Fredericks v. Fredericks, 20150359

Decision Date09 December 2016
Docket NumberNo. 20150359,20150359
Parties Paul J. FREDERICKS, Plaintiff and Appellee v. Lyndon B. FREDERICKS, Defendant, Appellant and Cross–Appellee and Bole Resources, LLC, Kodiak Oil & Gas, Inc., Exok, Inc., Randy Folk, CNR Investments, LLC, Brooks Energy, Inc., Waitman Group, LLC, Relyk, LLC, and Dale Eubank, Defendants Bole Resources, LLC, Randy Folk, CNR Investments, LLC, Brooks Energy, Inc., Waitman Group, LLC, Relyk, LLC, and Dale Eubank, Defendants, Appellees and Cross–Appellants
CourtNorth Dakota Supreme Court

Monte L. Rogneby, Bismarck, ND, for plaintiff and appellee.

Harry M. Pippin, Williston, ND, for defendants, appellees and cross-appellants.

Charles M. Carvell, Bismarck, ND, for defendant, appellant and cross-appellee.

Sandstrom, Justice.

[¶ 1] Lyndon Fredericks appeals, and Bole Resources, LLC, and others ("Bole defendants") cross-appeal from a judgment declaring the district court had subject-matter jurisdiction over the action, reforming a quit claim mineral deed, quieting title in the mineral interests in Paul Fredericks, and ordering Lyndon Fredericks to pay the Bole defendants damages plus interest and their attorney fees. Because we conclude the district court correctly ruled it had subject-matter jurisdiction, its findings of fact are not clearly erroneous, and it did not abuse its discretion, we affirm.

I

[¶ 2] Kenneth Fredericks was the father of Paul Fredericks, Lyndon Fredericks, and Kenneth Fredericks Jr. In 1985, Paul Fredericks and his wife executed a quit claim mineral deed transferring their interest in certain Dunn County minerals located in fee land on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation to Kenneth Fredericks "as joint tenants and not as tenants in common, their heirs and assigns, the survivor of the Transferees, the heirs and assigns of the survivor." The district court found Kenneth Fredericks and his sons, Paul and Lyndon Fredericks, were enrolled members of the Three Affiliated Tribes but did not reside on the reservation during the relevant period. After Kenneth Fredericks died in 1988, his estate was probated in tribal court, but the fee land mineral interest he had received in 1985 was not addressed in those proceedings.

[¶ 3] In 2001, the remainder of Kenneth Fredericks' estate, including the fee land mineral interest, was probated in state court. Kenneth Fredericks Jr. served as personal representative, and a personal representative's deed was issued transferring the mineral interests to Lyndon Fredericks. Paul Fredericks was not given notice of the state court probate proceedings. In February 2012, Lyndon Fredericks sold the mineral interests through warranty deeds to the Bole defendants, who are not members of the tribe.

[¶ 4] In June 2012, Paul Fredericks sued Lyndon Fredericks and the Bole defendants in state court to quiet title to the minerals in his name, claiming the 1985 mineral deed should be reformed because of a mutual mistake that he was supposed to be listed as the joint tenant with his father. The Bole defendants cross-claimed against Lyndon Fredericks for breach of warranty of title. After a bench trial, the district court reformed the deed and quieted title to the mineral interests in Paul Fredericks. The court also ordered Lyndon Fredericks to pay the Bole defendants $120,000 in damages plus interest for the breach of warranty claim and $56,728.44 for their attorney fees and costs in defending the action. Lyndon Fredericks filed a motion to vacate the judgment, claiming his status as a tribal member deprived the court of jurisdiction because the underlying dispute involved title to minerals located on the reservation. The court denied the motion.

II

[¶ 5] Lyndon Fredericks argues the district court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction because he is a tribal member and "resident" of the reservation and "the dispute concerns title to minerals on the reservation."

[¶ 6] Subject-matter jurisdiction cannot be conferred by agreement, consent, or waiver, and issues involving subject-matter jurisdiction can be raised by the court or a party at any time in a proceeding. See State v. Lavallie , 2015 ND 74, ¶ 4, 861 N.W.2d 168 ; State ex rel. Workforce Safety & Ins. v. JFK Raingutters , 2007 ND 80, ¶ 9, 733 N.W.2d 248. When the jurisdictional facts are not in dispute, we review the district court's decision on subject-matter jurisdiction de novo. See Winer v. Penny Enters., Inc., 2004 ND 21, ¶ 8, 674 N.W.2d 9. If the underlying jurisdictional facts are disputed, this Court is presented with a mixed question of law and fact, and we review the question of law de novo and the district court's findings of fact under the clearly erroneous standard of review. See Lavallie v. Lavallie , 2015 ND 69, ¶ 7, 861 N.W.2d 164. A finding of fact is clearly erroneous if it is induced by an erroneous view of the law, if no evidence exists to support it, or if, upon review of the entire record, this Court believes a mistake has been made. See State v. Arot , 2013 ND 182, ¶ 7, 838 N.W.2d 409.

