County of Anoka v. Blaine Bldg. Corp.

Decision Date17 July 1997
Docket NumberNos. C5-95-1584,C7-95-1585,s. C5-95-1584
PartiesCOUNTY OF ANOKA, Respondent, v. BLAINE BUILDING CORPORATION, et al., petitioners, Appellants.
CourtMinnesota Supreme Court

Syllabus by the Court

When a property owner is subject to a partial taking and simultaneously loses access to traffic in one direction, but retains reasonable access to the main thoroughfare in another direction, the loss of traffic access Fredrickson & Byron, P.A., David Meyer, Minneapolis, Leonard, Street & Deinard, James R. Dorsey, Bradley J. Gunn, Minneapolis, for Petroleum Marketers Assn.

may not be the basis of severance damages for the partial taking.

Hubert H. Humphrey III, Atty. Gen., Donald J. Mueting, Cassandra O. O'Hern, Asst. Attys. Gen., St. Paul, for State.

Carla J. Heyl, St. Paul, for League of Minnesota Cities.

Heard, considered and decided by the court en banc.



This case raises the question of what measure of damages is appropriate when a portion of property is taken for the reconstruction of a roadway that coincidentally includes the addition of a median foreclosing access to the remaining property from one side of the roadway. Appellants are property owners who had portions of their land taken, under the power of eminent domain, for the roadway reconstruction project. Appellants sought to have the partial loss of traffic access caused by the new median considered in the determination of damages for the partial taking. The trial court and the court of appeals both held that partial loss of traffic access is not a compensable loss, and accordingly, evidence of that loss may not be introduced into the determination of severance damages. We affirm on the same basis.

In early 1991 the Anoka County Commissioners approved a plan to reconstruct County State-Aid Highway Number 51, otherwise known as University Avenue, between 97th Avenue and 106th Avenue, Northwest. The significant aspect of the construction project, for purposes of this appeal, was the widening of the road and the installation of a median strip that prevents left turns into and out of properties along University Avenue.

Appellants are owners of four parcels of land, parcels 18, 19, 20 and 21, on the east side of University Avenue, between 101st Avenue and 102nd Lane. Parcel 18 contains a bank, the western portion of parcel 21 is improved with a gas station and convenience store, and parcels 19 and 20 are unimproved vacant lots. To accomplish the reconstruction of University Avenue, the county acquired a 27-foot strip of land from parcels 18, 19 and 20, and an 18.7-foot strip from parcel 21. The new median on University Avenue was constructed entirely on the existing right-of-way, and not on any of the land taken from appellants. While the new median prevents left turns to and from the southbound lanes, access to and from the northbound lanes is unchanged.

Pursuant to the procedures set forth in Minn.Stat. ch. 117, the county petitioned for and obtained an order granting the transfer of title to the affected strips of land in mid-1993. At the same time, the trial court appointed commissioners to determine the damages due to each land owner, as provided in Minn.Stat. § 117.075. The commissioners' recommendation for parcels 18 through 21 included severance damages that were based, in part, on the loss of traffic access to and from the southbound lanes of University Avenue.

In two separate actions--one concerning parcels 18 and 19, and the other concerning parcels 20 and 21--both the county and the landowners appealed to the district court. The county sought partial summary judgment in both matters, arguing that, as a matter of law, the property owners were not entitled to introduce evidence of the partial loss of traffic access into the damages assessment. The trial courts granted partial summary judgment on that basis and the landowners appealed. In a consolidated appeal, the court of appeals affirmed the grant of partial summary judgment as to both landowners. County of Anoka v. Maego, Inc., 541 N.W.2d 375 (Minn.App.1996).

On appeal from summary judgment, we consider two questions: first, whether there are any genuine issues of material fact, and second, whether the lower courts erred in their application of the law. State by Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2, 4 (Minn.1990) (citing Offerdahl v. University of Minn. Hosps. & Clinics, 426 N.W.2d 425, 427 (Minn.1988)). Because there are no factual disputes, this case requires us to determine only whether the lower courts erred in their application of the law.

It is well settled that the state must compensate a landowner when land is taken for a public purpose. The Minnesota Constitution provides: "Private property shall not be taken, destroyed or damaged for public use without just compensation therefor, first paid or secured." Minn. Const. art. 1, § 13. A taking "include[s] every interference, under the right of eminent domain, with the possession, enjoyment, or value of private property." Minn.Stat. § 117.025, subd. 2 (1996).

