This opinion will be unpublished and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
Jerry D. Hess, et al.,
Filed October 17, 2007
Otter Tail County District Court
File No. C5-05-1439
Robert L. Russell, 220 West Washington Avenue, Suite 103, P.O. Box 117, Fergus Falls, MN 56538-0117 (for appellants)
James J. Mongé, III, League of Minnesota Cities, 145 University Avenue West, St. Paul, MN 55103-2044 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge; Minge, Judge; and Hudson, 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 grant of summary judgment to respondent city, arguing that the district court erred by determining that the city had a rational basis for vacating the northern 321.22 feet of a public-road right of way. Appellants argue also that the district court abused its discretion by denying their motion to compel discovery. We affirm.
In May 2005, Kent and Nancy Mattson
petitioned respondent City of Fergus Falls to vacate the northern 321.22 feet
On May 16, 2005, the city council held a public hearing on the Mattsons’ application. At that hearing, the city engineer, Dan Edwards, recommended that the city “proceed with the vacation [and] at the same time . . . work to get an access” to the Hesses’ property. The proposed access route would run east from the cul-de-sac on Pebble Shores Drive, cross the bicycle trail, which runs roughly parallel to Pebble Shores Drive, and then turn north until reaching the Hesses’ property. Edwards testified that it would cost $25,000 to $30,000 to build a road in the current right of way and while this cost would be incurred by the city, the road would benefit only the Hesses’ property. Edwards also told the council that the alternate route would better serve any future development east of the trail and would allow costs to be spread over more properties.
The Hesses told the city council that they opposed vacating the right of way, noting that they were “concerned about not having an access to that land.” Specifically, the Hesses told the council that because of a series of steep hills, a wetland, and the bike trail, it is impossible to build a road across their property from the county road to the lakeshore portion of their property. Thus, although the Hesses have not used the right of way that is the subject of this action, they told the city council that if they were to develop their lakeshore property, they would need an access road from the south. The Hesses also told the council that they believed that the alternate route was unworkable because it would be difficult to acquire the necessary permits to cross the bicycle trail and because there is no guarantee that the affected property owners would grant the easements necessary to construct the road.
Stephen Rufer, who built the Mattsons’ house, stated that when the subdivision was platted, the county required that a public-road right of way terminate at a property line and that “we never had an intention of building a public road across what is now the Mattson lot and never had any desire to.” Rufer also told the council that he was a representative of the Pebble Hills Corporation, which owns land east of the bicycle trail, and that the corporation is willing to grant an easement over that land to construct a road that would run east from the cul-de-sac and then north to the Hesses’ property.
After several more hearings, the city council adopted an ordinance vacating the right of way. The city council adopted findings of fact in which it found that the Hesses have never used the right of way for access to their property. The city council determined that the “orderly planning of the City of Fergus Falls” would be better served if “any further extension of any public road . . . should be to the east from the cul-de-sac, with an intersecting road to the north.” The city council noted that the Hesses’ desire to “provide easier access” to their property should not “supersede the original developers’ expressed intent that the public road (Pebble Shores Drive) would end at the cul-de-sac or continue to the east.”
In August 2005, the Hesses sued the city, seeking to set aside the ordinance vacating the right of way. The city moved for summary judgment, and the Hesses responded with a motion to compel discovery and to delay a hearing on the city’s motion. In a September 2006 order, the district court denied the Hesses’ motion. In its order, the district court concluded that evidence outside the record that was before the city was not admissible if the city’s proceedings were fair and if the record of those proceedings is clear and complete. The district court determined that because the city’s findings were supported by the record, the proceedings were fair; and that the record was clear and complete, and, therefore, judicial review of the city council’s decision was limited to the record before the city. The district court also noted that, in any event, the Hesses had not demonstrated that the information they sought to discover was material or that there was good reason for not having already presented it at the hearings before the city council.
The district court granted the city’s motion for summary judgment, concluding that because the power to vacate a right of way is legislative in nature, the district court may overturn the city’s decision only if the city acted “arbitrarily or capriciously.” Because the city took into account cost and planning considerations and because the Hesses had never used the right of way for access to their property, the district court determined that the city properly considered the public interest and, consequently, had a rational basis for vacating the right of way. This appeal follows.
D E C I S I O N
The Hesses argue first that the
district court abused its discretion by denying their motion to compel
discovery and to delay the hearing on the city’s motion for summary judgment.
