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Minch Family Lllp v. Estate of Gladys I. Norby; Robert N. Norby

August 29, 2011

MINCH FAMILY LLLP, APPELLANT,
v.
ESTATE OF GLADYS I. NORBY; ROBERT N. NORBY, INDIVIDUALLY AND
AS PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF GLADYS I. NORBY, APPELLEES.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Smith, Circuit Judge.

Submitted: March 15, 2011

Before SMITH, ARNOLD, and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.

Minch Family LLLP ("Minch Family") sued the Estate of Gladys I. Norby and Robert N. Norby (collectively, "the Norbys") in diversity, seeking injunctive relief and damages for flooding of the Minch Family's property, allegedly caused by a field dike built on the Norbys' land. The magistrate judge*fn1 denied the Minch Family's motion to amend its complaint to add a claim for punitive damages and its motion to amend the court's scheduling order. Thereafter, the district court*fn2 granted the Norbys' motion for summary judgment, concluding that the applicable statute of limitations barred the Minch Family's claims. The Minch Family appeals, arguing that the district court erred in concluding that its claims were time-barred and that the magistrate judge abused his discretion by denying its motion to amend its complaint and its motion to amend the scheduling order. For the following reasons, we affirm.

I. Background

For many years, the Minch Family, a North Dakota limited liability limited partnership, and the Norbys, Minnesota residents, have owned adjoining parcels of farmland in Clay County, Minnesota, near the Buffalo and Red Rivers. An L-shaped field dike on the Norbys' property borders the Minch Family's property. The evidence suggests that the field dike was constructed as early as the 1950s. Since 2000, heavy rainfall or snow melt has occasionally caused flooding on the Minch Family's property. The Minch Family claims that the field dike interrupts the natural flow of water and causes water to back up onto the Minch Family's property. The Norbys contend that the flooding is caused by the Minch Family's failure to clean and maintain a drainage ditch on the Minch Family's property.

Both properties are situated within the jurisdiction of the Buffalo-Red River Watershed District (BRRWD). Following a flood in the fall of 2000, the Minch Family complained to the BRRWD that the Norbys' field dike interrupted the drainage of water and thus caused the flooding of the Minch Family's property. BRRWD records indicate that in the spring of 2001, the area flooded again, causing a "washout" in the field dike. Thereafter, Robert Norby repaired the field dike without BRRWD approval. The BRRWD and the Minch Family believed that, when making these repairs, Robert Norby increased the height of the field dike. Throughout this time, the Minch Family continued to raise their concerns at BRRWD public meetings about drainage problems that the field dike caused. In June 2004, the Minch Family notified the BRRWD, at a public meeting, that recent flooding caused the Minch Family crop and dollar losses. The Minch Family again alleged that the Norbys' field dike caused the flooding.

On September 7, 2007, the BRRWD informed the Minch Family that it would refrain from taking any further action over the field dike on the Norbys' property. On October 14, 2008, the Minch Family commenced the instant action by filing a complaint in the district court. The complaint alleged that Robert Norby had wrongfully altered a natural drainage way and violated the reasonable-use doctrine; the complaint also asserted claims for trespass, nuisance, strict liability, and deliberate disregard for the Minch Family's rights. All of the claims arose from Robert Norby's construction, maintenance, and repair of the field dike, which prevented water drainage and caused flooding on the Minch Family's property.

On February 25, 2009, the district court entered a pretrial scheduling order, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 16, setting the deadline to amend the pleadings for June 1, 2009. On May 1, 2009, the Minch Family filed a motion to amend its complaint to allege a claim for punitive damages. While that motion was pending, on June 1, 2009, the Minch Family filed a motion to amend the pretrial scheduling order to extend the deadline for amending the pleadings until October 1, 2009. The Minch Family argued that it needed additional time to conduct discovery in support of its claim for punitive damages. The magistrate judge denied the Minch Family's motion to amend the pretrial scheduling order because the Minch Family had failed to show good cause for its inability to meet the original deadline to amend its complaint. Shortly thereafter, the magistrate judge denied the Minch Family's motion to amend its complaint to allege a claim for punitive damages, concluding that the Minch Family had failed to make a prima facie showing that it was entitled to seek punitive damages under Minnesota law.

The parties subsequently filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The district court granted the Norbys' motion and denied the Minch Family's motion, concluding that the Minch Family's claims were barred by the two-year statute of limitations contained in Minnesota Statutes § 541.051.

II. Discussion

On appeal, the Minch Family argues that the district court erred in concluding that its claims were time-barred. In addition, the Minch Family asserts that the magistrate judge abused its discretion in denying the Minch Family's motion to amend its complaint and its motion to amend the scheduling order. We review each argument in turn.

A. Statute of Limitations The Minch Family argues that the district court erroneously concluded that the Minch Family's claims were barred by the two-year statute of limitations contained in § 541.051. First, the Minch Family contends that the 15-year statute of limitations for adverse possession under Minnesota Statutes § 541.02 should apply instead because the flooding "seized" the Minch Family of its possession and use of its land. In order to have § 541.02 apply, the Minch Family relies on the private-nuisance-by-prescription defense that the Norbys assert in their answer.

Second, the Minch Family contends that the two-year statute of limitations under § 541.051 does not apply. Section 541.051is the applicable statute for defective real property improvements. The Minch Family maintains that the field dike is not an "improvement to real property," nor is it "defective" because it is operating as the Norbys intended it to operate. The Minch Family argues that its nuisance and reasonable-use-doctrine claims are grounded in negligence and, therefore, subject to the exception under § 541.051, subdivision 1(d). Likewise, the Minch Family asserts that the two-year period applies to claims seeking only money damages and not to claims seeking injunctive relief, which the Minch Family also seeks. Finally, the ...


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