Harms v. Northland Ford Dealers

Citation1999 SD 143,602 N.W.2d 58
Decision Date10 November 1999
Docket NumberNo. 20540.,20540.
PartiesJennifer HARMS, Plaintiff and Appellee, v. NORTHLAND FORD DEALERS, Defendant and Appellant, and Moccasin Creek Country Club, Defendant and Appellee.
CourtSupreme Court of South Dakota

Thomas M. Tobin, Aberdeen, for plaintiff and appellee.

Jeremiah Gallivan of Arthur, Chapman, Kettering, Smetak & Pikala, P.A., Minneapolis, MN, for defendant and appellant.

Daniel R. Fritz of Fritz, Hogan & Johnson, Aberdeen, for defendant and appellee.


[¶ 1.] As a promotion during a golf tournament at Moccasin Creek Country Club, Northland Ford Dealers offered a new Ford Explorer to the first golfer to hit a hole-in-one at the eighth hole. Jennifer Harms scored a hole-in-one with a shot from the amateur women's tee box. Yet she was denied the prize. To be eligible to win, Northland revealed, all amateurs, male and female, had to tee off from the amateur men's tee box. This requirement was not made known to the players beforehand. Northland and Moccasin Creek blamed each other for the mix-up. When she sued, the circuit court granted Harms summary judgment against both Northland and Moccasin Creek. We affirm that decision. As the contest sponsor, Northland breached its contract to award the prize in accord with the announced rules. The court also granted summary judgment to Moccasin Creek on its cross-claim against Northland. We reverse that ruling because genuine issues of material fact remain on whether Moccasin Creek breached its agreement with Northland in setting up the hole-in-one contest to Northland's specifications.


[¶ 2.] The Dakota Tour is a series of four golf tournaments played each summer in South Dakota. Participation is open to both men and women, professional and amateur. Moccasin Creek Country Club in Aberdeen is one of the Tour hosts. In 1995, Northland Ford Dealers, an association of dealerships, offered to sponsor a "hole-in-one" contest at Moccasin Creek during the Tour. To the first golfer to "ace" a specified contest hole, Northland would award a new Ford Explorer. Moccasin Creek agreed to include the contest as part of its tournament. Northland paid a $4,602 premium to Continental Hole-in-One, Inc. to insure the award of the contest prize. The insurance application stated in capital letters: "ALL AMATEUR MEN & WOMEN WILL UTILIZE THE SAME TEE."

[¶ 3.] A day before the Tour reached Moccasin Creek, its head golf pro, Ted Zahn, received a telephone call from Continental. Zahn told the caller that he was concerned about the lack of information and planning surrounding the hole-in-one contest. Continental's representative replied that there was no reason for concern because "[Continental] ran the deal." Continental faxed Zahn instructions for the minimum yardage distances for the contest hole. The distances varied for each day, but for the third day, the one under inquiry here, the fax message stated: "Pros—Minimum of 193 Yards; Ams—Minimum of 170 Yards." The instructions warned: "It is imperative that these yardages are correct each day to keep [Northland's] hole-in-one coverage valid." Zahn turned Continental's instructions over to his staff "to set up the hole according to the fax ...." Nothing in Continental's instructions suggested that any different yardages were to be used for the women contestants. But as Moccasin Creek's course superintendent later reflected, "I assumed it was a men's prize and was not informed either way, that women were also competing with it...."

[¶ 4.] Continental asked Moccasin Creek to find someone to sit at the green and act as a "spotter" to verify claims of a hole-in-one. Continental paid the spotter $50 per day. The local Ford dealership hired another spotter for the same purpose. Continental supplied a banner and Moccasin Creek posted it on the course to advertise the contest. It announced that a hole-in-one would win the car, but it gave no other details. The local Ford dealership parked a Ford Explorer near the banner.

[¶ 5.] No explanation of the hole-in-one contest was given to the registered golfers in the tournament information sheet. The sheet did, however, stipulate that "USGA Rules govern all play except where modified by the Local Rules...." For this tournament, the rules directed: "Professionals will play from the blue tees. Male amateurs will play from the yellow tees, female amateurs will play from the red tees." Amateur female participants were not told that to qualify for the hole-in-one contest, they would have to tee off from the amateur men's tee box. With no gender distinction announced for the hole-in-one contest, female contestants could infer that the rules for teeing applied to the eighth hole the same as every other.

