STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota ex rel Swan Lake Area
Wildlife Association, petitioner,
Nicollet County Board of County Commissioners,
Marlin Fitzner, et al., intervenor,
Filed April 4, 2006
Nicollet County District Court
File No. C5-03-445
William G. Peterson, Peterson Law Office, P.A., 3601 Minnesota Drive, Suite 800, Bloomington, MN 55435; and
Garry D. Barnett, 600 South Second Street, Mankato, MN 56002 (for respondent Swan Lake Area Wildlife Association)
Scott T. Anderson, Kimberley K. Sobieck, Ratwik, Roszak & Maloney, P.A., 300 U.S. Trust Building, 730 Second Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for appellant)
Kurt A. Deter, Gerald W. Von Korff, Rinke-Noonan, Ltd., 300 US Bank Plaza, P.O. Box 1497, St. Cloud, MN 56302-1497 (for respondents Marlin Fitzner, et al.)
Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge; Kalitowski, Judge; and Stoneburner, Judge.
S Y L L A B U S
The district court has subject matter jurisdiction to hear a claim under the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act even if aspects of the claim could have been brought pursuant to administrative processes set out in the drainage code.
O P I N I O N
County ditch 46A
(CD46A) was established by appellant’s approval in 1907. It runs from the northeast corner of
The new structure was never built. And the water-level problems persisted due to a leak in the existing dam structure. Over the next 30 years, appellant received notices urging it to address concerns that the dam structure was below the authorized elevation of 973.8 feet and that Little Lake was draining as a result. Appellant and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) began discussing the issue again in the mid-1990s, but the parties continued to dispute, among other issues, the elevation of a new dam structure.
Respondent filed suit
against appellant, seeking declaratory and equitable relief under MERA. Respondent moved to amend the complaint,
asking that appellant be directed, by mandamus, to restore the water levels of
Little Lake and
Did the district court err in determining that it had subject matter jurisdiction over a MERA claim involving drainage issues?
Generally, an order denying
a motion to dismiss is not appealable because it merely retains the action for
trial, does not involve the merits of the claim, and is not a final order. County
of Hennepin v. Decathlon Athletic Club, Inc., 559 N.W.2d 108, 108 n.2 (
Subject matter jurisdiction
involves a court’s authority to decide a particular class of actions and its
authority to decide the particular questions before it. Cochrane
v. Tudor Oaks Condo. Project, 529 N.W.2d 429, 432 (Minn. App. 1995), review denied (Minn. May 31, 1995). “Whenever
it appears by suggestion of the parties or otherwise that the court lacks
jurisdiction of the subject matter, the court shall dismiss the action.”
MERA provides a civil remedy
for those that seek to protect, preserve, and enhance the air, water, land, and
other natural resources within the state.
[a]ny person residing within the state . . . may maintain a civil action in the district court for declaratory or equitable relief in the name of the state of Minnesota against any person, for the protection of the air, water, land, or other natural resources located within the state, whether publicly or privately owned, from pollution, impairment, or destruction.
Appellant argues that the availability of alternative administrative processes, specifically the drainage procedures laid out in Minn. Stat. §§ 103E.005-.812, necessarily precludes the district court’s jurisdiction over appellant’s MERA claim. Unless and until the drainage authority considers a petition on the matter, appellant contends that the district court does not have jurisdiction. We disagree.
plain language of MERA provides that its remedies “shall be in addition to any
administrative . . . rights and remedies now or hereafter available.” Id.
(emphasis added). The legislature could
have supplied an exception for MERA claims subject to drainage code
proceedings. But it did not. And this court “cannot supply that which the
legislature purposely omits or inadvertently overlooks.” Wallace
v. Comm’r of Taxation, 289
court addressed a similar jurisdiction argument involving MERA in State by
In light of the broad language of Minn. Stat. § 116B.12, we conclude that the district court has subject matter jurisdiction over respondent’s MERA claim regardless of the administrative processes and remedies available under the drainage provisions of Minn. Stat. §§ 103E.055-.812. Thus, the district court properly denied appellant’s motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
Appellant also challenges the substance of respondent’s MERA claim. But the scope of this appeal is limited to jurisdiction. Because this is an interlocutory appeal and the district court must first address claims before they appear before this court, we do not reach the merits of respondent’s claim. See Thiele v. Stich, 425 N.W.2d 580, 582 (Minn. 1988) (stating that appellate courts generally do not consider matters that the district court did not consider).
Finally, appellant argues in its brief that the district court improperly granted respondent’s motions to amend the complaint and to join the DNR. Appellant contends that because the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the MERA claim, it also lacked jurisdiction to grant respondent’s motions. Because we conclude the district court had subject matter jurisdiction over the MERA claim, we reject appellant’s argument that the district court abused its discretion by granting respondent’s motions.
D E C I S I O N
Under the plain language of Minn. Stat. § 116B.12, the district court has subject matter jurisdiction over a claim under the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act, even if that claim involves drainage and could have been asserted pursuant to the administrative processes set out in the drainage code.
The ditch was originally titled “County Ditch 46” but was renamed “