This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Northern States Power Company,
Wright County District Court
File No. C300674
Bruce A. Colt, 800 Nicollet Mall, Suite 2900, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent)
Brian C. Southwell, 701 Fourth Avenue South, Suite 500, Minneapolis, MN 55415 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Kalitowski, Presiding Judge, Halbrooks, Judge, and Stoneburner, Judge.
Appellant challenges the trial court’s order denying its motion for amended findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order for judgment or a new trial. Appellant argues that the trial court erred by concluding that a 1994 partial release prepared by respondent reserved certain rights that appellant granted respondent in a 1968 easement. Because the trial court’s findings are supported by the record and because the court acted within its discretion by denying appellant’s posttrial motion, we affirm.
Appellant Kjellberg’s, Inc. owns and operates a mobile home park. In 1968, appellant granted respondent Northern States Power Company (NSP) an easement on which to build, operate, and maintain power transmission lines. The easement grant explicitly prohibited appellant from placing any structures or mobile homes on the easement without NSP’s prior written approval.
In 1994, in response to a request by the new landowners and pursuant to statute, NSP prepared a partial release of the 1968 easement. See Minn. Stat. § 300.045(c) (2000) (requiring a public service corporation holding an easement to produce a “definite and specific description” of the location of the easement at the written request of the property owner). The 1994 document released the 1968 easement, gave a new legal description of the easement (essentially identical to the 1968 description), reserved the easement as newly described, and provided, “This release applies only to the easements recited and not any other rights, if any, of Northern States Power Company within the property described above.” The partial release did not explicitly prohibit appellant from placing mobile homes or structures on the easement.
NSP subsequently observed various structures and mobile homes on the easement and brought an action to require that appellant remove the structures pursuant to the 1968 easement. Appellant argued that the 1994 partial release had extinguished the prohibition against structures and mobile homes on the easement. Following trial, the court concluded that the 1994 partial release did not release NSP’s right of exclusion. The court denied appellant’s posttrial motion for amended findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order for judgment or a new trial. This appeal follows.
D E C I S I O N
It is undisputed that appellant currently maintains structures and mobile homes on the easement in violation of the 1968 easement. The sole issue before the trial court was whether the 1994 partial release reserved NSP’s right to exclude structures and mobile homes from the easement. When a matter
is to be determined solely by reference to the controlling documents, the question is one of law and [this court’s] standard of review is de novo.
Home Lumber Co. v. Kopfmann Homes, Inc., 535 N.W.2d 302, 304 (Minn. 1995).
Appellant argues that the 1994 partial release specifically reserved only NSP’s right to maintain and access power lines, and, therefore, released NSP’s right to exclude structures and mobile homes from the easement. Our review of the record leads us to conclude that the partial release, by clearly stating that it did not operate to release NSP’s “other rights” in the property, reserved NSP’s right to exclude structures and mobile homes from the easement.
When an easement is created by grant, its extent depends entirely upon the construction of the terms of the grant. Bergh & Misson Farms, Inc. v. Great Lakes Transmission Co., 565 N.W.2d 23, 26 (Minn. 1997) (quotation omitted). “[W]hen the language granting the easement is clear and unambiguous, the court’s power to determine the extent of the easement granted is limited.” Id. The 1994 partial release explicitly reserved the newly described easement and stated that it was not releasing NSP’s “other rights” in the property. As noted by the trial court, the reference to “other rights” in the 1994 partial release would be surplusage if its only purpose were to designate the rights reserved in 1994, rather than to designate and reserve other rights established in the 1968 grant, such as NSP’s right to exclude structures and mobile homes.
Appellant contends that the 1994 partial release acted to release any rights of NSP that were not specifically reserved. By this interpretation, the partial release would extinguish the numerous rights and legal protections guaranteed both parties by the 1968 easement and not specifically reserved by the partial release. This result is neither just nor consistent with the plain language of the partial release. See Thommes v. Milwaukee Ins. Co., 641 N.W.2d 877, 885 (Minn. 2002) (where reasonably possible, courts construe contracts to avoid absurd or unjust results).
Appellant also argues that the trial court erroneously considered the circumstances of the partial release’s preparation to arrive at an interpretation contrary to the release’s unambiguous meaning. See Highway 7 Embers, Inc. v. NW Nat’l Bank, 256 N.W.2d 271, 275 (Minn. 1977) (stating that extrinsic evidence may only be considered in interpreting a writing if the writing is ambiguous). Here, the trial court observed that the partial release was drafted pursuant to and consistent with Minn. Stat. § 300.045 (2000), which provides that a partial release is the appropriate instrument by which to redefine an easement and that such a release may reserve “additional conditions and restrictions permitted in the original easement.” Minn. Stat. § 300.045(c)(2). The statute also provides that public service corporations may acquire easements “in a width necessary for the safe conduct of their business.” Id. at (a). Contrary to appellant’s contention, the trial court did not impermissibly rely on the statute to resolve any ambiguity in the partial release or to alter the partial release’s meaning.
Finally, appellant argues that the trial court erroneously stated that its interpretation of the partial release was consistent with the principle that easements are to be construed strictly against their grantor. See Bergh & Misson Farms, Inc., 565 N.W.2d at 26. Appellant contends that the partial release constituted a grant by NSP to appellant, and that the release should therefore be construed against NSP. We disagree. The partial release and reservation of rights did not alter appellant’s status as the grantor of the easement or NSP’s status as grantee.
The trial court appropriately denied appellant’s motion for amended findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order for judgment or a new trial.