This opinion will be unpublished and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
Todd Sutton, et al.,
The Town Board of the Town of
Greg Anderson, Steve Heinks, Dan Minks,
Stephanie Johnston and John Moosbrugger,
constituting the members of said Board,
Filed January 9, 2007
Reversed and remanded; motion denied
Mille Lacs County District Court
File No. 48-CV-06-508
Grant W. Lindberg,
Jimmy A. Lindberg, Lindberg & McKinnis, P.A.,
Peter B. Tiede,
Melanie P. Persellin, Murnane Brandt,
Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge; Dietzen, Judge; and Worke, Judge.
Appellant township challenges the district court’s order granting respondent landowners’ petition for peremptory writ of mandamus approving landowners’ preliminary plat application, arguing that approval is not a clear duty imposed by law and that denial was supported by the record. Because approval of a preliminary plat application is not a clear duty imposed by law, we reverse and remand.
Respondents Todd and
Gabrielle Sutton (the Suttons) own land in
Before a meeting of the planning commission, the township received comments from various experts. The township’s engineer stated: “Although this plat is in conformance with the Township Ordinances, it does not, from an engineering point of view, provide well-planned and efficient use of the land.” The zoning administrator stated that he “recommends approval of the proposed plat, with conditions: 1) Applicant to pay park fees. 2) Plat to comply with any conditions the engineer may have.” And while a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) hydrologist admitted that roads are not a DNR issue, he opined that a public road would be better than a private road.
At the planning commission meeting, both the zoning administrator and the engineer stated that the plat satisfied the relevant township ordinances. Also, the Suttons presented testimony supporting the application. By a 4-2 vote, the planning commission recommended that the town board approve the application.
When the town board met the next day to consider the application, the Suttons presented additional testimony supporting the application. The engineer stated that while the plat met the ordinance requirements, he believed it to be poor land use. One board member concluded that the proposed private road did not serve public health, safety, and welfare. After a motion to deny approval for the plat ended in a 2-2 vote, the board tabled the motion until the following meeting.
At its next meeting, the board voted 3-2 to deny the preliminary plat application as not meeting the requirements of the ordinance. The reasons given by the board for denying the application were: (1) the lot area and the angle of side-lot lines do not conform to design standards; (2) the plat contains an unapproved private road; (3) the township engineer found it was poor planning and land use; (4) the developer did not adequately address the concerns raised in the town board’s public meeting; and (5) the outlot did not conform to the ordinance.
The Suttons then petitioned the district court for a peremptory writ of mandamus under Minn. Stat. § 586.04 (2004) to compel the township to approve the application or, in the alternative, for an alternative writ of mandamus under Minn. Stat. § 586.03 (2004) directing the township to approve the application or show cause why it did not do so. To support their petition, Suttons submitted a memorandum of law and various exhibits, arguing that their application satisfied the township ordinance and, therefore, that the township lacked the ability to deny the application. The township answered the petition and submitted a memorandum opposing the issuance of a peremptory writ, arguing that
its denial was supported by the record. The Suttons argued that the township’s answer was statutorily barred.
The district court ruled that the “preliminary plat before the board (in December 2005 and in January 2006) conformed to the Ordinance according to the Planning Commission’s approval, the Zoning Administrator’s memo, and the admission of the Engineer[,]” and that the denial of the plat was “unreasonable, arbitrary, capricious, and without basis in fact or support of the record.” The district court then issued a peremptory writ of mandamus directing the township to approve the Suttons’ application.
After its ruling, the district court reviewed the township’s answer to the petition and memorandum, and rejected the township’s argument that the audio tapes of the meetings should be transcribed to supplement the written minutes of the meetings. The township appealed. On appeal, the township moves to redact certain documents and references to those documents from its own brief as outside the record.
D E C I S I O N
The township argues that the district court erred in granting the Suttons’ petition for a peremptory writ, and that its decision to deny the plat application was supported by the record. The township specifically contends that the district court refused to consider its submissions and denied it the opportunity to file the complete record.
is an extraordinary legal remedy.” State v. Pero, 590 N.W.2d 319, 323 (
When a decision on a writ of mandamus is based solely on a legal determination, we review that decision de novo. Breza, __N.W.2d at __, 2006 WL 3755187 at *2. A district court’s mandamus-related findings of fact however, are reviewed for clear error. Pelican Group of Lakes Improvement Dist. v. Minn. Dep’t Natural Res., 589 N.W.2d 517, 518-19 (Minn. App. 1999); see Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01 (stating that “[f]indings of fact . . . shall not be set aside unless clearly erroneous”).
Mandamus is either
peremptory or alternative.
On appeal, the Suttons argue that its application conformed to the ordinance and, therefore, the township had no authority to deny it. The Suttons rely on PTL, L.L.C. v. Chisago County Bd. of Comm’rs, 656 N.W.2d 567, 571 (Minn. App. 2003), which states that “when an ordinance specifies minimum standards to which subdivisions must conform, local officials lack discretionary authority to deny approval of a preliminary plat that meets those standards.” But PTL is procedurally and factually distinguishable because it involved a writ of certiorari, not mandamus, and had a record for review that was not available in this case.
Here, we do not have “omission”
or “nonperformance” as described by the mandamus statutes, or “fail[ure] to
perform” as described in Mendota Golf.
of mandamus, because a writ cannot be used to compel an entity to exercise its discretion in a particular manner. Mendota Golf, 708 N.W.2d at 171. Rather, the remedy to review zoning decisions of a municipality or township that are arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable is declaratory judgment.
We turn then to the Suttons’
remaining petition for alternative writ of mandamus. Because the district court granted the
petition for peremptory writ, it did not rule on the petition for an alternative
writ. The township argues that we should
dismiss the alternative petition on the basis that it has discharged its legal
duty to perform by denying the application, and that the Suttons may bring a
declaratory judgment, which is a “plain, speedy, and adequate remedy in the
ordinary course of law.”
The district court’s review
on remand may be on the record, so long as that record is “clear and complete.” Swanson
v. City of
On appeal, the township sought
to strike a number of documents from its own appendix as not part of the district
court record. We note that many of the
documents it seeks to strike were properly before the district court. But because we reverse and remand for further
proceedings, the motion to strike is moot and is, therefore, denied. See, e.g., State v. Johnson, 659 N.W.2d 819, 822 (Minn. App. 2003) (stating
that when the holding of the case has rendered the motion to strike moot, the
motion is denied), review denied (
In their brief, the Suttons
argue that the district court erred by not awarding attorney fees, costs, and
disbursements under Minn. Stat. § 586.09, which states that a plaintiff
that prevails on a petition for a writ “shall recover the damage sustained,
together with costs and disbursements.” The
township objected that the Suttons may not appeal a district court
determination without filing a notice of review pursuant to
R. App. P. 106. The Suttons withdrew the claim at oral argument. Therefore, we decline to review this issue.
Reversed and remanded; motion denied.
The Minnesota State Legislature has since
added this duty to statute. “A
municipality must approve a preliminary plat that meets the applicable
standards and criteria contained in the municipality’s zoning and subdivision
regulations unless the municipality adopts written findings based on a record
from the public proceedings why the application shall not be approved.” 2006