This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2006).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Dr. Wayne Earl Dahl,
City of Fridley,
Filed March 6, 2007
Anoka County District Court
File No. C5-04-12296
Randall D.B. Tigue, 3300 Norfolk Street, Richmond, Virginia 23230 (for respondent)
Frederic W. Knaak, Greg T. Kryzer, Knaak & Kantrud, P.A., 3500 Willow Lake Boulevard, Suite 800, Vadnais Heights, Minnesota 55110 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Hudson, Presiding Judge; Toussaint, Chief Judge; and Minge, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
In this drainage-assessment dispute, the district court, based on negligence occurring in what was an allegedly unrelated city project, vacated the city’s assessment of respondent property owner’s land. On appeal, the city argues that (1) the vacation was improper; and (2) the district court erred when it determined that the statute of limitations did not bar respondent’s negligence claim. Because we conclude that respondent was required to bring his negligence claim as an objection to the special assessment and that respondent’s negligence claim was not barred by the statute of limitations, we affirm.
In 1985, appellant City of Fridley built a road to ease congestion at a busy intersection. Respondent Dr. Wayne Dahl owned land located near the intersection that was needed for the new road. The city and respondent entered into what was essentially a “land swap,” in which respondent was given a parcel of land in exchange for the one to be used for the new road. Before the new road was constructed, respondent used a sump pump to discharge storm water onto part of his land. But because the land respondent used for the discharge of the storm water was being used for the new road, alternate arrangements for discharge of the storm water were made. Specifically, the city agreed to construct a drainage system for respondent that would direct the storm water to a sewer. To accomplish this, the city ran a one-inch copper pipe from respondent’s sump pump under the newly constructed road and connected it to the storm-sewer system.
Approximately two weeks after its installation, the pipe became clogged. When respondent approached the city for a solution, the city directed respondent to discharge his storm water into the street. When it became apparent that discharging the water into the street was going to be hazardous during the winter, the city directed respondent to discharge the storm water directly into the sanitary-sewer system.
In 1995, the city amended its ordinances and made discharging storm water into either the street or the sanitary-sewer system illegal. In 2002, the city contacted respondent to inform him that his method of discharging storm water violated the city nuisance ordinance. An independent hearing examiner determined that respondent was in violation of the city’s ordinance. The city repaired the drainage system by replacing the drainage pipe it had originally installed with a larger-diameter pipe and assessed respondent $9,717 for the nuisance abatement. Respondent appealed the assessment to the district court under Minn. Stat. § 429.081 (2004), arguing that the city was negligent in installing the original drainage pipe.
On November 10, 2005, the district court issued an order vacating the assessment in its entirety. The district court rejected the city’s argument that it did not have jurisdiction to hear the negligence claim in the context of a challenge to a special assessment and determined that respondent’s negligence claim was not time-barred because he was not injured until 2002, when he was assessed the cost of the repair by the city. This appeal follows.
D E C I S I O N
The city argues that the assessment proceedings were not the appropriate forum in which to address respondent’s claim of negligence and that the district court erred by vacating the assessment in its entirety. We disagree.
“A special assessment is a tax, intended to offset the cost of local improvements such as sewer, water and streets, which is selectively imposed upon the beneficiaries.” Dosedel v. City of Ham Lake, 414 N.W.2d 751, 755 (Minn. App. 1987). Appeals to the district court from the levy of an assessment is permitted. Minn. Stat. § 429.081 (2004). When a special assessment is appealed to the district court, “[t]he court shall either affirm the assessment or set it aside and order a reassessment.” Id. Section 429.081 “provides the exclusive method of appeal from a special assessment” and mandates that “[a]ll objections to the assessment shall be deemed waived unless presented on such appeal.” Id.
The Minnesota Supreme Court, in concluding that a breach-of-contract claim could be considered in the context of a special-assessment hearing, stated that
[w]hile [the] complaint seeks monetary damages rather than vacation of the assessment, the remedy when an assessment is attacked directly, the sole proof of damages relates to the amounts of the allegedly wrongfully levied assessments. This difference in requested relief is, in our view, insufficient to transform the essence of the suit.
Sievert v. City of Lakefield, 319 N.W.2d 43, 44 (Minn. 1982). The court also concluded that the breach-of-contract claim was waived because it had not been raised in conjunction with the objection to the special assessment. Id.
This case presents an analogous situation: the amount of damages sought by respondent in his negligence claim is exactly the amount of the special assessment levied against him. In this sense, respondent’s negligence claim is a direct challenge to the assessment and the fact that he seeks monetary damages is “insufficient to transform the essence of the suit.” Id. We conclude respondent was required to bring his negligence claim in the context of the assessment proceedings or risk waiving it; therefore, this claim was properly before the district court.
Furthermore, the district court has the ability to grant a remedy to “all objections” to a proposed assessment. Id. Therefore, we conclude the district court did not err by vacating the assessment in its entirety.
The city also argues that the district court erred by determining that respondent’s negligence claim was not barred by the statute of limitations. The city maintains that respondent was injured in 1985 when the pipe actually clogged and not, as the district court found, in 2002, when he was assessed for the cost of the repairs.
This court reviews de novo “whether the district court erred in applying the law to determine the accrual of the cause of action and the running of the statute of limitations.” Peterson v. Johnson, 720 N.W.2d 833, 837 (Minn. App. 2006) (quotation omitted). The findings of fact of the district court will not be set aside unless clearly erroneous. Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01.
Here, although the drain pipe clogged in 1985, the city allowed respondent to dispose of his storm water using other methods. It was not until 17 years later, after the city passed an ordinance making those methods illegal and when the city assessed respondent the cost of repairing the too-small drain pipe they themselves installed, that respondent was harmed. Respondent’s damages were in the form of the special assessment levied against him, which did not occur until 2002. We conclude the district court’s finding that respondent was not harmed until he was assessed by the city in 2002 was not clearly erroneous and that it did not err when it determined that respondent’s negligence claim was not time-barred.