Justia Zoning, Planning & Land Use Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court

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Montana-Dakota Utilities Co. (“MDU”) appealed, and Lavern Behm cross-appealed a judgment dismissing MDU’s eminent domain action. Because the North Dakota Supreme Court determined the district court misapplied North Dakota law in concluding a taking was not necessary for a public use, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded for trial on eminent domain damages to be awarded to Behm. View "Montana-Dakota Utilities Co. v. Behm" on Justia Law

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Williams County appealed a the district court’s determination that its oil and gas leases with Twin City Technical LLC, Three Horns Energy, LLC, Prairie of the South LLC, and Irish Oil & Gas Inc. (“Lessees”), were void because the County failed to comply with the public advertising requirements for the lease of public land as provided in N.D.C.C. ch. 38-09. The Lessees sued the County in September 2015, about three and a half years after executing the leases. The North Dakota Supreme Court found record showed the Lessees received a June 2013 letter informing them of potential issues with the County’s mineral ownership. The Lessees contacted the County about the ownership issues by letter in April 2015. The County submitted an affidavit from its auditor stating bonus payments had already been spent and repayment would cause great hardship. Viewing the evidence and reasonable inferences drawn from the evidence in a light favorable to the County, the Supreme Court concluded there were genuine issues of material fact as to whether laches applied to bar the Lessees’ claim for repayment of the bonuses. The Supreme Court reversed that part of the judgment and remand for proceedings related to whether the Lessees’ delay in bringing their lawsuit was unreasonable, and whether the County was prejudiced by the delay. The Court affirmed as to all other issues. View "Twin City Technical LLC, et al. v. Williams County, et al." on Justia Law

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The City of Lincoln appealed a district court’s amended judgment awarding damages and attorney fees for taking land owned by Lincoln Land Development, LLP. In the mid-1980s the City of Lincoln established a narrow, two-tire-track dirt road over private property to access its wastewater treatment site. In 2005 Lincoln Land Development purchased the property. In 2011 the City improved the dirt road by raising the road profile, widening the road top, constructing ditches, installing culverts and completing gravel resurfacing to standardize the width and height of the road. The City did not obtain permission from Lincoln Land Development before commencing the improvement project and did not initiate eminent domain proceedings. Lincoln Land Development sued the City in February 2015 for inverse condemnation, trespass and nuisance relating to the City’s 2011 improvement of the road. Lincoln Land Development moved to amend its complaint to assert claims relating to increased surface water drainage and damages caused by stormwater retention. The City denied a taking occurred and raised affirmative defenses, including claiming a public easement through prescriptive use, the existence of an express or implied easement, an easement by estoppel, or a government mandate required the project. The district court found Lincoln Land Development’s claims of nuisance and trespass were time-barred and dismissed them with prejudice in March 2015. In September 2017 a bench trial was held and claims based on increased surface water drainage, wetlands and stormwater retention ponds were dismissed. At the conclusion of the bench trial, the district court found that the City established a prescriptive easement in the pre-2011 road and that a taking occurred when additional property was used in the 2011 road improvement. A jury subsequently determined the value of the taking was $8,924.00 plus interest. The district court subsequently granted Lincoln Land Development’s motion for attorney fees of $122,705.50. The North Dakota Supreme Court found the district court did not err in determining that the pre-2011 two-tire-track road was under the protection of a prescriptive easement and that a taking occurred with the 2011 road improvement project. Lincoln Land Development was entitled to costs and fees. The Court therefore affirmed the amended judgment, the taking decision, and award of attorney fees. The matter was remanded for consideration of whether Lincoln Land Development should recover attorney fees on appeal. View "Lincoln Land Development, LLP v. City of Lincoln" on Justia Law

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Attas Boutrous and other landowners appeal from a judgment dismissing their action against Burleigh County, its Water Resource District, and Lincoln Township to halt a flood protection project in the Fox Island subdivision in Bismarck, denying their request for a preliminary injunction, dismissing their inverse condemnation action, and ordering them to pay Burleigh County and Lincoln Township $18,756.75 in costs and disbursements. Because we conclude the district court correctly applied the law and there are no genuine issues of material fact, we affirm the judgment. View "Becker, et al. v. Burleigh County, et al." on Justia Law

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Robert and Laurie Banderet and other plaintiffs (“Landowners”) appealed a judgment dismissing their complaint seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against the Sargent County Water Resource District and Ransom County Water Resource District relating to a drainage project. The Landowners had sought a judgment declaring: (1) the Drain 11 project could not be funded as maintenance within six years at $4 per acre being assessed to the Landowners; (2) the Landowners were entitled to a hearing and vote on the project; and (3) benefited properties in Ransom County had to be included in the Drain 11 assessment district. The Landowners requested a permanent injunction restraining the Sargent County Water Resource District from proceeding with the Drain 11 project. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed, concluding the Landowners were not entitled to equitable relief, and the district court properly dismissed the Landowners’ complaint. View "Banderet,et al. vs. Sargent Count Water Resource District, et al." on Justia Law

