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Johnson v. City of Duluth

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

October 9, 2017

Joel Johnson, et al., Respondents,
v.
City of Duluth, Appellant.

         St. Louis County District Court File No. 69-DU-CV-16-2288

          Seth Leventhal, Leventhal PLLC, Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Jerome D. Feriancek, Thibodeau, Johnson & Feriancek, PLLP, Duluth, Minnesota (for respondents)

          Gunnar B. Johnson, Duluth City Attorney, M. Alison Lutterman, Assistant City Attorney, Nathan N. LaCoursiere, Assistant City Attorney, Steven B. Hanke, Assistant City Attorney, Duluth, Minnesota (for appellant)

          Considered and decided by Ross, Presiding Judge; Schellhas, Judge; and Connolly, Judge.

         SYLLABUS

         A served but unfiled civil action's dismissal, which occurs automatically upon the one-year complaint-filing deadline of rule 5.04(a), constitutes a "proceeding . . . taken" under rule 60.02 and begins the one-year filing period for a rule-60.02 motion for relief from dismissal.

          OPINION

          ROSS, JUDGE

         Joel Johnson bought land on Park Point in Duluth intending to construct a harbor-view hotel. Eventually foiled by zoning restrictions, Johnson commenced an inverse-condemnation action by serving the city with a summons and complaint in November 2013, but he did not file his complaint in the district court until nearly three years later. The district court applied Minnesota Rule of Civil Procedure 5.04(a) and dismissed Johnson's complaint with prejudice for failing to meet the one-year complaint-filing deadline. The district court soon granted Johnson's motion for relief from the dismissal under rule 60.02, however, allowing the action to proceed. The city argues on appeal that the district court should have denied Johnson's rule-60.02 motion as failing that rule's one-year motion-filing deadline. Building on the supreme court's holding that a rule-5.04(a) dismissal with prejudice is a "proceeding" from which a party may seek relief under rule 60.02, we reverse because Johnson's motion for relief from the dismissal missed the one-year rule-60.02 motion-filing deadline.

         FACTS

         Joel Johnson bought land on Duluth's Park Point then tried unsuccessfully to secure the city's approval of his harbor-view hotel-construction project. He commenced an inverse-condemnation action by serving the city with a summons and complaint on November 13, 2013. The city timely served Johnson with its answer on December 3. Johnson did not file his complaint in the district court.

         About a year and a half passed, and Johnson learned from an article in the Duluth News Tribune on March 6, 2015, that the city believed his suit had been dismissed with prejudice because he failed to file his complaint in the district court within one year of serving it on the city. Johnson contacted his attorney, who assured him that all was well. Johnson later had difficulty reaching his attorney, whom Johnson eventually replaced.

         About a year and a half after Johnson read the newspaper article (and almost three years after he served the city with his complaint), on September 14, 2016, he filed the complaint in the district court. During a scheduling conference, the city's attorney asserted to the district court that, on November 13, 2014, the action was automatically dismissed with prejudice by operation of Minnesota Rule of Civil Procedure 5.04(a), because Johnson had failed to file the complaint in the district court within one year after serving it on the city. The district court agreed that the rule terminated the action, and on October 7, 2016, it filed a written order dismissing the case with prejudice.

         Eleven days after the district court's dismissal order, Johnson filed a rule-60.02 motion requesting relief from that order. He based the motion on his former attorney's negligence, which he said caused him to miss the rule-5.04(a) one-year complaint-filing deadline. The district court granted Johnson's motion over the city's objection. It reasoned that rule 60.02 addresses relief from a judgment and that an automatic dismissal under the one-year complaint-filing requirement of rule 5.04(a) is not a judgment. It determined that the automatic dismissal ...


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