--- Am. Tribal Law ----, 2017 WL 1136955 (Fort Peck C.A.)
Fort Peck Court of Appeals.
CAUSE NO. AP # 639
MARCH 2, 2017
SO ORDERED this 3rd day of March, 2017.
Appeal from the Fort Peck Tribal Court, Danna Runs Above, Presiding Judge.

Attorneys and Law Firms
Appellant appears with Counsel, Mary Zemyan
Appellee appears pro se.
Before Smith, Chief Justice, and Shanley and Knudsen, Associate Justices.


Maylinn Smith, Chief Justice


¶1 In 2003, Don and Alene Sharp entered into an oral contract with Herman Red Elk for the sale of a 1993 Chevrolet pickup. Herman Red Elk paid the full price in cash and the Sharps delivered a bill of sale that stated there were no liens on the vehicle. Unknown to Red Elk and prior to the sale, Appellant Don Sharp had borrowed $2503.75 from Montana Title Loans in Billings and a lien for that amount was placed on the vehicle.

¶2 On April 18, 2005, Judge Lonnie Headdress held a bench trial in regard to the contract dispute and found in favor of Mr. Red Elk, ordering the Sharps to deliver a title, free of any lien or encumbrance to Mr. Red Elk within sixty days. The Order was issued on June 1, 2005. On June 17, 2005, the Sharps appealed Judge Headdress’s decision (FPCOA 434). On June 22, 2005 the Court issued a stay of execution pending the appeal. The Fort Peck Court of Appeals denied review on July 23, 2007.

¶3 Herman Red Elk filed a Petition to Execute the Judgment on April 25, 2008. The Court issued an Order on August 28, 2008, requiring the Sharps to deliver clear title and pay costs of $2500. Red Elk filed another Petition to Execute Judgment on January 26, 2011 and the Court again issued an order on April 25, 2011 commanding the Sharps to deliver a clear title and pay costs in the amount of $2500.

¶4 On October 9, 2012, Red Elk filed a Motion to Show Cause why the Sharps should not be held in contempt for failing to abide by the Courts orders. A hearing was held on May 22, 2013. On May 23, 2013, Judge Runs Above issued an Order requiring the Sharps to comply with previous orders to deliver title and pay costs, or be held in contempt of court. The Sharps appeal the May 23rd Order issued by Judge Runs Above. They allege that the Judgment expired on July 23, 2012, five years after the stay of execution was lifted. They further assert that any subsequent orders affirming the 2005 judgment did not extend the life of the original judgment.


Statement of Jurisdiction

¶5 The Fort Peck Appellate Court has jurisdiction to review all final orders from the Fort Peck Tribal Court when a timely appeal is made. 2 CCOJ § 202. The order signed and dated May 23, 2013 is a final order and the notice of appeal is deemed timely filed.


Standard of Review

¶6 The jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals is extended to review de novo all determinations of the Tribal Court on matters of law and the Appellate Court shall not set aside factual findings if such findings are supported by substantial evidence. 2 CCOJ § 202.; Sunrise Lumber vs. Gerald Johnson, FPCOA No. 165 ( 1999).



¶7 The following issue has been raised for review by Appellants:
1. Do subsequent orders affirming a Judgment extend the statutory life of the original monetary judgment without a request to renew the judgment in accordance with VIII CCOJ 307?



¶8 The Fort Peck Tribal Code, Title VIII on Civil Procedures covers civil judgments in Chapter 3. The applicable sections of the Chapter that are relevant to the issue at hand are § 304 Execution, § 306 Life of Judgment, § 307 Renewal of Judgment, and § 308 Stay of Judgment.

¶9 Section 306 states that in the event a monetary judgment is not satisfied within 60 days from its entry, the creditor can come back to the Tribal Court and file a request for a judicial hearing, wherein the debtor shall provide a list of his/her property to be itemized and sold to satisfy the judgment. After the hearing, the Court shall determine which property is available for execution and may seek the assistance of law enforcement to seize such property.

