[Mpls] A million here, a million there, pretty soon we're talking real money.
Thu Nov 6 12:04:06 2003
The late Senator Everett Dirksen is popularly attributed as having said
"A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking real
When one talks about a federal budget of hundreds of billions of dollars
(back when Dirksen was senator -- it's now just under 3 trillion
dollars), maybe it takes a billion dollars to rise above the level of
pocket change. Here in Minneapolis, this year's budget is about $1.2
billion. So maybe wasting a couple of million dollars does not quite
rise to the level of "real money."
Then again, maybe wasting over a million dollars on one single item --
harassing a land owner for over seven years -- by a city agency widely
reputed for wasting lots of other taxpayer money might just qualify as
That agency is the Minneapolis Community Development Agency (MCDA).
The MCDA, in an effort to steal property rights away from a private land
owner in order to favor a large developer, twisted the law and used the
ability to litigate endlessly, spending tax payer dollars. The MCDA's
lawyers went to court several times, and each time they were resoundly
slapped down by the court. The court not only found in favor of the
landowner each time, but further, sanctioned and criticized the MCDA for
its bad faith litigation.
Despite having been sanctioned, and having spent more than half a
million dollars harassing the land owner with claims they knew they
could not support, the MCDA appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court,
where once again, the MCDA was found at fault and required to pay
damages, legal costs and trespass damages to the land owner.
All told, the MCDA paid roughly half a million dollars (or more) to the
land owner for legal fees and trespass damages. The MCDA had to pay
their own legal team during the more than 7 years of this bullying legal
action, doubtlessly spending more than another half a million dollars on
their own legal fees. The total easily surpasses $1,000,000 of taxpayer
money thrown down a rathole to harass a law-abiding private land owner
in an effort to unethically and perhaps illegally enrich a developer
with which the MCDA is cosy.
These are not empty accusations. Let me quote from the public court
The District Court said of the MCDA (defendent) that they had to pay the
land owner's (petitioner's) legal fees because the defendents made
claims they knew they could not support, litigated in bad faith and had
"fair notice of the possibility of a sanction and the reason for the
sanction." Upon the MCDA's appeal, the Court of Appeals ruled the award
was justified because "the conduct for which the fees were awarded was
egregious, and the resulting litigation extensive."
The Court of Appeals then remanded the case to the trial court.
Because the MCDA failed to present any new evidence, which they had
claimed they had in the Court of Appeals, the District Court then
granted summary judgement in favor of the land owner a second time,
ruling that the MCDA never had any evidence to support their claims and
were "in actuality seeking through this litigation nothing more than to
avoid the natural and expected economic consequences resulting from
their voluntary decision to purchase the subject property in 1998
[adjacent to the petitioning land owner's property] with its known title
Following a trial on the issue of trespass charges, the trial court
ruled that the land owner was entitled to an award of its attorneys'
fees on four separate grounds. The court found that the MCDA lawyers
"have persisted in advancing claims that were not well grounded in
fact", have "repeatedly failed to present admissible evidence to support
their claims," "have litigated in bad faith by pursuing claims and
defenses that they could not support with credible evidence" and have
been "asserting claims and defenses to delay the proceedings." The
trial court further wrote "[MCDA] could not have reasonably believed
that they could provide clear and convincing evidence on the reformation
of the relocation agreement, yet they refused to concede . . . forcing
[the land owner] to litigate the issue . . . But for [MCDA's] claim that
they owned easement interests superior to [the land owner], the
foreclosure action would not have been necessary."
The trial court wrote "the bad faith shown by [MCDA] in this case more
than justifies an award of the full lodestar amount requested . . .
[MCDA] drove up the cost of litigation in this case by clinging to
untenable and unsupportable defenses and claims which served to delay
the proceedings[.]" Upon remand to the District Court after failing in
the Court of Appeals, the District Court wrote "[A]lthough the amount
awarded is large, the conduct for which the fees were awarded was
egregious, and the resulting litigation was extensive."
The result of the MCDA's harassment of the land owner made the title to
the property unmarketable for seven years, a period during at least part
of which, the land owner actually wanted to sell the property, but was
unable to do so.
As lawyers for the land owner wrote in petition to the Minnesota Supreme
"There is no dispute that the fees were actually or reasonably incurred
by [the land owner], and there is nothing in the record to suggest that
the trial court abused its discretion in awarding [the land owner] full
reimbursement. (AA 77-78). But for [MCDA's] bad faith claims, this
litigation would not have been necessary and no fees would have been
incurred. (AA 49).
[MCDA's] success in convincing the [first] court to grant them a
second opportunity to produce evidence is an aggravating, not a
mitigating, factor, because on remand [MCDA] never came forward with any
-- [MCDA] merely postponed summary judgment, they did not "survive" it
with any claims intact. (AA 74-75). Consequently, [MCDA's] request for
this Court to resolve the "conflict" between the decisions of the Court
of Appeals in [the first court case] and [the second court case] is a
non-issue. [The first court case] remanded for the trial court to
consider extrinsic evidence to aid in its contractual interpretation;
[the second court case] affirmed that the trial court correctly did so.
(AA 17-18, 51, 65, 70-71, 74-75, 77). There is no conflict to resolve."
The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in favor of the land owner this fall.
The MCDA finally paid up the legal fees and trespass charges, and the
land owner can now sell the property.
It took the land owner from 1995, when the owner first filed legal
action to obtain title to the property free and clear of the MCDA's
claims that easements continued to exist, until now to resolve this.
Along the way, four courts found in favor of the landowner and none
found in favor of the MCDA. Meanwhile, the MCDA frittered away over a
million dollars of tax revenue (not including court costs born directly
by the taxpayer through the court system), and made life miserable for
the land owner.
So a million dollars wouldn't go very far in adding police or fire
capacity, or in repairing streets. It's a drop in the bucket in a
billion dollar city budget, so why worry, right?
I repeat my call to clean house at the MCDA. Every last individual
working at the MCDA who has decision making authority over a budget
exceeding a million dollars should be summarily dismissed. They are
either part of the corruption and illegal activities, or they failed
their responsibility to report (whistle-blow) on the illegal activities
of others. I am not kidding. The agency is clearly so corrupt that
even Enron looks like a model of ethical behavior in comparison.
And -- a million here, a million there, and pretty soon you're talking
real money in Minneapolis. Any agency wasting that kind of money needs
to have some heads knocked.
When you get your property tax bill with its 8% or better increase for
this year (and next year, and next year), remember that your share of a
million dollars wasted on a frivolous lawsuit is probably $50 to $100.
Disgusted in Fulton,