This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2006).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
of Minnesota, by Rice County Land Use Accountability, Inc.,
Rice County, et al.,
Rice County District Court
File No. 66-C7-05-002141
Carol A. Overland, Overland Law Office,
Paul D. Reuvers, Jeffrey A. Egge, Iverson Reuvers, 9321 Ensign Avenue South, Bloomington, MN 55438 (for respondents)
Considered and decided by Stoneburner, Presiding Judge; Willis, Judge; and Wright, Judge.
Appellant challenges the district court’s dismissal of the complaint for failure to state a claim on which relief may be granted, arguing that the allegations are sufficient to establish a prima facie case under the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act (MERA). By notice of review, respondent challenges the district court’s denial of respondent’s motion for sanctions. We affirm.
In June 2005, appellant State of
RCLUA filed another complaint in December 2005, again
alleging rule violations and seeking the same relief that it sought in the
dismissed complaint. RCLUA also seeks an
order mandating Rice County to comply with Minnesota’s environmental rules and
regulations and to review its environmental practices to ensure compliance with
those rules and regulations. Rice County
moved to dismiss this complaint and to impose sanctions against RCLUA. The district court granted Rice County’s
motion to dismiss, holding that a case or controversy does not exist because
Rice County already is required to follow the law and RCLUA’s allegations are
not sufficient to establish a prima facie case that Rice County failed to do
so. The district court also concluded that,
even if RCLUA’s complaint sets forth a legally sufficient claim, RCLUA is not entitled
to relief under MERA. The district court
D E C I S I O N
We review a dismissal for
failure to state a claim on which relief may be granted to determine whether as
a matter of law the complaint sets forth a legally sufficient claim for
relief. Barton v.
RCLUA brought its claims under MERA, Minn. Stat. ch. 116B
(2006), which authorizes individuals and organizations to seek “declaratory or
equitable relief in the name of the state of Minnesota against any person, for
the protection of the air, water, land, or other natural resources
. . . from pollution, impairment, or destruction.” Minn. Stat. § 116B.03, subd. 1. To establish a prima facie case under
MERA, the plaintiff must show (1) the existence of a natural resource
protectable under MERA, and (2)
that defendant’s conduct will or is likely to cause pollution, impairment, or
destruction of that natural resource. State
by Schaller v.
Assuming for purposes of our analysis that RCLUA’s complaint alleged the existence of a protected natural resource, we consider whether the complaint’s allegations establish a prima facie case that Rice County’s conduct caused pollution, impairment, or destruction. The complaint alleges that Rice County violated environmental-review rules codified in chapter 4410 of Minnesota’s administrative-agency rules. We have expressly held that environmental review “does not constitute ‘pollution, impairment, or destruction’ of the environment as defined in MERA.” Nat’l Audubon Soc. v. Minn. Pollution Control Agency, 569 N.W.2d 211, 218 (Minn. App. 1997), review denied (Minn. Dec. 16, 1997).
In Nat’l Audubon, appellants brought a MERA
claim under Minn. Stat. § 116B.03, subd. 1, alleging that respondent’s
decision not to order an environmental-impact statement was improper. Id.
at 214. The district court dismissed the
MERA claim under Minn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(e) for failure to state a claim on
which relief may be granted.
As in Nat’l Audubon, all of RCLUA’s claims challenge Rice County’s environmental-review process. Therefore, as in Nat’l Audubon, none of these claims sets forth legally sufficient allegations that Rice County caused pollution, impairment, or destruction of a natural resource. Without such allegations, RCLUA’s complaint fails to set forth a legally sufficient claim for relief. Accordingly, the district court properly dismissed RCLUA’s complaint for failure to state a claim on which relief may be granted.
Rice County challenges the district court’s denial of its
motion for sanctions and attorney fees under Minn. Stat. § 549.211 (2006)
and Minn. R. Civ. P. 11.03, arguing that sanctions are warranted because RCLUA did
not heed the district court’s warning in its prior order that it “can only
decide actual ‘cases and controversies.’”
We review a district court’s decision regarding the imposition of
sanctions for an abuse of discretion. Peterson v. Hinz, 605 N.W.2d 414, 417 (Minn. App. 2000), review denied (
“Natural resources” include, but are not limited to, air, water, and land.
 Although RCLUA’s complaint does not specifically allege that protected natural resources are at risk of pollution, impairment, or destruction, it does identify the natural resources that are the subject of RCLUA’s claims, including land, wetlands, and feedlots.