Bystedt v. City of Duluth

Decision Date24 May 2021
Docket NumberA20-1170
PartiesSteven Bystedt, et al., Appellants, v. City of Duluth, Respondent.
CourtMinnesota Court of Appeals

This opinion is nonprecedential except as provided by Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 136.01, subd. 1(c).


Slieter, Judge

St. Louis County District Court

File No. 69DU-CV-18-2343

Shawn B. Reed, Bray & Reed, Ltd., Duluth, Minnesota (for appellants)

Rebecca St. George, Duluth City Attorney, Elizabeth A. Sellers, Assistant City Attorney, Duluth, Minnesota (for respondent)

Considered and decided by Hooten, Presiding Judge; Johnson, Judge; and Slieter, Judge.



In this inverse-condemnation action relating to the construction of a multi-level office building and parking ramp between appellants' condominium property and the Duluth Harbor, appellants challenge the district court's summary-judgment dismissal of their claim. Appellants argue that the district court erred by determining that appellants' loss of quiet enjoyment and peaceful possession and implied easement of light, air, and view did not amount to unconstitutional takings. However, the changes affecting appellants' property caused by the newly constructed building involve inconveniences every landowner in downtown Duluth should reasonably anticipate. Additionally, a property owner does not have a compensable loss of an implied easement of light, air, and view caused by a new building across an alleyway. Therefore, no unconstitutional taking has occurred and we affirm.1


The material facts of this case, which are not in dispute, are as follows. In 2006, appellants Steven Bystedt and Carrie Heikkila purchased a condominium (the unit) in downtown Duluth located in a district zoned for mixed commercial and residential use.2 Buildings of up to 15 stories with alley-facing parking on any story are permitted within the zoning district. The unit's building complex is the only residential property on the block. The district court described the lot adjacent to the unit, across the alleyway, as "underdeveloped" and occupied by "a two-story [commercial] building and a surface parking lot." Appellants learned of Maurices Incorporated's intention to construct an officebuilding on this adjacent lot. Appellants subsequently moved out of the unit and now use it as rental property.

Construction on the adjacent lot began in 2014 and was completed in 2016. Upon completion, the Maurices Incorporated office building and parking garage (the new building) spanned 11 stories. Respondent City of Duluth (the city) owns and operates the parking garage comprising the alley-facing portion of the lower five floors of the new building. Also newly constructed is a public elevated driveway located two floors below appellants' unit, crossing perpendicular over the alley, connecting the unit's complex and the parking garage of the new building.

In 2018, appellants filed a petition for a writ of mandamus seeking inverse condemnation. The city moved for summary judgment. The district court, by agreement of the parties, considered only the first prong of an inverse-condemnation claim: whether an unconstitutional taking has occurred. The district court determined no unconstitutional taking occurred because the "inconveniences" described by appellants and attributed to the new building were "no more intrusive than those an average member of the community in downtown Duluth would reasonably anticipate." The district court granted the city's motion for summary judgment and dismissed appellants' claim with prejudice. This appeal follows.


Summary judgment is appropriate if "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Minn. R. Civ. P. 56.01. Appellate courts review de novo whether a genuine issue of material fact exists or whetherthe district court erred in its application of the law. State by Comm'r of Transp. v. Elbert, 942 N.W.2d 182, 187-88 (Minn. 2020). "[Appellate courts] view the evidence in the record in the light most favorable to the party against whom summary judgment was granted." See id. at 187 (quotation omitted).

The Minnesota Constitution requires that the government compensate landowners for actions that take, destroy, or damage private property. Minn. Const. art. I, § 13. A landowner may seek inverse condemnation when the government has appropriated land without formally exercising the "power of eminent domain." Alevizos v. Metro. Airports Comm'n, 216 N.W.2d 651, 657 (Minn. 1974) (quotation omitted). The landowner seeking a writ of mandamus to compel inverse condemnation has the burden to prove that an unconstitutional taking has occurred. Stenger v. State, 449 N.W.2d 483, 485 (Minn. App. 1989), review denied (Minn. Feb. 28, 1990). Whether an unconstitutional taking occurred is a question of law. Alevizos, 216 N.W.2d at 660-61.

I. Appellants did not suffer an unconstitutional taking by loss of quiet enjoyment and peaceful possession.

Pursuant to Alevizos, relief is appropriate for property owners "who can show a direct and substantial invasion of [their] property rights of such a magnitude [they] [are] deprived of the practical enjoyment of the property and that such invasion results in a definite and measurable diminution of the market value of the property." 216 N.W.2d at 662. As to the first element, which is the sole relevant element for our consideration, appellants must demonstrate harm that is "direct, substantial, and peculiar to them in that it differs markedly from the damage suffered by the public at large." Id. at 661 (emphasisadded). This harm must also be "repeated and aggravated," and there must be "a reasonable probability" it will continue in the future. Id. at 662. The Alevizos court clarified, however, that a claim for relief caused by the purported government action must be balanced by the premise that property owners "must . . . endure that level of inconvenience, discomfort, and loss of peace and quiet which can be reasonably anticipated by any average member of a vibrant and progressive society." Id. at 662 (emphasis added).

Appellants contend that the new building represents a "repeated [and] aggravated" invasion of their property rights. The city counters that appellants are unable to distinguish their unit from any similarly situated unit, and that their experience of general inconveniences related to living in downtown Duluth does not support an inverse-condemnation claim. The law compels our agreement with the city.

The parties do not dispute that, after construction of the new building, appellants have experienced:

• increased traffic in the alleyway including that from commercial vehicles to the new building;
• increased noise and fumes from traffic in the alleyway and parking ramp;
• increased odors from the diesel generators;
• fumes from the air venting systems from the office building and Maurices Incorporated employees smoking in the alley;
• increased artificial lights from headlights in the parking ramp;
• increased overhead lighting from the new building; and• decreased privacy resulting from the public's presence in the parking garage.

These adverse changes attributed to the new building are not distinguished from those one might normally expect in a downtown improvement. In his deposition, appellant Bystedt acknowledged that there are other alley-facing elevated parking ramps in downtown Duluth, but noted that this was "the only one 25-feet away" from appellants' unit. This fact does not change our conclusion that no unconstitutional taking has occurred. Appellants have not demonstrated that the allegations of increased artificial light, lack of natural light, increased fumes, vibrations, and loss of privacy due to an increased public presence are more intrusive than those an average community member living in downtown Duluth would reasonably anticipate. Additionally, these changes are not distinguishable from those a member of the public might expect from a downtown improvement. Where there is no evidence of unique circumstances, summary judgment is appropriate and we, therefore, affirm dismissal of this claim. See Ste...

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