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Olmanson v. LeSueur County

March 31, 2005

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



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

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

The 10-year statute of repose provision in Minn. Stat. § 541.051, subd. 1(a) (2004), does not apply to claims for negligence based on a landowner's common-law duty to inspect and maintain the property.

The exception contained in Minn. Stat. § 541.051, subd. 1(c) (2004), for actions based on "negligence in the maintenance, operation or inspection of the real property improvement" does not violate equal protection because it applies equally to all persons who are subject to liability as possessors of the land, whether as the owner or as a construction professional.

Affirmed.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Meyer, Justice.

Dissenting, Page, J.

Took no part, Anderson, G. Barry, J.

OPINION

In this case we are asked to decide whether the 10-year statute of repose provision in Minn. Stat. § 541.051, subd. 1(a) (2004), applies to claims for negligence based on a landowner's common-law duty to inspect and maintain the property. The court of appeals held that the claims were not time-barred by the statute. We affirm.

Appellant Shoreland Recreational Cooperative (Shoreland) owns and operates an 18-hole golf course with golf holes on both sides of LeSueur County Road 21. Sometime prior to 1989, Shoreland designed and built a golf cart culvert under County Road 21 to allow golfers access to the golf course on both sides of the road. The opening of the culvert is 5 feet wide and 7 feet high and the top of the culvert is located 76 inches from the edge of the pavement on County Road 21. The east side of the culvert is marked by a 2-by-4 board on iron posts located above the culvert opening. Appellant LeSueur County (the county) and Shoreland do not know when the barricade was placed and who placed it there. The culvert opening on the west side of County Road 21 is unmarked and unguarded. Shoreland acknowledges that it owns the property where the culvert is located, and the county acknowledges that it holds a prescriptive easement over the property, which entitles the county to use it for road purposes.*fn1

In the afternoon and early evening of February 18, 2000, respondent David C. Olmanson went snowmobiling with friends in and around St. Peter, Minnesota. The snowmobilers rode primarily on trails and in the ditches along state and county roads, including County Road 21. On his way home, Olmanson was driving his snowmobile in the ditch on the east side of County Road 21. He decided to cross from the ditch on the east side of County Road 21 to the ditch on the west side. As he crossed the road and headed down the ditch, the snowmobile went off the edge of the golf cart culvert and struck the culvert's side wall. Olmanson was thrown from the snowmobile and injured.

Olmanson brought a negligence claim against the county and Shoreland in LeSueur County District Court. The county and Shoreland moved for summary judgment, arguing that the statute of repose for improvements to real property, Minn. Stat. § 541.051, barred Olmanson's suit, and that neither the county nor Shoreland had a duty to warn entrants of the existence of the culvert. The county also claimed statutory and official immunity. The district court denied summary judgment based on immunity and failure to warn, but granted summary judgment based on the statute of repose. The court of appeals affirmed the denial of summary judgment based on immunity but reversed the grant of summary judgment based on the statute of repose, holding that under the statute of repose, the duty to warn is inherent in a landowner's duty both to maintain and inspect. Olmanson v. LeSueur County, 673 N.W.2d 506 (Minn. App. 2004). We granted review on the issue of the statute of repose. We affirm the decision of the court of appeals.

I.

This case comes before us on an appeal from summary judgment. On appeal from summary judgment, we must determine whether there are any genuine issues of material fact, and whether the lower court erred in its application of the law. State by Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2, 4 (Minn. 1990); see also Minn. R. Civ. P. 56.03. The construction of a statute is a question of law, which this court reviews de novo. Ryan v. ITT Life Ins. Corp., 450 N.W.2d 126, 128 (Minn. 1990).

When determining the meaning of a statute, we are guided by several principles of statutory construction. Our primary object is to interpret and construct laws so as to ascertain and effectuate the intention of the legislature. Mankato Citizens Tel. Co. v. Comm'r of Taxation, 275 Minn. 107, 111, 145 N.W.2d 313, 317 (1966); Minn. Stat. § 645.16 (2004). When the words of a statute are clear and free from all ambiguity, this court looks only to its plain language. Owens v. Walter Gremlin Co., 605 N.W.2d 733, 736 (Minn. 2000). If a statute is ambiguous, the construction that avoids constitutional problems should be used, even if such a construction is less natural. State on Behalf of Forslund v. Bronson, 305 N.W.2d 748, 751 (Minn. 1981).

Minnesota Statutes § 541.051 (2004), is a statute of repose for injuries arising out of real property improvements.*fn2 The pertinent statutory language is as follows:

(a) Except where fraud is involved, no action by any person in contract, tort, or otherwise to recover damages for any injury to property, real or personal, or for bodily injury or wrongful death, arising out of the defective and unsafe condition of an improvement to real property, nor any action for contribution or indemnity for damages sustained on account of the injury, shall be brought against any person performing or furnishing the design, planning, supervision, materials, or observation of construction or construction of the improvement to real property or against the owner of the real property more than two years after discovery of the injury * * * nor, in any event shall such a cause of action accrue more than ten years after substantial completion of the construction.

(c) Nothing in this section shall apply to actions for damages resulting from negligence in the maintenance, operation or inspection of the real property improvement ...


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