[¶ 7] The district court made the following findings regarding the jurisdictional facts. Paul Fredericks, Lyndon Fredericks, and Kenneth Fredericks were enrolled members of the Three Affiliated Tribes, but none of them resided on the reservation during the relevant period. Although Lyndon Fredericks claims he "lives" on the reservation, he does not challenge the court's finding he did not live there during the relevant time period. The property involved, although located on the reservation, is fee land rather than trust land. The 1985 deed at issue was executed off of the reservation. Although Kenneth Fredericks' interests in trust property were probated in tribal court, his interest in the fee property was probated in state district court. At the time this action began, the Bole defendants, who are non-Indian, were the record title holders of the fee land. Only as a result of this state court action does a tribal member, Paul Fredericks, have an ownership interest in the fee land mineral interests.

[¶ 8] In analyzing jurisdiction, the district court relied on the United States Supreme Court's decision in Plains Commerce Bank v. Long Family Land and Cattle Co., Inc. , 554 U.S. 316, 320, 128 S.Ct. 2709, 171 L.Ed.2d 457 (2008), in which the Court held a tribal court did not have jurisdiction to adjudicate a discrimination claim concerning a non-Indian bank's sale of fee land it owned. In Plains Commerce Bank , the Longs, enrolled members of the tribe, were majority owners of a family-run ranching and farming company and received loans from the Bank in exchange for a mortgage on fee land inside the reservation which was owned by the father of one of the Longs, a non-Indian. Id. at 320–21, 128 S.Ct. 2709. The Bank had no ties to the reservation other than business dealings with its members. Id. at 321, 128 S.Ct. 2709. After the father's death, the Longs and the Bank entered into a new loan agreement in which the Longs deeded the mortgaged fee acreage to the Bank in exchange for additional operating loans and a lease of the property with an option to purchase. Id. at 321, 128 S.Ct. 2709. The Longs were unable to exercise the option at the end of the lease term and refused to vacate the property, which resulted in a state court eviction action and the Bank's sale of the property to other nonmembers of the tribe. Id. at 322, 128 S.Ct. 2709. The Longs sued the Bank in tribal court, alleging, among other things, that the Bank discriminated against them by selling the land to nonmembers on terms more favorable than those offered to them. Id. After the tribal court rejected the Bank's claim that it lacked jurisdiction, a jury awarded the Longs $750,000. Id. at 322–23, 128 S.Ct. 2709.

[¶ 9] In ruling the tribal court lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate the discrimination claim, the Supreme Court noted the general rule restricting tribal authority over nonmember activities is "particularly strong" when the nonmember activity occurs on land owned in fee simple by non-Indians and explained:

Our cases have made clear that once tribal land is converted into fee simple, the tribe loses plenary jurisdiction over it. See County of Yakima [v. Confederated Tribes and Bands of Yakima Nation , 502 U.S. 251, 267–268, 112 S.Ct. 683, 116 L.Ed.2d 687 (1992),] (General Allotment Act permits Yakima County to impose ad valorem tax on fee land located within the reservation); Goudy v. Meath , 203 U.S. 146, 149–50 [27 S.Ct. 48, 51 L.Ed. 130] (1906) (by rendering allotted lands alienable, General Allotment Act exposed them to state assessment and forced sale for taxes); In re Heff, 197 U.S. 488, 502–503 [25 S.Ct. 506, 49 L.Ed. 848] (1905) (fee land subject to plenary state jurisdiction upon issuance of trust patent (superseded by the Burke Act, 34 Stat. 182, 25 U.S.C. § 349 (2000 ed.) )). Among the powers lost is the authority to prevent the land's sale, see County of Yakima , supra , at 263 (General Allotment Act granted fee holders power of voluntary sale)—not surprisingly, as "free alienability" by the holder is a core attribute of the fee simple, C. Moynihan, Introduction to Law of Real Property § 3, p. 32 (2d ed. 1988). Moreover, when the tribe or tribal members convey a parcel of fee land "to non-Indians , [the tribe] loses any former right of absolute and exclusive use and occupation of the conveyed lands." South Dakota v. Bourland , 508 U.S. 679, 689 [113 S.Ct. 2309, 124 L.Ed.2d 606] (1993) (emphasis added). This necessarily entails "the loss of regulatory jurisdiction over the use of the land by others." Ibid. As a general rule, then, "the tribe has no authority itself, by way of tribal ordinance or actions in the tribal courts, to regulate the use of fee land." Brendale v. Confederated Tribes and Banks [Bands] of Yakima Nation , 492 U.S. 408, 430 [109 S.Ct. 2994, 106 L.Ed.2d 343] (1989) (opinion of White, J.).
We have recognized two exceptions to this principle, circumstances in which tribes
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