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In re Daniel

February 20, 2003

IN THE MATTER OF: THOMAS DANIEL FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A CARTWAY.


SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Under the cartway statute, Minn. Stat. § 164.08, subd. 2(a) (2002), a property owner with access to his lake cabin property via a navigable waterway is not entitled to a cartway across the land of another.

Reversed and remanded.

Heard, considered, and decided by the court en banc.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gilbert, Justice

OPINION

This case presents the issue of whether a property owner who has access to his lake cabin property via a navigable waterway can invoke Minn. Stat. § 164.08, subd. 2(a) (2002), to establish a cartway over the lands of others. Thomas Daniel, owner of a parcel of land bordering Lake Vermillion in an unorganized territory, petitioned the St. Louis County Board of Commissioners requesting that a cartway be established over the adjoining land of Donald Schoch. The board of commissioners, acting as a town board pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 164.08, subd. 2(a) and (b), held a hearing on the matter and issued an order granting Daniel the requested cartway. The board awarded $18,022 to Schoch, to be paid by Daniel, to compensate for Schoch's land used to establish the cartway. See Minn. Stat. § 164.08, subd. 2(c) (requiring petitioner to pay damages before the cartway will be opened).

Schoch appealed the board's decision to the St. Louis County District Court. Respondent, St. Louis County, moved for summary judgment. The court held a hearing on the summary judgment motion and issued an order and memorandum granting respondent's motion for summary judgment. Schoch appealed the summary judgment order to the court of appeals. The court of appeals held that lake-only access is not sufficient access within the meaning of Minn. Stat. § 164.08, subd. 2(a) and affirmed the district court's summary judgment order. We reverse the court of appeals.

Thomas Daniel and Donald Schoch own adjoining parcels of land. Daniel's only access to his property, since he purchased it in 1995, has been via Lake Vermillion. On Julyá4, 1999, a windstorm caused significant blow-down of trees on the properties of both Schoch and Daniel. Schoch constructed a road on his property to access the downed trees. Thereafter, Daniel and Schoch discussed extending the road over Schoch's property to Daniel's property in order to remove the downed trees on Daniel's property. When the discussions did not lead to an agreement, Daniel petitioned the St. Louis County Board of Commissioners to grant Daniel a cartway across Schoch's land. The St.áLouis County Board of Commissioners held a hearing and found "[t]hat the Petitioner does not have access to his property except across the property of others," and issued the following conclusions:

1. That the Petition for a cartway is properly before the St. Louis County Board. 2. That Petitioner individually owns land containing at least five (5) acres which has no access thereto except over the lands of others. 3.ááThat the requested cartway is the most appropriate means of access to the land of the Petitioner. 4. That 3.90 acres of land will be taken by the cartway and that the owners of that property have sustained damages of $18,022.

Schoch appealed to the district court. Pursuant to Minn. R. Civ. P. 56, respondent, St. Louis County, moved for summary judgment. The district court held a hearing on the motion for summary judgment. At the hearing, the factual question of whether Daniel had access to the downed trees via nearby Minnesota Department of Natural Resources winter roads was disputed, as well as whether lake access constituted access under the cartway statute. The district court ordered summary judgment, thereby affirming the decision of the St. Louis County Board.

The memorandum accompanying that order stated, "The court is unable to find any case law or Minnesota statute that indicates the legislature's intent that lake access is sufficient access to deny a petition for a cartway pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 164.08, subd.á2." Finding no dispute as to a material issue of fact, the district court held that "the Board of Commissioners did not abuse its legislative discretion in determining that Respondent satisfied the statutory conditions of Minn. Stat. § 164.08, subd. 2."

The court of appeals affirmed the district court. In the Matter of Thomas Daniel for the Establishment of Cartway, 644 N.W.2d 495 (Minn. App. 2002). It concluded access via Lake Vermillion does not qualify as access within the meaning of the cartway statute; therefore, Daniel was entitled to a cartway across Schoch's property. Id. at 499. The court of appeals went on to conclude that Schoch was not entitled to a fact hearing because the fact that Daniel has lake access to his property was not disputed and the statutory interpretation issue presented in the case was purely a question of law. Id. We granted review.

We address two questions when reviewing an order for summary judgment: "(1)áwhether there are any genuine issues of material fact and (2) whether the lower courts erred in their application of the law." State by Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2, 4 (Minn. 1990). Here, both parties concede that the relevant facts are undisputed. The district court in applying statutory language to undisputed facts makes a conclusion of law, which we review de novo. Lefto v. Hoggsbreath Enters., Inc., 581 N.W.2d 855, 856 (Minn. 1998). Therefore, the sole issue is whether the district court correctly interpreted ...


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