St. Paul Park Refining Co. LLC v. Domeier, 110420 MNSC, A19-0573

Docket NºA19-0573
Opinion JudgeCHUTICH, JUSTICE.
Party NameSt. Paul Park Refining Co. LLC, Respondent, v. Brian Domeier, Appellant.
AttorneyRobert B. Bauer, Matthew J. Schaap, Dougherty, Molenda, Solfest, Hills & Bauer P.A., Apple Valley, Minnesota, for respondent. Erik F. Hansen, Elizabeth M. Cadem, Burns & Hansen P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota, for appellant.
Case DateNovember 04, 2020
CourtSupreme Court of Minnesota

St. Paul Park Refining Co. LLC, Respondent,

v.

Brian Domeier, Appellant.

No. A19-0573

Supreme Court of Minnesota

November 4, 2020

Court of Appeals Office of Appellate Courts

Robert B. Bauer, Matthew J. Schaap, Dougherty, Molenda, Solfest, Hills & Bauer P.A., Apple Valley, Minnesota, for respondent.

Erik F. Hansen, Elizabeth M. Cadem, Burns & Hansen P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota, for appellant.

SYLLABUS

Under paragraph 2 of Minnesota Statutes section 541.02 (2018), a claim of adverse possession to any portion of a separately assessed parcel requires the adverse claimant to pay taxes for at least five consecutive years unless a statutory exemption under paragraph 3 applies.

OPINION

CHUTICH, JUSTICE.

This case considers whether a person claiming part of a parcel under adverse possession must, before initiating the claim, pay real estate taxes previously assessed on the land. In particular, the issue here is the correct interpretation of Minnesota Statutes section 541.02, and its provision in paragraph 2 that a claim of adverse possession to "real estate assessed as tracts or parcels separate from other real estate" requires the adverse claimant to have paid taxes "on the real estate in question" for at least five consecutive years. Appellant Brian Domeier (Domeier) asserts adverse possession over a portion of two separately assessed parcels in Washington County owned by respondent St. Paul Park Refining Co. LLC (the Refinery). The district court ruled against Domeier's claim for both parcels and granted summary judgment to the Refinery.

Relying on the standard developed in Grubb v. State, under which taxes must be paid only if the claim is to "all or substantially all" of the separately assessed parcel, 433 N.W.2d 915, 920 (Minn.App. 1988), the court of appeals affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the Refinery on Domeier's adverse possession claim for the west parcel. St. Paul Park Refin. Co. LLC v. Domeier, 938 N.W.2d 288, 293-94 (Minn.App. 2020). The court reversed the grant of summary judgment to the Refinery on Domeier's adverse possession claim for the east parcel, concluding that the percentage claimed did not trigger the tax-payment requirement in section 541.02. Id. at 294.

Domeier sought review of the court of appeals' decision that his adverse possession claim to the west parcel failed. He contends that he was not required to pay taxes because his claim to just over half of the west parcel was not "substantially all" of the parcel under the Grubb standard. He alternatively asserts that the plain meaning of the statute requires tax payment only for a claim to an entire separately assessed parcel.

We granted Domeier's petition for review. Because the plain language of the statute, read as a whole with its exemptions, requires tax payment on a portion of a parcel, we affirm the decision of the court of appeals that Domeier's claim of adverse possession to the west parcel fails, although on different reasoning.

FACTS

Since 1998, Domeier has owned property near the parcels at issue here, and has used a portion of those parcels by, for example, clearing trails, hiking, removing invasive plants, and extracting sand for construction. In 2003, Domeier acquired property adjoining the two parcels. In 2010, the Refinery acquired fee title to the two separately assessed parcels, identified by Washington County Parcel ID Numbers 36.028.22.34.0039 (the west parcel) and 36.028.22.43.0001 (the east parcel) (collectively, the parcels). And in 2016, the Refinery discovered Domeier's presence on the parcels because he had by then planted trees and a garden and erected a deer fence. The Refinery sued Domeier, claiming trespass and ejectment. Domeier then counterclaimed for adverse possession, trespass, and ejectment, alleging that he possessed "a substantial portion" of the parcels.

The Refinery moved for partial summary judgment, asserting that under Minnesota Statutes section 541.02, Domeier's failure to pay taxes on the parcels precluded adverse possession. Domeier acknowledged that he had not paid taxes on the parcels. At the district court's request to define his claim precisely, Domeier commissioned a land survey and demarcated a claim to 3.22 acres (52.19 percent) of the west parcel and 2.11 acres (5.32 percent) of the east parcel. The district court then granted the Refinery's motion. Domeier did not acquire the adjoining property until 2003, which is less than the 15 years required under paragraph 1 to establish a boundary line by adverse possession. See Minn. Stat. § 541.02. Accordingly, the district court found that Domeier's claim was not a boundary line dispute, and did not meet the boundary line exemption to tax payment set forth in the statute. See id. (stating that the tax-payment requirement does not apply boundary line disputes). Based on the undisputed fact that Domeier never paid taxes on the parcels, the district court found that his claim of adverse possession failed as a matter of law.

The court of appeals affirmed the district court's decision as to the west parcel, but reversed as to the east parcel. The court concluded that Domeier's claim to 52 percent of the west parcel was "substantially all" of the parcel and therefore, under Grubb, required tax payment. St. Paul Park Refin., 938 N.W.2d at 293-94 (discussing Grubb, 433 N.W.2d at 920). Because Domeier's claim to 5 percent of the east parcel was not a claim to "substantially all" of the parcel, the court ruled that this claim did not require tax payment. Id. We granted Domeier's petition for review.

ANALYSIS

We review a grant of summary judgment de novo. Kelly v. Kraemer Constr., Inc., 896 N.W.2d 504, 508 (Minn. 2017). "A district court may grant summary judgment when 'there is no genuine issue as to any material fact' and one party 'is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'" Id. (citation omitted). A genuine issue of material fact exists when "there is sufficient evidence regarding 'an essential element . . . to permit reasonable persons to draw different conclusions.'" Id. (quoting DLH, Inc. v. Russ, 566 N.W.2d 60, 71 (Minn. 1997)). And we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Id.

Domeier's claim turns on statutory interpretation, which we review de novo. Christianson v. Henke, 831 N.W.2d 532, 535 (Minn. 2013). The first step is to determine whether the language of the statute is ambiguous. 500, LLC v. City of Minneapolis, 837 N.W.2d 287, 289 (Minn. 2013). We interpret statutory language to "ascertain and effectuate" the Legislature's intent. Minn. Stat. § 645.16 (2018). "When we conclude that a statute is unambiguous, our 'role is to enforce the language of the statute and not explore the spirit or purpose of the law.'" Christianson, 831 N.W.2d at 537 (quoting Caldas v. Affordable Granite & Stone, Inc., 820 N.W.2d 826, 836 (Minn. 2012)). In doing so, we construe the law to "give effect to all its provisions." Minn. Stat. § 645.16; Allan v. R.D. Offutt Co., 869 N.W.2d 31, 33 (Minn. 2015). We presume that the "[L]egislature intends the entire statute to be effective and certain." Minn. Stat. § 645.17(2) (2018). In ascertaining the plain meaning of...

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