasha Steffes suffered serious injuries. The Steffeses did not notify authorities of the accident. Instead, Kelly Steffes and Tasha Steffes were taken to the hospital by a third party while Keith Steffes removed the vehicle from the accident scene using a tractor. Authorities later located the vehicle on Keith Steffes' father's farm. Keith Steffes' initial statements to police misreported the location of the accident and misreported the reason he did not immediately contact authorities.

         [¶3] Nodak initiated an investigation as part of its claims process, gathering sworn statements from the Steffeses and performing DNA testing inside the vehicle. Based on inconsistent statements and the DNA test results, Nodak alleged Keith Steffes was not the vehicle driver, and sought declaratory relief and a determination of coverage based on material misrepresentations. The jury returned a special verdict in favor of the Steffeses, finding Nodak did not prove its case by the greater weight of evidence. Nodak successfully moved for a new trial under N.D.R.Civ.P. 59(b)(6), claiming insufficient evidence justified the verdict. The Steffeses appealed.

         II

         [¶4] Neither party raised the issue of appealability. This Court considers the matter sua sponte. Ceartin v. Ochs, 479 N.W.2d 863, 864 (1992). A two-prong inquiry is used when analyzing this Court's jurisdiction to consider appeals from orders in cases with unadjudicated claims. Id. First, the order must satisfy one of the bases for appeal in N.D.C.C. § 28-27-02. Second, the case must comply with N.D.R.Civ.P. 54(b).

         [¶5] Whether an order satisfies the first prong is governed by North Dakota Century Code. "An order which grants or refuses a new trial or which sustains a demurrer" is appealable under N.D.C.C. § 28-27-02. Here, the appeal is from the district court order granting Nodak's motion for a new trial. The first prong is satisfied, and the appeal must be reviewed for compliance with N.D.R.Civ.P. 54(b) because an order granting a new trial does not terminate the action. Standing alone, and without Rule 54(b) certification, the order for a new trial is not a final order for purposes of appeal. Ceartin v. Ochs, 479 N.W.2d 863, 865 (N.D. 1992).

         [¶6] Rule 54(b) provides:

"If an action presents more than one claim for relief, whether as a claim, counterclaim, crossclaim, or third-party claim, or if multiple parties are involved, the court may direct entry of a final judgment as to one or more, but fewer than all, claims or parties only if the court expressly determines that there is no just reason for delay. Otherwise, any order or other decision, however designated, that adjudicates fewer than all the claims or the rights and liabilities of fewer than all the parties does not end the action as to any of the claims or parties and may be ...

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