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Renz v. Everett-Martin

Supreme Court of Montana

October 22, 2019

SHIRLEY RENZ, Plaintiff and Appellee,
v.
ROSE EVERETT-MARTIN, Defendant and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: September 11, 2019

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Second Judicial District, In and For the County of Butte-Silver Bow, Cause No. DV-17-65 Honorable Kurt Krueger, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: David L. Vicevich, Lawrence E. Henke, Vicevich Law, Butte, Montana

          For Appellee: Brian J. Miller, Morrison, Sherwood, Wilson & Deola, PLLP, Helena, Montana

          OPINION

          LAURIE McKINNON JUDGE.

         ¶1 Rose Everett-Martin (Rose) appeals an order of the Second Judicial District Court, Butte-Silver Bow County, denying her motion to set aside the jury's verdict. While Rose presents four issues on appeal, we condense her arguments and restate the dispositive issue as follows:

Did the District Court err by entering a judgment granting equitable relief in the form of possession of real property, given the jury's finding of trespass against Rose?

         ¶2 We conclude that the District Court did not err in entering a judgment granting possession of real property, and therefore affirm the District Court's denial of Rose's motion to set aside the jury's verdict.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         ¶3 In January 2017, Shirley Renz (Shirley) and her husband Bob Renz (Bob) (now deceased) filed a Complaint for Possession or Trespass against their daughter, Rose, in the Silver Bow County Justice Court. In her complaint, Shirley alleged that, since 2000, Rose had occupied Shirley's twenty-acre property at 425 Little Basin Creek Road in Butte, Montana, with Shirley's express permission. According to Shirley's complaint, Rose had no legal interest in the property, did not pay rent to Shirley, moved a manufactured home onto the property, and had begun interfering with Shirley's use and enjoyment of the property. Shirley set forth theories of relief under §§ 70-33-427 and 70-24-427, MCA, and asserted an alternative theory that Rose was "trespassing on [Shirley's] property" without "legal right or authority to do so." Shirley sought an injunction against Rose, "removing her and her belongings from [Shirley's] property and permanently enjoining her from entering [Shirley's] property or interfering with [Shirley's] use in any way," and prayed for "any further relief which is just and necessary."

         ¶4 Rose filed an answer to the complaint, requested a jury trial, and asserted various counterclaims against Shirley, including claims for breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, unjust enrichment, negligent misrepresentation, and specific performance. According to Rose, in 1998, Bob asked her to relocate from her home in Utah and move to the property in Butte, Montana, to care for Bob and Shirley. In exchange for care provided, Rose alleged Bob offered her ownership of the twenty acres at 425 Little Basin Creek Road. Around 1999, Rose poured a foundation on the property, stationed a manufactured home onto the foundation, built a garage, and installed a sewer line, electricity, and a well. Subsequent improvements made by Rose included fencing and landscaping work. The parties never had a written agreement between them for the transfer of land from Bob or Shirley to Rose.

         ¶5 Shirley's claims, and Rose's counterclaims, were later transferred to District Court because of the type of action and amount of damages at issue. See §§ 3-10-301(1)(a)-(e), 25-31-102(1), MCA. Shirley filed an amended complaint with the District Court on March 26, 2018, asserting several discernable causes of action and seeking: (1) issuance of a writ of possession from the District Court entitling Shirley to seek assistance from the Butte-Silver Bow County Sheriff's Department in removing Rose and her trailer from the property; (2) should the court issue the writ of assistance, an additional order from the District Court directing Rose to provide a mailing address to which Shirley may send notices as required in § 70-33-432, MCA, if Rose failed to remove her modular home within five days; (3) a permanent injunction against Rose, "removing her and her belongings" from Shirley's property and "permanently enjoining" Rose from entering Shirley's property or "interfering with [Shirley's] use in any way"; (4) damages for emotional distress caused by Rose's trespass; (5) damages for unjust enrichment, "for remaining on [Shirley's] property without paying rent"; (6) emotional distress damages "caused by [Rose's] conduct in the course of committing the tort of unjust enrichment"; and (7) emotional distress damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The complaint separately prayed for a judgment awarding "actual damages, along with interest on damages," and ordering Rose's ejectment from Shirley's land "so that [Shirley] may take immediate possession."

         ¶6 Following a scheduling conference between the parties, the District Court scheduled a jury trial for November 26, 2018. A final pretrial order was filed by the District Court on October 19, 2018. The order contained assertions made by Shirley and Rose of the factual and legal issues to be decided in the case. Shirley hoped for a resolution as to whether Rose was trespassing on Shirley's land. Under "Issues of Law," Rose stated the legal issues to be decided as "[w]hether [Bob and Shirley] are entitled to possession of the 20-acre parcel," and "[w]hether [Rose] has trespassed."

         ¶7 After a three-day trial, the jury determined: (1) Rose was trespassing on Shirley's property, but the trespass did not cause Shirley any money damages; and (2) Shirley was unjustly enriched at the expense of Rose in the amount of $35, 000. The verdict was entered on November 27, 2018. By December 21, 2018, Rose had dismissed her attorney and filed a pro se motion in District Court asking the court to set aside the jury's verdict and grant an emergency stay. Shirley filed a motion seeking an order of eviction and assistance on January 11, 2019. Rose opposed ...


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