¶10 Sec. 306 describes the life of a monetary judgment. Specifically, it states:
No judgment of the Court for money shall be enforceable after five (5) years from the date of entry, unless application to renew the judgment shall have been filed before the date of expiration pursuant to Section 307.

¶11 This section explicitly creates a statutory life of five years for any monetary judgment issued by the Tribal Court unless that judgment is either renewed through the process determined in Section 307, or extended through a stay of execution. Section 307 simply states that a creditor must apply for a renewal of judgment prior to the expiration of the judgment. Upon application, the Court shall renew the judgment and extend its life for another five (5) year period.

¶12 According to this Court in Sunrise Lumber v. Gerald Johnson, FPCOA 165, the language of the Tribal Code statutes on executing and renewing judgments is plain and unambiguous. Id at 3. However, the Court, specifically notes:
¶13 ...[E]very legal analysis should begin at the point of reason, continue along a path of logic and arrive at a fundamentally fair result. We are convinced that this analytical path should be traveled when testing any rule of law. And we make no exception here. Thus, if we were to interpret § 306 as defendant contends, there would be absolutely no event which would, or could, toll the statutory life of a judgment. The clock would commence running upon entry of the judgment and the statutory period would expire five (5) years later, unless the judgment was renewed pursuant to § 307. The judgment debtor could contest every attempt to execute on the judgment, thwart any and all attempts by the judgment creditor to execute, secrete himself, or be otherwise unavailable due to illness or injury. Yet, according to defendant, not one of these events would serve to add one day to the life of the judgment. This line of reasoning is a bit too rigid and legalistic to arrive at a “fundamentally fair” result. [emphasis added] Id at 3.

¶14 In Sunrise Lumber, the Court allowed the statutory life of a judgment to be tolled based on a stay of execution pending appeal. Although the Court expressly recognized one way to toll the statute, it did not negate the possibility of other means in order to reach an equitable result. The Court determined that a strict interpretation of the statute could allow a debtor to inappropriately take actions to delay or prevent execution on the judgment and then to the debtor’s benefit argue an expiration of the judgment. To do so, the Court stated would be “both unreasonable, illogical, and finds its way to an unfair and unacceptable result.” Sunrise Lumber at 4. That is the exact scenario that is occurring in the case at hand.

¶15 Here, the appellate review was denied on July 23, 2007, thereby effectively lifting the stay. If this Court adopted Appellant Sharps’ argument, the judgment would have expired on July 23, 2012 regardless of the fact that Red Elk filed two separate times during that time period to execute on the judgment. Both in 2008 and 2011 the Tribal Court issued an Order requiring the Sharps to comply with the 2005 Judgment. The Sharps blatantly disregarded the Court’s Orders and made no attempt to pay on the Judgment. After unsuccessfully attempting to execute on the judgment on two occasions, Red Elk filed for a Motion for an Order to Show Cause after the supposed expiration date for the Judgment had passed.

¶16 As this Court has stated before it would be “unreasonable, illogical, and find its way to an unfair and unacceptable result” to allow the Sharps to benefit from their complete disregard for the Tribal Court’s Orders, particularly when Red Elk, a pro se litigant, has made numerous attempts to have the judgment enforced. For that reason, this Court finds that the two Tribal Court Orders from 2008 and 2011 effectively renewed the 2005 judgment and should be treated as a renewal of judgment pursuant to VIII CCOJ § 307. This reasoning does not contradict the precedent established in Sunrise Lumber v. Johnson. Rather, it supports the Court’s conclusion that it is necessary to reach a fundamentally fair decision instead of relying on rigid legalistic interpretations of the Tribal Code which would tolerate a total disregard for orders issued by the lower court.



¶17 Therefore, the Tribal Court Order issued on May 23, 2013 is hereby AFFIRMED and this matter remanded back to the lower court for enforcement of the judgment entered by that court in accordance with all applicable law.



Erin Shanley, Associate Justice

DANIEL P. KNUDSEN Associate Justice

All Citations
--- Am. Tribal Law ----, 2017 WL 1136955