Today’s Court of Appeals Opinions

Two opinions of note released today:

– A published decision involving Wacouta Township’s effort to retain or create (depending on your perspective) a public beach on Lake Pepin.  The Township answered a lakeshore owner’s petition to Torrens-register their land, claiming that the beach area between the platted lot boundary and the water was public either through common-law dedication or prescriptive easement.  The District Court granted summary judgment against the Township’s claims on two grounds: (a) that the Township’s previous inaction when three other lake owners registered their property (over the past 15 years) barred them from claiming an interest in this owner’s petition; and (b) the Town had not shown sufficient facts to support their claimed interests.  Reversing, the Court of Appeals held that collateral estoppel did not bar the Township’s claim, relying more upon the doctrine that each piece of real property is unique than upon any doctrine relating to the government as a party.  As for the facts on record, the Township had entered affidavits supporting their positions, making the Court of Appeals’ decision to reverse on the merits of the claim relatively easy.  The case is remanded back to District Court where the Township still bears the burden of proving its claim.  The opinion has an excellent summary of eighty years of caselaw on both collateral estoppel and public-dedication issues, and is a good one to file away/bookmark for later reference.

– The Court also handed down a decision (unpublished) in a CUP-denial case involving a dog kennel.  Lake County’s Planning Commission denied the owner’s request for a CUP allowing a kennel for her 12 sled dogs.  The owner has a 15-acre property, but as part of a 19-lot subdivision (of 10-30 acre lots).  As is often the case with dog kennels, the record developed at public hearing focused heavily on noise, and the PC made 5 findings which all related to noise in some way, including:

Planning Commissioner Linscheld stated personal experience living in close proximity to a kennel and having been awakened in the middle of the night; other normal uses that create noise normally do not wake you up in the middle of the night.

The District Court, hearing the appeal, reversed the Planning Commission, finding that the denial was not supported by a rational basis.  The Court of Appeals reviewed the record and concluded that “at the close of the hearing, the Commission was left with evidence of two facts: (1) Lawrence’s 12 dogs would likely make some noise, and (2) some neighbors did not want a kennel in the subdivision.”  After rolling out the usual citations about lack of specific evidence and relying on neighborhood opposition, the Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court.  Just to highlight how touch-and-go these cases can be, though, the decision is not unanimous: a dissent argues that concerns about the potential for noise are sufficiently rational to deny a CUP.

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