Submitted on Briefs: October 17, 2018
FROM: District Court of the Eighth Judicial District, In and
For the County of Cascade, Cause No. ADV 17-0478 Honorable
John W. Parker, Presiding Judge.
Appellant: Michael Marquart, self-represented, Great Falls,
Appellee: Roberta A. Berkhof, Church, Harris, Johnson &
Williams, P.C., Great Falls,
Pursuant to Section I, Paragraph 3(c), 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
non-citable cases published in the Pacific Reporter and
Appellant Michael Marquart (Marquart) appeals from the order
of the District Court requiring him to vacate the premises
owned by Plaintiff and Appellee Edna Bergstrom, and awarding
attorney fees to Bergstrom.
Bergstrom owns residential property in Great Falls (premises
or property). During the time of his commitment to the
Montana State Hospital at Warm Springs, Marquart received a
letter from Bergstrom, stating: "Michael, I want you to
know that when you are released, you have a home at [street
address], Great Falls, and it will be your home as long as
you want to be there. I miss you so much." Marquart
moved into the premises on or about April 26, 2017, with
Bergstrom's permission. On or about May 5, 2017,
Bergstrom and her husband verbally instructed Marquart to
vacate the premises. Later in May, Bergstrom sent Marquart a
formal written notice to vacate, which Marquart received.
However, Marquart refused to vacate, and sent Bergstrom
multiple complaints over the next several months about what
he perceived to be deficiencies in the property.
Bergstrom filed a complaint against Marquart, seeking his
eviction from the premises, in July 2017. Marquart filed
counterclaims alleging discrimination and retaliation by
Bergstrom, premised upon his status as a tenant of the
property. The District Court found that, between May 2017 and
November 2017, Marquart performed "minimal" lawn
care at the premises, but paid no rent to Bergstrom. The
District Court determined that "a rental
agreement-written or oral, as defined by Mont. Code Ann.
§ 70-24-103(13), [did] not exist between the
parties," concluding Marquart was a "social
invitee" rather than a "tenant," as defined in
§ 70-24-103(16), MCA, he "possess[ed] no property
interest in the Premises," and that Bergstrom was
entitled to immediate possession of the premises. Further,
the District Court awarded Bergstrom $11, 128.06 in
reasonable attorneys' fees as the prevailing party,
pursuant to § 70-24-442, MCA.
We review a trial court's factual findings to determine
if any were clearly erroneous. City of Missoula v. Mt.
Water Co., 2016 MT 183, ¶ 20, 384 Mont. 193, 378
P.3d 1113. "Both the existence of a contract and its
interpretation are questions of law which we review for
correctness." Junkermier, Clark, Campanella,
Stevens, P.C. v. Alborn, Uithoven, Riekenberg, P.C.,
2016 MT 218, ¶ 26, 384 Mont. 464, 380 P.3d 747.
On appeal, Marquart argues he had an oral and written
agreement with Bergstrom that entitled him to remain on the
premises despite Bergstrom's repeated demands for him to
vacate. Marquart asserts the District Court erred by
preventing him from presenting evidence that Bergstrom
discriminated and retaliated against him. However, the
District Court reasoned that Marquart failed to provide
evidence of an enforceable agreement between the parties.
For a contract to be legally enforceable, there must be
evidence of a "bargained-for exchange in legal positions
between parties." Junkermier, ¶ 27
(citation omitted). Adequate consideration "requires
that the contracting parties, each as to the other, confer
some legal benefit and/or incur some detriment as an
inducement to performance." Junkermier, ¶
27 (citation omitted).
Over the course of two separate hearings, the District Court
patiently and repeatedly exhorted Marquart to provide
evidence of an oral or written agreement. Marquart referenced
Bergstrom's letter, in which she offered him a place to
stay upon his release from the State Hospital, as the
parties' agreement. After reading the letter in the light
most favorable to Marquart, the District Court concluded it
constituted only "a unilateral social invitation, which
has now been revoked," further describing it as "a
loving offer" between a mother and her son, not a
"mutual contract or agreement" between parties. The
District Court commented, "I have no evidence that you
have a property right here. I have evidence that she revoked
a social invitation . . .".
The record indicates that Bergstrom offered the premises for
Marquart to live in- property Bergstrom owned and could
otherwise use or live in herself-and that permitting Marquart
to live there was a detriment or loss to Bergstrom. For his
part, Marquart paid no rent and contributed
"minimal" lawn care on the property. Marquart
argued this yard maintenance was evidence of an oral
contract, but the District Court found this to be
insufficient, stating there was "no evidence of any
consideration," nor "evidence to suggest that . . .
mowing the lawn would in and of itself establish a mutual
contract for which there was consideration." The record
is void of any indication this minor lawn service, apart from
Marquart's independent claims to the contrary, was
provided in exchange, and as his consideration for, a tenancy
on the premises. Bergstrom suffered the detriment of
Marquart's residency in the property but received
essentially nothing of value in return. We therefore agree
with the ...