Bridgewater Quality Meats, L.L.C. v. Heim

Decision Date07 March 2007
Docket NumberNo. 24060.,24060.
Citation2007 SD 23,729 N.W.2d 387
CourtSouth Dakota Supreme Court
PartiesBRIDGEWATER QUALITY MEATS, L.L.C., Plaintiff and Appellee, v. Leonard HEIM and Jeannie Heim, d/b/a J & L Bison Ranch, Defendants and Appellants.

Roger R. Gerlach, Salem, South Dakota, Attorney for plaintiff and appellees.

Jeff Adel of Bridgman and Adel, Wessington Springs, South Dakota, Attorneys for defendants and appellants.

MEIERHENRY, Justice.

[¶ 1.] This action arises out of two separate agreements involving the slaughter and sale of buffalo. The first agreement involved Leonard and Jeannie Heim, d/b/a J & L Bison (collectively referred to as Heim) and Jason Sparling (Sparling), d/b/a Gourmet Bison and the second involved Sparling and Bridgewater Quality Meats, LLC (Bridgewater). Pursuant to these agreements, Heim delivered buffalo to Bridgewater for slaughtering over a two year period and on some occasions received the processed meat. In July of 2003, Bridgewater filed a small claims action alleging that Heim owed $7,986.58 for meat products received from Bridgewater. Heim removed the case to circuit court and counterclaimed seeking over $42,000.00 for sixteen buffalo he had delivered to Bridgewater. A jury trial was held on December 19, 2005, and the jury returned a verdict in favor of Bridgewater and against Heim on his counterclaim. Heim appeals and we affirm.

FACTS

[¶ 2.] The following facts are not in dispute. Heim operated a buffalo ranch in Jerauld County, South Dakota and entered into an agreement with Sparling, owner and operator of Gourmet Bison (hereinafter referred to as "the Heim-Sparling Agreement"). Heim agreed to purchase young buffalo, feed them, and take them to Bridgewater, a meat processor, for slaughter. In addition to the slaughter cost, Sparling agreed to pay $2.30 per pound hot hanging weight for the buffalo. Sparling would then take the meat for resale. In December of 1999, Heim made the first delivery of buffalo to Bridgewater and Sparling paid Heim pursuant to the terms of their agreement.

[¶ 3.] Sparling subsequently began experiencing financial difficulties and approached Ilan Parente (Parente), owner of Bridgewater, regarding Sparling's obligations under the Heim-Sparling Agreement. Sparling explained that he was no longer financially able to pay Heim under their agreement. He asked Parente to continue slaughtering the buffalo Heim delivered to Bridgewater, but then also purchase the meat from Heim for the same price provided under the Heim-Sparling Agreement. Parente agreed that Bridgewater would continue to accept deliveries from Heim, but only agreed to pay Heim the current market rate of $1.90 per hot hanging weight for the buffalo meat, rather than the $2.30 per hot hanging weight as set forth in the Heim-Sparling Agreement. Accordingly, Sparling agreed that he would pay Heim the difference.

[¶ 4.] At what point Heim began making deliveries pursuant to Sparling's agreement with Parente (hereinafter referred to as "the Sparling-Parente Agreement") is disputed. Heim testified that he began delivering buffalo to Bridgewater pursuant to the Sparling-Parente Agreement beginning with his February 2000 delivery of buffalo. Heim testified as follows:

Q. The first animals you ever got paid by Bridgewater Quality Meats was for a load you delivered in March of 2000; correct?

. . .

A. He was supposed to buy a load that I delivered in February.

Q. What do you mean supposed to?

A. When Jason Sparling couldn't pay me for the buffalo, Jason and Ilan (Parente) had a conversation.

Q. Wait. Were you part of that conversation between Jason and Parente?

A. No.

Q. You weren't there?

A. No.

. . .

Q. Did you take a load of buffalo there in February of 2000?

A. Yes.

Q. Well, who told you to take them there?

A. Ilan (Parente).

Q. Do you know who ended up with the meat?

A. No.

Q. Do you know if Jason Sparling ended up with that meat?

A. No. I don't know who ended up with the meat of any of the buffalo that I took to Bridgewater.

[¶ 5.] Parente denied receiving a delivery of buffalo from Heim in February of 2000. Parente testified that he had searched every record in Bridgewater's plant to try to locate documentation of a transaction with Heim on February 21, 2000 and that "there is no record for February 21 of 2000 for bison brought into Bridgewater Quality Meats by Leonard Heim." Parente claimed that, according to his records, the first delivery Heim made per the Sparling-Parente Agreement was in March of 2000. Parente testified as follows:

Q. Now you kind of distinguished the first load which was March 13, 2000, from the loads that were brought in after that.

