This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. ß 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Mark D. Beatty, et al.,
Philip L. Nelson, D.V.M.,
Ramsey County District Court
File No. CX019752
Mark D. Beatty and Bonnie J. Peterson, 155 Sherwood Road, Shoreview, MN 55126 (pro se respondents)
John Remington Graham, 180 Haut de la Paroisse, St-Agapit (LOTB), Quebec G0S 1Z0 Canada (for appellant)
††††††††††† Considered and decided by Minge, Presiding Judge, Lansing, Judge, and Shumaker, Judge.
††††††††††† Appellant easement holder appeals from a district courtís determination that he committed the common law tort of conversion when he moved a tree from the easement path to his land.† Appellant argues that because he was not trespassing when he moved the tree, he could not have committed conversion.† We affirm.†
Appellant Philip Nelson and respondents Mark Beatty and Bonnie Peterson own adjacent properties in Shoreview, Minnesota.† Nelson has an easement for ingress and egress 20 feet wide and 200 feet long.† The easement is located within a larger parcel owned by Beatty/Peterson that is 30 feet wide and extends approximately 375 feet northward from Sherwood Road to a tract containing the Beatty/Peterson residence.† Nelsonís home is located south of the Beatty/Peterson residence closer to Sherwood Road and east of the easement.† Before this dispute, Nelson used the easement to access his house and garage via a driveway apron approximately 50 feet wide.
On July 2, 2001, Nelson moved a 15-foot pine tree located within his easement to facilitate construction of a second driveway apron.† Nelson moved the tree four feet to the east and 18 feet to the south.† After Nelson moved the tree, the tree was on his land.†
Beatty/Peterson sued appellant in conciliation court for removing a tree from their property in violation of Minn. Stat. ß 561.04 (2002).† Nelson argued that he had an easement for ingress and egress over the Beatty/Peterson property and that he removed the tree to facilitate ingress and egress.† The conciliation court referee awarded Beatty and Peterson $775.† Nelson appealed to the district court, where a trial was held.† The district court found that Nelson removed the tree in reasonable exercise of his easement rights and that he therefore did not violate section 561.04 of Minnesota Statutes.† But the district court found that Nelsonís removal of the tree constituted the common law tort of conversion.† Accordingly, the district court ordered entry of judgment in favor of Beatty and Peterson for the fair market value of the tree, $788.† Nelson filed motions for amended findings or vacation of judgment, which were denied.† Nelson then filed this appeal.
Nelson raises one issue on appeal.† He argues he could not have committed conversion because he was not trespassing on the Beatty/Peterson property when he removed the tree.†
The facts are not in dispute.† Nelsonís argument is that the district court erred in reaching the legal conclusion that he committed conversion.† A reviewing court need not defer to the district courtís application of the law when the material facts are not in dispute.† Hubred v. Control Data Corp., 442 N.W. 2d 308, 310 (Minn. 1989).† Accordingly, the standard of review is de novo.
Nelson urges us to evaluate his position and decide this case on the basis of historic rules governing common law actions and remedies of trover, trespass, and conversion.† Although tempting, we decline to embark on that odyssey.† See generally Fowler V. Harper et al., The Law of Torts ßß 2:1-:150 (3d ed. 1996).† In any event, the treatises Nelson relies on define conversion as ďan act of willful interference with a chattel, done without lawful justification, by which any person entitled thereto is deprived of use and possession.Ē† William Lloyd Prosser, Handbook of the Law of Torts 66 (2d ed. 1955).
††††††††††† We analyze Nelsonís argument according to Minnesota law.† The elements of common law conversion are (1) the plaintiff has a property interest; and (2) the defendant deprives the plaintiff of that interest.† Olson v. Moorhead Country Club, 568 N.W.2d 871, 872 (Minn. App. 1997), review denied (Minn. Oct. 31, 1997).† Minnesota law defines conversion more explicitly as
an act of willful interference with the personal property of another which is without justification or which is inconsistent with the rights of the person entitled to the use, possession or ownership of the property.
Dain Bosworth Inc. v. Goetze, 374 N.W.2d 467, 471 (Minn. App. 1985) (citing Larson v. Archer-Daniels-Midland Co., 226 Minn. 315, 317, 32 N.W.2d 649, 650 (1948)).† ††††††††††
††††††††††† Nelsonís argument that there can be no conversion without an underlying trespass is not persuasive.† He does not cite any relevant legal authority to support his argument, nor can we find any such authority.† As we have already noted, conversion requires only that a plaintiff have a property interest and that a defendant have interfered with that property interest.† Olson, 568 N.W.2d at 872; Dain Bosworth, 374 N.W.2d at 471.† The definition of conversion used in Minnesota does not require a defendant to have been trespassing when the conversion occurred.†††††
Nelson does not dispute that his act was willful or that the tree was personal property.† Nelson hints at an argument that his action was justified.† Nelson seems to argue that because he acted in reasonable exercise of easement rights, he cannot be guilty of conversion.† Even if Nelson had a right to move the tree because of his easement, he did not have a right to keep it on his property permanently.† Nelson offered no explanation as to why he felt he was entitled to keep the tree on his property or why he felt he owned the tree.† There is not substantial evidence that Nelsonís interference with the Beatty/Peterson tree was justified or consistent with their rights to the tree.
We conclude that the district court did not err in finding that Nelson converted the Beatty/Peterson property.