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Elseth v. Hille

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

May 13, 2013

Elden J. Elseth, et al., Appellants,
v.
Roger Hille, et al., Respondents.

UNPUBLISHED OPINION

Marshall County District Court File No. 45-CV-11-194

Paul A. Sortland, Sortland Law Office, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for appellants)

Mark A. Solheim, Paula Duggan Vraa, Paul A. Sand, Larson King, LLP, St. Paul, Minnesota (for respondents)

Considered and decided by Ross, Presiding Judge; Peterson, Judge; and Chutich, Judge.

ROSS, Judge

This appeal concerns a dispute between two former and seven current[1] managers of a watershed district board. Appellants are the former district managers, and they have sued alleging that the respondents, who are the current managers, intentionally violated the Minnesota Open Meeting Law by improperly noticing a special meeting and taking action on matters that were improperly noticed. The district court granted respondents' motion for summary judgment and denied appellants' motion to amend their complaint to add the watershed district as a party. Appellants argue that the district court applied an incorrect standard on intent, that they produced evidence to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to whether respondents intentionally violated the open meeting law, and that the district court erred by denying their motion to amend their complaint. The district court applied the correct legal standard, but the disputed facts construed in favor of the appellants prevent summary judgment. We therefore reverse and remand.

FACTS

The Middle-Snake-Tamarac Rivers Watershed District Board is a state political subdivision charged with managing water-related problems within the district. Appellants Elden Elseth and Loren Zutz are former district managers. Respondents Roger Hille, Douglas Sorenson, Benedict Kleinwachter, John Nelson, David Bakke, Alvin Nybladh, and Marvin Hedlund were the district managers during the events giving rise to the dispute in this litigation.

The board posts an annual schedule of its regular meetings on the window of its office in Warren, Minnesota. At some point after its regular meeting on November 16, 2009, the board decided to meet again before its next regular meeting. According to board administrator Nick Drees, the autumn had been warmer and drier than usual and district landowners wanted to conduct certain land-use activities before a freeze- activities that would require the board to address requests for permits. Board members also wished to address issues related to a district ditch.

Drees met with Jeff Hane, the watershed district's attorney, and Connie Kajawa, the watershed district's secretary, to discuss notice for the special meeting. They published the notice in the November 25 edition of the local newspaper, the Warren Sheaf, and posted the notice on the board's office window. The notice read as follows:

NOTICE
A Special Meeting of the Board of Managers of the Middle Snake Tamarac Rivers Watershed District will be held on Monday, November 30, 2009 at the District Office at 3:00 p.m. The purpose of the meeting is to (but not limited to) the review of Permit Applications. The meetings are open to the public.

The special meeting commenced as noticed. Zutz attended and made an audio recording of the meeting. The agenda listed two permit applications, but, soon after the meeting began, Sorenson stated that Drees wanted the board to discuss another permit- for culvert work on a ditch-and a land acquisition. Sorenson invited a motion either to approve the agenda as presented or to amend the agenda to include the additional items. Nelson moved to amend the agenda, and Hille seconded the motion. Before the vote, the following exchange occurred about the scope of issues that could be addressed under the notice and the agenda:

KLEINWACHTER: I mean how is this meeting limited in any way, shape, or form; or what's the deal with that? I mean is it a special meeting for a special specific purpose or is it a-
NELSON: It was advertised. . . .
DREES: Only for this and that, and all the matters brought before the-KLEINWACHTER: Oh.
NELSON: It's not limited to, I think it shows.
BAKKE: Not, not limited to, ...

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