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County of Hennepin v. Bhakta

Supreme Court of Minnesota

January 23, 2019

County of Hennepin, Respondent,
v.
Sandip C. Bhakta, et al., Appellants.

          Court of Appeals Office of Appellate Courts

          Michael O. Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney, Louis K. Robards, Assistant County Attorney, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for respondent.

          Ryan Simatic, Biersdorf & Associates, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota, for appellants.

          Eric J. Magnuson, Ryan Marth, Kevin D. Collado, Robins Kaplan LLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for amicus curiae Minnesota State Bar Association Appellate Practice Section.

         SYLLABUS

         The rule of Sauter v. Wasemiller, 389 N.W.2d 200 (Minn. 1986), does not require litigants to move for a new trial to preserve objections to pretrial orders that decide motions in limine.

         Reversed and remanded.

          OPINION

          HUDSON, Justice.

         This case arises out of a condemnation proceeding initiated by respondent Hennepin County ("the County") to seize the property of appellants Sandip and Jagruti Bhakta ("the Bhaktas") by eminent domain. Court-appointed commissioners issued an award of compensation to the Bhaktas for the taking. Dissatisfied with the award, the Bhaktas appealed the commissioners' decision to the district court and the matter was set for trial. The Bhaktas brought several motions in limine before trial, all of which were denied by the district court. After the district court entered judgment, the Bhaktas appealed to the court of appeals. The court of appeals dismissed the portion of their appeal arising out of the orders denying the motions in limine because the Bhaktas did not raise their objections in a motion for a new trial. We conclude that a motion for a new trial is not required to preserve objections to pretrial orders that decide motions in limine for appellate review.

         FACTS

         In May 2012, the County filed a condemnation petition with the district court to acquire the Bhaktas' Brooklyn Park motel as part of a project to upgrade an adjacent county road. The district court granted title and possession of the property to the County and appointed three commissioners to determine the damages owed by the County for the property. Subsequently the County made a quick-take payment of $765, 443 for the Bhaktas' property.[1] In October 2014, the commissioners determined that the amount of just compensation for the taking was $760, 000. The Bhaktas appealed the commissioners' decision to the district court, where the main issue was the minimum compensation the Bhaktas were owed under Minn. Stat. § 117.187 (2018).

         Trial was scheduled for April 4, 2017. On March 21, 2017, the Bhaktas filed five written motions in limine. These motions included requests to exclude the County's written minimum-compensation analysis and any testimony about minimum compensation, including testimony by the County's minimum-compensation consultant.[2]The motions in limine were thoroughly briefed: the Bhaktas filed each of the five motions separately; the County responded to each motion in writing; the Bhaktas filed replies; the County filed an additional responsive brief addressing all five motions; and finally, the Bhaktas moved to strike the County's additional response as improper and filed a sur-reply supporting the five motions.

         On the morning of trial, but before the jury was selected, the district court heard argument on the motions in limine. Before trial started, the court denied all five motions, and the challenged evidence was admitted at trial. The jury returned a verdict of $810, 000 for the Bhaktas, more than the quick-take payment of $765, 443. The district court initially entered judgment for the difference. But the court subsequently vacated that judgment and entered a new judgment for $0 after granting the County's motion to offset delinquent utility charges and real estate taxes owed by the Bhaktas but paid by the County. The Bhaktas did not move for a new trial. Instead, they appealed the judgment on several grounds, including the denial of the motions in limine.

         In a published special term opinion, the court of appeals dismissed the portion of the appeal challenging the district court's denial of the motions in limine to exclude the minimum-compensation analysis and the testimony of the city assessor. Cty. of Hennepin v. Bhakta, 907 N.W.2d 908, 912 (Minn.App. 2017). The court of appeals held that, to preserve those rulings for appellate review, the ...


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