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Baltrusch v. Estate of Baltrusch

Supreme Court of Montana

December 3, 2013

WILLIAM BALTRUSCH, Plaintiff and Appellant,
ESTATE OF OTTO BALTRUSCH, JR., Defendant and Appellee.

Submitted on Briefs: November 20, 2013

APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Twelfth Judicial District, In and For the County of Hill, Cause No. DV 92-029 Honorable Richard A. Simonton, Presiding Judge.

For Appellant: K. Dale Schwanke, Attorney at Law; Great Falls, Montana

For Appellee: James A. Patten, Patten, Peterman, Bekkedahl & Green, PLLP; Billings, Montana



¶1 Pursuant to Section I, Paragraph 3(d), Montana Supreme Court Internal Operating Rules, this case is decided by memorandum opinion and shall not be cited and does not serve as precedent. Its case title, cause number, and disposition shall be included in this Court's quarterly list of noncitable cases published in the Pacific Reporter and Montana Reports.

¶2 Appellant William Baltrusch (William) appeals from the October 31, 2012, order of the Seventh Judicial District, Hill County, that decreased the partnership account equalization payment due from the estate of Otto Baltrush (Otto) to William by $172, 305.13. William further appeals the District Court's denial of William's motion for relief under M. R. Civ. P. 52(b) and M. R. Civ. P. 59(e). We affirm.

¶3 We consider for the fourth time the dissolution of the partnership that William and Otto formed in the late 1940s. Baltrusch v. Baltrusch, 2003 MT 357, 319 Mont. 23, 83 P.3d 256 (Baltrusch I); Baltrusch v. Baltrusch, 2006 MT 51, 331 Mont. 281, 130 P.3d 1267 (Baltrusch II); Baltrusch v. Baltrusch, 2008 MT 245, 344 Mont. 489, 190 P.3d 1034 (Baltrusch III). Otto and William followed more than fifty years of successful farm and construction related business together with more than two decades of bickering. T he level of enmity has extended the dispute beyond Otto's death.

¶4 The District Court determined that liquidation of the businesses represented the only viable method to divide equitably the businesses, assets, and expenses of each brother. The brothers continually have failed to follow the District Court's mandates and have challenged at every opportunity the District Court's efforts to divide the partnership's assets. The brothers have confirmed only that any solution reached by any court will not satisfy them.

¶5 We determined in Baltrusch I that William's lack of diligence during discovery precluded him from bringing a claim that lacked adequate evidentiary support. Baltrusch I, ¶ 77. We affirmed in Baltrsuch II the District Court's dismissal of William's attempt to recover allegedly misappropriated funds from Otto and Otto's wife. Baltrusch II, ¶ 31. M ost recently, in Baltrusch III, we affirmed various findings and conclusions of the District Court that both parties had challenged on appeal, including a factual notation that "William's account held a positive balance of $821, 008." Baltrusch III, ¶¶ 22, 44, 50.

¶6 Following Baltrusch III, Otto's estate remained indebted to William in order to equalize the partners' capital accounts. Otto renewed at that time a motion to hold William in contempt based upon William's unilateral determination that William had overpaid for machinery and equipment that William had purchased for the partnership. William's recalculation of the purchase price apparently increased the amount that Otto would have to repay to William. William objected on the basis that the $821, 008 balance in his capital account as determined by the District Court in 2008 constituted the law of the case.

¶7 The District Court held a hearing on the contempt motion on April 6, 2012. The District Court issued a written order on June 25, 2012, in which it determined that it "will not find William in contempt." The District Court instead "consider[ed] William's owing Otto $106, 033.97 plus interest."

¶8 The District Court conducted a bench trial on June 29, 2012, in which the District Court determined the amounts necessary to equalize the capital accounts of each brother. The District Court rejected William's law of the case argument on the grounds that it never had determined the amount necessary to equalize the capital account of each brother. The District Court rendered a decision in its November 5, 2012, findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order. After considering three separate accounting reports and subtracting accounting fees, the District Court concluded that the balance of William's capital account stood at $473, 877.85. T his reduction from our factual notation of $821, 008 in Baltrusch III, ¶ 22, reduced dramatically the amount that Otto owed to William.

¶9 The District Court also incorporated the findings from its June 25, 2012, order into its November 5, 2012, findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order. T he District Court found that "William is indebted to Otto in the sum of $106, 033.93 because of his unilateral reduction in the purchase price" in contravention of the District Court's "[a]mended [f]indings of December 30, 2004." The District Court awarded to Otto the value of William's unilateral refund plus 10 percent interest per annum from July 11, 2006, until October 11, 2012. T his award resulted in a $172, 305.13 offset from the required payment by Otto's estate to William. The net payment due from Otto's estate to William stands at $301, 572.72, as a result.

¶10 William challenged the District Court's judgment in a combined motion for relief under M. R. Civ. P. 52(b) and M. R. Civ. P. 59(e) on November 30, 2012. The District Court determined that William had failed to identify any manifest errors, as required for a successful Rule 59 motion. The District Court further found that William had failed to show that the findings of fact were incorrect, as required for a successful Rule 52 motion. The District Court denied William's motion. William appeals.

¶11 William argues that the District Court lacked authority to order that William repay Otto for half the money that William had refunded to himself because "no right of offset existed pursuant to which an obligation . . . could be offset." William also argues that no changes could be made to his capital account balance because "Baltrusch [III] stood as the law of the case, and its ruling regarding William's [c]apital [a]ccount balance was res judicata."

¶12 We review for correctness a district court's application of res judicata. Hartsoe v. Christopher, 2013 MT 57, ¶ 9, 369 Mont. 223, 296 P.3d 1186. We review for clear error a district court's findings of fact. Roland v. Davis, 2013 MT 148, ¶ 21, 370 Mont. 327, 302 P.3d 91. Clear error exists if substantial, credible evidence fails to support the findings of fact, if the district court misapprehended the evidence's effect, or if we have a definite and firm conviction that the district court made a mistake. Roland, ¶ 21. We review for correctness a district court's conclusions of law. Roland, ¶ 21.

¶13 We have determined to decide this case pursuant to Section I, Paragraph 3(d), of our 1996 Internal Operating Rules, as amended in 2006, that provide for memorandum opinions. The District Court based the adjustment of equalization due upon William's violation of its December 30, 2004, holding and upon the parties' stipulation that equalization of the capital accounts would be an issue in the 2012 trial. Substantial evidence in the record supports the District Court's findings and supports the notion that the District Court correctly applied the law to these findings.

¶14 Affirmed.


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