This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).

 

STATE OF MINNESOTA

IN COURT OF APPEALS

CX-01-1381

 

Mary E. Rixmann,
Appellant,

vs.

Kathleen M. Spielman,
Respondent.

 

Filed May 14, 2002

Affirmed as modified

Huspeni, Judge*

 

 

Scott County District Court

File No. 0001197

 

 

Marc D. Simpson, Leonard, Street and Deinard, P.A., Suite 2300, 150 South Fifth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for appellant)

 

Patrick H. Doherty, 625 Maple Park Drive, Mendota Heights, MN 55118 (for respondent)

 

 

 

            Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge, Anderson, Judge, and Huspeni, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D  O P I N I O N

 

HUSPENI, Judge

 

            Appellant challenges the district court’s decision to award respondent the majority of the property that was formed by the deposit of diking materials in a lake.  Appellant argues that she is the sole adjoining riparian landowner to the “made lands,” and as such she owns the land.  Because appellant has failed to show that the district court erred in its property award, we affirm.

FACTS

 

            Appellant Mary Rixmann and respondent Kathleen Spielman own adjoining properties in the northwest end of the Breezy Point subdivision located on Prior Lake.  The subdivision was platted in 1923 and consists of 17 lots; each lot has access to the lake.  The plat dedicated a 20-foot-wide driveway running along the southwest boundary of the lots “for the joint use of the respective owners of lots” in Breezy Point.

Spielman purchased Lot 16 of the Breezy Point subdivision on July 27, 1959.[1]  In approximately 1970 and 1985, Spielman constructed dikes along the boundaries of her lot to prevent her property from flooding.  This formed additional lakeshore south of her lot and adjacent to lot 17.  In 1972, Spielman built a garage at the end of the driveway partially on the newly formed lakeshore property. 

On January 6, 1999, Rixmann purchased property in the Breezy Point subdivision, described as:

Lots 14 and 15, together with that part of Lot 17, lying Westerly of the Southerly extension of the Westerly line of Lot 13, Breezy Point, according to the recorded plat thereof, Scott County, Minnesota.

 

In 1999, a survey of lots 14, 15, and 17 was prepared for Rixmann and the city.  The survey, which pictured the shoreline according to the 1923 plat and the shoreline according to a 1985 survey, showed that additional land had been created both to the north and south of the driveway adjacent to lot 17.  The survey extended the driveway over the “made lands,” which the surveyor testified was standard surveying practice when a road originally ended at a body of water that was later filled in.

Relying on the portion of the property description indicating that she acquired the land west of the southern extension of Lot 13’s west lot line and the 1999 survey that depicted the boundaries of lot 17 and the extension of the driveway over the “made lands,” Rixmann believed that she had purchased the additional land.  She noticed, however, that Spielman was storing a sailboat, some lumber, and other items of personal property on the land.  Moreover, when Rixmann attempted to landscape the property, Spielman’s husband prohibited the landscapers from working on the “made lands.”  Rixmann tried to resolve the ownership issue with Spielman, but both parties believed that they owned the additional land south of the driveway and adjacent to lot 17.  Rixmann demanded that Spielman remove her personal property and the encroaching asphalt driveway from the disputed property.  Spielman did not comply with the demand.

            Rixmann initiated an ejectment proceeding requesting that the court enter a judgment declaring her the owner in fee of the disputed property.  After a trial on the merits, the district court concluded that Spielman was the owner of the majority of the disputed land and that Rixmann’s ownership extended to only a small portion of the “made lands.”[2]  In addition, the court held that these awards are subject “to the regulatory rights of the State of Minnesota of the land lying below the natural ordinary high watermark,” and to the “sovereign rights of the State of Minnesota in the land lying below the natural ordinary low watermark of Prior Lake.”  This appeal followed.

D E C I S I O N

 

            A reviewing court is not bound by and need not give deference to a district court’s decision on a purely legal issue.  Frost-Benco Elec. Ass’n v. Minnesota Pub. Utils. Comm’n, 358 N.W.2d 639, 642 (Minn. 1984).  Rixmann’s claim of ownership of the entire “made lands” is premised on a three-pronged argument:  (1) because the driveway was dedicated to the lot owners by a plat and ends at navigable water, it must remain open for lot owners to access the lake; (2) because the driveway must remain open for lot owners to access the lake, the driveway must extend over the “made lands” to the newly formed shore; and (3) because the “made lands” extend over the newly formed shore, and because she is the sole adjoining riparian landowner to the “made lands,” she owns the “made lands” in their entirety.

            Rixmann initially relies on Bryant v. Gustafson, 230 Minn. 1, 40 N.W.2d 427 (1950), for the proposition that, because the driveway was dedicated by a plat for the lot owners’ use, because it leads to water, and because no contrary intent exists, the lot owners should have access to Prior Lake via the driveway.  Bryant holds that, if a passageway is dedicated by a plat to a use and it leads to the water, absent contrary intent, the dedication should be construed “as intended to enable the beneficiaries of the use to get to such water for the more convenient enjoyment of recreation and navigation.”  Id. at 9, 40 N.W.2d at 433.  The court in Bryant reasoned that a road does not terminate at a lake if its purpose is to serve as a means of ingress and egress for the abutting owners of the road.  Id. at 8, 40 N.W.2d at 433.  