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Allen Lenertz appealed the dismissal of his claim for inverse condemnation against the City of Minot and awarding the City costs and disbursements. Between 2013 and 2014 the City installed a paved street and upgraded the storm water system adjacent to Lenertz's commercial property in southwest Minot. Lenertz's property subsequently suffered three flooding events. In 2016 Lenertz sued the City for inverse condemnation, alleging the City's actions in constructing the street and storm sewer system caused past and future flooding of his property and resulted in a total taking of his property. The City denied a taking occurred and raised affirmative defenses. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court: (1) did not err in ruling Lenertz established only a partial taking of his property; (2) did not abuse its discretion in denying his proposed expert witness's testimony; and (3) did not err in granting the City judgment under N.D.R.Civ.P. 50. The court did abuse its discretion, however, in awarding the City costs and disbursements. View "Lenertz v. City of Minot N.D." on Justia Law

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Curtis and Karen Erickson appealed and the Cass County Joint Water Resource District cross-appealed after the district court ordered condemnation of the Ericksons' properties, determined the amount of just compensation, and awarded the Ericksons' attorney fees and costs. After a bench trial, each Each party presented evidence about the value of the properties, including testimony from appraisers. The district court found the Ericksons were entitled to just compensation for the properties in the amount of $48,200. The Ericksons moved for attorney fees and costs under N.D.C.C. 32-15-32. The District opposed the request, arguing the requested amount of attorney fees and costs was unreasonable. The court granted the Ericksons' motion and ordered the District to pay the Ericksons $114,346.47 in fees and costs. The Ericksons argued the district court erred in determining the amount of just compensation, contending the court failed to properly compensate them for the properties' "highest and best use." The District argued the district court misapplied the law by awarding the Ericksons the full amount they requested for attorney fees and costs. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court did not misinterpret or misapply the law and the court did not act in an arbitrary, unreasonable, or unconscionable manner when it decided to award attorney fees and costs. Therefore, the Court concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion by awarding fees and costs. View "Cass County Joint Water Resource District v. Erickson" on Justia Law

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The North Dakota Department of Transportation (the "DOT") took G. John Schmitz's property through an eminent domain quick-take action. The DOT deposited $973,380.00 with the Williams County Clerk of Court for the taking. Schmitz disputed the amount and timely served a notice of appeal. In September and October of 2014, the parties attempted unsuccessfully to reach a settlement. Jury trial was set for September 30, 2015. Schmitz had trouble locating expert witnesses and asked for a continuance. The parties stipulated to the continuance, and the court reset trial for January 24, 2017. Schmitz located three expert witnesses before trial: Scott Bechtle, an architect, provided Schmitz with hypothetical development concepts for the property; Robert Strachota, a Minneapolis-based appraiser, offered opinions of land value and severance damages; and Dan Leirness, a Fargo-based appraiser, offered an opinion of land values. After trial Schmitz requested $263,866.97 in attorney fees, $154,172.12 in expert fees and $17,224.31 in litigation costs for a total of $567,317.36. The DOT contested the fees and costs. The district court awarded $137,347.50 in attorney fees, $35,930.96 in expert fees and $8,027.38 in litigation costs for a total of $181,305.84. Schmitz appealed. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded, finding the district court did not abuse its discretion in reducing Schmitz's attorney or expert fees, but abused its discretion in reducing and eliminating certain litigation costs. The judgment was reversed regarding those litigation costs, and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "N.D. Dep't of Transportation v. Schmitz" on Justia Law

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Michele Brandt, as Trustee of the Michele L. Brandt Revocable Trust, appealed an order dismissing her appeal of the City of Fargo's resolution of necessity. Karen Wieland appealed a judgment dismissing her appeal to the district court from the City's resolution of necessity. In December 2016, the Fargo City Commission passed a resolution of necessity for property owned by Brandt related to construction of a flood protection project. Days later in a separate proceeding, the City passed a similar resolution of necessity for property owned by Wieland. Each resolution authorized the City to proceed with all legal means to obtain the property, including eminent domain. In each case the City filed a record on appeal in the district court and moved the court to dismiss the appeal. In Brandt's appeal, the City moved alternatively to consolidate Brandt's appeal with an eminent domain proceeding that the City also commenced in December 2016. In both appeals, Brandt and Wieland moved the district court to strike all materials from the record that had not specifically been placed in front of the city commission during the respective December 2016 meetings. After a February 22, 2017 hearing in Brandt's appeal, the district court entered an order granting the City's motion to dismiss and holding a resolution of necessity as a predicate to eminent domain is not subject to appellate review by the court. The court also held the City had not acted in bad faith, with a gross abuse of discretion, or fraudulently in passing the resolution of necessity. The order denied Brandt's motion to strike, concluding further consideration of the motion was moot. After a March 21, 2017 hearing in Wieland's appeal before a different judge, the district court entered an order and judgment dismissing Wieland's appeal. The court explained that the decision to go forward with an eminent domain proceeding is the City's political or legislative decision which the court could not review by appeal from issuance of the resolution. The City commenced an eminent domain proceeding for the Wieland property in April 2017. Because of similar dispositions, the North Dakota Supreme Court addressed both appeals in this decision and affirmed, concluding the court in each case did not err in dismissing the appeals because no statutory basis authorized an appeal to the district court from the City's resolutions of necessity. View "Brandt v. City of Fargo" on Justia Law

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Landowners from the Buffalo area appealed a district court judgment affirming the Department of Health's decision to issue Rolling Green Family Farms an animal feeding operation (AFO) permit. The landowners argued the Department erred by issuing Rolling Green an AFO permit and by failing to reopen the public comment period after Rolling Green provided further information to supplement its permit application. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Coon v. N.D. Dep't of Health" on Justia Law