This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).




The State of Minnesota,

by Eric Ringsred,



City of Duluth, et al.,


A & L Development, Inc.,


Filed August 17, 1999


Shumaker, Judge

St. Louis County District Court

File No. C3-98-601186

Don C. Aldrich, 840 Midland Square, 331 Second Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55401 (for appellant)

Bryan F. Brown, Deputy City Attorney, 410 City Hall, Duluth, MN 55802 (for respondents City of Duluth, et al)

Joseph J. Mihalek, 700 Lonsdale Building, 302 West Superior Street, Duluth, MN 55802 (for respondent A & L Development, Inc.)

Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge, Short, Judge, and Shumaker, Judge.



A private citizen sought to enjoin the demolition of buildings and the construction of an office complex in a historic area of the city. On appeal, the citizen contends that the trial court improperly substituted its judgment for that of the city in the application of environmental laws. We affirm.


Contending that a proposed commercial development project in Duluth, Minnesota would violate the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act (MERA) and the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act (MEPA), appellant Eric Ringsred brought this action for declaratory and injunctive relief against respondents City of Duluth and others, and respondent A & L Development, Inc., the developer. Ringsred wanted to enjoin the project and to require the city to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS). The trial court issued two temporary restraining orders and then held a trial on the merits. On October 5, 1998, the court issued extensive findings of fact and conclusions of law. The findings, which follow, are unchallenged on appeal.

The 0 to 100 block of East Superior Street in Duluth is located in a portion of the city known as "Old Downtown." At the start of the lawsuit, the block contained five old commercial buildings.

In 1993, the Historic Preservation Commission, an advisory body to the city, recommended that Old Downtown be nominated for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. The Office of the State Historical Preservation Officer reviewed the recommendation and decided that the area to be nominated should be greater than Old Downtown.

While the state and local historical offices collaborated to define a historic district for nomination, the city hired Darrell Lewis to be its planning director. Lewis generally opposed the designation of any city property as a historic resource. He ordered his office to stop working on the nomination, and he refused to place the issue on any public hearing agenda.

In 1997, Lewis and the Duluth planning office entertained a proposal for the development of an office complex in Duluth called the Technology Village Project, or the Soft Center. Lewis considered various possible sites for the development and selected the 0 to 100 block of East Superior Street as the most suitable. He also determined that the project would not have an impact on historic resources and, therefore, neither an environmental assessment worksheet (EAW) nor an environmental impact statement (EIS) would be required. The city awarded the contract for the project to A & L.

The 0 to 100 block had never been officially designated as a historic resource, but the state historical office had determined that an area of Duluth including that block would be eligible for listing in the National Register.

Only one of the five buildings on the block could qualify as a historic resource under MERA and MEPA. The other four buildings had no historical significance standing alone, but, because of their age, location, and former uses, and their interrelationship with each other, they were historically notable. Taken together, the five buildings qualified as a national resource under MERA. Because of this qualification, and because the buildings would have to be razed for the construction of the Soft Center, the project had potential for significant environmental impact on a historic area. Thus, an EAW, and possibly an EIS, would be appropriate.

The demolition of the buildings would have a long-term adverse effect on an area that the state historical office considered eligible for designation as a historic district. But the effect would not be significant and would diminish over time. Furthermore, only part of the eligible district would be affected. Finally, there are no feasible alternative sites in the city for the Soft Center, a project that will yield substantial economic and educational benefits to the city.

On these findings, the trial court vacated the temporary restraining orders, denied further prohibitory injunctive relief, and issued a mandatory injunction requiring respondents to accord to the 0 to 100 block the environmental protections due a natural resource. The court also ordered the parties to pay their own costs and disbursements.

Upon entry of judgment, A & L demolished the buildings in the 0 to 100 block and proceeded with construction of the Soft Center.

In the posttrial proceedings, the court denied motions by all parties for amended findings of fact and for awards of costs and disbursements; denied A & L's motion to recover the full security Ringsred posted for the restraining orders; and denied Ringsred's motion for the return of funds paid for security on the restraining orders.

On appeal, Ringsred urges this court to remand the matter to the city for completion of an EAW and for a determination of whether an EIS is necessary. Ringsred also requests reversal of the trial court's denial of his motion for costs and disbursements and for the return of his security funds.

Respondents ask this court to reverse the denial of their costs and disbursements, and A & L asks for reversal of the denial of its motion to recover the security on the restraining orders.


The parties have not challenged the trial court's factual findings on appeal. Rather, they have raised issues of law. When the facts are not disputed, we need not give deference to the trial court's decisions on legal issues. Frost-Benco Elec. Ass'n v. Minnesota Pub. Utils. Comm'n, 358 N.W.2d 639, 642 (Minn. 1984).

