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Minnesota Department of Natural Resources v. Chippewa/Swift Joint Board of Commissioners

Supreme Court of Minnesota

April 3, 2019

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Appellant,
v.
Chippewa/Swift Joint Board of Commissioners, Respondent.

         Court of Appeals Office of Appellate Courts

          Keith Ellison, Attorney General, Stacey W. Person, Max Kieley, Joshua Skaar, Assistant Attorneys General, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for appellant.

          Gerald W. Von Korff, Rinke Noonan, Saint Cloud, Minnesota, for respondent.

         SYLLABUS

         An order by a drainage authority reestablishing drainage-system records under Minn. Stat. § 103E.101, subd. 4a (2018) is a quasi-judicial decision subject to certiorari review.

          OPINION

          HUDSON, JUSTICE.

         This appeal involves an order by respondent Chippewa/Swift Joint Board of Commissioners (Board) reestablishing the records for a public drainage system pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 103E.101, subd. 4a (2018). Appellant Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) sought certiorari review of the order. The court of appeals dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The DNR contends that the Board's order reestablishing public drainage-system records was a quasi-judicial decision subject to certiorari review. The court of appeals held that the order reestablishing records was not a quasi-judicial decision subject to certiorari review because it did not constitute a final, binding decision. We conclude that the Board's order was a quasi-judicial decision subject to certiorari review. Accordingly, we reverse and remand to the court of appeals with instructions to reinstate the appeal.

         FACTS

         Chippewa and Swift Judicial Ditch No. 9 (the drainage system) is a 17, 200-acre watershed in Chippewa and Swift Counties that was established as a public drainage system in 1910. The watershed is mainly comprised of agricultural land cover, with many wetland complexes stretching in the low areas of the watershed along the drainage system. In 2017, landowners benefited by the drainage system requested that repairs be made to the system. While the landowners' request was under consideration, county staff discovered that the original records establishing the drainage system had been lost, destroyed, or were otherwise incomplete. As a result, the Board, acting as the drainage authority for the drainage system, determined that reestablishment of the records was necessary to proceed with a repair.

         The reestablishment of drainage-system records is governed by Minn. Stat. § 103E.101, subd. 4a, and requires, "at a minimum, investigation and a report of findings by a professional engineer licensed in Minnesota supported by existing records and evidence." Id., subd. 4a(a). Accordingly, the Board appointed an engineer to conduct an investigation and prepare a report. The investigation utilized aerial photographs, topographic surveys, soil borings, capacity designs, and culvert dimensions and elevations. The resulting report addressed the ditch alignment, grade, and cross-sections.

         The Board submitted the report to the DNR for comment and gave notice of an upcoming hearing, as required by the statute. See id., subd. 4a(c). The DNR's overarching concern was that the Board's reestablishment proposal would have the effect of lowering the water levels of nearby wetlands.

         The DNR made three recommendations to the Board to address this issue. First, the DNR noted that the proposed grade, or slope, of two culverts was significantly lower than existing elevations. The DNR stated that significant lowering of these culverts would substantially reduce the water levels of the wetlands below what was necessary for this system. The DNR requested additional information regarding why the culverts should be lowered. Second, the DNR noted that the report included an increase in grade for a section of the drainage system and argued that the increase appeared unnecessary. Finally, the DNR stated that the proposal for the grade of part of the drainage system would cause a reduction in the runout elevation, which is the point at which the water begins to flow out of a wetland.

         The Board next held a public hearing at which the engineer reported his findings and a representative from the DNR again articulated the agency's concerns. Following the hearing, the Board issued an order reestablishing the drainage system's records. In the order, the Board discussed the procedures it followed before reestablishing the records, including appointing an engineer, giving notice to the DNR and others as required by statute, and holding a public hearing. The Board ordered reestablishment of the records for the drainage system to reflect the findings of the engineer's report and ordered that the records "shall constitute the official drainage system records in all subsequent proceedings."

         The DNR petitioned the Minnesota Court of Appeals for a writ of certiorari. The Board moved to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The court of appeals held that the Board's order was not a quasi-judicial decision subject to ...


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