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Blaine v. City of Sartell

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

June 15, 2015

Doug Blaine, Appellant,
v.
City of Sartell, et al., Defendants, County of Stearns, Respondent

Stearns County District Court File No. 73-CV-13-4796.

Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

SYLLABUS

The public-duty doctrine does not defeat a negligence claim based on a municipality's breach of its common-law duty of reasonable care arising from its status as the owner or operator of a real-property improvement.

A municipality is not entitled to statutory immunity against a claim based on municipal policy-making conduct that is patently unlawful, unless the plaintiff reasonably can be charged with knowledge that the municipality's conduct is unlawful.

For Appellant: John T. Peterson, Stephen J. Berg, Johnson, Larson, Peterson & Halvorson, P.A., Buffalo, Minnesota.

For Respondent: Jason J. Kuboushek, Iverson Reuvers Condon, Bloomington, Minnesota.

Hooten, Presiding Judge; Schellhas, Judge; and Minge, Judge.[*]

OPINION

Page 724

SCHELLHAS, Judge

Appellant challenges summary judgment for respondent on appellant's claims of negligent maintenance, operation, or inspection; trespass; nuisance; and taking without just compensation or due process of law. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings.

FACTS

In 1983, owners of property in defendant LeSauk Township petitioned respondent County of Stearns for the establishment of a public drainage system. The county ordered

Page 725

construction of a closed-ditch drainage system (Ditch 50) on property located in the township. By mid-1986, Ditch 50 was " constructed in substantial conformance with the plans, specifications and contract documents." In 1998, appellant Doug Blaine bought a lot and built a house in a development that was constructed in defendant City of Sartell on property benefitted by Ditch 50.

In 2003, the city declined the county's request to " turn[] over" or " transfer" Ditch 50 to the city's utility system, although the city later annexed from the township most of the property on which Ditch 50 is located. In late 2009, the county developed a written repair policy for its drainage systems. The policy provides that the county will maintain and repair any one of its drainage systems only at the request of an owner of property benefitted by that system. The policy also creates a two-track response to any such request: the Drainage Authority Representative is empowered to authorize " [m]inor drainage system maintenance" expected to cost less than $2,500, while repairs expected to cost more than $2,500 must be approved by the full Drainage Authority.

As of June 21, 2011, the county had never received a request or complaint about Ditch 50, and the county had never undertaken inspection, cleaning, maintenance, or repair of Ditch 50. On June 21, about .5 inches of rain fell on property benefitted by Ditch 50, and two to three feet of water accumulated in Blaine's backyard. About two inches of water entered Blaine's house through the window wells and accumulated in the basement, damaging the sheetrock and destroying the carpet. Within hours, the water in the backyard began to recede, decreasing to a depth of about one foot the following day and receding completely within a few days.

On July 1, 2011, about one inch of rain fell on property benefitted by Ditch 50. This rainfall resulted in a greater accumulation of water in Blaine's backyard than the June 21 accumulation. The water flowed from the backyard into the adjacent road, broke a window in Blaine's house, and rushed into the basement, accumulating to a depth of seven feet. The backyard water receded by July 3. The July 1 rainfall damaged or destroyed carpet, sheetrock, windows, wiring, ductwork, insulation, trim, a furnace, a water heater, and a gas fireplace in the house. The damage prompted Blaine to do " dirt work" around the house, build retaining walls around the basement windows, and take other exterior precautions against future flooding. The damage to the house hampered Blaine's ability to rent the house to tenants and lowered the value of the house.

Blaine attempted to resolve the matter out of court. When he was unsuccessful, he sued the county, the township, and the city, alleging that the flooding and consequent water damage to his house was " attributable to . . . an improperly designed, installed, operated, malfunctioning and/or maintained" public drainage system. Blaine asserted claims of negligent design or installation of Ditch 50; negligent maintenance, operation, or inspection of Ditch 50; trespass; and nuisance. He also claimed that the flooding constituted a taking without just compensation or due process of law.

The district court dismissed the township from the action on the township's summary-judgment motion, and Blaine and the county agreed to dismiss the city from the action. Following discovery, the county moved for summary judgment on each of Blaine's claims, and the court

Page 726

granted the motion and dismissed the action.

This appeal follows.

ISSUES

I. Did the district court err in concluding that the statute of repose bars Blaine's claims of ...

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