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Stengrim v. Middle-Snake-Tamarac Rivers Watershed District

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

June 10, 2013

James Stengrim, Appellant,
v.
Middle-Snake-Tamarac Rivers Watershed District, Respondent, Doug Sorenson, et al., Respondents, Loren Zutz, Respondent, Elden Elseth, Defendant.

UNPUBLISHED OPINION

Marshall County District Court File No. 45-CV-09-120

Christopher K. Wachtler, Collins, Buckley, Sauntry & Haugh, P.L.L.P., St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant)

Richard M. Lee, Brink, Sobolik, Severson, Malm & Albrecht, P.A., Hallock, Minnesota (for respondent Middle-Snake-Tamarac Rivers Watershed District)

Steven A. Anderson, Nora L. Crumpton, Anderson Law Offices, P.A., Warroad, Minnesota (for respondents Sorenson, et al.)

Paul A. Sortland, Sortland Law Office, PLLC, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for respondent Zutz)

Considered and decided by Johnson, Chief Judge; Schellhas, Judge; and Hooten, Judge.

JOHNSON, Chief Judge

James Stengrim brought this lawsuit to establish that the board of managers of the Middle-Snake-Tamarac Rivers Watershed District did not provide proper notice of the subjects discussed during a portion of a board meeting that was closed to the public. After a two-day trial, the district court found that the board of managers gave proper notice. We conclude that the district court's findings of fact are not clearly erroneous and, therefore, affirm.

FACTS

Three years ago, the Minnesota Supreme Court wrote, "The parties to the present litigation have a long history of conflict, both in district court and otherwise, culminating in the current action . . . ." Middle-Snake-Tamarac Rivers Watershed Dist. v. Stengrim, 784 N.W.2d 834, 836 (Minn. 2010). In fact, the case before the supreme court three years ago was not the culmination of the parties' conflict. The conflict has continued.

The Middle-Snake-Tamarac Rivers Watershed District has been established to "conserve the natural resources of the state by land use planning, flood control, and other conservation projects, " in parts of Marshall and Polk counties in northwestern Minnesota. Minn. Stat. § 103D.201, subd. 1 (2012); Zutz v. Nelson, 788 N.W.2d 58, 60 (Minn. 2010). The district is governed by a seven-member board of managers. Zutz, 788 N.W.2d at 60. James Stengrim owns real property within the boundaries of the watershed district and takes an interest in its operations and governance.

Stengrim commenced the present action to establish that the watershed district's board of managers violated the Minnesota Open Meeting Law at one of its regular monthly meetings. Specifically, Stengrim alleged and sought to prove that, at its February 26, 2007 meeting, the board of managers failed to give proper notice of the subjects that were to be discussed during the portion of the meeting that was closed to the public. During the closed session, the board discussed a then-simmering dispute with Stengrim, among other things. Stengrim does not assert that he should have been present during the closed session or that he had any right of access to the discussion that occurred during the closed session. Rather, he seeks to hold the watershed ...


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