Preparation of an EAW

Ringsred argues that, once the trial court found that Lewis was mistaken in this belief that the Soft Center project had no potential for adverse impact on a natural resource, and that an EAW would be appropriate, the court was required to remand the matter to the city for proper administrative proceedings. He contends that, failing to remand the matter, the court improperly substituted its judgment for that of the responsible governmental unit.

Ringsred brought this lawsuit as a direct civil action for declaratory and injunctive relief. He was entitled to do so under Minn. Stat. § 116B.03 (1998) (any person residing in Minnesota may bring an action to protect natural resources). Once such an action is commenced, the court must remit the parties to the appropriate administrative proceeding if one is required to determine the legality of challenged conduct. Minn. Stat. § 116B.08 (1998). If such a proceeding is available but not required, the court may remit the parties to it. Id. Whether the proceeding is mandatory or discretionary, "the court shall adjudicate the impact of [the challenged] conduct * * * on the * * * natural resources." Minn. Stat. § 116B.08, subd. 2 (1998). Citing Minn. Stat. § 116D.04, subd. 2a (1998), Ringsred argues that the court was required to remand the matter to the city:

Where there is potential for significant environmental effects resulting from any major governmental action, the action shall be preceded by a detailed environmental impact statement prepared by the responsible governmental unit.

Ringsred concedes that the law did not require an EAW for this project. And the trial court found only that an EAW would have been appropriate. Furthermore, the trial court found that the effect of the demolition of the 0 to 100 block "will not be significant and will diminish over time." The trial court acted within its statutory authority in making this finding, and Ringsred has not challenged it on appeal.

Finally, Minn. Stat. § 116D.04, subd. 2a(c) (1998), permits any citizen to petition the Environmental Quality Board for the preparation of an EAW on any project that might affect a natural resource. Ringsred has never filed a petition for an EAW.


Ringsred's initial efforts were directed at enjoining the demolition of the 0 to 100 block. The block has been razed and that issue is moot. Because the project has not been completed, however, issues respecting compliance with environmental laws are not moot. But the trial court has issued a mandatory injunction as to the remainder of the project and Ringsred has made no showing that respondents have violated the law or the trial court's mandate. Because neither an EAW nor an EIS is required and because Ringsred has shown no environmental violation as to the work in process, there is no issue before us to review.

Costs and Disbursements

We review awards and denials of costs and disbursements under an abuse-of-discretion standard. Benson v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 561 N.W.2d 530, 541 (Minn. App. 1997), review denied (Minn. June 11, 1997). The trial court "judge is familiar with the needs of the case, its importance and the strategies involved." Romain v. Pebble Creek Partners, 310 N.W.2d 118, 124 (Minn. 1981). Costs and disbursements incurred in a lawsuit are to be awarded to the prevailing party. Minn. Stat. § 549.04 (1998) ("In every action in a district court, the prevailing party * * * shall be allowed reasonable disbursements paid or incurred"). The trial court has discretion in determining which party to an action is the prevailing party. In re Will of Gershcow, 261 N.W.2d 335, 340 (Minn. 1977).

Here, the trial court concluded that the parties on both sides prevailed to some extent and that they should bear their own costs and disbursements. The city and the other respondents prevailed by defeating the prohibitory injunction. Ringsred prevailed by persuading the court that the 0 to 100 block is a protectable natural resource and by obtaining a mandatory injunction regarding the recognition of that resource. These determinations were within the trial court's discretion.

Security Funds

A & L seeks recovery of the full amount of the security funds posted for the temporary restraining orders. Ringsred seeks return of sums the trial court ordered him to pay because of delays resulting from his failure to join A & L in the action from the outset.

To recover an injunction security, a party must show that it suffered damages because of a restraining order to which an opposing party was not entitled. Hubbard Broad., Inc. v. Loescher, 291 N.W.2d 216, 219-20 (Minn. 1980) (footnote omitted).

This court reviews de novo a trial court's determination of a party's entitlement to recover security given for injunctive relief. NewMech Cos., Inc. v. Independent Sch. Dist. No. 206, 558 N.W.2d 22, 24 (Minn. App. 1997). The trial court ruled that the restraining orders were not issued wrongfully and A & L suffered no significant delays by reason of the orders. There was evidence at trial from which the court could conclude that the project was not ready to proceed as of the time of the issuance of the restraining orders. The weight and credibility to be given to trial evidence is a matter on which we defer to the trial court. See State ex rel. Trimble v. Hedman, 291 Minn. 442, 456, 192 N.W.2d 432, 440 (1971) (appellate courts defer to fact-finder's determination of witness credibility).

The trial court ruled that the litigation was delayed to some degree by Ringsred's failure to join A & L in the action from the outset. The court awarded $2,000 from the security funds to compensate for the delay. This ruling was also supported by the record.