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Great West Casualty Co. v. Butler Machinery Co.

Supreme Court of North Dakota

July 30, 2019

Great West Casualty Company, Plaintiff and Appellant
v.
Butler Machinery Company, Defendant and Appellee

          Appeal from the District Court of Burleigh County, South Central Judicial District, the Honorable John W. Grinsteiner, Judge.

          Laura C. Ringsak, Bismarck, ND, for plaintiff and appellant.

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

          OPINION

          Crothers, Justice.

         [¶1] Great West Casualty Company appeals from a judgment of dismissal with prejudice. We reverse and remand.

         I

         [¶2] Bad Habit Trucking LLC owned a 1996 Peterbilt truck. Great West Casualty Company insured the truck for Bad Habit Trucking. Dusty Weinreis is a member of Bad Habit Trucking LLC. Weinreis took the truck to Butler Machinery Company for service work. The truck was destroyed by fire after the service work was completed but before Weinreis paid for the services. Great West paid Bad Habit Trucking $85, 000 for the loss of the truck in accordance with the insurance policy.

         [¶3] In November 2017 Butler sued Weinreis in small claims court for $9, 100.94 for the unpaid service work. Weinreis counterclaimed in small claims court for the statutory maximum, $15, 000, alleging loss of use of the truck, lost profits, cost to repair and replace the truck, and loss of personal property. Prior to the small claims hearing Butler moved to dismiss the case without prejudice. Weinreis resisted the motion, and a small claims hearing took place on April 5, 2018. The court awarded Butler $8, 041.57 for the unpaid service work and awarded Weinreis $15, 000 for lost profits. Offsetting the recoveries resulted in a net award to Weinreis of $6, 958.43.

         [¶4] In June 2018 Great West sued Butler in district court for $81, 753.32 for the loss of the truck plus interest and costs. Butler moved to dismiss under N.D.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), arguing the case was fully decided in small claims court when Weinreis sued Butler for loss of the truck. The district court granted Butler's motion to dismiss because the issue stemmed from the same transaction or occurrence, and found Great West should have filed a claim for damages in the small claims action. Great West moved to reconsider on the basis that Weinreis was the defendant in the small claims action, not Great West or Bad Habit Trucking. Great West argued privity did not exist between Weinreis in his personal capacity and Great West as the insurance company for Bad Habit Trucking. The district court denied the motion to reconsider.

         II

         [¶5] A motion to dismiss under N.D.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the claim presented in the complaint. Nandan, LLP v. City of Fargo, 2015 ND 37, ¶ 11, 858 N.W.2d 892. On appeal "we construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and accept as true the well-pleaded allegations in the complaint." Id. (quoting Brandvold v. Lewis & Clark Pub. Sch. Dist. No. 161, 2011 ND 185, ¶ 6, 803 N.W.2d 827). We review de novo the district court's decision granting a motion to dismiss under N.D.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Nandan, at ¶ 11. A motion to dismiss under N.D.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) is based on the pleadings, and "[i]f . . . matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the district court, the motion [must be] treated as a motion for summary judgment under N.D.R.Civ.P. 56." Mills v. City of Grand Forks, 2012 ND 56, ¶ 7, 813 N.W.2d 574 (quoting Zutz v. Kamrowski, 2010 ND 155, ¶ 8, 787 N.W.2d 286).

         [¶6] In dismissing Great West's claims, the district court did not test the legal sufficiency of the claims presented in the pleadings under N.D.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The district court considered the entire record when it made the decision to dismiss Great West's claim: "having reviewed the briefs, exhibits, and affidavits, if any, submitted and the entire file herein concerning the motion, and having heard the arguments of counsel, if any, and being fully advised in the matter, it is ordered . . ." Due to the scope of the district court's review, this Court is required to review the order as a granted motion for summary judgment.

         [¶7] The standard of review of a district court's decision to grant summary judgment 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. In determining whether summary judgment was appropriately granted, we must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion, and that party will be given the benefit of all favorable inferences which can reasonably be drawn from the record. On appeal, this Court decides whether the information available to the district court precluded the existence of a genuine issue of ...

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