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Appellate Court reverses lower court on State Trail - Remands to District Court for further findings


Fri, Feb 15th, 2013
Posted in Preston Features

This decision may be a signal the case is nearing the end of the road or may just be another sharp curve in the long time effort to build a state trail from Preston to Forestville State Park. The decision of the court of appeals remands the case to the district court because in the appellate court’s opinion the district court failed to explain its “analysis or interpretation of the statutory language.” The district court had determined that the trail segment was authorized by the state legislature as a segment of the Blufflands Trail system (Minnesota Stat. 85.015, subd. 7(b) and 86A.05, subd. 4).

The Minnesota Court of Appeals opinion was handed down by a three-judge panel including Stauber, Halbrooks, and Collins.

The appellate court opines that the statute (85.015, subd. 7b) does not specifically “include Forestville State Park or the unincorporated area sometimes referred to as Forestville.” It is noted in a footnote that the city of Preston in oral argument before the court of appeals argued the State Park is located between Preston and Ostrander and the proposed segment could one day be continued on to the city of Ostrander, which is specifically listed in the statute. The opinion noted that a Preston to Ostrander segment of the Blufflands Trail system would be a trail authorized under statute 85.015 subd.7(b). However, since this argument was not considered at the district court, the appellate court would not consider it for the first time on appeal.

The district court also cited Minnesota Stat. 86A.05, subd. 4 to authorize the proposed trail segment. This is part of the Minnesota Outdoor Recreation Act (ORA) of 1975. The court of appeals opines that the district court failed to include an analysis of ORA and how it would be authoritative independently.

The other argument before the appellate court as to the ability of the city of Preston to exercise its power of eminent domain outside of its city limits was not considered at this time by the court of appeals, as this is only an issue if the proposed trail is authorized.

History

The vision of a state trail from Preston to Forestville was born nearly twenty years ago with the Joint Powers Board. By 2003, agreements were obtained to secure most of the property for the trail from seventeen of the nineteen landowners along the planned trail. However, the properties owned by the John Snyder and Vernon Ristau families had not been acquired. After unsuccessful efforts over many years to purchase the last two properties, the city of Preston exercised their power of eminent domain to acquire 5.99 acres that they deemed to be necessary to construct the trail section on March 2, 2009.

The landowner families commenced a lawsuit against the DNR and the city of Preston in October of 2009.

In the spring of 2012, district court Judge Jeffrey Thompson determined that the trail was authorized by the legislature and that Preston’s exercise of its power of eminent domain was “proper under both Minnesota constitutional and statutory provisions.”

Later in 2012 this decision was appealed to the court of appeals.

Attorney Comments

Larry Peterson, Ristau and Snyder attorney, was gratified that the court of appeals finally looked at the legal argument that they have been making for years. That being, the proposed trail was not authorized by the state legislature. He insisted the trail must first be authorized by the state legislature before the DNR or the city can propose it for development.

Peterson lists a couple of options under consideration going forward: “(1)ask the Supreme Court to reject the Court of Appeals Remand to the trial court; or (2)wait and see what the trial court decides on how it will respond to the directives from the Court of Appeals.” He maintains there is nothing left to “decide or interpret.”

David Joerg, attorney for the city of Preston, responded that the city of Preston’s position is that there is the authority to build a trail to Ostrander. A trail from Preston to Ostrander would include Forestville State Park. Ostrander is specifically named in the state statute section 85.015 subd. 7. Joerg reaffirmed the city’s position that under current state law the city has the power to exercise eminent domain to acquire property that lies outside of the city limits.

Joerg suggests with the remand to District Court the case will possibly continue first in District Court and then to the Court of Appeals. The case rests on the principle of authorization. He believes there is a good chance to turn it around.

Other Comments

John Snyder said he wished the appellate decision had been “black and white.” He felt it was a good win, but it is not done.

Craig Blommer, Minnesota DNR Parks and Trails Supervisor, said the DNR had no comment on the court of appeals decision. He repeated their position that there is “no other practical way to make the connection to Forestville State Park.” The DNR efforts are at this time to extend the trail from Preston to Carimona, which will be built to conform with the American with Disabilities Act standards.

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