Case closed: Houston County wins land use suit

A land use dispute between Houston County and residents Michael and Diane Fields, of Winnebago Township, has come to a close. The Minnesota Supreme Court has sided with Houston County in a decision handed down Aug. 21.

The Fields appealed a Board of Adjustment decision in District Court in mid-2011. The Board of Adjustment had granted a variance to Iowa mining company, Skyline Materials Ltd., after mining operations had encroached to within 23 feet of the Fields’ property without permission. The county ordinance requires a 50-foot setback.

In District Court, Houston County moved for dismissal, claiming the Fields filed their complaint improperly. The county, represented by Jay Squires of Rupp, Anderson, Squires & Waldspurger, of Minneapolis, said the appeal should have been served on the county auditor or board chairman instead of with the county attorney alone, as had been done.

District Judge Robert Benson ruled that the procedure used by the Fields’ attorney, Gregory Schultz, of Caledonia, was correct.

Houston County appealed this ruling and the case was heard in Appellate Court in mid-2012. The three-judge panel in Rochester ruled unanimously in favor of the Fields.

The county then appealed this decision to the Minnesota Supreme Court, with the Association of Minnesota Counties filing an amicus brief supporting Houston County’s position.

Oral arguments were heard in St. Paul on April 1, 2013.

Justice G. Barry Anderson wrote: “Because the Fields did not serve their appeal on the County Auditor or the County Board Chairman within the time set forth in Minn. Stat. 394.24 subd. 9, the district court lacked jurisdiction and dismissal of the action necessarily follows. We are sympathetic to the plight of the Fields who served their appeal in good-faith reliance on the Court of Appeal’s decision in Curtis.”

“Certainly, I’m disappointed by the court’s decision,” Schultz said.

“The statute governing the Board of Adjustment’s decision to grant the variance doesn’t provide a procedure by which to make an appeal, so we relied upon a previous Minnesota case for guidance (Curtis vs Ottertail County Board of Adjustment). The Supreme Court just overruled that case and, consequently, my clients will never get their day in court.”