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Garaas v. Cass County Joint Water Resource District

Supreme Court of North Dakota

July 20, 2016

Jonathan T. Garaas, Appellant
v.
Cass County Joint Water Resource District, a political subdivision of the State of North Dakota, Appellee

         Appeal from the District Court of Cass County, East Central Judicial District, the Honorable Debbie Gordon Kleven, Judge.

          Jonathan T. Garaas, DeMores Office Park, 1314 23rd St. S., Fargo ND 58103-3796, appellant.

          Christopher M. McShane (argued) and Andrew D. Cook (on brief), 90113th Ave. E., P.O. Box 458, West Fargo, ND 58078-0458, for appellee.

          OPINION

          Crothers, Justice.

         [¶ 1] Jonathan T. Garaas appeals after a district court entered a judgment of dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Garaas argues the district court erred dismissing his case because its subject matter jurisdiction was invoked when he filed a notice of appeal in the district court. We conclude the district court did not misapply the law finding the case was not properly brought before the court. The judgment dismissing the case is affirmed.

         I

         [¶ 2] On May 14, 2015, the Cass County Joint Water District ("District") ordered the establishment of an assessment district to fund the development, operation and maintenance of a Fargo-Moorhead flood risk management project under N.D.C.C. ch. 61-16.1. On June 12, 2015, Garaas filed with the district court a notice of appeal from the decision of a local governing body under N.D.C.C. § 28-34-01. On June 16, 2015, a Cass County deputy sheriff served Garaas' notice of appeal on the District's secretary-treasurer, Carol Harbeke Lewis. Lewis is not a member of the District's governing board. On June 18, 2015, attorneys from Ohnstad Twichell, P.C., served Garaas a notice of appearance in the case. On June 25, 2015, the deputy sheriff's return was served on the District's attorneys and filed in the district court.

         [¶ 3] On July 2, 2015, the District moved to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction. On July 16, 2015, a Cass County deputy sheriff served Garaas' notice of appeal on District board member, Mark Brodshaug. On November 24, 2015, the district court dismissed Garaas' claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, finding he failed to perfect his appeal by properly serving the notice of appeal on a board member as required by N.D.C.C. § 28-34-01. Garaas appeals the district court's judgment of dismissal.

         II

         [¶ 4] Garaas argues the district court acquired subject matter jurisdiction when he timely filed the notice of appeal. "As a prerequisite to issuing a valid order or judgment, a court must have both subject matter and personal jurisdiction." Trottier v. Bird, 2001 ND 177, ¶ 5, 635 N.W.2d 157. "Subject-matter jurisdiction is the court's power to hear and determine the general subject involved in the action...." Albrecht v. Metro Area Ambulance, 1998 ND 132, ¶ 10, 580 N.W.2d 583. "Issues involving subject matter jurisdiction cannot be waived and can be raised sua sponte at any time." Earnest v. Garcia, 1999 ND 196, ¶ 7, 601 N.W.2d 260.

         [¶ 5] "For subject-matter jurisdiction to attach, 'the particular issue to be determined must be properly brought before the court in the particular proceeding.'" Albrecht, 1998 ND 132, ¶ 11, 580 N.W.2d 583. North Dakota Rule of Civil Procedure 12(h)(3) compels the district court to dismiss an action whenever it appears the court lacks jurisdiction of the subject matter. In this case, the district court dismissed the appeal finding subject matter jurisdiction did not attach because Garaas failed to properly bring the action before the court according to the provisions in N.D.C.C. § 28-34-01.

         [¶ 6] "When jurisdictional facts are not disputed, the issue of subject matter jurisdiction is a question of law, which we review de novo." In re Estate of Vaage, 2016 ND 32, ¶ 14, 875 N.W.2d 527. Section 28-34-01, N.D.C.C., provides in relevant part:

"Appeals from local governing bodies--Procedures.
This section, to the extent that it is not inconsistent with procedural rules adopted by the North Dakota supreme court, governs any appeal provided by statute from the decision of a local governing body, except those court reviews provided under sections 2-04-11 and 40-51.2-15. For the purposes of this section, 'local governing body' includes any officer, board, commission, resource or ...

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