[¶ 6.] On the last day of the tournament, Jennifer Harms, an amateur golfer, "aced" the contest hole, shooting from the red, amateur women's tee. After the distance between the red tee box and the hole was measured, however, it was decided that the required minimum distance had not been met. When Harms returned to the clubhouse on completing her round, she learned from her parents that her shot was pending disqualification. Northland later refused to award her the new vehicle.

[¶ 7.] Harms was a collegiate golfer at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. She returned to Concordia that fall to complete her last year of athletic eligibility. Then, in June 1996, she sued Northland and Moccasin Creek for breach of contract. Both defendants cross-claimed against the other. The circuit court granted summary judgment to Harms against Northland and Moccasin Creek, and also granted summary judgment to Moccasin Creek on its cross-claim against Northland. The court awarded Harms $25,125, with interest and costs. Northland appeals, contending that unresolved legal questions and genuine issues of material fact exist on Harms' breach of contract claim and Moccasin Creek's cross-claim. Moccasin Creek does not request our review of Harms' summary judgment against it; instead, it seeks only to uphold its cross-claim against Northland.

Standard of Review

[¶ 8.] "Under our familiar standard for reviewing summary judgments, we decide only whether genuine issues of material fact existed and whether the law was correctly applied." Kobbeman v. Oleson, 1998 SD 20, ¶ 4, 574 N.W.2d 633, 635. We view the evidence in a light most favorable to the nonmovant and resolve reasonable doubts against the movant. Calvello v. Yankton Sioux Tribe, 1998 SD 107, ¶ 8, 584 N.W.2d 108, 111. The burden of proof rests on the movant to show clearly the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. State Dep't of Revenue v. Thiewes, 448 N.W.2d 1, 2 (S.D.1989). If no genuine issue of fact remains, and if the trial court correctly decided the legal issues, then summary judgment will be affirmed. Alverson v. Northwestern Nat'l Cas. Co., 1997 SD 9, ¶ 4, 559 N.W.2d 234, 235; Meyer v. Santema, 1997 SD 21, ¶ 8, 559 N.W.2d 251, 254. We will affirm the trial court's decision if any legal basis exists to support it. De Smet Ins. Co. of South Dakota v. Gibson, 1996 SD 102, ¶ 5, 552 N.W.2d 98, 99; SDCL 15-6-56(c). Contract interpretation is a question of law reviewed de novo. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Vostad, 520 N.W.2d 273, 275 (S.D.1994). Existence of a legal duty is also a question of law. Poelstra v. Basin Elec. Power Coop., 1996 SD 36, ¶ 9, 545 N.W.2d 823, 825.


[¶ 9.] Northland first asserts that Harms failed to meet her burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. Harms filed only a bare motion, with no supporting documents. Northland contends that without affidavits and an accompanying legal brief, Harms' summary judgment motion was unsupported.

[¶ 10.] Under SDCL 15-6-56(c), the circuit court in the first instance, and we on appeal, may consider everything in the record, including depositions, discovery responses, affidavits, and any other material properly admitted. Ward v. Lange, 1996 SD 113, ¶ 10, 553 N.W.2d 246, 249. In the circuit court file are answers to interrogatories, exhibits, and several depositions. The golf professionals at Moccasin Creek were deposed, along with Harms and her father. Most often, summary judgment motions include affidavits, and it is surely better practice to submit a supporting brief, but there is no requirement that this be done. SDCL 15-6-56(a). The record contained ample information to consider the motion for summary judgment.


[¶ 11.] No one can seriously dispute that, based on the promulgated contest rules, Harms earned the prize when she sank her winning shot. She registered for the tournament and paid her $160 entrance fee. During play at the contest hole, she teed off from the amateur women's red marker, as she had done on all the other holes that day and the two previous days of the tournament. Concededly, she hit from a point under the minimum distance dictated by Northland's insurer, but she was following the tournament rule that required amateur women to tee from the red markers, not the yellow or the blue, as with the amateur men and the professionals. None of the participants knew of the minimum yardage requirement. Yet only amateur women stood ineligible to win the car if they followed the tournament rules.

[¶ 12.] We ascribe to contract terms "their plain and ordinary meaning." Economic Aero Club, Inc. v. Avemco Ins. Co., 540 N.W.2d 644, 645 (S.D.1995). Northland must abide by the rules it announced, not by the ones it left unannounced. This was a vintage unilateral contract with performance by the offeree as acceptance. E. Allan Farnsworth, Contracts § 3.4 (2d ed 1990). Accepting a sponsor's offer to participate in a contest creates an enforceable contract; awarding a prize to a contest winner is a contractual duty. See Robertson v. United States, 343 U.S. 711, 713-14, 72 S.Ct....

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