A short trial court decision. But because it deals with an interesting question, we’re posting it.

Check it out: in this order, the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota denied the city’s motion to dismiss in a case alleging, inter alia, a Fifth Amendment taking.

The property owners’ complaint alleged that their property, located in Tonka Bay, Minnesota, was taken by the neighboring city of Shorewood. The back of the property, you see buts up against the Shorewood border, and the owners have an unpaved driveway to access Timber Lane. The owners have used the driveway for a dozen years. 

But Shorewood neighbors “took issue with the [plaintiffs’] use of the unpaved driveway.” Slip op. at 3. (Thank goodness for neighbors, what would we do without them?). They asked Shorewood to install a barrier along the city boundary to prevent drivers from using Timber Lane, and “the unpaved driveway on the [plaintiffs]’ property was the only way to access Tonka Bay via Timer [sic] Lane.” Slip op. at 3. Shorewood did so, allegedly cutting off the plaintiffs.

Next step, federal takings lawsuit. Takings under the Fifth Amendment and the Minnesota Constitution. The inevitable motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim followed. 

First, the best of times: the district court denied the motion. If the plaintiffs prove the allegations in the complaint — that Shorewood’s installation of that barrier cut off or otherwise diminished their access — it would be a federal taking. The big issue the court addressed was whether the plaintiffs possessed a “property” interest in access.

If the plaintiffs have a property interest in accessing Timber Lane via their unpaved driveway, then the defendants engaged in an indirect taking of the plaintiffs’ property by removing their access without just compensation. If the plaintiffs do not have such a property interest, their claim fails.

Slip op. at 6. The court noted that the Minnesota Supreme Court has confirmed “on multiple occasions” that disruption of access to a public road is enough interference with a property right to be a taking. See slip op. at 7. But wait, Shorewood argued, plaintiffs’ property doesn’t really abut Timber Road, so that doesn’t count. The court rejected the argument, concluding that whether the property actually abuts Timber Road is a factual question, and not susceptible to a pleadings challenge. No dismissal of the Fifth Amendment takings claim, even though the court limited the relief to just compensation and held it would not issue an injunction to remove the barrier.

But next, the worst of times: the state law takings claim – dismissed. The plaintiffs did not file a mandamus claim as Minnesota law requires. There’s no other way to raise a Minnesota takings claim, the court concluded. 

Memorandum Opinion and Order, Ugorets v. City of Shorewood, No. 21-cv-1446 (D. Minn. Jan. 5, 2022)