Oliver v. State ex rel. Com'R of Transp., No. A08-646.

CourtCourt of Appeals of Minnesota
Citation760 N.W.2d 912
Docket NumberNo. A08-646.
PartiesDean OLIVER, et al., Appellant, v. STATE of Minnesota, by its COMMISSIONER OF TRANSPORTATION, Respondent.
Decision Date17 February 2009

Zenas Baer, Zenas Baer and Associates, Hawley, MN, for appellants.

Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Erik M. Johnson, Assistant Attorney General, St. Paul, MN, for respondent.

Considered and decided by CONNOLLY, Presiding Judge; ROSS, Judge; and BJORKMAN, Judge.


ROSS, Judge.

This appeal arises from the district court's refusal to order the state to condemn a private property interest in rural Clay County after the state closed access to a privately owned roadway that had linked the claimants' parcel to Highway 10 since 1955. More precisely, Dean and Delores Oliver brought a mandamus action in the district court to compel the state to condemn their property interest in an easement over their neighbors' property that allowed the Olivers to access Highway 10. The district court granted summary judgment to the state. We reverse and remand because we hold that the disputed facts may support the Olivers' claim that they have a prescriptive easement and that the state's closure of the easement's access to Highway 10 constituted a taking. On remand, the district court should first address the unresolved issue of joinder of necessary parties.


The history regarding access to the Oliver property is not in dispute. Dean and Delores Oliver purchased a Clay County parcel north of Highway 10 in 1951, a portion of which included a gravel pit. Three years later, the Olivers contracted with the state to sell sand, gravel, clay, and other road-construction material from their gravel pit and granted the state an easement for a road within the parcel allowing the state to haul material from the pit to the parcel's southern boundary. They also conveyed to the state a 25-year right to enter and mine the material in exchange for payment. The state purchased easements from adjacent landowners to construct a "haul road" that ran along the eastern border of the Olivers' property, over these adjacent servient parcels, and southward linking to Highway 10. The state's closing of the link from this haul road to Highway 10 in 2005 triggered this dispute.

The Olivers' parcel does not abut Highway 10. The parcel's only access to Highway 10 has been by 250th Street, which abuts and runs along its western border, and the haul road just described, which abuts and runs along its eastern border. The servient estate owners retained fee title and the state acquired only easements to use the haul road.

The state's easements for use of the haul road expired in 1980. The Olivers and their neighbors continued to use the road to access their properties from Highway 10, but the parties disagree regarding the nature and extent of its use. The Olivers used the road for commercial transportation. They continued to sell gravel after 1980, and purchasers transported gravel from the Olivers' gravel pit to Highway 10 using the haul road. But in 2005, the state closed the haul road's access to Highway 10, leaving the private road disconnected to any public thoroughfare. From the Olivers' perspective, it became a road to nowhere.

The state compensated a property owner to the Olivers' immediate east for a total taking because that property enjoyed an express easement to use the haul road and the property became landlocked by its closure. In contrast, the state did not compensate the Olivers, whose parcel is not landlocked; its access to a public road remains immediate by its abutment to 250th Street.

The Olivers brought a mandamus action in district court to compel the state to condemn their property. They argued that the closure constitutes a taking that requires compensation at least for their potential cost to construct a new internal roadway on their property to connect the parcel's gravel pit to its 250th-Street access point. Specifically, they claimed to have established a prescriptive easement over the haul road and that closure of its access to Highway 10 prevented reasonably convenient access to the parcel. The district court concluded that the Olivers did not prove a taking, and it entered summary judgment for the state. The Olivers appeal.


I. Does the state's closure of the haul road's access to Highway 10 constitute a compensable taking based on the theory that the closing denied the Olivers reasonably convenient and suitable access to their parcel?

II. Does the state's closing of the haul road's access to Highway 10 constitute a taking based on the theory that the closing frustrated the Olivers' property interest in a prescriptive easement?


