County District Court File No. 62-CV-14-5555
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
Considered and decided by Smith, Tracy M., Presiding Judge;
Peterson, Judge; and Halbrooks, Judge.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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