Justia Bankruptcy Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court
Great Plains Royalty Corp. v. Earl Schwartz Co., et al.
Earl Schwartz Company and the co-personal representatives of the Estate of Earl N. Schwartz (amongst others, together “ESCO”) and SunBehm Gas, Inc. appealed a judgment quieting title to oil and gas interests in Great Plains Royalty Corporation. Great Plains cross appealed, arguing the district court erred when it denied its claims for damages. Great Plains’ creditors filed an involuntary petition for bankruptcy under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code in 1968. The case was converted to a Chapter 7 liquidation proceeding. The bankruptcy trustee prepared an inventory and published a notice of sale that listed various assets, including oil and gas interests. Earl Schwartz was the highest bidder. Schwartz entered into an agreement with SunBehm to sell certain interests described in the notice, and the district court order approved the transfer of those interests directly from the bankruptcy estate to SunBehm. The bankruptcy case was closed in 1974. Great Plains’ creditors were not initially paid in full; the bankruptcy case was reopened in 2013, Great Plains’ creditors were paid in full with interest, and adversary proceedings were brought to determine ownership of various oil and gas interests, to which ESCO was a party. ESCO argued the bankruptcy sale transferred all of the interests owned by Great Plains, regardless of whether they were listed in the notice of sale. The bankruptcy court rejected ESCO’s argument and determined title to various properties (not the subject of the present appeal). Then in 2016, Great Plains brought this quiet title action against ESCO and SunBehm; ESCO and SunBehm brought quiet title cross claims. The district court held a bench trial and found the bankruptcy trustee intended to sell “100%” of all of the oil and gas interests Great Plains owned at the time of the bankruptcy. But the North Dakota Supreme Court reversed, finding the district court erred when it determined the bankruptcy trustee intended to sell all of Great Plains’ interests, including those not listed in the notice of sale. On remand, ESCO and SunBehm claimed they held equitable title to oil and gas interests in various tracts identified in the notice of sale, interest which were confirmed by the bankruptcy court. The Supreme Court reversed the district court’s ruling on collateral estoppel as a misapplication of the law, and vacated the court’s title determination and its denial of Great Plains’ conversion claim. The case was remanded for the court to determine whether ownership of any interests in the tracts identified in the notice of sale passed to ESCO or SunBehm by virtue of the bankruptcy sale and confirmation order. View "Great Plains Royalty Corp. v. Earl Schwartz Co., et al." on Justia Law
In re Anderson
The United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of North Dakota certified a question of law to the North Dakota Supreme Court, asking whether a married debtor was entitled to an exemption up to $100,000 for his undivided one-half interest in homestead property jointly owned with a nondebtor. The Supreme Court answered the certified question “yes.” View "In re Anderson" on Justia Law
Great Plains Royalty Corporation v. Earl Schwartz Company, et al.
Great Plains Royalty Corp. appealed the dismissal of its complaint and deciding ownership of certain real property in favor of Earl Schwartz Co. (“ESCO”); Basin Minerals, LLC; SunBehm Gas, Inc.; and other defendants. In 1968, Great Plains’ creditors initiated a bankruptcy case by filing an involuntary petition under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. The bankruptcy court ruled Great Plains was “a bankrupt,” and the case was converted to a liquidation proceeding under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code. The trustee received permission to sell the estate’s assets, an auction sale was held, and Earl Schwartz was the winning bidder. An order confirming sale of the assets was entered; the order stated Schwartz entered into an agreement with SunBehm to purchase certain properties in the bankruptcy estate, and title was transferred on those properties directly from the estate to SunBehm. The trustee did not collect sufficient funds from the auction to pay all creditors in full. The bankruptcy case was closed in 1974. In 2013, the bankruptcy case was reopened, and a successor trustee was appointed. The successor trustee collected funds sufficient to pay “a 100 percent dividend” to the estate’s creditors, and he attempted to disburse the funds to the unpaid creditors. While the case was open various adversary proceedings were brought, including some to determine ownership of certain properties. Some of the adversary proceedings were decided, and others were dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. The bankruptcy court discharged the trustee and closed the bankruptcy case in May 2016. In December 2016, Great Plains sued ESCO, Basin, and SunBehm to quiet title to oil, gas, and other minerals in and under three properties located in McKenzie County, North Dakota. ESCO and Basin were successors in interest to Schwartz. Great Plains argued the district court erred by finding the bankruptcy trustee intended to sell all of Great Plains’ assets, including those not listed in the auction sale notice, to Earl Schwartz. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court’s decision to quiet title in favor of the defendants was based on its misapplications of the law and findings that were not supported by the evidence. The Court considered the remaining issues and arguments and concluded they were either without merit or are unnecessary to its decision. Because the court’s findings were clearly erroneous, the Supreme Court reversed the district court’s judgment deciding ownership of certain properties and dismissing Great Plains’ complaint with prejudice. The matter was remanded for further proceedings to determine the parties’ claims and ownership of the properties. View "Great Plains Royalty Corporation v. Earl Schwartz Company, et al." on Justia Law
