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Hector v. City of Fargo

August 31, 2010

FRED M. HECTOR, JR., PETITIONER AND APPELLANT
v.
CITY OF FARGO, A POLITICAL SUBDIVISION OF THE STATE OF NORTH DAKOTA, RESPONDENT AND APPELLEE



Appeal from the District Court of Cass County, East Central Judicial District, the Honorable Steven E. McCullough, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Maring, Justice.

AFFIRMED.

[¶1] Fred M. Hector, Jr., appeals from a district court judgment affirming the Fargo Board of City Commissioners' decision approving the amount of assessments against his property located in four separate special assessment districts in south Fargo. We affirm, concluding Hector has failed to meet his burden of showing that the Commissioners acted arbitrarily, capriciously, or unreasonably, or that there is not substantial evidence supporting its decision.

I.

[¶2] The Fargo Board of City Commissioners created four improvement districts on the southern edge of Fargo primarily for the construction of street improvements and the installation of sanitory sewers, water mains, and storm sewers. Hector objected to the amount the Fargo Special Assessment Commission assessed against his unplatted properties for the improvements. Hector appeared through counsel before the Special Assessment Commission to voice his objections, and the Special Assessment Commission lowered the amount of the assessment on property located in one of the assessment districts. Hector appealed the assessments to the Board of City Commissioners and appeared through counsel before the Commissioners to voice his objections. The Commissioners approved assessments of $297,739.91; $25,261.87; $247,361.60; and $38,643.40 for his property in the four special assessment districts. Hector entered into agreements with the City of Fargo which defer, without interest, payment of all assessments for a period of ten years.

[¶3] Hector appealed to the district court, which affirmed the Board of City Commissioners' decision to approve the assessments. The court also denied his motion for reconsideration.

II.

[¶4] On appeal, Hector argues the district court's decision affirming the assessments should be reversed for numerous reasons.

[¶5] Our review of a decision on special assessments is very limited:

The special assessment commission is in essence a legislative tribunal created by legislative authority to "(1) determin[e] the benefits accruing to the several tracts of land in an improvement district by reason of the construction of an improvement and (2) assess[ ] the costs and expenses thereof against each tract in proportion to the benefit received." Accordingly, judicial review is limited to assuring that local taxing authorities do not act arbitrarily, capriciously, or unreasonably. Courts are not to act as a super grievance board, and we do not try special assessment cases anew or reweigh the evidence. Rather, we begin with the presumption that assessments for local improvements are valid, and the burden is on the party challenging the validity of the assessments to demonstrate they are invalid. Bateman v. City of Grand Forks, 2008 ND 72, ¶ 10, 747 N.W.2d 117 (quoting Serenko v. City of Wilton, 1999 ND 88, ¶ 20, 593 N.W.2d 368 (citations omitted)). We must affirm the decision of a local governing body unless it acted arbitrarily, capriciously, or unreasonably, or there is not substantial evidence supporting the decision. Hagerott v. Morton County Bd. of Comm'rs, 2010 ND 32, ¶ 7, 778 N.W.2d 813. A decision is not arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable if the exercise of discretion is the product of a rational mental process by which the facts and the law relied upon are considered together for the purpose of achieving a reasoned and reasonable interpretation. Id. The record is adequate to support a local governing body's findings and conclusions if it allows us to discern the rationale for the decision. Hector v. City of Fargo, 2009 ND 14, ¶ 9, 760 N.W.2d 108. A local governing body's failure to correctly interpret and apply controlling law constitutes arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable conduct. Hagerott, at ¶ 7.

[¶6] Two issues raised by Hector warrant discussion.

A.

[¶7] Hector argues he is being illegally assessed for his real property located outside Fargo city limits.

[¶8] Generally, in the absence of statutory authority, a municipality cannot create a special assessment or improvement district that includes land outside the municipality's limits. See 70C Am. Jur. 2d Special or Local Assessments § 109 (2000); 64 C.J.S. Municipal Corporations § 1204 (1999). There is statutory authority in North Dakota allowing the creation of ...


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