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Claussen v. City of Lauderdale

July 06, 2004

RAND CLAUSSEN, ET AL., RESPONDENTS,
v.
CITY OF LAUDERDALE, MINNESOTA, APPELLANT, DENNIS DOLPHIN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



Ramsey County District Court File No. C8-00-7228.

Considered and decided by Schumacher, Presiding Judge; Stoneburner, Judge; and Parker, Judge.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

1. A district court's discretion to grant equitable relief is not unlimited and must be supported by the facts and law.

2. A district court cannot grant an exclusive use easement over publicly owned park property, where the party claiming such an easement fails to prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that the necessary elements existed prior to public ownership.

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

Reversed

Parker, Judge*fn1

OPINION

Respondents, Rand and Barbara Claussen and Edward and Marilyn Salovich, brought this action against appellant, the City of Lauderdale (the city), and others, seeking title to certain property owned by the city and used as a park. Respondents eventually amended their complaint to seek adverse possession over part of the property.

In November 2001, the parties reached a tentative settlement in which the city agreed to grant respondents a use easement over the disputed property as long as ownership remained in respondents' respective families. The settlement was conditioned upon approval from the administrator of a federal grant that the city had received to purchase the property and use it as a park; the settlement fell through and was vacated when that approval was not obtained.

The city thereafter moved for summary judgment. The district court agreed with the city's argument that respondents cannot adversely possess property that has been owned since 1951 either by the city or its predecessor, a local school district. The district court further agreed that respondents failed to produce admissible, clear and convincing evidence to establish adverse possession of the property prior to 1951. The court therefore granted summary judgment to the city on respondents' adverse possession claim.*fn2

The district court continued, however, and concluded that "[e]quity . . . demands a resolution of the property that all the parties thought they were fighting over, namely the 7-8 foot strip of land between the historical fence line (or rise) and the actual registered property line." Without findings or analysis, the court granted respondents an exclusive use easement that "will run with [respondents'] parcels, . . . as long as [they] are used for residential purposes by [respondents] or their heirs or successors in interest."

On appeal, the city challenges that part of the district court's order granting an exclusive use easement to respondents. The city argues that the district court acted improperly by granting, sua sponte, equitable relief not specifically pled or requested by respondents. The city further argues that because respondents failed to produce admissible, clear and convincing evidence to establish their adverse possession claim, they necessarily failed to produce sufficient evidence to support the grant of an exclusive easement.

Because the district court abused discretion by granting, sua sponte, respondents equitable relief in the form of an exclusive use easement over property that has been publicly owned since 1951, we ...


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