The Olivers challenge the district court's summary judgment decision. Summary judgment is proper if there are no material fact disputes and one party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Minn. R. Civ. P. 56.03. On appeal from summary judgment, we review de novo the district court's application of the law and the district court's conclusion that no genuine issues of fact remain for trial. State by Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2, 4 (Minn. 1990). We construe disputed evidence in the light most favorable to the Olivers as the nonmoving parties. See Fabio v. Bellomo, 504 N.W.2d 758, 761 (Minn.1993) (viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonprevailing party on summary judgment).

Inverse condemnation actions seek to compel the state to compensate a landowner for its interference with a private property interest. Johnson v. City of Minneapolis, 667 N.W.2d 109, 111 n. 1 (Minn.2003). To prevail in their inverse-condemnation action, the Olivers must establish that the state interfered with ownership, possession, or enjoyment of a property right. See Grossman Inv. v. State by Humphrey, 571 N.W.2d 47, 50 (Minn.App. 1997), review denied (Minn. Jan. 28, 1998). The Olivers argue that disputed facts construed in their favor establish that they have a prescriptive easement over the haul road and that the state's closure of access to Highway 10 constitutes a denial of suitable access to their parcel for which the state must compensate the Olivers. The Olivers argue alternatively that "if [they] have a prescriptive right to access [Highway] 10 across the gravel `haul road' ..., [they] have a right to claim damages irrespective of having an alternative access to [Highway] 10." The first argument fails but the second has merit.


The Olivers' primary theory offered to support their takings claim is not convincing. The state must compensate landowners whose private property is taken for public use. Minn. Const. art. I, § 13; Johnson v. City of Plymouth, 263 N.W.2d 603, 605 (Minn.1978). The Olivers argue chiefly that the state has taken their parcel's access to Highway 10. Although the right of access is itself "in the nature of an easement," Grossman, 571 N.W.2d at 50, it is a more limited property interest than an easement to use the road itself. The Olivers' primary argument focuses substantially on a specific property right that generally attaches to parcels that abut a public road.

Owners of property abutting a public roadway have a right to "reasonably convenient and suitable access" to the roadway. Grossman, 571 N.W.2d at 50 (quotation omitted). Owners of property that does not abut the roadway have no claim to damages merely because the roadway design leaves them with an inconvenient or circuitous transportation route. Hendrickson v. State, 267 Minn. 436, 446-47, 127 N.W.2d 165, 173 (1964). The Olivers recognize that their parcel does not abut Highway 10, but they still attempt to fit this case into the reasonable-access theory of taking. To do so, they maintain that because their alleged prescriptive easement reached Highway 10, the linking easement caused their parcel itself to "abut" Highway 10. We need not consider the merit to this contention; because the Olivers' parcel continues to have reasonably suitable and convenient access to Highway 10, they cannot establish a taking on this theory.

Whether reasonably convenient and suitable access exists is "a question of fact to be determined in light of the circumstances peculiar to each case." Johnson, 263 N.W.2d at 607. Although the supreme court has characterized the existence of reasonably convenient access as a factual question, this court has stated that in inverse condemnation actions, whether a change in access constitutes a taking is determined as a matter of law. Chenoweth v. City of New Brighton, 655 N.W.2d 821, 824 (Minn.App.2003).

The district court concluded that the Olivers continue to have reasonably convenient and suitable access to Highway 10 by 250th Street. The Olivers argue that access by 250th Street is not suitable for the use they formerly made of the haul road, which was for their vendees to transport gravel from the property to Highway 10. They do not claim that 250th Street is unsuitable to transport gravel from their property to Highway 10, and no evidence suggests that gravel-hauling trucks cannot just as easily reach the Olivers' property from Highway 10 using 250th Street as they could using the haul road. Rather, the Olivers contend that if haulers must use 250th Street for gravel-hauling, either their house would suffer damage from large hauling vehicles passing closely on the existing driveway, or they must construct a new interior private road at an estimated cost of more than $150,000. We therefore must decide if the reasonable-access theory of takings requires courts to analyze whether convenient and suitable access exists between the public roadway and the private parcel, or between some commercially useful location within the property and the point on the perimeter connecting the property to the public roadway.

Whether there is reasonably convenient and suitable access to a parcel does not depend on whether the landowner prefers a different point of access. Grossman, 571 N.W.2d at 51....

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