When there has been only a partial taking of land, the damages are known as "severance damages" and are measured by the "before and after" rule: the difference in market value of the land before the taking and the market value of the remaining land after the taking. Minneapolis-St. Paul Sanitary Dist. v. Fitzpatrick, 201 Minn. 442, 457, 277 N.W. 394, 402 (1937); State by Humphrey v. Strom, 493 N.W.2d 554, 558-59 (Minn.1992). To determine the fair market value, "any competent evidence may be considered if it legitimately bears upon the market value." Strom, 493 N.W.2d at 559 (citations omitted); see also Minneapolis-St. Paul Sanitary Dist., 201 Minn. at 449, 277 N.W. at 399. The damages, however, must arise from changes in the land actually taken, and not merely from the impact of the construction project as a whole. City of Crookston v. Erickson, 244 Minn. 321, 325, 69 N.W.2d 909, 912-13 (1955); Strom, 493 N.W.2d at 560.

Interference with access to an abutting roadway may be a compensable taking. While property owners have no vested interest in the continued flow of traffic past the property, Hendrickson v. State, 267 Minn. 436, 442, 127 N.W.2d 165, 170 (1964), property owners do have a right of "reasonably convenient and suitable access" to a public street or highway that abuts their property. This right is in the nature of a property right. Johnson v. City of Plymouth, 263 N.W.2d 603, 605 (Minn.1978). See also State by Mondale v. Gannons, Inc., 275 Minn. 14, 19, 145 N.W.2d 321, 326 (1966); Hendrickson, 267 Minn. at 445-46, 127 N.W.2d at 172-73. Thus, a property owner suffers compensable damage when the roadway is changed in such a way that the owner is denied reasonably convenient and suitable access to the main thoroughfare in at least one direction. Gannons, 275 Minn. at 19, 145 N.W.2d at 326 (citing Hendrickson, 267 Minn. at 436, 127 N.W.2d at 167) (emphasis added). See also Recke v. State, 298 Minn. 500, 502, 215 N.W.2d 786, 788 (1974). "[T]he law is well settled * * * that the dividing of a roadway by median strips or dividers cannot be made the subject of compensation in condemnation," where, as a result, a property owner loses traffic access in one direction, but retains access in the other. Gannons, 275 Minn. at 23, 145 N.W.2d at 329.

Here, appellants suffered a partial taking of their properties for a public purpose, the reconstruction of University Avenue. Thus, there is no question that they are entitled to severance damages for that taking. The question presented is what factors may be considered in determining those damages. In particular, we must determine whether the loss of traffic access to and from one direction, caused by the construction of the median, may be included when determining the market value of their remaining land after the partial taking.

Appellants recognize that they do not have a right to be compensated for the loss of traffic access to and from the southbound lanes of University Avenue, if that were the only damage to the value of their properties. Nevertheless, they argue that they should be allowed to include that partial loss of access in the determination of severance damages, because access to traffic is a factor that influences the market value of the remaining property. Further, they note that, in general, "evidence of any matter with [sic] would influence a prospective purchaser and seller in fixing the price" may be included when assessing severance damages. City of St. Paul v. Rein Recreation, Inc., 298 N.W.2d 46, 50 (Minn.1980). Because any prospective purchaser would consider the absence of traffic access in purchasing these properties, appellants argue, traffic access should be considered here.

We are not persuaded that the policy of evidentiary inclusiveness in market value determinations should overcome the longstanding rule that loss of traffic access from the construction of a median is not a compensable taking. Allowing appellants to introduce traffic access into the determination of market value would allow them to do indirectly what they cannot do directly: be compensated for the loss of traffic access from one side of the roadway when they retain access to the other side. 1

Appellants face an additional barrier to recovering for the median construction: the loss of access did not result from changes in the property taken from appellants, but from a change on the existing right of way. Generally, an owner is not entitled to damages caused to remaining land by the use of an adjoining piece of property acquired from other landowners, even though all the properties are used for the same project. City of Crookston v. Erickson, 244 Minn. 321, 325, 69 N.W.2d 909, 913 (1955).

Appellants urge us to apply an exception to this general rule that we enunciated in City of Crookston. 2 There, we held that when part of an owner's land is taken and the part taken "constitutes...

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