This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).

STATE OF MINNESOTA

IN COURT OF APPEALS

A03-493

 

Larry D. Larson, et al.,
Respondents,

vs.

State of Minnesota,

Respondent,

 

Lake of the Woods County,

Respondent,


Northwest Surfacing Company,
Appellant.

 

Filed December 16, 2003

Affirmed

Peterson, Judge

 

Lake of the Woods County District Court

File No. C80271

 

Robert M. Wallner, 514 America Avenue Northwest, P.O. Box 880, Bemidji, MN  56619-0880 (for respondents)

 

Thomas K. Overton, Tax Litigation Division, 600 North Robert Street, Suite 4000, Mail Station 0600, St. Paul, MN  55146-0600 (for respondent State of Minnesota)

 

Margaret A. Skelton, Ratwik, Roszak & Maloney, 300 U.S. Trust Building, 730 Second Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN  55402 (for respondent Lake of the Woods County)

 

Thomas L. D’Albani, Cann, Haskell, D’Albani & Schueppert, P.A., 205 Seventh Street Northwest, Bemidji, MN  56601 (for appellant)

 

U N P U B L I S H E D    O P I N I O N

PETERSON, Judge

In this appeal from the denial of a motion for summary judgment, appellant Northwest Surfacing Company argues that the district court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to review a claim arising from the sale of tax-forfeited land because the decision of the Lake of the Woods County Board of Commissioners to approve the sale was a quasi-judicial decision that must be challenged by writ of certiorari.  We affirm.

FACTS

            Respondent Larry D. Larson owned two land parcels in Lake of the Woods County:  parcel A, a 200-acre parcel; and parcel B, a 160-acre parcel.  In 1991, parcels A and B were forfeited to the State of Minnesota after Larson failed to pay real-estate taxes for many years.

            On about January 16, 2002, Larson received a notice of a tax-forfeited-land sale, which stated that specified land parcels, including parcels A and B, would be sold at a public auction on February 1, 2002.  The notice stated:

NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN that on Friday, the 1st day of February, 2002 . . . in my office . . . I [the county auditor] shall sell to the highest bidder those parcels of land described in the list contained herein, which have been classified as non-conservation lands and appraised as provided by law.  This sale will be governed by the provisions of Sections 282.221 to 282.226 of the Minnesota Statutes[[1]] and by the resolution of the Lake of the Woods County Board of Commissioners authorizing such sale.

. . . .

 

Pursuant to Minnesota Statutes 282.01, Subd. 7, any and all persons eligible to repurchase tax-forfeited property under Minnesota Statues 282.012 or 282.241 shall not be allowed to purchase that same parcel of property at the sale for a purchase price less than the sum of all delinquent taxes and assessments, together with all accrued penalties, interest and costs.

 

            On February 1, 2002, Larson arrived at the office of Lake of the Woods County Auditor Ellen Paulseth ten minutes before the land sale started.  Larson had not informed the county that he was interested in purchasing parcels A and B, and he was not aware that as the former owner, he was subject to a minimum purchase price equal to the sum of delinquent taxes and assessments plus accrued penalties, interest, and costs.

            The bidding on parcel A, which was sold first, started at about $8,000.  When it reached about $30,000, Larson began bidding.  After Larson made four or five bids, Paulseth said to him either, “Larry, you are not eligible to be a bidder here,” or, “I don’t believe that you are eligible,” and Larson stopped bidding.  Larson did not bid on parcel B.  Appellant Northwest Surfacing Company bought parcel A for $41,500 and parcel B for $32,000. 

After the land sale, Paulseth sent Larson a copy of the statute setting forth the minimum-purchase-price requirement for former owners.  After consulting with the Minnesota Department of Revenue, Paulseth calculated the minimum purchase price for Larson to purchase parcel A to be $49,785.50 and for parcel B to be $28,428.

Larson contacted Lake of the Woods County Attorney Phillip K. Miller and objected to the land sale.  Miller stated in an affidavit that he then conducted an extensive factual and legal investigation into the validity of the tax-forfeited-land sale.  Miller determined that the sale was valid and presented his findings to the Lake of the Woods County Board of Commissioners.  The county board determined that the tax-forfeited-land sale was valid and voted to approve it.

            After Miller notified Larson of the board’s decision, Larson and respondent Rural Investment & Operations, Inc., began this action against the State of Minnesota, Lake of the Woods County, and Northwest Surfacing Company, seeking a determination that the tax-forfeited-land sale was void, cancellation of the deeds issued to Northwest Surfacing, and damages.  Northwest Surfacing answered and asserted a cross-claim against Lake of the Woods County for damages in the event the district court determined that the sales were not properly conducted and Northwest Surfacing did not receive title to parcels A and B or had to pay a higher price for them in a second sale.