A. Correct.

Q. Why is that?

A. The initial discussion that I had was not with Leonard Heim nor did I ever have a discussion with Leonard Heim about how many animals he had, what he expected to be paid for them, et cetra. I did not know Leonard Heim prior to that date that he brought them into my facility. The only person I knew at the time was an individual by the name of Jason Sparling.

Q. So this load of buffalo, the first load on March 13, 2000, how did they end up at that facility?

A. Jason Sparling contacted me, and he and I had been conducting business at the time for several months and informed me that he was unable to hold up his end of an agreement that he had with a family member of his, namely Leonard Heim, and if I would be kind enough to assist him in slaughtering those animals.

Parente further testified that after the first day of trial it struck him that the buffalo may have come into Bridgewater's facility listed under Gourmet Bison, Sparling's d/b/a. After checking his records for Gourmet Bison, he found a record indicating Gourmet Bison had delivered sixteen buffalo on January 12, 2000. However, he did not produce any record for Gourmet Bison indicating a February, 2000 delivery.

[¶ 6.] The parties continued their business agreement into 2001 until the buffalo market declined. Because of the extreme drop in the market, Parente informed Heim that he would no longer be able to afford to pay Heim for buffalo. However, Parente and Heim agreed that Heim would continue to deliver buffalo to Bridgewater. In return, Heim would receive buffalo meat for resale purposes and Parente would pay off his account gradually. Parente eventually zeroed out Heim's account.

[¶ 7.] Heim and Parente then entered into another agreement wherein Heim was allowed to purchase buffalo meat from Bridgewater on credit. Heim agreed to satisfy this account with buffalo he was currently raising. However, Heim failed to deliver the buffalo as agreed, which led Bridgewater to file this action.

[¶ 8.] After a three day trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Bridgewater for $7,986.58 for the amount of meat Heim had received from Bridgewater for resale purposes. The jury found against Heim on his counterclaim. Heim timely filed a new trial motion alleging that he had discovered new evidence consisting of records from the South Dakota Animal Industry Board (Animal Industry Board), a state agency that provides inspection services to small meat processing and slaughter establishments,1 which indicated that Heim had delivered buffalo to Bridgewater on or around February 21, 2000. After twenty days had passed, Bridgewater subsequently filed a motion for an order stating that the time to decide the new trial motion had lapsed pursuant to SDCL 15-6-59(b). The trial court issued an order, which "determined that the time for a new trial has lapsed statutorily." Heim appeals and raises one issue.

Did the trial court err when it failed to order a new trial based on Heim's post-trial discovery of a livestock delivery record?

ANALYSIS
1. Standard of Review

[¶ 9.] The procedure for granting or denying a motion for a new trial is set forth in SDCL 15-6-59(b) as follows:

The court shall make and file the order granting or denying such new trial within twenty days after the service and filing of such motion, unless for good cause shown, the court files an order within said twenty days extending the time for entering such order. If a motion for new trial has not been determined by the court and no order has been entered by the court extending the time for such ruling within twenty days from the date of service and filing of such motion, it shall be deemed denied.2

SDCL 15-6-59 (emphasis added).

[¶ 10.] We review specific grants or denials of a motion for a new trial under the abuse of discretion standard. Schmidt v. Royer, 1998 SD 5, ¶ 9, 574 N.W.2d 618, 621. As a matter of first impression, we must decide whether to apply the abuse of discretion standard when reviewing the statutory denial of a motion for a new trial because of the trial court's failure to rule upon the motion pursuant to SDCL 15-6-59(b). The statute states that when the trial court fails to pass upon a motion for a new trial within twenty days, such motion, "shall be deemed denied." SDCL 15-6-59(b). Thus, according to the plain meaning of the statute, the trial court is presumed to have exercised its discretion by letting the time-lapse serve as a denial of the motion just as if the trial court had affirmatively granted the motion. See In re Shepard's Estate, 221 Cal.App.2d 70, 34 Cal.Rptr. 212, 214 (1963) (stating that the merits of a motion for a new trial denied by operation of law may be reviewed upon appeal in the same manner as if expressly denied by the court); Strauch v. Bieloh, 16 Cal.App.2d 278, 60 P.2d 582, 584 (1936) (stating that the abuse of discretion standard applies with equal force when the motion for a new trial is automatically denied for failure to pass upon the motion). Therefore, the abuse of discretion standard applies when the motion for a new trial is automatically denied under the provisions of SDCL 15-6-59(b).

2. Bridgewater's Jurisdictional Arguments

[¶ 11.] Bridgewater argues that Heim cannot...

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