Marzitelli v. City of Little Canada, C9-97-152

CourtSupreme Court of Minnesota (US)
Citation582 N.W.2d 904
Docket NumberNo. C9-97-152,C9-97-152
PartiesJohn P. MARZITELLI, et. al., Respondents, v. CITY OF LITTLE CANADA, petitioner, Appellant.
Decision Date20 August 1998

Page 904

582 N.W.2d 904
John P. MARZITELLI, et. al., Respondents,
v.
CITY OF LITTLE CANADA, petitioner, Appellant.
No. C9-97-152.
Supreme Court of Minnesota.
Aug. 20, 1998.
Syllabus by the Court

1. An appealable order was not rendered nonappealable by language directing the entry of judgment.

2. The district court did not have jurisdiction to amend its September 12, 1996 order after the time to appeal from the order ran without appeal having been taken.

Patrick J. Sweeney, Sweeney Border & Sweeney, St. Paul, for appellant.

Deno W. Berndt, Warchol Berndt & Hajek, Minneapolis, for respondents.

Considered and decided by the court en banc without oral argument.

OPINION

BLATZ, Chief Justice.

The narrow issue presented in this appeal is whether the district court had jurisdiction to amend its September 12, 1996 Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order for Judgment (order) on December 23, 1996. Resolution of this issue turns on whether the time for appeal, and the district court's jurisdiction to amend its findings, terminated 30 days after service of notice of filing of the September 12th order or whether language in the order directing the entry of judgment rendered it nonappealable, thereby postponing the running of the time for appeal and extending the district court's jurisdiction. We hold that the language directing the entry of judgment did not affect the appealability of the order in this special proceeding and, therefore, the district court's jurisdiction ended once the time to appeal from the order expired without appeal having been taken.

Page 905

The facts pertinent to this appeal are undisputed. The respondents, John and Maria Marzitelli, owned property located at 168 Old County Road C in the City of Little Canada. In April 1994, the Marzitellis joined the majority of their neighbors in opposing the Little Canada City Council's plan to improve their street and add curbs and gutters. They petitioned for an alternative, less expensive plan. The city council rejected their petition and proceeded with the project. On October 24, 1995, the city council adopted an assessment roll that placed the value of the improvements to the Marzitellis' property at $5,158.78.

Pursuant to Minn.Stat. § 429.081 (1996), which establishes the procedure for appealing a special assessment in the district courts, the Marzitellis filed a timely appeal of the assessment. 1 Following a two-day hearing, the district court issued an order entitled Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order for Judgment, which was filed on September 12, 1996. The district court found that, as of the assessment date, the property had benefited from the street improvements in the amount of $6,000, an amount greater than the special assessment. Moreover, the district court found that the formula used to calculate the value of the improvements was not unreasonable or arbitrary. The court ordered the appellant's appeal dismissed and awarded costs to Little Canada. The court also included a sentence at the end of the order stating "LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY."

On October 16, 1996, the court administrator entered judgment. The Marzitellis then filed a notice of motion and motion for amended findings or new trial on October 18, 1996. A hearing on the motion was scheduled for October 30, 1996, but was delayed until November 20, 1996 by stipulation of the parties. Following the hearing, the district court issued an amended order entitled Amended Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order for Judgment filed on December 23, 1996. In the amended order, the court concluded that the assessment constituted an unconstitutional taking of the Marzitellis' property without fair compensation and the court vacated the special assessment and remanded the matter to Little Canada for reassessment. This order did not direct that judgment be entered. Appeal was taken from the amended order on January 23, 1997.

In a two-to-one opinion, the court of appeals held that the district court had jurisdiction to amend the September 12th order. 2 The court reasoned that the September 12th order was rendered nonappealable by a sentence providing "LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY" and, therefore, proper appeal should be taken from the judgment. 3 Furthermore, the court determined that the time for appeal from the judgment had not begun to run because Little Canada had not served notice of the entry of the judgment on the Marzitellis. 4 However, the dissent argued that the language directing the entry of judgment did not affect the appealability of the September 12th order. 5 The dissent emphasized that the rules governing special proceedings require that appeals be brought within 30 days, the time limit for orders. 6 Therefore, the dissent concluded that the matter became final and neither the district court nor the appellate court could exercise jurisdiction. 7

The dates governing this jurisdictional issue are not in dispute. Therefore, it is a purely legal issue that we review de novo. 8 We begin by holding that the special

Page 906

assessment appeal before the district court was in the nature of a special proceeding. 9 Appeals from special proceedings are governed by Minn. R. Civ.App. P. 103.03(g), which permits appeal "from a final order, decision or judgment affecting a substantial right made in an administrative or other special proceeding, provided that the appeal must be taken within the time limited for appeal from an order." 10 An order may be appealed within 30 days after service of written notice of filing by the adverse party. 11 If the time for appeal from an order expires without appeal having been taken, then the order becomes final and the district court's jurisdiction to amend the order is terminated. 12

The court of appeals held that the district court's September 12th order was rendered nonappealable by the language in the order providing "LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY" and, therefore, the time for appeal did not begin to run when Little Canada served notice of filing of the order on the Marzitellis. In so holding, the court relied in part on Saric v. Stover, in which the court of appeals held that language directing the entry of judgment rendered a district court order denying a motion for a new trial nonappealable. 13 The Saric court reasoned that, "Since an appeal from the order is authorized, confusion is caused by directing that judgment be entered. However, when the trial court has included such direction in an order, the parties must await the entry of judgment and perfect their appeal from that judgment." 14

The court's reasoning in Saric is contrary to the provisions of the Rules of Civil Appellate Practice and we now overrule that decision. Rule 103.03 of the Minnesota Rules of Civil Appellate Practice governs the appealability of orders and judgments. To allow practice to deviate from the plain language of the rule by treating an order which is appealable under Minn. R. Civ.App. P. 103.03 as nonappealable simply because it contains language directing the entry of judgment would inject great uncertainty and confusion into the law regarding the appealability of orders and their finality. Additionally, it would result in unnecessary delay and increased costs. We reject this approach and hold that an order that is appealable under Minn. R. Civ.App. P. 103.03 remains so, despite language directing the entry of judgment. 15

Therefore, we conclude that the district court's September 12th order was appealable pursuant to Minn. R. Civ.App. P. 103.03(g) despite language directing the entry of judgment. The time for appeal from this order began running on October 1, 1996, when Little Canada served the Marzitellis with notice of the filing of the order and expired on November 4, 1996, thirty days after service of the notice and an additional three days for service by mail as provided by Minn. R. Civ. P. 6.05. When the time for appeal expired without an appeal being taken, the order became final and the district court no

Page 907

longer had jurisdiction to decide the Marzitellis' motion for amended findings or a new trial.

We recognize that Gelin v. Hollister, cited by the dissent, holds that a district court may retain jurisdiction over a post-trial motion brought prior to the running of the time for appeal. 16 However, this case is not dispositive of the action before us as it was decided prior to the enactment of the Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure and Civil Appellate Procedure under a rule of law that "[l]imitations upon the time for bringing an appeal, and logically likewise upon the power of the court to modify its judgments and orders during such period, are to be liberally interpreted to avoid a forfeiture" of either right. 17 In contrast, Minn. R. Civ.App. P. 104.01, governing timing of appeals under the rules, has long been held to be...

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