The district court here listed three reasons in distinguishing Bryant, and we find those reasons to be sound:  (1) Bryant did not involve extending a road over added land, but involved denying access to a platted road where Spielman was not denying Rixmann access to the driveway as platted; (2) the road in Bryant extended farther than necessary if it was intended to provide only ingress and egress to the lot owners, whereas here the driveway extended to the lake only to provide ingress and egress to lot 16 because of the shape of the subdivision; and (3) there may have been lots in Bryant that did not have access to water except over the driveway, while here all of the lot owners had access to Prior Lake by means other than the driveway and that access would continue, regardless of who was declared to be the owner of the “made lands.”  Importantly, the record in this case provides no indication that the driveway was intended for any use other than to provide owners ingress and egress to their property.  Nor is there any evidence that this driveway was dedicated as a public road.  Bryant does not control the result in this case.

Rixmann next argues that, because the driveway was dedicated to the lot owners and ends at a body of navigable water, it should extend across the “made lands.”  And she claims that, because she is the sole adjoining property owner to the “made lands,” she is entitled to the entirety of those lands.  In support of her argument, Rixmann relies on Reads Landing Campers Ass’n, Inc. v. Township of Pepin, 533 N.W.2d 45, 48 (Minn. App. 1995), aff’d, 546 N.W.2d 10 (Minn. 1996).  We conclude that Rixmann incorrectly construes Reads Landing as a hard and fast rule that always awards “made lands” to the adjoining riparian landowner regardless of the circumstances in a case.

In Reads Landing, the court considered whether riparian land created by the deposit of dredge spoils along a bank of the Mississippi River should accrue to the state or to the adjoining landowners.  546 N.W.2d at 13.  The court ultimately decided the issue by recognizing the right of a riparian owner to access the water, noting that the “right of access was the principal value of the land, upon which all others depend.”  Id. at 14 (citing Lamprey v. Metcalf, 52 Minn. 181, 198, 53 N.W. 1139, 1143 (1893)).  The court reasoned that inserting a strip of property owned by someone else (the state) would negate the riparian owner’s access to the water.  Id.  The adjoining landowners, not the state, prevailed in Reads Landing.

Moreover, the “made lands” here were not created by a third party.  Two riparian owners are parties in this case.[3]  Both, however, have access to the water other than over the disputed “made lands.”  The creation of these lands in no way diminished Rixmann’s access to water because she still retains access to Prior Lake on the south side of her property.  If she were granted ownership of the entirety of these lands, however, Spielman would be deprived of her exclusive access to the water from the front of her home.  The district court held that such a result would be contrary to Reads Landing and stated:

If the court were to award [Rixmann] the added land immediately adjacent to Lot 16, while not eliminating [Spielman’s] access to Prior Lake, it would certainly diminish it.  [Spielman] would be deprived of all of her shoreline along the south part of her property.

 

This would be tantamount, we conclude, to inserting a strip of land owned by someone else between Spielman’s land and the water.  This was a concern of the Reads Landing court.  Thus, the decision of the district court in this case is fully consistent with Reads Landing and offers no support to Rixmann’s argument.

Finally, because we agree with the district court that Rixmann has no claim to ownership of the “made lands” in their entirety, we do not reach her argument that the court erred in its determination of where the driveway ended.  As already noted, there is no evidence that the driveway was intended to provide access to Prior Lake; it continues to provide access to the property of each owner, and each owner has separate access to the lake without reference to the driveway.

            Affirmed as modified.

 



* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.

[1]  The court found that “[t]he plaintiff [Rixmann] acquired her property July 27, 1959 and the defendant [Spielman] January 6, 1999,” and that “[i]n the course of plaintiff’s occupancy of her property, there were several occasions when flooding threatened her home.”  It is clear from the record, however, that Rixmann purchased her land January 6, 1999, and Spielman purchased her land July 27, 1959.  In addition, Spielman’s land experienced flooding, not Rixmann’s.  Furthermore, the court also stated that “Rixmann’s” access to Prior Lake would be diminished if the court awarded her the “made lands,” but it is clear from the record that Spielman’s access would be diminished.  Therefore, we modify the judgment to indicate that Rixmann acquired her property on January 6, 1999, that Spielman acquired her property on July 27, 1959, that Spielman’s property experienced the flooding, and that Spielman’s access to Prior Lake would be dimished if the court awarded her the “made lands.”  Cf. Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 110.05 (an appellate court, on its own initiative, may correct any material misstatement); Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 103.04 (appellate courts may modify the judgment appealed from in the interest of justice); Minn. R. Civ. P. 60.01 (district may correct clerical errors while appeal is pending).

[2]  It appears from the record that the district court divided the “made lands” (additional lakeshore created south of the driveway) by extending the westerly line of Rixmann’s lot south.  The court then awarded the land west of the line to Spielman and the land east of the line to Rixmann.

[3]  While Rixmann alleges that she is the only adjoining riparian landowner, this would be the case only upon a determination that the driveway extends over the “made lands” and ends at the water.