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In re Appeal from Final Order of Board of Managers of Bois de Sioux Watershed District

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

December 19, 2016

In re: the Appeal from the Final Order of the Board of Managers of the Bois de Sioux Watershed District Redetermining Benefits and Damages for J.D. No. 14 Dated 20th day of February, 2014 and In re: the Appeal from the Final Order of the Board of Managers of the Bois de Sioux Watershed District Assessing Costs and Expenses of Redetermination Associated with the Redetermination of Benefits of J.D. No. 14 Dated the 27th day of March, 2014 and In re the Appeal from the Final Order of the Board of Managers of the Bois de Sioux Watershed District Assessing Costs and Expenses of Redetermination Associated with the Redetermination of Benefits of J.D. No. 14 Dated the 18th day of December, 2014

         Traverse County District Court File Nos. 78-CV-14-43, 78-CV-14-60, 78-CV-15-12

         Affirmed in part and reversed in part

          Daniel L. Lundquist, Ryan A. Gustafson, Frundt & Johnson, Ltd., Blue Earth, Minnesota (for appellants Anita Antrim and Kent Krenz)

          Thomas C. Athens, Cline & Jenson, P.A., Fergus Falls, Minnesota (for respondent Bois de Sioux Watershed District)

          Jeff C. Braegelmann, Gislason & Hunter LLP, New Ulm, Minnesota (for intervenors Haney, et al.)

          Jason G. Lina, Fluegel, Anderson, McLaughlin & Brutlag, Chartered, Morris, Minnesota (for intervenors Ehlers, et al.)

          Considered and decided by Ross, Presiding Judge; Schellhas, Judge; and Muehlberg, Judge. [*]

         SYLLABUS

         I. A drainage authority may not limit the scope of a redetermination of benefits and damages under Minnesota Statutes section 103E.351 (2014) to the drainage system's originally assessed area.

         II. Costs and expenses resulting from a redetermination of benefits and damages can be assessed against the drainage system's account under Minnesota Statutes section 103E.651, subdivision 2 (2014).

          OPINION

          SCHELLHAS, Judge

         Landowners appeal the summary-judgment dismissal of their claims challenging the Bois de Sioux Watershed District's redetermination of benefits and damages for Judicial Ditch No. 14 and assessment of redetermination costs and expenses against the drainage system. We affirm in part and reverse in part.

         FACTS

         Judicial Ditch No. 14 (JD 14) is a public drainage system assessed as benefiting or damaging 29, 479.6 acres of land within Grant and Traverse Counties. The drainage system was established by court order in 1950 and was constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Bois de Sioux Watershed District assumed authority over JD 14 in 1991. The original benefits assessed for the drainage system totaled $489, 099.67.

         In 2005, the watershed district's board of managers concluded that a redetermination of benefits was appropriate in connection with potential repairs to JD 14 because the assessment area was small relative to the ditch system as a whole. The board of managers commenced a redetermination and appointed viewers under Minnesota Statutes section 103E.351. The viewers produced a report indicating that land values had greatly increased since 1950 and that approximately 35, 000 additional acres could be assessed benefits under Minnesota Statutes section 103E.315, subdivision 5 (2014). The viewers also found an additional 400, 000 acres of land benefited from JD 14 under section 103E.315, subdivisions 6 and 7 (2014). The watershed district adopted the viewers' report and issued a final redetermination order on September 30, 2010. Following an appeal by two groups of landowners, the district court vacated the order. This court affirmed the vacation, holding that because the watershed district did not strictly comply with the requirements of section 103E.351, subdivision 1, the watershed district failed to acquire jurisdiction and its proceedings were void. In re Bd. of Managers of Bois de Sioux Watershed Dist., 818 N.W.2d 583, 587 (Minn.App. 2012).

         The watershed district's board of managers then spent several months considering its next course of action. On December 20, 2012, the board passed a resolution authorizing a second redetermination of benefits for JD 14 and appointed viewers. But the board was concerned about the cost of the redetermination and had doubts about the viewers' methodology in assessing benefits to 400, 000 additional acres of land based on section 103E.315, subdivisions 6 and 7. So the board resolved that "the Drainage Authority advises the viewers appointed herein that the District only wishes to consider assessing lands within the original benefitted area."

         The viewers performed their area-restricted investigation and found benefits to the originally assessed properties in excess of $33, 000, 000. On February 20, 2014, after several public hearings, the watershed district adopted the viewers' report and issued a final redetermination order. On March 27, 2014, the watershed district issued an order assessing costs and expenses against JD 14 for the 2014 redetermination as well as the prior, failed redetermination effort. On December 18, 2014, the watershed district assessed an additional $60, 000 in redetermination costs and expenses against JD 14.

         Landowners within the originally assessed area appealed the watershed district's redetermination and costs orders to the district court. They argued that the watershed district failed to comply with section 103E.351 when it instructed the viewers to limit their investigation to the original assessment area. They also claimed that the redetermination costs could not be assessed solely against JD 14 and should instead be paid out of the watershed district's general fund. Two groups of persons owning land outside the originally assessed area intervened and opposed the appeals. All parties moved the district court for summary judgment. The court granted partial summary judgment to the watershed district and intervenors. The parties stipulated to the dismissal of the landowners' claims regarding the amount of the cost-and-expense assessments and agreed that $910, 299.27 is the total amount of costs and expenses reflected in the watershed district's ...


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