CONSIDERED ON BRIEFS ON AUGUST 26, 2019.
FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE FIRST JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
HUTCHINSON COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA THE HONORABLE PATRICK T.
TIMOTHY R. WHALEN Attorney for plaintiff and appellee.
D. LEE Attorney for defendant and appellant.
GILBERTSON, Chief Justice
Curtis Huether served as Kenneth Stoebner's
attorney-in-fact under a power of attorney. Pursuant to this
role, Huether executed a sale of Stoebner's real property
to himself four days before Stoebner's death.
Stoebner's estate (Estate) subsequently brought a breach
of fiduciary duty claim against Huether for engaging in an
act of self-dealing. The Estate moved for summary judgment,
which the circuit court granted. We affirm.
and Procedural History
Stoebner and Huether were first cousins who knew each other
their entire lives. They were both farmers and occasionally
assisted each other with farm work. Stoebner was eight years
older than Huether, never married, and did not have any
children. In 2012, when he was 82 years old, Stoebner entered
a nursing home and was confined to a wheelchair. During
Stoebner's stay at the nursing home, Huether and his son,
Sheldon, visited Stoebner every one to two weeks, took him to
the farm for visits, and assisted with other tasks. For
instance, Huether handled the entirety of a farm sale for
Stoebner in 2013. In approximately February 2012, Huether
began leasing Stoebner's farmland. Huether continued
leasing the farmland for the next five years. The last lease
was signed by Stoebner in February 2017, four months before
his death. This property is the subject of the contested
transaction and current appeal.
Several months after entering the nursing home, Stoebner met
with his attorney, James Haar, to discuss the preparation of
a power of attorney. Haar performed legal work for Stoebner
since the late 1960s, assisting him with tax preparation,
drawing up leases, handling the probate of his mother's
estate, and drafting his will. Stoebner requested that Haar
be his attorney-in-fact, but Haar declined. Haar prepared a
General Durable Power of Attorney and Durable Power of
Attorney for Health Care for Stoebner, naming Huether as
Stoebner's attorney-in-fact. The power of attorney
allowed Huether to act as Stoebner's agent. In part, it
allowed Huether "[t]o acquire, purchase, exchange, grant
options to sell, and sell and convey real or personal
property, tangible or intangible, or interests herein, on
such terms and conditions as my agent will deem proper."
It also allowed Huether to manage real property in
Stoebner's name and benefit upon such terms Huether
deemed proper. Stoebner and Huether signed the document on
August 6, 2012. [¶4.] According to Huether, in 2016 he
began having Stoebner's mail sent to him instead of the
nursing home, and he took on full responsibility for paying
Stoebner's bills. Huether would ask Stoebner to review a
bill only if he had a question about it. At the time, Huether
paid Stoebner's bills from Stoebner's checking
account and replenished the account by cashing Stoebner's
certificates of deposit (CDs).
As Stoebner's assets depleted, Huether contends that he
discussed with Stoebner how to obtain funds to continue
paying his bills by using Stoebner's farmland. He states
that he suggested two options to Stoebner: (1) auction his
farmland or (2) allow the nursing home to obtain a lien on
his property. Huether claims that Stoebner declined these
options and instead wanted Huether to purchase the land in
exchange for the help he had given him.
[¶6.] Huether visited Haar in February 2017 to discuss
how to arrange the sale of Stoebner's farmland. Haar
refused to get involved, advising Huether that he should not
purchase the land and instead should mortgage the property.
Haar also stated that while the transaction was not
necessarily illegal, there was a strong possibility that
Huether would be sued by other family members. Huether then
asked another attorney, Keith Goehring, if he would assist
with the sale of the land. Goehring also declined because he
considered Haar a friend. Huether then went to attorney
Tamara Lee, who agreed to prepare the purchase agreement and
warranty deed. Lee had never performed legal work for
In June 2017, Huether had the land appraised. A certified
appraiser estimated the value of the land to be $720, 000.
Based on this appraisal, along with a real estate assessment
that the Hutchinson County Department of Equalization issued
assessing the value of the property at $374, 397, and the
advice of an accountant, Huether claims he and Stoebner
agreed on a purchase price of $350, 000. However,
Huether's payment for the land would be in the form of
payment of Stoebner's expenses up to the purchase price.
The purchase agreement provided:
Consideration and Payments. In consideration of
Seller's transfer of the above-described real property to
Purchaser, in addition to continuing to provide companionship
and to assist Seller with Seller's daily business needs,
Purchaser agrees to pay medical expenses, costs of care, and
costs of living expenses on behalf of Seller, up to a
cumulative total that does not exceed Three Hundred and Fifty
Thousand Dollars ($350, 000).
agreement also provided that Huether's responsibility to
pay for the land would extinguish upon Stoebner's death,