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Mccullough and Sons, Inc. v. City of Vadnais Heights

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

December 11, 2017

McCullough and Sons, Inc., Appellant,
v.
City of Vadnais Heights, Respondent.

         Ramsey County District Court File No. 62-CV-14-5555

          Mark Essling, North Branch, Minnesota (for appellant).

          Caroline Bell Beckman, Vadnais Heights City Attorney, James Erickson, Jr., Assistant City Attorney, Erickson, Bell, Beckman & Quinn, P.A., Roseville, Minnesota (for respondent).

          Considered and decided by Smith, Tracy M., Presiding Judge; Peterson, Judge; and Halbrooks, Judge.

         SYLLABUS

         When Minn. Stat. § 429.081 (2016) is read in conjunction with Minn. Stat. § 429.061 (2016), the unambiguous statutory language provides that a property owner who, without reasonable cause, fails to sign a written objection to an assessment and to either (1) file the objection with the municipal clerk prior to the assessment hearing or (2) present the objection to the presiding officer at the assessment hearing, is precluded from appealing the assessment to the district court.

          OPINION

          PETERSON, JUDGE.

         This is the second appeal in a special-assessment challenge. In the first appeal, this court reversed the district court's denial of respondent city's motion for summary judgment and remanded to the district court for further proceedings. McCullough & Sons, Inc. v. City of Vadnais Heights, 868 N.W.2d 721 (Minn.App. 2015) (McCullough I). The supreme court vacated this court's opinion and remanded to the district court, concluding that the appeal to this court was premature. On remand, the district court vacated its earlier decision, expressly adopted this court's analysis of the merits in the earlier decision, and granted summary judgment to respondent city. McCullough & Sons, Inc. v. City of Vadnais Heights, 883 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. 2016) (McCullough II). In this appeal, appellant landowner argues that (1) Minn. Stat. § 429.081 governs special-assessment appeals to the district court and does not require a property owner to present a written objection prior to or at the assessment hearing to preserve the right to appeal, (2) the district court erred in denying appellant's motion to amend its special-assessment appeal, and (3) Minn. Stat. § 429.061 violates various constitutional protections. The city argues that appellant's claims are barred because it failed to comply with the statutory requirements for appealing a special assessment to the district court. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.

         FACTS

         Appellant McCullough & Sons, Inc. (the company), a well-drilling company, owns a nine-acre parcel of property near the intersection of County Road E and Interstate 35E. Jim McCullough (McCullough) is the company's vice president. In the summer of 2014, McCullough received a notice that respondent City of Vadnais Heights intended to levy a $158, 211.46 assessment against the property to pay for street improvements for future commercial development. On July 17, 2014, the city held a public meeting to consider the proposed assessment and any property owner's written and oral objections to the assessment. McCullough testified at the meeting that the assessment cost was high and that the company's property "is a headache" and he is "stuck with it" because the company had been unable to sell or even "give it away" due to the high cost of development. The company did not file or present a written objection to the assessment before or at the July 17 meeting. The mayor instructed people who testified at the meeting to sign a notepad, and McCullough signed the notepad. The city adopted the assessment, including a $158, 224.11 assessment against the company's property.

         The company challenged the assessment by appealing to the district court. The city moved for summary judgment, arguing that neither McCullough nor the company made a written objection to the assessment before the July 17 hearing as required by statute and, alternatively, that McCullough did not object to the assessment when he testified at the hearing. By order filed September 24, 2014, the district court denied the city's motion, concluding that an oral objection was sufficient under Minn. Stat. § 429.081 and that a fact issue existed on whether McCullough orally objected. Following an evidentiary hearing, by order filed November 24, 2014, the district court found that McCullough objected to the assessment when he testified at the July 17 hearing and denied the city's summary-judgment motion.

         The city appealed both orders denying its summary-judgment motion. Although an order denying summary judgment is generally not appealable, this court accepted the city's appeal "as taken from an order denying [the city's] motion for summary judgment on the ground of lack of subject-matter jurisdiction." McCullough & Sons, Inc. v. City of Vadnais Heights, No. A15-0064 (Minn.App. Jan. 15, 2015) (order). This court then reversed the denial of summary judgment. McCullough I, 868 N.W.2d at 728. This court concluded that (1) under the plain language of Minn. Stat. §§ 429.061, .081, a taxpayer must submit a signed, written objection before or at the assessment hearing to preserve the right to appeal a special assessment, unless the taxpayer shows good cause for the failure to submit a signed, written objection; and (2) strict compliance is required to perfect an appeal from a special assessment, and McCullough orally objecting and signing the notepad at the assessment hearing did not satisfy the written-objection requirement. Id., 868 N.W.2d at 727-28. This court held that the company's appeal of the special assessment was not properly perfected and, therefore, the district court erred in denying the city's summary-judgment motion. Id. at 728. This court also remanded for further proceedings. Id.

         The supreme court granted review and vacated this court's decision on the ground that the district court's denial of summary judgment was not immediately appealable because (1) "it did not involve a final order, decision, or judgment, " (2) the written-objection requirement could be effectively reviewed on appeal from a final judgment, (3) "the written-objection requirement is a claims-processing rule rather than a jurisdictional requirement, " and (4) the written-objection requirement is not analogous to an immunity claim. McCullough II, 883 N.W.2d at 586-90.

         On remand to the district court, the company sought leave to amend its appeal to assert that it had reasonable cause for its failure to object in writing and moved for summary judgment on the ground that the assessment was null and void. The district court adopted the reasoning of this court in its vacated opinion and granted summary judgment for the city. The district court vacated the September 24, 2014 order and vacated the November 24, 2014 order to the extent that it was ...


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