Court of Appeals 07.07.09

The Court released two unpublished opinions in our area of coverage, an assessment appeal out of Rochester, and a nonconforming use dispute from Oronoco Township.  To read the Oronoco Township opinion is to believe that the justices rolled their eyes at the landowners’ case, and maybe they did.  The problem with this kind of writing is while unpublished opinions aren’t precedent, they are helpful to practitioners tasked with fitting the law to the facts in front of them.  So when the Court gets a matter where the Town and the landowner have already been through three rounds, it’s worth it to give more descriptive detail than “the Overbys constructed a shed.”  A shed?  Are we talking about a “kit from Menard’s” shed or a “truck terminal in your backyard” shed?  It really does make a difference to us in the ability to use the opinion as an anecdote – if there’s some economic substance here (which would be implied by the extended legal battle) then counsel can use this case to persuade owners, applicants, and Board members about the need to read local rules.  People can see their situation in a reasonably presented set of facts and can be swayed from doing dumb things.   If we’re just looking at a ridiculous homeowner who won’t move a tool shed twenty feet (as indicated by the eye-rolling), then nobody identifies.  The opinion as written makes the appellants out to be fools – a few more details would let the rest of us judge for ourselves.

Admittedly, the Rochester case is less likely to be used as an anecdote someday – when it turns out that your city assessment exceeds any benefit by over a million dollars, there’s not much that you’re going to do to save it at that point.  Rochester and MnDOT created a TID district with improvement fees.  A commercial property declined to pay the fee (as was their right), so Rochester assessed (also fully disclosed from the start).  Problem is, Rochester assessed the TID fee ($1.7 million) on the basis of all improvements in the district, which turned into a problem when the trial judge cut out the improvements paid for with Federal dollars.  The remaining “city” project was nowhere close to providing $1.7 million in value increase.  The Court of Appeals affirmed, refusing to extend the MacKubin Street reimbursement doctrine (city can still assess state-aid funded road projects even if reimbursed)  to projects partially or totally funded with Federal money.