Alerus Financial, N.A. v. Erwin
Charles Erwin appeals from an amended judgment entered in favor of Alerus Financial, N.A., for $5,265,653.09. Starting in 2012 Alerus made a series of loans totaling more than $15 million to Diverse Energy Systems, LLC. The loan agreement specified "Events of Default," including the failure to pay the indebtedness, the insolvency of the borrower or guarantor or the commencement of bankruptcy proceedings. Erwin was Diverse's chief executive officer, and he signed multiple personal guaranties, promising to be personally responsible for payment of up to $4 million of Diverse's debt owed to Alerus. In September 2015 Diverse filed for bankruptcy. In May 2016 Alerus sued Erwin for breach of contract and unjust enrichment, alleging Diverse was in default under the loan agreement and Erwin failed to make payment on the amount due under the guaranties. Alerus alleged Diverse's indebtedness exceeded $12 million and under the guaranties Erwin was liable for at least $4 million in principal and interest. On September 6, 2016, Erwin filed an answer to Alerus' complaint. Alerus moved for summary judgment, arguing Diverse defaulted on its loan obligations and Erwin breached the guaranty contracts by failing to pay the amounts due under the guaranties. Alerus also filed an affidavit in support of its motion from an Alerus employee, which it claimed showed the total outstanding principal and interest on the loans to Diverse. Erwin argued on appeal to the North Dakota Supreme Court the district court abused its discretion by failing to rule on his motion to amend his answer and entering judgment without allowing him to conduct discovery on Alerus' damage claims. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the amended judgment. View "Alerus Financial, N.A. v. Erwin" on Justia Law
PHI Financial Services, Inc. v. Johnston Law Office, P.C.
In 2007, Thomas and Mari Grabanski and John and Dawn Keeley formed Keeley Grabanski Land Partnership for the purpose of purchasing land in Texas. In 2008 the Grabanskis and Keeleys formed G & K Farms for the purpose of farming the Texas land. G & K was insured under the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments Program ("SURE"), which was administered by the Farm Service Agency of the United States Department of Agriculture. In 2007 and 2008 Choice Financial Group made a series of loans totaling more than $6.75 million to the Grabanskis and the Keeleys on behalf of G & K. Choice entered into a number of security agreements with G & K and its principals to secure the debt. In 2008 PHI Financial Services, Inc. loaned $6.6 million to G & K, the Grabanskis and their various other business entities. PHI entered into security agreements with the debtors which included a provision granting it a security interest in certain "General Intangibles." The Grabanskis and their business entities eventually defaulted on their loans. Johnston Law Office, P.C. represented the Grabanskis in personal bankruptcy proceedings initiated in 2010, and represented them and their business entities during the following two years in numerous lawsuits stemming from the bankruptcy. In March 2011, PHI obtained a judgment against the Grabanskis and G & K in the United States District Court for the District of North Dakota. G & K received a SURE payment from the federal government for 2009 crop losses. The Grabanskis did not deposit the disaster payment in G & K's North Dakota bank account with Choice because Johnston advised them that Choice would offset the funds against G & K's debt to Choice. Instead, G & K deposited the SURE payment in a new Texas bank account. The Grabanskis then transferred a portion of the SURE payment from the Texas bank account to Johnston's law office trust account through two transactions: one to pay Johnston's attorney fees, and the other for Tom Grabanski's father, Merlyn Grabanski, to indemnify him for monies paid on behalf of G & K the previous year. PHI brought this action against Johnston seeking to recover additional monies based on theories of conversion and fraudulent transfer. PHI later added Choice as a defendant to determine priority of the competing security interests. The district court granted summary judgment ruling PHI's security interest had priority over the security interest held by Choice. Following a bench trial the court ruled the money transferred to Tom Grabanski's father was a fraudulent transfer and PHI was entitled to recover that amount from Johnston. The court also found that a $150,000 payment was fraudulent, but found G & K received reasonably equivalent value for the transfer. The court allowed Johnston to retain $35,000 of the remaining funds, which the court found equaled the value of legal services provided to G & K, but voided the remaining $115,000. A judgment with interest totaling $167,203.24 was entered in favor of PHI. Johnston argued on appeal that the district court erred in holding it liable for any part of the $170,400 the law firm received from G & K's Texas bank account. Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed the award of prejudgment interest and remanded for recalculation. The Court affirmed in all other respects. View "PHI Financial Services, Inc. v. Johnston Law Office, P.C." on Justia Law