This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
City of Minneapolis,
Filed April 18, 2000
Hennepin County District Court
File No. 98-12583
Steven Meldahl, 1223 26th Avenue N., Minneapolis, MN 55411 (respondent pro se)
Jay M. Heffern, Minneapolis City Attorney, Henry T. Reimer, Assistant City Attorney, 300 Metropolitan Centre, 333 South Seventh St., Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding Judge, Crippen, Judge, and Shumaker, Judge.
Pro se respondent Steven Meldahl brought a conciliation court action against appellant, the City of Minneapolis (the city), alleging that a city crew broke the stop-box valve while disconnecting water service to property owned by him at 3709 Second Avenue South. The referee ruled against him, and Meldahl removed the matter to district court.
Following a trial, the court found that a city crew had broken the brass fitting off the valve and admitted to damaging the stop-box valve. The court concluded that the city “caused damage” to the stop-box valve and that Meldahl was entitled to recover $1,350 in damages from the city.
The city appeals, arguing that the court failed to find that it was negligent and that no evidence was presented to show any negligence on the part of the city. Because there is no basis for finding the city liable, we reverse.
A trial court's findings may not be set aside unless clearly erroneous, with due regard given to the opportunity of the court to judge the credibility of the witnesses. Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01. The court's findings, however, must be reasonably supported by the evidence presented at trial; those findings in turn must support the court's conclusions of law. See Anda Constr. Co. v. First Fed. Savs. & Loan Ass'n, 349 N.W.2d 275, 277 (Minn. App. 1984) (court’s decision clearly erroneous if it lacks substantial evidentiary support or is based on erroneous view of law), review denied (Minn. Sept. 5, 1984).
A city is liable for its torts and those of its employees acting within the scope of their employment, whether arising out of a governmental or proprietary function. Minn. Stat. § 466.02 (1998). To recover on a negligence theory, a plaintiff must present evidence to establish a duty, breach of that duty, causation, and damages. Hudson v. Snyder Body, Inc., 326 N.W.2d 149, 157 (Minn. 1982); see also Carlson v. Rand, 275 Minn. 272, 276, 146 N.W.2d 190, 193 (1966) (plaintiff has burden to prove elements necessary to give rise to asserted action).
The mere fact that an accident has occurred or that a plaintiff has been damaged does not render the party causing that damage to be liable in negligence. Johnson v. Evanski, 221 Minn. 323, 326, 22 N.W.2d 213, 215 (1946) (breach of duty not proved by mere occurrence of accident). A plaintiff must still prove breach by showing that the party failed to exercise reasonable care. See City of Mounds View v. Walijarvi, 263 N.W.2d 420, 424 (Minn. 1978) (professional persons and those engaged in any work or trade requiring special skill must possess minimum of special knowledge and ability in addition to exercising reasonable care).
In this case, the record is devoid of evidence to establish that the city crew breached its duty of care by failing to act reasonably. Rather, a member of the city crew assigned to shut off the water testified that neither he nor his partner forced the valve or otherwise did anything unusual while shutting the water off. The mere fact that the crew actually broke the valve does not render the city liable. Meldahl was required to prove that the crew member or his partner acted unreasonably or failed to exercise reasonable care when shutting off the water service to his property. Absent any evidence of this kind, there is no basis for finding the city liable for negligence.
No other theory or liability was litigated or pled by Meldahl. Even if another theory, such as strict liability or conversion, had been asserted, the facts and evidence presented here fail to support any alternative basis of liability. Cf. Wilson v. Ramacher, 352 N.W.2d 389, 394 (Minn. 1984) (landowner whose property has been damaged by alleged actions of municipality has several possible remedies or causes of action, including negligence, nuisance, trespass, or inverse condemnation).
The judgment against the city is therefore reversed.