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Wood v. Anderson

Supreme Court of Montana

July 25, 2017

KENT WOOD and TINA WOOD, Plaintiffs and Appellees,
v.
IRENE ANDERSON, DARLENE STOVER, SANDRA MELNRICK, GINGER HEGEMAN, DIANE MARICH, and IRENE ANDERSON and DARLENE STOVER, as Personal Representatives of the Estate of Stella C. Sellmer and the ESTATE OF STELLA C. SELLMER, Defendants and Appellants.

          Submitted on Briefs: May 3, 2017

         APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Twentieth Judicial District, In and For the County of Sanders, Cause No. DV-14-26 Honorable James A. Manley, Presiding Judge

          For Appellants: Linda Osorio St. Peter, Michael O'Brien, St. Peter Law Office, PC, Missoula, Montana.

          For Appellees: S. Charles Sprinkle, Sprinkle Law Firm, PC, Libby, Montana.

          OPINION

          MICHAEL E WHEAT, JUSTICE

         ¶1 Irene Anderson, Darlene Stover, Sandra Melnrick, Ginger Hegeman, Diane Marich, the personal representatives of the Estate of Stella C. Sellmer, and the Estate of Stella C. Sellmer (collectively Defendants) appeal from the order of the Twentieth Judicial District Court, Sanders County, entering judgment in favor of Kent and Tina Wood (the Woods). We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for entry of a revised judgment.

         ¶2 We restate the issues on appeal as follows:

Issue One: Did the District Court err in concluding that the Woods had an enforceable contract to purchase real property?
Issue Two: Did the District Court err in entering a judgment against Anderson, Stover, and Hegeman, jointly and severally?

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         ¶3 Bill and Stella Sellmer (the Sellmers) owned a ninety-six-acre tract of real property in Sanders County, Montana. They had five daughters: Irene Anderson (Anderson), Darlene Stover (Stover), Sandra Melnrick (Melnrick), Ginger Hegeman (Hegeman), and Diane Marich (Marich). In 2006, the Sellmers, the grandparents of Kent Wood, entered into an oral agreement with the Woods to sell five acres of their property to the Woods for $30, 000 plus surveying costs. On August 16, 2006, the Woods commissioned a surveyor and expended $3, 474.32 to complete the survey project, paying the last invoice for the project on September 1, 2010. On September 11, 2008, the Woods paid the Sellmers $15, 000 by cashier's check as partial payment for the five-acre tract.

         ¶4 On March 16, 2009, Bill Sellmer wrote a letter to his tax preparer, seeking advice on how to declare the partial payment for his property on his tax return. The letter also stated that Bill Sellmer deposited the $15, 000 check in September 2008. Before the Woods completed the land survey, Bill Sellmer requested that his attorney, Naomi Leisz (Leisz), prepare the needed real estate transfer documents. She prepared a Land Purchase Agreement that was never signed, likely because the survey was not completed until September 2010. On October 22, 2010, Bill Sellmer died and his property passed intestate to his wife Stella, who then died on January 9, 2011.

         ¶5 On March 7, 2011, Leisz, representing Anderson and Stover as personal representatives of Stella Sellmer's estate, sent a letter to the Woods, asking for any additional documents pertaining to the sale of the five-acre property. Beginning on May 22, 2011, Anderson and Stover published a notice to creditors in the local newspaper for three consecutive weeks. Following the receipt of the letter from Leisz, the Woods discussed the matter with Kent's mother, Ginger Hegeman (Hegeman). Hegeman assured them that the property would not be transferred out of the estate until any interest they had in the property had been addressed. An email dated January 19, 2012, confirmed the Woods' account of Hegeman's representation. On April 24, 2012, the personal representatives Anderson and Stover filed a statement to close the estate and executed a deed of distribution, thus terminating their appointment as personal representatives and distributing the right, title, and interest of the ninety-six-acre property to distributees Anderson, Stover, Hegeman, Melnrick, and Marich.

         ¶6 On January 24, 2014, the Defendants entered into a contract to sell the entire 96 acres from the estate for $299, 000, inclusive of the five-acre tract, to another buyer. The Woods became aware of the sale of the property and, on March 27, 2014, filed suit against the Defendants for breach of contract, negligent or intentional infliction of emotional distress, fraud, and unjust enrichment.[1] On April 13, 2015, the District Court denied the Defendants' motion for summary judgment and, on July 25, 2016, entered judgment in favor of the Woods, finding that Defendants Anderson, Stover and Hegeman were wrongfully enriched and in breach of an enforceable contract. The court issued judgment against Anderson, Stover and Hegeman, jointly and severally, for compensatory damages, pre-judgment interest, and statutory costs. The Defendants filed a timely notice of appeal with this Court. Additional facts will be provided as necessary to address the issues raised.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶7 The construction and interpretation of a contract is a question of law that this Court reviews for correctness. Johnston v. Centennial Log Homes & Furnishings, Inc., 2013 MT 179, ¶ 25, 370 Mont. 529, 305 P.3d 781. We review de novo a district court's interpretation and application of a statute. Dick Irvin, Inc. v. State, 2013 MT 272, ¶ 18, 372 Mont. 58, 310 P.3d 524. In reviewing a district court's conclusions of law, our standard of review is plenary and we must determine whether the court's interpretation of the law is correct. Sartori v. S & S Trucking, Inc., 2006 MT 164, ¶ 11, 332 Mont. 503, 139 P.3d 806.

         DISCUSSION

         ¶8 Issue One: Did the District Court err in concluding that the Woods had anenforceable ...


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