APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE SEVENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT PENNINGTON COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA HONORABLE A. PETER FULLER Judge
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Konenkamp, Justice
ARGUED ON NOVEMBER 16, 2010.
[¶1.] Does the assignment of a real estate purchase agreement to a new buyer require the broker to obtain a new agency agreement along with its required disclosures under SDCL 36-21A-130? The South Dakota Real Estate Commission ruled that a real estate agent committed unprofessional conduct when he failed to execute a new written agency agreement with the new buyer he represented. On appeal, we conclude that because there was no written agency agreement between the parties sufficient to satisfy SDCL 36-21A-130, the Commission's decision was correct. The circuit court's ruling to the contrary is reversed.
Background [¶2.] In June 2004, Walter D. Miller hired Garry Neiderworder of Rapid Realty to represent him in the sale of ranch land in Meade County, South Dakota. Neiderworder became both the listing agent and broker. Russell Engesser wanted to purchase Miller's land and entered into an agency agreement with Robert Leonard, also of Rapid Realty. Because Leonard and Neiderworder were both affiliated with Rapid Realty and represented the seller (Miller) and the buyer (Engesser), Engesser and Leonard signed an addendum to the agency agreement, creating a limited agency relationship. On that same day, Engesser offered to purchase Miller's land for $900,000, contingent on the sale of Engesser's land. Miller countered with a request for $930,000, but accepted Engesser's contingency. Engesser accepted Miller's counteroffer, and they signed a purchase agreement, reflecting a sale price of $930,000. The agreement also noted a backup purchase offer from Bill Gikling for $933,750.
[¶3.] Ultimately, Engesser was unable to sell his land. On learning this, Leonard mentioned the land transaction to Daniel Wolken, who expressed an interest. Leonard gave Wolken a map of the property. Wolken and his partners, Scott Grimsrud and Norman Rieger (both now deceased), considered purchasing the land through their company, Western Dakota Land, LLC. Leonard arranged a meeting with Engesser, Wolken, and Grimsrud to discuss Western Dakota's options in light of Gikling's backup offer. At this meeting, the parties agreed that to effect the sale without triggering the backup offer, Engesser, in exchange for $25,000, would assign his right to purchase the property under the purchase agreement to Wolken and his partners. The assignment provided,
I, Russell H. Engesser, the undersigned, for one dollar and other good and valuable consideration, assign all of my interest in and to two certain Purchase Agreements dated June 17th, 2004 between Miller, Seller/Engesser, Buyer, and dated September 10th, 2004 between Hackens, Seller/Engesser, Buyer. Along with all of the rights, privileges, and obligations set forth therein to.
The executed assignment names Scott A. Grimsrud, Daniel L. Wolken, and Norman
L. Rieger as assignees. [¶4.] Following the assignment, Leonard gave Wolken copies of certain restrictive covenants on the property. Wolken questioned Leonard and Neiderworder on the legal ramifications of the covenants. According to Wolken, Leonard and Neiderworder represented that the covenants would not restrict Western Dakota's ultimate purchase of the property or hamper them from using and developing the property after the purchase. The parties closed on the sale in October 2004. Some time later, Western Dakota decided to sell the property by auction. But it came to light that the map Leonard gave Wolken was incorrect in several respects, and the covenants were more restrictive than Leonard and Neiderworder previously represented. To remove these difficulties, the restricted two hundred and forty acres were withdrawn, and the remaining acres were sold. [¶5.] Western Dakota, Wolken, and Grimsrud filed a complaint with the South Dakota Real Estate Commission against Leonard and Neiderworder for their representations on the sale of the land, in particular the covenants on the two hundred and forty acres. In addition to the issues raised by Wolken and Grimsrud, the Commission charged that Leonard had violated certain statutory obligations when he failed to execute a new agency agreement with Wolken after Engesser assigned his right to purchase the property to Wolken. [¶6.] Both Wolken and Leonard appeared at the administrative hearing. Although he considered Leonard his agent, Wolken testified that Leonard never explained the nature of their relationship or discussed any potential conflicts, considering that Neiderworder represented the seller. Leonard testified that he became Wolken's agent when Engesser assigned the purchase agreement to Wolken. Leonard asserted that the assignment of the purchase agreement transferred to Wolken Leonard's agreement with Engesser, and therefore, satisfied the requirement to execute a written agency agreement under SDCL 36-21A-130. [¶7.] The hearing examiner issued a proposed decision, which the Commission adopted, finding by clear and convincing evidence that Leonard committed unprofessional conduct under SDCL 36-21A-71 when he failed to execute a written agency agreement with Wolken as required by SDCL 36-21A-130.
Neiderworder was exonerated. Leonard received a two-month license suspension, which was held in abeyance on the condition that he successfully complete six hours of training and a three-hour ethics course, and pay assessed costs of $6,176.99 and a $1,000 monetary penalty. [¶8.] In Leonard's appeal, the circuit court concluded that the Commission erred as a matter of law when it held that Leonard was required to execute a new agency agreement with Wolken after the assignment of Engesser's purchase agreement. To the court, the assignment of the purchase agreement included the agency agreement between Engesser and Leonard, and therefore, Leonard committed no unprofessional conduct. Now, the Commission appeals.*fn1
Analysis and Decision [¶9.] The purchase agreement assignment provided that Engesser "assign[ed] all of [his] interest in and to" his purchase agreement and "all of the rights, privileges, and obligations set forth therein to." The purchase agreement refers to the agency agreement. Aside from disputing whether this document accomplished an assignment of the agency agreement, the Commission further claims that because SDCL 36-21A-130 mandates that an agency agreement be in writing and be signed by all the parties to the transaction, Leonard was required to obtain a separate written agency agreement bearing Wolken's signature.
[¶10.] Leonard responds that the language of the assignment between Engesser and Wolken clearly and unambiguously assigned the agency agreement between Engesser and Leonard: the purchase agreement referred to the agency agreement, and the assignment transferred all the "rights, privileges, or obligations" of the purchase agreement. Leonard also relies on Wolken's past experience in buying property and asserts that Wolken understood the nature of his agency relationship with Leonard. [¶11.] SDCL 36-21A-130 requires that any agency agreement, whether between a broker and a seller, lessor, buyer, or tenant, "be in writing[.]" The writing "shall contain the proper legal description, the price and terms, the date of authorization, the expiration date, the type of agency relationship established, compensation to be paid, . . . and the signature of all parties." Id.
The agreement "shall provide a clear and complete explanation of the broker's representation of the interests of the seller . . . or buyer. . . . If the broker represents more than one party in a transaction, the ...