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Northern States Power Company v. Aleckson

Supreme Court of Minnesota

May 29, 2013

Northern States Power Company (d/b/a Xcel Energy), by its Board of Directors; et al., Respondents,
v.
Roger A. Aleckson, et al., District court respondents, Robert T. Pudas, et al., Appellants, Brett R. Hanson, et al., Appellants.

Steven J. Quam, John E. Drawz, Richard D. Snyder, Fredrikson & Byron, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota, for respondents.

Gerald W. Von Korff, Keri A. Phillips, Rinke Noonan, St. Cloud, Minnesota, for appellants Robert T. Pudas, et al.

Michael C. Rajkowski, Sarah R. Jewell, Quinlivan & Hughes, P.A., St. Cloud, Minnesota, for appellants Brett R. Hanson, et al.

Phillip R. Krass, Malkerson, Gunn & Martin, LLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota; and

Kirk A. Schnitker, Jon W. Morphew, Schnitker Law Office, P.A., Spring Lake Park, Minnesota, for amicus curiae Minnesota Eminent Domain Institute.

Carol A. Overland, Overland Law Office, Red Wing, Minnesota, for amici curiae NoCapX2020, United Citizens Action Network, St. Paul's Lutheran School and Church, and Cannon Falls Landowners.

SYLLABUS

1. Appellants who elected to require utilities to condemn their entire properties in fee pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 216E.12 (2012) are entitled to minimum compensation under Minn. Stat. § 117.187 (2012) as owners who "must relocate" because on the date of the taking, the utilities took title to and possession of appellants' entire properties.

2. Because appellants are "displaced persons" under federal law, they are entitled to relocation assistance under Minn. Stat. §§ 117.50-.56 (2012).

OPINION

PAGE, Justice.

This case presents the question of whether property owners who elect to require a utility to condemn their property in fee under Minn. Stat. § 216E.12 (2012) are entitled to minimum compensation under Minn. Stat. § 117.187 (2012) and relocation assistance under Minn. Stat. § 117.52 (2012). Appellants are landowners who made such an election after respondents Northern States Power Company, et al. (collectively NSP), [1]sought to acquire easements through their property by eminent domain in order to construct a high-voltage electric transmission line. After making this election, appellants requested that NSP provide them with minimum compensation and relocation assistance. NSP subsequently moved the district court for an order clarifying whether such benefits are available to property owners making an election under Minn. Stat. § 216E.12. The district court concluded that such benefits are available. The court of appeals reversed. Because we hold that appellants satisfy the statutory criteria for receiving minimum compensation and relocation assistance and are therefore entitled to such benefits, we reverse.

NSP is among a group of developers of the CapX2020 Project, which involves the construction of four high-voltage transmission lines extending over 700 miles and crossing 21 Minnesota counties. The first phase of the project extends from Monticello, Minnesota, to Fargo, North Dakota, and includes a 28-mile line between Monticello and St. Cloud. NSP's condemnation of certain easements for the construction of the 28-mile line gave rise to the present appeal.

The facts of this case are not in dispute. On July 12, 2010, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission issued a route permit to NSP for the construction of the section of high-voltage transmission line between Monticello and St. Cloud. The permit required NSP to "utilize the existing highway right-of-way to the maximum extent possible." NSP acquired many of the easements required to construct the high-voltage transmission line through negotiations with property owners. NSP acquired some of the easements utilizing quick-take condemnation proceedings pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 117.042 (2012). The easements sought by NSP through quick-take proceedings included easements extending over the property of appellants Robert and Charlene Pudas, Brett and Nancy Hanson, John and Jeannie Stich, and Matthew Enos. Although the easements were such that appellants could continue living in their homes, appellants chose to relocate because, among other reasons, in their view the high-voltage transmission line would significantly change the character of their land.

Appellants subsequently elected to have NSP condemn their entire properties under Minn. Stat. § 216E.12, subd. 4, which gives an owner of property proposed to be acquired through eminent domain for the construction of a high-voltage transmission line the option "to require the utility to condemn a fee interest in any amount of contiguous, commercially viable land." Appellants also sought (1) minimum compensation pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 117.187, which requires the utility to pay damages sufficient for the owner to purchase comparable property in the community, ...


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