Bearce, et al. v. Yellowstone Energy Development, LLC

Daniel and Debra Bearce (“the Bearces”) appealed a judgment entered in favor of Yellowstone Energy Development LLC (“Yellowstone”) after the parties’ cross motions for summary judgment. In June 2006, representatives of a business entity that would eventually become Yellowstone went to the Bearces' home seeking to purchase 170 acres of land they owned. Yellowstone successfully secured an exclusive option to purchase the land. In 2008, Yellowstone exercised its option to purchase the land and the parties entered into a contract for deed. In 2009, Yellowstone and the Bearces modified the contract for deed to alter some of the payment terms. Both the original contract for deed and the 2009 modified contract for deed included a term providing for the payment of a portion of the purchase price with “shares” of a contemplated ethanol plant. Yellowstone subsequently abandoned its plan to build an ethanol plant on the Bearces’ land. In July 2010, Yellowstone sent a letter to the Bearces advising them their $100,000 in “value” would be issued despite Yellowstone’s abandonment of the plan to build an ethanol plant. The letter stated ownership units had not yet been issued and explained the Bearces would receive their ownership interest “at the time shares are issued to all its members.” Shortly after receiving that letter, the Bearces executed and delivered a deed for the property to Yellowstone. In December 2011, and again in October 2012, the Yellowstone Board of Directors approved a multiplier of three units per $1 invested for individuals who had provided initial cash investment in Yellowstone. The Bearces’ interest in Yellowstone was not given the either 3:1 multiplier. The Bearces' objected, and Yellowstone continued to refuse to apply the multiplier to the Bearces' interest. When unsuccessful at the trial court, the Bearces appealed, challenging the district court’s exclusion of parol evidence to support their allegation of fraud in the inducement. The Bearces also challenged the district court’s conclusion the Bearces were not owed a fiduciary duty. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s judgment dismissing the Bearces’ claim for fraud and their claim for breach of contract. The Court reversed the district court’s dismissal of the Bearces’ claim for breach of a fiduciary duty and remanded for further proceedings. View "Bearce, et al. v. Yellowstone Energy Development, LLC" on Justia Law