This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Leonard J. Richards,
Alango Cemetery Association, et al.,
St. Louis County District Court
File No. C7-04-102207
Leonard Richards, 1101 Linden Lane, Faribault, MN 55021 (pro se appellant)
Peter B. Tiede, Kelly S. Hadac, Murnane, Conlin, White & Brandt, 444 Cedar Street, Suite 1800, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent Alango Cemetery Association)
Considered and decided by Wright, Presiding Judge; Toussaint, Chief Judge; and Hudson, Judge.
In this dispute over the rights to a family cemetery plot, appellant argues that the district court abused its discretion by dismissing his case with prejudice. We affirm.
In 1906, Gust R. Laine and his wife Aleksandra Laine purchased a six-lot cemetery plot, officially known as Lot 22 of Alango Cemetery. To date, five family members have been buried in the Laine family plot.
In 2000, appellant Leonard Richards began mailing letters to respondent Alango Cemetery Association (Alango), seeking information about who had used or attempted to use the remaining lot. Alango answered several of Richards’s inquiries but explained to Richards that the Town of Alango could not provide Richards with all of the requested information unless he demonstrated that he held title to the cemetery plot in question.
Following prolonged correspondence between Richards and Alango, and without ever determining title to the cemetery plot, Richards initiated an action against Alango, alleging fraud, deceit, unfair practices under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, and equal-protection violations under the Minnesota and United States constitutions. Control over the use of the remaining cemetery lot is the central issue underlying the lawsuit.
Alango answered the complaint and moved to remove the action to federal district court. Alango’s motion was granted. But after ascertaining that Richards’s claims primarily involved state probate questions as to the rightful owner of the cemetery plot, the federal district court dismissed the action for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and remanded the matter to Ramsey County District Court.
then moved for a change of venue to
argues that, because Richards has failed to demonstrate any legal interest in
the cemetery plot, he lacks standing and fails to establish a justiciable controversy.
We review questions of standing de
novo. In re Petition for Improvement of
Distinct from the requirement of a
justiciable controversy, standing is the requirement that a litigant have a
sufficient stake in the controversy to seek relief from the court. State
by Humphrey v. Philip Morris Inc., 551 N.W.2d 490, 493 (
Here, the purpose of Richards’s lawsuit is to compel Alango to release information to Richards regarding who intends to be buried in the sixth cemetery lot, purchased by Richards’s grandfather almost a century ago. Richards admits, however, that he is not entitled to be buried in this cemetery lot. In fact, despite repeated requests to do so, Richards has not demonstrated that he has any ownership interest or other legal interest in the cemetery plot. Without any evidence that Richards has suffered a threat of injury to a legally recognized interest, Richards lacks standing to invoke this court’s jurisdiction.
inherent in the requirement of a justiciable controversy is that an issue must
be ripe for review. Issues that have no
existence other than in the realm of the future “are ‘purely hypothetical and
are not justiciable [because n]either the ripe nor the ripening seeds of
controversy are present.’” State v. Murphy, 545 N.W.2d 909, 917 (
Even if Richards could establish a legal interest in the cemetery plot, he has not suffered an injury or demonstrated a threat of imminent injury because no one has been buried in the sixth cemetery lot and no plans have been made for a burial. Any injury to his legal interest, were it established, would merely be hypothetical at this time. Accordingly, we affirm the district court’s dismissal because Richards lacks standing and because his claims are not ripe.
we to reach the merits of Richards’s appeal, the record establishes that the
district court did not abuse its discretion by dismissing Richards’s claims
with prejudice. A district court’s
decision to dismiss a claim with prejudice under the voluntary-dismissal
provisions in the Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure is reviewed for an abuse
of discretion. N. States Power Co. v. City of
an answer has been filed, a plaintiff no longer has a right to dismiss, and,
unless all parties stipulate to dismissal, a plaintiff who wishes to dismiss an
action must do so by order of the district court.
Here, Richards filed a “notice of dismissal” following the settlement conference on December 28, 2004, long after Alango filed its answer. In this notice, Richards agreed to dismiss the case without specifying whether the dismissal was with or without prejudice. The district court interpreted Richards’s notice of dismissal as a motion to dismiss with prejudice and dismissed the case based on the agreement of the parties. This is not an abuse of discretion. The language of Richards’s notice makes evident that he intended “to dead-file the matter.” Richards only reserved the right to sue should he “find that any burial or memorialization use of the Laine Family Plot . . . of Alango Cemetery has taken place without a court order first obtained with due notice . . . .” It is clear from the language of Richards’s notice of dismissal, when read in context with the claims alleged in the complaint, that Richards intended to abandon those claims giving rise to the instant lawsuit and initiate another action only if new facts and circumstances presenting an actual controversy arise.
 We observe that, although the issue of standing was not litigated in the state district courts, the federal district court noted Richards’s lack of standing in its order remanding the case to state court.