This opinion will be unpublished and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
James R. Haselmann,
Todd C. Bork, et al.,
Filed April 20, 2004
Pine County District Court
File No. C6-02-1257
Jeffrey J. Fenske, Ritter & Fenske, Ltd., 461 University Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55103 (for appellant)
Kevin A. Hofstad, Ledin & Hofstad, Ltd., 539 Main Street, Pine City, MN 55063 (for respondents)
Considered and decided by Schumacher, Presiding Judge; Willis, Judge; and Wright, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
This is an appeal from the district court’s grant of summary judgment to respondents, who leased property from appellant for the purpose of raising Christmas trees and nursery stock. Appellant claimed that respondents committed waste and breached the lease by destroying viable trees. Because the district court did not err by holding that the appellant has no interest in the trees other than that established in the lease and that the only interest granted by the lease is the right to collect premiums on harvested trees, we affirm.
Appellant James Haselmann owns 160 acres of real estate in Pine County, approximately 75 acres of which he leases to respondents Todd Bork and Bork Tree Farms, Inc. (collectively “Bork”) “for purposes of planting, managing and harvesting Christmas and nursery trees.” By the terms of the lease agreement, which expires on June 1, 2004, Bork pays Haselmann annual rent of $2,075 and a harvest premium of 25 cents for each tree Bork cuts as a Christmas tree and one dollar for each tree Bork digs as nursery stock. The lease also provides that “[a]t the end of lease period, or at the end of subsequent leases, the lessor will restore the land to its original state, clearing the land of all stumpage.” Before Bork planted trees on the property, it was used for raising hay and alfalfa.
In June 2002, Bork shredded some trees on the property. Bork claims that the shredding was necessary to cull unusable and diseased trees for crop-management purposes. Haselmann claims that most of the shredded trees were healthy and viable and that Bork destroyed the trees so that Haselmann “could receive no benefit from [Bork’s] work” at the end of the lease term. Haselmann sued Bork, alleging that Bork had breached the lease agreement and had committed waste on the property by destroying healthy trees.
Bork moved for summary judgment, arguing that because the Christmas trees and nursery stock are a crop and are, therefore, Bork’s personal property, Haselmann has no interest in or right to the trees except the contractual right to a harvest premium when trees are cut or dug. Haselmann also moved for summary judgment, arguing that the Christmas trees and nursery stock are timber rather than a crop, and that, therefore, the trees are not solely Bork’s personal property and that Bork damaged Haselmann’s property by destroying viable trees.
The district court granted Bork’s motion, holding that the trees are a crop, which is Bork’s personal property, and, therefore, Haselmann has no interest in the trees beyond that established in the lease. The court also held that, even if the trees are legally classified as timber, Haselmann suffered no damages as the result of Bork shredding trees because, in any event, the lease requires that at the end of its term, any remaining trees will be cleared and the property restored to its original state. Haselmann appeals.
D E C I S I O N
Haselmann argues that the trees planted by Bork are timber rather than a crop, and that, as timber, the trees are part of the property and any trees remaining at the end of the lease term will revert to him, along with the property. Therefore, Haselmann contends, Bork committed waste because, by destroying viable trees, Bork materially damaged the property and violated the duty to “prevent unreasonable abuse to [the] land.” Bork argues that destroying the trees cannot be considered waste because the lease requires that the property be restored to its original state at the end of the lease term, and, therefore, destroying trees did not diminish the property’s value.
An appeal from summary judgment presents two questions: (1) whether there are any genuine issues of material fact and (2) whether the district court erred in its application of the law. State by Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2, 4 (Minn. 1990). Here, the material facts are not in dispute, so we need only to determine whether the district court erred in its application of the law.
The district court determined that the lease agreement is unambiguous. We agree. We also agree with the district court that Bork’s actions did not constitute waste. Waste is conduct by a person in possession of property that is actionable by another with an interest in that same property to protect the reasonable expectations of the nonpossessing party. Rudnitski v. Seely, 452 N.W.2d 664, 666 (Minn. 1990).
Here, there were no trees on the property when the lease term began and Haselmann’s interest in the trees is limited to that provided by the lease. The lease grants Haselmann no interest in the trees simply because Bork planted them. The lease provides only that Haselmann is entitled to annual rent of $2,075 and a harvest premium for each tree that Bork cuts as a Christmas tree or digs as nursery stock. The lease does not require Bork to harvest a minimum number of trees, nor does it require Bork to leave any trees on the property at the end of the lease term. The lease gives Haselmann no role in crop management, that is, no role in deciding what trees, or how many, will be harvested.
Haselmann further argues that the requirement that the property be restored to its original condition does not provide Bork with a defense for shredding viable trees because the lease assigns to Haselmann the duty of restoring the property and he did not request Bork’s assistance in the restoration. It may well be, as Bork contends, that the lease’s assignment of the duty of restoration to Haselmann, as lessor, rather than to Bork, as lessee, is a typographical error. But the issue is of no consequence to this action. The lease has not yet expired, and because the lease does not require that any trees be left on the property at the end of the lease term, Haselmann has no reasonable expectation that Bork will leave trees. Bork did not commit waste by shredding trees for crop-management purposes.
Haselmann also argues that the district court erred by determining that the trees are properly classified legally as a crop rather than as timber. But any additional interest that Haselmann would have in the trees if they were classified as timber would not vest until the end of the lease term. See N. Lumber Co. v. Lundgren, 182 Minn. 89, 92, 233 N.W. 593, 594 (1930). We do not have before us a circumstance where there is a dispute over the ownership of trees remaining on property at the end of a lease. Again, the lease has not yet expired, and, by the lease’s terms, Bork has the right to remove all trees from the property before the lease does expire, as long as appropriate harvest premiums are paid. The district court did not err by granting summary judgment to Bork.