This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

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






Dr. Mark Dahl, et al.,





Boris Popov, et al.,



City of Afton, Minnesota,



Filed ­­­February 28, 2006

Reversed and remanded

Dietzen, Judge


Washington County District Court

File No. C0-04-2341


J. Patrick Brinkman, Stephen E. Yoch, Felhaber, Larson, Fenlon & Vogt, P.A., 444 Cedar Street, Suite 2100, St. Paul, MN 55101-2136 (for appellants)


Geoffrey P. Jarpe, Winthrop & Weinstine, P.A., 225 South Sixth Street, Suite 3500, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondents Boris Popov and George and Kim Lange)


Kevin Quigley, Hamilton, Quigley, Twait & Foley, 332 Minnesota Street, Suite W-1450, St. Paul, MN 55101-1314; and


Pierre N. Regnier, Jardine, Logan & O’Brien, PLLP, Suite 100, 8519 Eagle Point Boulevard, Lake Elmo, MN 55042 (for respondent City of Afton)


            Considered and decided by Dietzen, Presiding Judge; Willis, Judge; and Worke, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N




Appellants challenge the district court’s dismissal of their declaratory judgment action for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, arguing that the determination of whether a road on their property meets the elements of common-law dedication is a question for the district court rather than the city.  Because we conclude that, in the absence of specific administrative procedures and remedies before the city, the determination of whether a road has been made public pursuant to common-law dedication is a matter for the district court, we reverse and remand.


Appellants Mark and Kathy Dahl are owners of property located in Afton, Minnesota.  Respondents are abutting property owners.  Respondent Boris Popov sought more convenient access to the bluff portion of his property and asked appellants to grant him access to an abandoned road running across the western edge of appellants’ property.  Appellants denied the request. 

In January 2004, respondent Popov filed a petition with the City of Afton (city) requesting that the city re-open and expand the “public road” located on appellants’ property.  Respondents George and Kim Lange subsequently joined in the petition.  The petition came before the Afton City Council (city council) at meetings held February 10, 2004, and March 16, 2004.  At the March meeting, the city council directed the parties to settle the issue prior to the April meeting, when a final decision on the petition would be issued. 

Appellants commenced a declaratory judgment action in district court on April 16, 2004, seeking to determine whether the road had been made public under the theory of common-law dedication.  Following advice from its attorney, the city has not ruled on the merits of respondents’ petition. 

Respondents then moved for summary judgment, arguing that appellants had not exhausted other available remedies, such as allowing the city to issue a final decision on the petition.  The district court issued an order dismissing appellants’ complaint as premature for failure to exhaust remedies because the city must first make a decision on respondents’ petition.  Appellants appealed the order, but this court dismissed for lack of jurisdiction because final judgment had not been entered by the district court.  The district court entered a final judgment dismissing all claims, including respondents’ cross- and counterclaims.  This appeal follows.

In August 2005, respondents moved to dismiss or stay the appeal as moot in light of the city’s apparent intent to exercise its power of eminent domain to establish the access which is the subject of the parties’ dispute.  This court issued an order denying the motion because a “live controversy” existed, and declaratory judgment regarding whether a “public road” exists on appellants’ property is relevant in an eminent domain proceeding. 


            Appellants raise one issue on appeal.  They contend that the determination of whether the road on their property meets the elements of common-law dedication is a question for the court and, therefore, their declaratory judgment action requesting such a determination was properly before the district court.  Appellants raise a purely legal issue, i.e., whether the courts have original jurisdiction to determine the controversy, which this court reviews de novo.  Johnson v. Murray, 648 N.W.2d 664, 670 (Minn. 2002). 

Under Minnesota’s Declaratory Judgment Act, courts “have power to declare rights, status, and other legal relations whether or not further relief is or could be claimed.”  Minn. Stat. § 555.01 (2004).  And courts have frequently exercised this power to declare whether a road has been dedicated to public use by common-law dedication.  See, e.g., Twp. of Villard v. Hoting, 442 N.W.2d 826 (Minn. App. 1989) (affirming district court’s declaratory judgment that road on appellant’s property was a public road pursuant to common-law dedication).  “The elements of common-law dedication of a roadway are:  (1) the landowner’s intent—express or implied—to have his land appropriated and devoted to a public use; and (2) an acceptance of that use by the public.”  Bengtson v. Vill. of Marine on St. Croix, 310 Minn. 508, 509, 246 N.W.2d 582, 584 (Minn. 1976).  The “question of dedication is peculiarly one for the finder of fact.”  Sec. Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass’n v. C & C Invs., Inc., 448 N.W.2d 83, 86 (Minn. App. 1989), review denied (Minn. Jan. 18, 1990). 

