may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In Re the Matter of State Ditch No. 83.
Marshall County District Court
File No. C89969
Marc A. Al, Eric A. Bartsch, Lindquist & Vennum P.L.L.P., 4200 IDS Center, 80 South Eighth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for appellants)
Delray L. Sparby, Ihle & Sparby, P.A., 312 North Main Avenue, P.O. Box 574, Thief River Falls, MN 56701 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding Judge, Schumacher, Judge, and Peterson, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
In this appeal from a judgment denying appellant property owners’ request for mandamus relief to enforce a ditch-repair order, appellants argue that (1) the district court erred when it determined that there are alternative legal remedies available to them and (2) the failure to enforce the repair order results in an unconstitutional taking of their property without just compensation. We conclude that respondent Red Lake Watershed District had no clear duty to enforce the repair order and, therefore, that appellants were not entitled to mandamus relief. We also conclude that the failure to enforce the repair order did not constitute a deprivation of property rights. Therefore, we affirm.
State Ditch Number 83 is within the Red Lake Watershed District. In 1986, the Red Lake Watershed District Board of Managers conducted a redetermination of the benefits of ditch 83, which identified land owned by the State of Minnesota as land that is benefited by the ditch. The benefited state-owned land includes land that is known as consolidated conservation, or con-con, lands. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) manages this land. The DNR did not appeal the 1986 redetermination of benefits.
In June 1997, owners of several parcels of land that benefit from ditch 83 petitioned under Minn. Stat. § 103E.715 (1996) to have the ditch repaired. On June 11, 1998, after following the procedures set forth in Minn. Stat. § 103E.715, the watershed district issued an order for repair of ditch 83. Under Minn. Stat. § 103E.728 (1998), the cost of repairing the ditch was to “be apportioned pro rata on all property and entities that have been assessed benefits for the drainage system.”
While the watershed district was considering the ditch-repair petition, but before the repair order was issued, the DNR sent a letter to the district administrator stating the DNR’s position that Minn. Stat. § 84A.55, subd. 9 (1996), limited the watershed district’s authority to impose assessments on con-con lands. After the repair order was issued, the DNR refused to pay its assessment for the repair because the assessment had not been approved by the Commissioner of the DNR as required by Minn. Stat. § 84A.55, subd. 9.
The watershed district commenced a declaratory judgment action seeking a declaration that the DNR is required to pay assessments levied on con-con lands benefited by ditch 83. The district court granted the watershed district summary judgment declaring that section 84A.55 did not release the DNR from its obligation to pay repair assessments for ditch 83 and ordering the DNR to pay the assessments. The DNR appealed the summary judgment, and the parties reached a settlement under which the DNR was not required to pay the full assessments. Following the settlement, the watershed district did not make the repairs that were to be completed under its repair order.
Appellants own land that is benefited by ditch 83. They petitioned the district court for a writ of mandamus commanding the watershed district to enforce its June 11, 1998, repair order by preparing and awarding a contract for the ordered repairs and assessing the costs of the repairs pro rata on all properties and entities that were assessed benefits according to the October 9, 1986, redetermination of benefits. The district court denied the petition because it concluded that appellants had adequate legal remedies.
Mandamus is an extraordinary legal remedy awarded, not as a matter of right, but in the exercise of sound judicial discretion and upon equitable principles.
County of Swift v. Boyle, 481 N.W.2d 74, 77 (Minn. App. 1992)(quoting State ex rel. Hennepin County Welfare Bd. v. Fitzsimmons, 239 Minn. 407, 422, 58 N.W.2d 882, 891 (1953)), review denied (Minn. Mar. 26, 1992). When the district court’s decision on a petition for a writ of mandamus is based solely on legal determinations, the appellate court’s review is de novo. Manco of Fairmont, Inc. v. Town Bd. of Rock Dell Township, 583 N.W.2d 293, 294 (Minn. App. 1998), review denied (Minn. Oct. 20, 1998). Statutory construction is a question of law, which this court reviews de novo. Brookfield Trade Ctr., Inc. v. County of Ramsey, 584 N.W.2d 390, 393 (Minn. 1998).
1. To obtain mandamus relief a petitioner must establish
(1) the failure of an official duty clearly imposed by law; (2) a public wrong specifically injurious to petitioner; and (3) no other adequate specific legal remedy.
Coyle v. City of Delano, 526 N.W.2d 205, 207 (Minn. App. 1995) (citations omitted). Although the district court did not fully explain its reasoning, it is clear that the district court denied appellants’ petition for a writ of mandamus because it concluded that appellants had an adequate specific legal remedy. The district court did not explicitly state that the watershed district failed an official duty clearly imposed by law. But because the court based its denial of the petition on the availability of an adequate legal remedy, it appears that the court concluded that the watershed district had a clearly imposed duty to enforce its repair order. This conclusion appears to be based on the same reasoning the district court used in the watershed district’s declaratory judgment action. In that action, the district court concluded that Minn. Stat. § 84A.55 (2000) did not release the DNR from paying repair assessments for ditch 83.
However, after the district court denied appellants’ mandamus petition, this court issued its opinion in Marshall County v. State, Dep’t of Natural Res., 636 N.W.2d 570 (Minn. App. 2001), pet. for rev. filed (Minn. Jan 3, 2002). In that opinion, this court considered whether Minn. Stat. § 84A.55 released the DNR from paying ditch-repair assessments levied by a local drainage authority on con-con lands and concluded that it did.
In Marshall County, this court concluded that although chapter 103E permits local drainage authorities to assess benefited con-con lands for the costs of ditch repairs, Minn. Stat. § 84A.55, subd. 9 (2000), grants the DNR commissioner discretion to determine the benefits of a ditch repair and to decline to pay repair assessments that exceed the value of the benefits as determined by the commissioner. 636 N.W.2d at 576. Therefore, the local drainage authority cannot assess the costs of ditch repairs pro rata on con-con lands if the DNR commissioner does not agree with the local drainage authority’s determination of benefits.
Because under this court’s decision in Marshall County the watershed district did not have authority to assess the costs of repairs to ditch 83 pro rata on con-con lands benefited by the ditch, the watershed district did not have a clearly imposed legal duty to assess repair costs pro rata according to the October 9, 1986, redetermination of benefits as appellants requested in their petition. Therefore, appellants were not entitled to obtain mandamus relief.
Because we conclude that appellants were not entitled to mandamus relief because the watershed district did not fail an official duty clearly imposed by law, we need not consider whether appellants had an adequate specific legal remedy. See Brecht v. Schramm, 266 N.W.2d 514, 520 (Minn. 1978) (correct decision of trial court should not be overturned regardless of theory upon which it is based).
2. Appellants argue that the watershed district’s failure to enforce its repair order constitutes an unconstitutional taking of their property without just compensation. But in Marshall County, this court concluded that the statutory scheme that limits assessments on con-con lands does not constitute a deprivation of property rights. 636 N.W.2d at 577. The statutory scheme does not relieve the watershed district of its duty to maintain ditch 83; it only alters the repair assessments that the DNR will pay. Id. at 577-78.