|Equity Powers Do Not Include Forcing a Party to Buy Assets|
North Dakota high court held that in a dispute over the value of estate assets, it was not appropriate for the trial court to use equity powers to require one party to buy the other party’s share of the estate. The property could be sold to the public if the parties could not agree on division of the assets.
Class Action; Future Injury
|C A S E S U M M A R Y|
Curtis and Bruce Wenzel jointly owned land, buildings, and machinery used for agricultural purposes. After Bruce died, Curtis and Bruce’s estate could not agree on how to sell or partition the assets. Curtis continued to use the machinery without paying rent to the estate, but paid certain bills related to the care of the assets. The estate disputed the need for several of the bills paid by Curtis. The dispute over the assets went to trial. The court divided the land and ordered Curtis to buy out the estate’s share of the machinery for $74,300—after the court had made adjustments for use and expenses. Curtis appealed, contending that as a matter of law the court could not order him to pay the estate for half the value of the jointly owned machinery.
Reversed and remanded. Trial courts have wide judicial discretion in partition actions to use equity to make a fair and just division of property among the parties. Great flexibility may be used in such cases. However, the equitable powers do not include requiring a party to buy out the other party’s share of jointly owned property. Curtis could not be required by the court to buy the estate’s share of the equipment, although it could review the value of the equipment, the value of its use, and the appropriateness of the costs incurred in maintaining the equipment. If the parties cannot agree on how to deal with the division of the machinery, the court can order them to be sold.
Bruce J. Wenzel Estate v. Wenzel, 747 N.W.2d 103 (Sup. Ct., N.D., 2008)
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