            Northwest Surfacing and the county moved for summary judgment, arguing in part that the district court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to review the quasi-judicial decision of the county board of commissioners approving the sale.  The district court denied the motion.  Based on its conclusion that the auction failed to comply with the requirement in Minn. Stat. § 282.01, subd. 7 (2002), that land parcels be sold to the highest bidder, the district court determined that the sales of parcels A and B were void, and, on its own motion, granted summary judgment for Larson on that issue and ordered Northwest Surfacing to reconvey title to the properties to the state and ordered the county to refund all money paid for the purported sale.  The district court also dismissed Rural Investment & Operations from the lawsuit and dismissed Larson’s claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress.  The district court did not address Northwest Surfacing’s cross-claim.

            Northwest Surfacing appealed and indicated in its statement of the case that the jurisdiction issue was the only issue on appeal.  But in addition to briefing the jurisdiction issue, Northwest Surfacing also briefed the issue of whether the district court abused its discretion in granting equitable relief to Larson.  After requesting jurisdiction memoranda from the parties, this court determined that the portion of the district court’s order that granted summary judgment to Larson did not resolve all claims in the underlying action and was not immediately appealable.  This court dismissed the part of the appeal from the order granting Larson summary judgment and limited the appeal to the part of the order that denied summary judgment on the ground of lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.

D E C I S I O N

            A district court’s decision as to subject-matter jurisdiction is a question of law subject to de novo review.  Naegele Outdoor Adver., Inc. v. Minneapolis Cmty. Dev. Agency, 551 N.W.2d 235, 236 (Minn. App. 1996).  Unless otherwise provided by statute or appellate rule, a party must petition this court for a writ of certiorari to obtain review of the quasi-judicial decision of an administrative body.  Micius v. St. Paul City Council, 524 N.W.2d 521, 522 (Minn. App. 1994).  “If no statute or rule expressly vests judicial review in the district court, [the court of appeals] has exclusive certiorari jurisdiction.”  Id. at 223.

            Northwest Surfacing argues that because the county board’s decision approving the tax-forfeited land sale was a quasi-judicial decision, the appropriate method for review is a writ of certiorari.   Therefore, Northwest Surfacing contends, the district court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction, and Larson’s claim should have been dismissed.

Northwest Surfacing’s argument rests on the premise that the county board’s decision was a quasi-judicial decision.  The Minnesota Supreme Court has identified three indicia of a quasi-judicial decision:  “(1) investigation into a disputed claim and weighing of evidentiary facts; (2) application of those facts to a prescribed standard; and (3) a binding decision regarding the disputed claim.”  Minn. Ctr. for Envtl. Advocacy v. Metro. Council, 587 N.W.2d 838, 842 (Minn. 1999).  We conclude that the county board’s decision does not possess the third indicia of a quasi-judicial decision. 

Northwest Surfacing has not cited, and we have not found, any provision in the statutory procedure for selling tax-forfeited land that permits a county board of commissioners to make a binding decision regarding a claim that a land sale was not valid.  It appears that the procedure that the county board followed in making its decision was simply an ad hoc procedure that the county attorney devised in response to Larson’s complaint that the sale was improperly conducted; it was not a step in the statutory procedure for selling tax-forfeited land.  Because the county board had no authority to decide Larson’s claim, the county board’s decision that the sale was valid is not a binding decision; it is only an expression of the county board’s opinion about the validity of the sale.  Therefore, the county board’s decision that the February 1, 2002, tax-forfeited land sale was valid was not a quasi-judicial decision that can only be reviewed by writ of certiorari. 

            Larson argues that his cause of action is authorized by Minn. Stat. § 284.08 (2002), which states:

Any person claiming adversely to the state, or its successor in interest, any right, title, or interest in or lien upon any land claimed to have been forfeited to the state for taxes may maintain an action against the state, or its successor in interest, for the purpose of determining the title to such land and the adverse claims and the rights of the parties, respectively, therein.  Such action shall be brought in the district court of the county in which the land lies.

 

            The broad language of this statute encompasses Larson’s claim that the sales by which Northwest Surfacing obtained title to parcels A and B were defective because Larson was not allowed to bid at the sales.  Therefore, the district court had subject-matter jurisdiction to consider Larson’s claim.

            Affirmed.



[1] It is undisputed that the reference to sections 282.221 to 282.226, which apply to sales of land in the Red Lake game preserve, was incorrect.  Parcels A and B are not in the Red Lake game preserve.  The district court concluded that this error did not invalidate the sale, and that conclusion is not challenged in this appeal.