Whether to grant a continuance to allow the parties to conduct additional
discovery is committed to the sound discretion of the district court, and we will
not overturn the district court’s decision absent a clear abuse of that
discretion. Rice v. Perl, 320 N.W.2d 407, 412 (
Here, the district court determined
that both parties had been diligent in seeking discovery but that because the
district court’s review was on the record before the city, additional discovery
would not produce material facts. When a
city’s proceedings are fair and the record of those proceedings is clear and
complete, review of the city’s decision is limited to the record before the
city. Swanson v. City of
The Hesses argue that because there was evidence before the city that the alternate route was not viable and the city still chose to vacate the right of way, the proceedings were not fair. In support, the Hesses note that the city “ignor[ed] that both staff and the resolution passed at its May 16, 2005 meeting . . . coupled any vacation with the City at the same time pursuing other alternate access to the Hess property.” The city in turn argues that the proceedings were fair and that the record is clear and complete, noting that the city held several hearings on the Mattsons’ application and made contemporaneous findings, and that there is a verbatim transcript available.
The district court’s determination that the proceedings were fair and that the record is clear and complete is supported by the record, which shows that six hearings were held on the Mattsons’ petition to vacate the right of way and at five of those hearings substantive testimony was offered. And the Hesses and their attorney were allowed to offer testimony, evidence, and argument without apparent limitation. See Swanson, 421 N.W.2d at 313 (noting that proceedings were fair when four meetings were held on issue and testimony was received without limitation). Further, the city adopted contemporaneous findings, and a verbatim transcript of all six hearings is available. See id. (noting that when findings have been made and a transcript is available, it is likely that the record is clear and complete).
Because the proceedings were fair and the record is clear and complete, judicial review of the city’s decision is limited to the record before the city. See Swanson, 421 N.W.2d at 313. But as we have noted, even when review is limited to the city’s record, a district court may consider evidence outside the record that refers to historical facts, applicable regulations, and the character of the property. Mendota Golf, 708 N.W.2d at 181. The Hesses do not allege, however, that the record is deficient regarding the character of the property or the applicable regulations, and although the Hesses take issue with Rufer’s testimony regarding the right of way, they identify no historical facts relating to the property that are absent from the record. See Alliance, 671 N.W.2d at 919 (noting that party seeking a continuance must establish that it is not engaged in a fishing expedition). We conclude, therefore, that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying the Hesses’ motion.
Hesses argue next that the district court erred by determining that the city
had a rational basis for vacating the right of way. The authority to vacate a public-road right of
way is legislative in nature. State v. Board of Park Comm’rs of the City
The Hesses argue that the city’s decision to vacate the right of way was without a rational basis because, although the city decided that any further extension of the public road should run east from the cul-de-sac, this route is not viable. The city argues that it “could not pursue access alternatives because appellants refused to consider any proposed alternatives.” The city also claims that it is under no obligation to provide the Hesses “with the most convenient access to their property, especially when other alternative routes would better serve the public.”
We agree with the city. Although the Hesses assert that the alternate route east of the cul-de-sac is not viable, that assertion is not supported by the record. The record does show that both the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Otter Tail County Department of Land and Resource Management had concerns about the alternate route. But neither agency outright forbade the alternate route. And, in any event, although the city determined that “from a planning perspective[,] it would make more sense to develop the property directly from east of the cul-de-sac” and that the alternate route would better serve that development, nowhere in the resolution did the city commit to actually constructing the route. The city was simply noting that should it construct a public road in that area, the better route would be the alternate route. And nothing in the record suggests that developing that route would be impossible.
The Hesses argue also that the city lacked a rational basis to support its decision because although it purported to rely on the developer’s intent, it had no basis on which to determine that intent. At the May 16, 2005 hearing, the city council heard from Stephen Rufer, who stated that it was never the developer’s intention to develop a public road north of the Mattson home, which is relevant to historical planning considerations. Rufer had extensive experience with the property, stating that he was “the oldtimer in the group because [he had] been involved in that property for 20 or 30 years.” Further, the Hesses concede in their brief that Rufer is the son of the original developer. And we note that the Hesses did not challenge Rufer’s statements at the council meeting.
Even if the city erred by relying on Rufer’s statement, there still was a rational basis for vacating the right of way: cost and planning considerations. The Hesses argue that a “rational basis” does not “mean any justification that can be found for the decision in the record, even if it flies contrary to other uncontradicted evidence also contained in the record.” But a single rational basis is sufficient to support the city’s decision. See St. Croix Dev., Inc. v. City of Apply Valley, 446 N.W.2d 392, 398 (Minn. App. 1989), review denied (Minn. Dec. 1, 1989). At the public hearing, Edwards told the council that constructing a public road along the right of way would cost the city more than $25,000. Edwards also testified that because the public road would only benefit the Hesses, he was concerned about the city’s inability to recoup its costs by spreading them over a larger number of properties. Further, Edwards told the council, and the city subsequently found, that the “orderly planning” of the city would be better served by the alternate route because that route would encourage development east of the bicycle trail. We agree with the district court that the city’s decision to vacate the right of way was not arbitrary and capricious.