Consequently, appellants argue that the district court erred in dismissing its declaratory judgment action for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, i.e., allow the city to determine the common-law dedication issue in the first instance.  Respondents contend that the district court properly dismissed appellants’ declaratory judgment action as premature because, before seeking a declaratory judgment, appellants are required to appear before the city council and have it first determine the common-law dedication issue. 

Generally, a party is required to exhaust its administrative remedies before seeking judicial relief unless the remedies are inadequate or nonexistent.  Amcon Corp. v. City of Eagan, 348 N.W.2d 66, 71 (Minn. 1984).  Failure to do so deprives the district court of subject-matter jurisdiction until the administrative remedies are exhausted.  Nw. Airlines, Inc. v. Metro. Airports Comm’n, 672 N.W.2d 379, 385 (Minn. App. 2003), review denied (Minn. Feb. 25, 2004).  Courts require exhaustion of administrative remedies to protect the autonomy of administrative agencies and to promote judicial efficiency.  Id. at 381. 

Respondents’ contention that appellants’ declaratory judgment action is premature for failure to exhaust administrative remedies presupposes that an administrative remedy and process regarding common-law dedication is available at the city level.  But Afton is a “statutory city,”[1] and, as a limited statutory creation, has no inherent powers beyond those “expressly conferred by statute or implied as necessary in aid of those powers which have been expressly conferred.”  Country Joe, Inc. v. City of Eagan, 560 N.W.2d 681, 683 (Minn. 1997) (citation omitted).  Although a statutory city’s powers include the ability to acquire “such real and personal property as the purposes of the city may require” and “to lay out, open, change, widen or extend streets,” both parties concede that there is no ordinance that sets forth a procedure at the city level for a property owner to submit a petition for a determination of whether a road has been dedicated for public use by common-law dedication.  Minn. Stat. §§ 412.211 (2004) (general power to acquire property); 412.221, subd. 6 (specific powers relating to roads).  Nor does either party assert that the city has any specialized knowledge or expertise to determine a common-law dedication matter.   

The absence of a statutorily prescribed administrative remedy or process distinguishes this case from those cases where the doctrine of exhaustion of remedies is applied.  Typically, the exhaustion-of-remedies issue arises in cases involving an administrative agency with specialized knowledge that has been given statutory authority to conduct administrative proceedings and provide administrative remedies over issues within its expertise.  See, e.g., AAA Striping Serv. Co. v. Minnesota Dep’t of Transp., 681 N.W.2d 706, 714-15 (Minn. App. 2004) (analyzing exhaustion of remedies in context of MnDOT’s statutory authority to conduct administrative proceedings); Nw. Airlines, 672 N.W.2d at 382 (finding failure to exhaust administrative remedies when appellant filed declaratory judgment rather than filing petition under Minn. Stat. § 473.608, which specifically addressed grievances against Metropolitan Airport Commission); see also McShane v. City of Faribault, 292 N.W.2d 253, 256 (Minn. 1980) (analyzing exhaustion of remedies in context of administrative remedies provided for in Minn. Stat. §§ 360.067-.068).  For example, in AAA Striping, the exhaustion-of-remedies issue arose because appellant had not utilized the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s statutorily prescribed administrative enforcement proceedings relating to employment classifications prior to seeking a declaratory judgment on that issue.  681 N.W.2d at 714-15.

Because no specific administrative procedure or remedy exists at the city level to determine whether a road has been made public under common-law dedication, and the city has no specialized knowledge pertaining to such determinations, the district court erred in dismissing appellants’ declaratory judgment action for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. 

Reversed and remanded.

[1]  A “statutory city” is a municipal corporation that has not adopted a home rule charter as provided for under Minnesota law.  See Minn. Stat. § 410.015 (2004).