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Olmanson v. Le Sueur County

January 13, 2004

DAVID C. OLMANSON, APPELLANT,
v.
LE SUEUR COUNTY, RESPONDENT, SHORELAND RECREATIONAL COOPERATIVE, D/B/A SHORELAND COUNTRY CLUB, RESPONDENT.



Le Sueur County District Court File No. C6-02-0457

Considered and decided by Harten, Presiding Judge; Hudson, Judge; and Crippen, Judge.*fn1

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

I. As a statute of repose, Minn. Stat. § 541.051, subd. 1(a) (2002), provides that no action may accrue more than ten years after substantial completion of the construction in question. But subdivision 1(c) of the statute exempts actions for negligent maintenance, operation, and inspection. Thus, an action for failure to warn of a dangerous condition on a property-owner's land is not time-barred by subdivision 1(a).

II. A county is not protected by discretionary immunity under Minn. Stat. § 466.03, subd. 6 (2002), when it does not provide evidence of specific facts showing that the county established its policy through a deliberative decision-making process.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hudson, Judge

Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded

OPINION

Appellant was snowmobiling on the east side of County Road 21, and he was injured when he crossed the road to enter the west ditch and collided with the side of a cement culvert running under the road. The accident occurred near the Shoreland golf course. Appellant sued respondent landowners Shoreland Country Club (Shoreland) and Le Sueur County (the county) for negligence.

Respondents both filed motions for summary judgment, arguing that appellant's claim was barred by the ten-year statute of repose in Minn. Stat. § 541.051, subd. 1(a) (2002). The county also argued that appellant's claim was barred by the doctrines of statutory discretionary immunity and official immunity. The district court granted respondents' motion for summary judgment, finding that the statute of repose in Minn. Stat. § 541.051, subd. 1(a), barred appellant's claim. The district court denied respondent Le Sueur County's motion for summary judgment finding the county was not protected by discretionary or official immunity.

Appellant argues that the statute of repose did not bar his claim because it was preserved by the exception to the statute found in Minn. Stat. § 541.051, subd. 1(c) (2002). This exception applies to claims against the owner of real property for damages resulting from negligence in the maintenance, operation, or inspection of the real property. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for trial.

FACTS

On the afternoon of February 18, 2000, appellant David Olmanson went snowmobiling with friends. They were snowmobiling in the ditches along various roads, and eventually began traveling in the ditch on the east side of County Road 21. As evening approached, appellant attempted to cross County Road 21 ten to thirty feet away from a culvert, or tunnel, running under County Road 21. When crossing the road, the snowmobilers did not see the culvert or the barrier placed at the east side end of the culvert. Appellant crossed the road and headed down the west inside slope of County Road 21, where he hit the cement culvert and was injured.

Shoreland operates a golf course, portions of which are located on either side of County Road 21. Shoreland acknowledges that it owns the property where the culvert is located. The county acknowledges that it has a prescriptive easement to use the property where the culvert is located. A former Le Sueur County highway engineer testified that the culvert was constructed by Shoreland sometime prior to 1989 to allow golfers to safely cross to the east and west sides of Shoreland's golf course. The culvert opening is 76 inches from the edge of the road pavement above and is five feet wide and seven feet high—big enough to allow golfers to ride golf carts through it. There are signs prohibiting snowmobiling on the golf course, but there are no such signs around the culvert. At the time of the accident, a small barricade was in place on the east side of County Road 21 above the culvert. Both the county and Shoreland contend that they did not erect the barricade, and the county acknowledges that the barricade does not meet its requirements for a traffic control device. The current county engineer, Darrell Pettis, testified that while the MNDOT transportation manual recommends that counties mark culverts larger than 42 inches in diameter, Le Sueur County does not generally mark off-road culverts. Former and current Le Sueur County engineers explained that the county established a policy not to mark off-road culverts because of a lack of financial resources and a belief that marking these objects created unnecessary risk and disregard for other, more important signs.

The district court granted respondents' summary judgment motion, finding that the ten-year statute of repose in Minn. Stat. § 541.051, subd. 1(a), barred appellant's action. In the same order, the district court denied the county's motion for summary judgment based on discretionary and official immunity. Appellant filed a notice of appeal, arguing that the district court erred when it found its claim was barred by the statute of repose. Respondent Le Sueur County filed a notice of review, arguing that the district court erred in denying summary judgment based on immunity.

ISSUES

I. Did the district court err in holding that appellant's claim was time-barred by Minn. Stat. § 541.051, subd. 1(a)?

II. Did the district court err in holding that the county was not protected by discretionary ...


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