- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 1, 2015

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - The North Dakota Supreme Court says a judge was wrong to order a state criminal investigator to reimburse a man for a pay loader the agent confiscated.

Bureau of Criminal Investigation agent Arnie Rummel took possession of the loader in May 2014 from Forbes resident Darrell Schrum after an investigation determined the equipment was stolen and later gave to a trucking company. Schrum told authorities he didn’t know about the theft and bought the loader in good faith, making him the rightful owner.

Southeast District Judge Daniel Narum told Rummel to return the loader to Schrum. The agent didn’t, so he was declared in contempt of court and later ordered, along with the state attorney general’s office, to pay Schrum nearly $54,000. The state appealed.

The Supreme Court said in an opinion released Monday that the judge’s order did not comply with requirements for claims against the state, including filing a written notice with the director of the Office of Management and Budget.

“We conclude the district court erred in ordering the state and Rummel to pay compensatory remedial contempt sanctions in favor of Schrum, and we reverse the contempt order,” Justice Dale Sandstrom wrote.

Mark Friese, one of Schrum’s attorneys, was not immediately available for comment Tuesday.

During a May hearing, Friese had argued Rummel did not have the authority to decide what to do with the loader, which Friese said was given to a trucking company with no ownership interest in the equipment.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem declined to comment Tuesday, though he previously told The Associated Press that authorities seize stolen property “all the time” and Rummel did nothing wrong.

Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Byers told the Supreme Court in May there are too many questions about ownership of the pay loader to make Rummel financially liable and suggested that the judge would have been better off issuing some type of punitive sanction.

The justices said in their order that it’s up to Narum to decide whether to order another type of sanction against Rummel.

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