This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).







Elly Rakowski,





Cold Spring Granite Company,



Filed July 26, 2005

Reversed and remanded

Willis, Judge


Swift County District Court

File No. C4-04-93


Russell C. Crowder, John T. Buchman, William D. Siegel, Barna, Guzy & Steffen, Ltd., 400 Northtown Financial  Plaza, 200 Coon Rapids Boulevard, Minneapolis, MN 55433-5894 (for appellant)


Terri L. Hommerding, Bruce P. Candlin & Associates, Lawson Commons, 380 St. Peter Street, Suite 603, St. Paul, MN  55102-1313; and Paul Wocken, Willenbring, Dahl, Wocken & Zimmerman, 318 Main Street, P.O. Box 417, Cold Spring, MN 56320-0417 (for respondent)


            Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge; Shumaker, Judge; and Crippen, Judge.*

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            In this appeal from summary judgment, appellant argues that the district court erred by applying the statute of repose found in Minn. Stat. § 541.051, subd. 1(a) (2004), and granting respondent’s motion for summary judgment.  Because we conclude that the district court erroneously applied the statute of repose, we reverse the summary judgment and remand for further proceedings.


According to the record, as a result of liturgical changes adopted by the Second Vatican Council, St. John’s Catholic Church in Appleton underwent renovations to update the church.  Two granite altars fabricated by respondent Cold Spring Granite Company were installed:  a large primary altar and a smaller secondary altar.  The primary altar is completely freestanding, but the secondary altar’s top-heavy design required an L-bracket and a cinch anchor to attach it to the wall.  The installation was completed in December 1964.

            In October 2003, the cinch anchor failed and the secondary altar toppled, crushing the leg of appellant Elly Rakowski, a church-maintenance employee.  Rakowski filed a lawsuit against Cold Spring in March 2004, alleging counts of strict liability, negligence, and breach of warranty.  Cold Spring moved for summary judgment, arguing that because the installation of the altar was an improvement to real property, Minnesota’s statute of repose barred Rakowski’s lawsuit.  The district court agreed and granted Cold Spring’s motion for summary judgment.  Rakowski’s appeal follows.


On an appeal from summary judgment, this court asks 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.  Olmanson v. LeSueur County, 693 N.W.2d 876, 879 (Minn. 2005).  “On appeal, the evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party against whom judgment was granted.”  Brandt v. Hallwood Mgmt. Co., 560 N.W.2d 396, 399 (Minn. App. 1997), review denied (Minn. June 11, 1997).  The construction and applicability of a statute is a question of law, which this court reviews de novo.  Olmanson, 693 N.W.2d at 879.

Minnesota’s statute of repose provides:

Except where fraud is involved, no action by any person in contract, tort, or otherwise to recover damages for any injury to property, real or personal, or for bodily injury or wrongful death, arising out of the defective and unsafe condition of an improvement to real property, nor any action for contribution or indemnity for damages sustained on account of the injury, shall be brought against any person performing or furnishing the design, planning, supervision, materials, or observation of construction or construction of the improvement to real property or against the owner of the real property more than two years after discovery of the injury or, in the case of an action for contribution or indemnity, accrual of the cause of action, nor, in any event shall such a cause of action accrue more than ten years after substantial completion of the construction.


Minn. Stat. § 541.051, subd. 1(a) (2004).  The statute protects certain parties from liability for damages arising out of unsafe or defective improvements to real property in cases when the accrual of the cause of action occurs more than 10 years after substantial completion of the improvement.  Id.

            Rakowski challenges the district court’s conclusion that the secondary altar was an improvement to real property and that the statute of repose, therefore, bars her suit against Cold Spring.  Both parties agree that the renovation, including the installation of the altar, was completed in December 1964.  Cold Spring acknowledges that it constructed the altar, and for purposes of its motion for summary judgment, it also concedes that it installed the altar.  But the parties disagree on whether the altar was “an improvement to real property” and whether the statute of repose is applicable.

When interpreting a statute, we give meaning to the plain language of the statute “without resort to technical legal constructions of its terms.”  Pac. Indem. Co. v. Thompson-Yaeger, Inc., 260 N.W.2d 548, 554 (Minn. 1977).  Minnesota courts have adopted a “common-sense” interpretation of what is meant by “an improvement to real property,” defining it as “a permanent addition to or betterment of real property that enhances its capital value and that involves the expenditure of labor or money and is designed to make the property more useful or valuable as distinguished from ordinary repairs.”  Id. at 553-54 (quotation omitted) (concluding that a furnace was an improvement to real property, in part, because it “was connected to numerous electric cables, oil pipes, and ducts”).

An improvement is “a permanent addition to or betterment of real property” if it is “integral to and incorporated into the building or structure on the property.”  Ritter v. Abbey-Etna Mach. Co., 483 N.W.2d 91, 93 (Minn. App. 1992) (concluding that steel tube mills used to form sheet metal into cylindrical shapes were not improvements to real property because the mills were “essentially production machinery, [and] not an integral part of [the] building”), review denied (Minn. June 10, 1992).  But if “an item does not permanently alter real property, it may not constitute an improvement, and injuries arising from the item are not time barred by the statute.”  Wiita v. Potlatch Corp., 492 N.W.2d 270, 272 (Minn. App. 1992) (noting that a wall was an improvement to real property but concluding that the cement blocks being used to construct the wall were not improvements to real property).  Items that Minnesota courts have found to be improvements to real property include panic doors, Taney v. Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 624, 673 N.W.2d 497, 504 (Minn. App. 2004), review denied (Minn. Mar. 30, 2004); a storm sewer system, Nolan & Nolan v. City of Eagan, 673 N.W.2d 487, 496 (Minn. App. 2003), review denied (Minn. Mar. 16, 2004); a hard-wired smoke detector, Patton v. Yarrington, 472 N.W.2d 157, 160 (Minn. App. 1991), review denied (Minn. Aug. 29, 1991); an unfinished stairway, O’Connor v. M.A. Mortenson Co., 424 N.W.2d 92, 94 (Minn. App. 1988), review denied (Minn. July 28, 1988); and permanently installed electrical cables, Kemp v. Allis-Chalmers Corp., 390 N.W.2d 848, 850-51 (Minn. App. 1986).

            Here, the altar was attached to the church wall with an L-bracket and a cinch screw.  The installation of the altar did not permanently change the church.  The anchor with which the altar was attached to the wall was intended merely to keep the top-heavy altar from falling over.  Unlike the items listed above, the altar was not connected to any of the building’s systems nor was it integrated into the church’s structure.  For these reasons, we conclude that the altar was not “incorporated into the building or structure on the property,” that it did not permanently change the church, and, therefore, that it is not a “permanent addition to or betterment of real property.”

Because the altar was not a “permanent addition to or betterment of real property,” it is not an improvement to real property under Pacific IndemnitySee Pac. Indem., 260 N.W.2d at 554; Ritter, 483 N.W.2d at 93.  We therefore conclude that the district court erred by applying the statute of repose and by granting Cold Spring’s motion for summary judgment.  Having concluded that the district court erred by finding that the altar was an improvement to real property, we need not address Rakowski’s other arguments challenging the application of the statute of repose.

We reverse the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Cold Spring and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

            Reversed and remanded.

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