Solberg v. Hennessy

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Justia Opinion Summary

Glenn Solberg, representing himself, appealed against orders denying his motions for relief from judgment and for reconsideration. He also moved for a jury trial and disqualification of the Court, alleging bias and conflict of interest. Solberg's claims of bias were based on prior decisions that were adverse to him. Greg Hennessy, the defendant, argued that the appeal was frivolous and requested attorney’s fees and double costs.

The District Court of Williams County had denied Solberg's motions for relief from judgment and for reconsideration. Solberg then appealed these decisions to the Supreme Court of North Dakota.

The Supreme Court of North Dakota denied Solberg's motion for a jury trial and disqualification, stating that the law presumes a judge is unbiased and not prejudiced. The court also noted that adverse or erroneous rulings do not, by themselves, demonstrate bias. For recusal to be warranted, a judge must be partial or there must be some external influence that creates an appearance of impropriety. The court found that Solberg failed to allege facts showing bias or the existence of an external influence creating an appearance of impropriety. The court also concluded that Solberg's request for a jury trial was frivolous as the Supreme Court reviews the rulings of the district court and does not engage in fact finding. The court affirmed the orders of the district court under N.D.R.App.P. 35.1(a)(1) and (4), finding the appeal to be frivolous and completely without merit. The court also awarded Hennessy double costs and attorney’s fees in the amount of $15,697.50 for defending this frivolous appeal.

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IN THE SUPREME COURT STATE OF NORTH DAKOTA 2024 ND 91 Glenn Sidney Solberg, Plaintiff and Appellant v. Greg W. Hennessy, Defendant and Appellee No. 20230289 Appeal from the District Court of Williams County, Northwest Judicial District, the Honorable Lonnie Olson, Judge. AFFIRMED; MOTION DENIED; COSTS AND FEES AWARDED. Opinion of the Court by McEvers, Justice. Glenn S. Solberg, self-represented, Zahl, ND, plaintiff and appellant; submitted on brief. Benjamin J. Sand and W. Logan Caldwell, Bismarck, ND, for defendant and appellee; submitted on brief. Solberg v. Hennessy No. 20230289 McEvers, Justice. [¶1] Glenn Solberg appeals from orders denying his motions for relief from judgment and for reconsideration, and moves for a jury trial and disqualification of the Court. Greg Hennessy argues this appeal is frivolous and requests attorney’s fees and double costs. We deny Solberg’s motion for a jury trial and disqualification, summarily affirm the orders under N.D.R.App.P. 35.1(a)(1) and (4), and award attorney’s fees and double costs. I [¶2] Solberg moved for a jury trial and for disqualification of the Court, arguing the Court is biased against him and has a conflict of interest. The rules of judicial conduct provide that a judge is required to avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of the judge’s activities. The law presumes a judge is unbiased and not prejudiced. We have said a ruling adverse to a party in the same or prior proceeding does not render a judge biased so as to require disqualification. The test for the appearance of impartiality is one of reasonableness and recusal is not required in response to spurious or vague charges of impartiality. Grasser v. Grasser, 2018 ND 85, ¶ 9, 909 N.W.2d 99 (cleaned up). Solberg argues the Court is biased based on our prior decisions that were adverse to him. However, “[a]dverse or erroneous rulings do not, by themselves, demonstrate bias. Rather, for recusal to be warranted, a judge must be partial or there must be some external influence that creates an appearance of impropriety.” Rath v. Rath, 2016 ND 105, ¶ 13, 879 N.W.2d 735. Solberg has failed to allege facts showing bias or the existence of an external influence creating an appearance of impropriety. Therefore, his motion for disqualification is without merit. We further conclude his request for a jury trial is frivolous. This Court reviews the rulings of the district court, and does not engage in fact finding. See Edison v. Edison, 2023 ND 141, ¶ 24, 994 N.W.2d 151 (“When considering a matter under our appellate jurisdiction, we 1 do not engage in fact finding. That role is for the district court.”). Accordingly, Solberg’s motion is denied. II [¶3] Solberg appeals from orders denying his motions for relief from judgment and for reconsideration, arguing the district court abused its discretion. Hennessy argues the appeal is frivolous. We conclude the appeal is frivolous and completely without merit and the court did not abuse its discretion. We summarily affirm under N.D.R.App.P. 35.1(a)(1) and (4). III [¶4] Hennessy requests attorney’s fees and double costs for defending this frivolous appeal. Under N.D.R.App.P. 38, the Court “may award just damages and single or double costs, including reasonable attorney’s fees,” if it determines an appeal is frivolous. This is the fourth frivolous appeal Solberg has pursued against either his stepfather’s estate or Hennessy in representing him against his stepfather’s estate. See In re Est. of Nelson, 2018 ND 118, ¶ 14, 910 N.W.2d 856; In re Est. of Nelson, 2021 ND 181, ¶ 3, 965 N.W.2d 407; Solberg v. Hennessy, 2022 ND 79, ¶ 1, 972 N.W.2d 928 (affirming in part under N.D.R.App.P. 35.1(a)(1)). Having concluded this appeal is frivolous, we award double costs and attorney’s fees. “If a party seeks more than a token amount of attorney fees, an affidavit documenting the work performed should accompany the request.” Est. of Nelson, 2021 ND 181, ¶ 3. Hennessy submitted an affidavit of costs and attorney’s fees from his attorney and an itemized statement, documenting $15,697.50 in attorney’s fees. We award Hennessy double costs and attorney’s fees in the amount of $15,697.50 for defending this frivolous appeal. IV [¶5] Solberg’s motion for a jury trial and disqualification is denied, the orders denying Solberg’s motions for relief from judgment and for reconsideration are 2 summarily affirmed, and Hennessy is awarded double costs and attorney’s fees in the amount of $15,697.50. [¶6] Jon J. Jensen, C.J. Daniel J. Crothers Lisa Fair McEvers Jerod E. Tufte Douglas A. Bahr 3

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