Submitted on Briefs: September 28, 2016
Court of the Eighteenth Judicial District, In and For the
County of Gallatin, Cause No. DV 08-372C Honorable John C.
Brown, Presiding Judge
Appellant: Rhett B. Nemelka, Nemelka Law, P.C., Bozeman,
Appellee: Jesse Beaudette, Nathan A. Fluter, Bohyer,
Erickson, Beaudette & Tranel, PC, Missoula, Montana
Plaintiff and Appellant Ryffel Family Partnership, Ltd.
(Ryffel Partnership) appeals from a jury verdict entered in
the Eighteenth Judicial District Court, Gallatin County. The
jury found that Ryffel Partnership had breached two oral
contracts with the Appellee Alpine Construction (Alpine), but
awarded zero damages. The first agreement was entered into in
January of 2007 and the second agreement was entered into in
September of 2007. Although awarding zero damages for Ryffel
Partnership's breach, the jury found Ryffel Partnership
was unjustly enriched by Alpine's labor and awarded
Alpine $50, 348.18 in damages. Finally, the jury awarded $25,
000 to Alpine for Ryffel Partnership's breach of the
covenant of good faith and fair dealing.
The District Court issued an order pursuant to M. R. Civ. P.
59, amending the judgment to assign the jury's damages
award for unjust enrichment to its finding that Ryffel
Partnership breached its contract. The District Court did so
upon the basis that breach of contract and unjust enrichment
are inconsistent legal theories of recovery. The District
Court's order also struck the jury's award of $25,
000 for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair
dealing, concluding no evidence in the record supported the
award. Alpine filed a motion to amend the judgment for
pre-judgment interest pursuant to § 27-1-211, MCA, which
the District Court denied by allowing the motion to expire.
In its appeal, Ryffel Partnership seeks a new trial, alleging
the jury's verdict was inconsistent and that there was
not substantial evidence to support breach of the second
agreement entered into in September of 2007. Ryffel
Partnership does not raise any issue regarding the first
agreement entered into in January of 2007, which the jury
found it had also breached. Alpine cross-appeals the District
Court's denial of pre-judgment interest. We affirm the
District Court's ruling, including its denial of
pre-judgment interest, and deny Ryffel Partnership's
appeal to review the verdict for lack of substantial
evidence. We restate the issues on appeal as follows:
1. Whether the jury's verdict regarding the
parties' second agreement was supported by substantial
2. Whether the District Court erred in denying Ryffel
Partnership's motion for a new trial based on an
inconsistent or illegal jury verdict.
3.Whether the District Court erred in denying
Alpine's motion for pre-judgment interest pursuant to
§ 27-1-211, MCA.
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Although James Ryffel (Ryffel) was born in Bozeman, Montana,
Ryffel Partnership is a Texas-based partnership consisting of
Ryffel, his wife, and a family trust as partners. Ryffel
often travels to Montana and purchased the property at issue
because of its scenic nature and beauty, along with its
suitability as a location for a family home. Part of the
property's appeal to Ryffel and his wife were the
statuesque "specimen trees" and the "hilly
knoll" upon which many of these trees were located.
Ryffel and his wife wanted to build a home on the property
that would, among other things, look upon the beauty of the
knoll and its trees. To implement that vision, Ryffel hired
Steve Hanson (Hanson) as a general contractor to oversee the
building and logging work the project would require. Hanson
is an experienced builder of custom log homes. Ryffel's
testimony reflects that, overall, he wanted to cut only the
trees necessary to build a road on the property to the home,
the trees to build the home itself, thin those trees that
then remained on the property, clear those trees that were
dead and fallen, and then preserve specimen trees greater
than 24 inches in diameter. To those ends, some trees were
specially marked for use as house logs in the upcoming
construction of the Ryffel Partnership residence on the
Bob Kammers (Kammers) is one of the owners of Alpine
Construction. Seeking the potentially substantial logging
business on the Ryffel Partnership property, Kammers met
Hanson through a mutual acquaintance, Scott Cooper (Cooper).
Cooper, Kammers, and Hanson all gathered on the Ryffel
Partnership property in January of 2007, and discussed the
job. Hanson hired Alpine for logging work on the property:
logs were to be delivered to the upper landing where the
house would be built, and the thinning would have to be done
within parameters, i.e. no specimen trees greater than 24
inches would be cut. Hanson hired Alpine in January of 2007.
He showed Kammers where the house logs were and where they
should be placed for use in construction.
Although Hanson could not remember if Kammers gave him a rate
sheet for the work, Cooper and Kammers both testified that
the terms of the agreement were for Alpine to be paid by the
hour. Kammers believed that an hourly rate was the only
acceptable payment method under the circumstances because all
of the "good logs" were to be used for the Ryffel
Partnership house construction, while all of the "butts,
tips, and crooked logs" were to go to the mill. However,
Kammers contended that it was impossible for him to determine
beforehand what should stay on the property, and what should
go to the mill, making it difficult to estimate the labor on
a lump sum basis. Kammers testified that payments from what
he took to the mill were to be offset against Alpine's
costs, and that Alpine would charge a flat fee for delivering
each load to the mill. Kammers also testified that Hanson
never mentioned the specimen tree restrictions.
Hanson explained that Alpine performed side jobs as well.
According to Hanson, Alpine hauled materials and equipment,
and cleared snow and ice from the property's road to
ensure timely deliveries of material and the safe traversal
of workers constructing the house. Alpine also cleared trees
along the road, and hauled logs that would later serve as
trusses for the home. Alpine's work on the road was
frequent, as the road was cleared of materials every ...